Stack Overflow acquired for $1.8bn by Prosus (no, me neither)

Q&A community ponders life as an enterprise education resource


Prosus NV, a Netherlands-based consumer internet conglomerate, on Wednesday said it plans to acquire online Q&A community Stack Overflow for $1.8bn.

The deal, scheduled to close by the third quarter of 2021, regulatory approval permitting, is being cast not as a consumer-focused acquisition but as a way for Prosus to expand its enterprise engagements. It's owned by Naspers Limited, Africa's largest company which made its money with a far-sighted investment in Tencent back in 2001.

Prosus has invested in a variety of consumer-focused websites that offer classified ads, food delivery, online education, online retail, payments and other services. Larry Illg, its CEO of education technology, nonetheless describes the acquisition as a way for the company to build its business bonafides.

"With enduring skills shortages and ever-evolving needs within technology organizations, technology training has emerged as the largest and fastest growing segment of corporate learning and development," said Illg in a statement. "As an operator of businesses across 90+ countries, we understand the needs of technologists and developers, particularly in high-growth markets."

Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO of Stack Overflow, also described the sale as an enterprise play.

"Prosus' expertise growing and nurturing communities, especially in a global context, will make our public platform even more invaluable in helping developers and technologists learn and grow," he said.

"Given Prosus' focus on the future of the workplace, their partnership will allow our market leading SaaS collaboration product, Stack Overflow for Teams, to reach thousands more global enterprises, allowing them to accelerate product innovation and increase productivity by unlocking institutional knowledge."

Prosus already is involved in education-focused businesses Brainly, Codecademy and Udemy. Adding Stack Overflow to its portfolio will allow the firm to tune the 13-year-old social and educational platform, home to more than 52 million questions and answers, to better meet the educational needs of corporate developers.

Meet the new boss

For now, Prosus says, Stack Overflow will remain the same.

"There are currently no plans to change how Stack Overflow operates," a spokesperson for Prosus said in an email to The Register.

"As with other companies that are operated under Prosus, there is a huge amount of collaboration. The existing leadership team will remain in place and there are no plans for any organization changes at Stack Overflow."

In the months ahead, however, Chandrasekar suggests there will be more resources to invest in Stack Overflow's public platform and paid products. So change of some sort should be expected as the company tries "to reach thousands more global enterprises."

One possibility is that Stack Overflow content might get piped to other online services. "As with other companies that are operated under Prosus, there is a huge amount of collaboration," Prosus' spokesperson said. "There is an opportunity to connect more deeply with their community through our other education platforms."

Joel Spolsky, Stack Overflow's chairman of the board and co-founder, also talked up operational stasis in a post to his blog, downplaying the possibility of major changes or "awkward 'synergies'" – a phrase that might be interpreted as a non-committal disavowal of Quora-style content gating, sponsored answers, and obnoxious ads.

"This is, in some ways, the best possible outcome," he said. "Stack Overflow stays independent. The company has plenty of cash on hand to expand and deliver more features and fix the old broken ones. Right now, the biggest gating factor to how fast we can do this is just how fast we can hire excellent people."

Separately, Stack Overflow cofounder Jeff Atwood said the acquisition "mints 61 new millionaires."

Some skeptics can be found in the Stack Overflow community.

"Joel's is the kind of announcement I've heard from CEOs of corporations that were getting acquired (i.e., persons who were suddenly going to become very rich) several times now," observed one individual responding on Stack Exchange to Spolsky's post.

"Possibly or even probably I'm wrong, but in every case those who did not own stock fared rather less well. Time will tell in this case, but in the meantime I doubt I'll enjoy what Dr. [Samuel] Johnson called 'a triumph of hope over experience.'" ®

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