For $4.7 billion, Blackstone purchased Ancestry.com from private equity rivals Silver Lake, Spectrum Equity, and Permira, placing a "big bet," as Reuters describes it, "on family-tree chasing as well as personalized medicine."
In case you are unfamiliar with the services it offers, Ancestry.com allows customers to not only trace their genealogy but also identify specific genetic health risks using testing kits. (Related: Remember when it came out that Communist China is stealing people's DNA from these at-home testing kits?)
Blackstone's hope is that because of the Wuhan coronavirus (Covid-19), more customers will stay home and use Ancestry.com's services, generating more profits for the investment firm.
"We believe Ancestry has significant runway for further growth as people of all ages and backgrounds become increasingly interested in learning more about their family histories and themselves," said David Kestnbaum, a Blackstone senior managing director.
The deal is Blackstone's first acquisition out of Blackstone Capital Partners VIII, the largest-ever private equity fund that siphoned $26 billion last year from its investors.
As of this writing, some three million paying customers use Ancestry.com on a regular basis. They hail from about 30 different countries, feeding the company more than $1 billion in annual revenue.
Ancestry.com was launched in 1996 as a family history website. It has since morphed in a DNA testing and "smartphone" app company that allows customers to utilize the latest technological advancements in personalized genetics-based medicine.
Singapore-based sovereign wealth fund GIC, another Ancestry.com investor, said it will continue to maintain a significant minority stake in the company despite the acquisition.
The $4.7 billion purchase price is a substantial jump from Ancestry.com's previous evaluation from two years ago. Silver Lake and GIC invested in the Lehi, Utah-based company at a $2.6 billion valuation.
Ancestry.com currently has more than 10,000 terabytes of data on genetics, immigration, births, marriages, and deaths that will now fall into the hands of a major investment firm.
Blackstone says it sees "significant runway for growth" at Ancestry.com as increasingly more people probe their family history for clues about who they truly are. The investment firm says its main goal in acquiring Ancestry.com is to cater to this interest as well as "provide a differentiated service" to customers.
Other companies in Blackstone's $880.9 billion asset portfolio include Michaels, Crown Resorts, and VFS Global.
Another thing worth pointing out is that Jeffrey Kindler, the former chairman and CEO of Pfizer, is now a senior adviser at Blackstone. This suggests that Blackstone is aiming for a venture into the customized medicine industry.
"You don't spend $4.7 billion unless you have a plan to make it back, and more," said longtime Ancestry.com user Shirley Ruge, adding that she doesn't "believe for a second that Blackstone bought Ancestry simply because they love people."
Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Alan Butler added to this worry by telling CBS News in an interview that "the concern when there is a big deal like this is that investors might be interested in that data for other reasons, and in the ways that consumers intended when they gave over that information."
An Ancestry.com spokesperson responded to these data concerns by claiming that Blackstone will not have access to any of the genetic or family tree information provided by customers. The company also has no plans to change any of its data storage or access rules.
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