Innovation unConference

Notes from Session “Post Acquisition Depression” led by David Rose

David recently sold Vitality to an L.A. based investor. David is still the CEO but is left out of major decisions within the company. As he has signed a non-compete, he is trying to decide how to spend his remaining 14 months. He hoped that this session would help him learn from the experiences of others who have been in a similar position.

Several other entrepreneurs in the room had better experiences with their acquirers. One man recently sold his company to Google, and felt that Google continues to respect him as the leader of his company. He was able to retain his team, his management style, and still makes key decisions when it comes to the leadership of the company. He stated that Google is run like a start-up, and wonders if there are other companies who understand how to integrate entrepreneurs successfully.
Another man recently sold to Zynga, where he feels that he is trusted. He said that the cooperative environment at Zynga allowed for the many entities within Zynga to use the best parts of one another’s companies, without having to sacrifice their independence or their ability to make their own decisions. He appreciates Zynga’s weak centralization, crediting it with his relative freedom. He also reminded the group that he knew of less successful stories of selling to Google. Some wondered if the company’s off-site location (Boston versus San Francisco) might be an advantage to them.
David’s experience, however, has left him without his team, without control and without much contribution. He voiced concern that without his input, his product may never reach its potential. Several in the group suggested that David might consider spending a chunk of time in LA to avoid later regrets. They pointed out that his proximity to his acquirer might allow him increased influence over the product and the handling of Vitality.
Several within the group went the opposite route, leaving the company before it was sold. This allowed them the opportunity to keep the stock without the responsibility. The group identified a key question “is the baby going to live”. Some in the group realized it may be easier to walk away from a company if you have certainty that your product, your baby, will continue to thrive without your influence. Another participant pointed out that every product needs an advocate. In some cases, the acquirer becomes the advocate, other times the entrepreneur must stay in the picture to advocate for his or her product.
Others pointed out that often, founders have more leverage than they realize or care to utilize. Additionally, the group felt that though the VC and the board can sometimes be pushy, their ultimate goal is to serve as a check, offering perspective to founders.

Still, the central question remains: what to do with this post-acquisition depression? One founder asked the question “where do you want to be in 10 years?” saying that the answer to that question should guide your life post-acquisition. Another suggested turning this period of time into a challenge, asking yourself “what can I learn from my acquirers that I can use in the next business? What’s my take-away here?” Still others encouraged David to continue working, with the permission of his acquirer. They felt that going to his investor and speaking to him directly about expectations might in fact open up the possibility of working on new products. By approaching the investor with a simple “I feel like I could be more productive for you” you allow him to see your continuing work as a positive for him, and keep it from being competitive work. To solve the problem of missing your team, one founder suggested joining a mentoring group for young entrepreneurs.
Thanks to Amy Click for her notes from this session

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