Scaling digital platfom companies through strategic acqusitions: asserting control and creating value

Feb 15, 2019

The ability of digital platform companies to scale up their installed base to attract customers and complementors is directly linked to their success. Existing studies have not considered the role of acquisitions during this early “scale-up”. We examine strategic acquisitions from a database of over 16,000 digital platform companies over the period 2000-2017. Using a supervised machine-classification algorithm we distinguish between platform and non-platform companies. We analyze the extent to which digital platform companies make strategic acquisitions, whether they acquire competitors or complementors and the timing of those acquisitions. Our results show that strategic acquisitions are as important for platform companies as they are to non-platform companies, but that platform companies focus on making strategic acquisitions very early, and focus on first acquiring their competitors to build up their installed base of customers, and later their complementors to increase the value of their platform. We show that this differs from the acquisition patterns of digital, non-platform companies. We frame such acquisition strategies in a dynamic double-helix model that captures the structural evolution of platform ecosystems and patterns of value creation and control.