We recently passed the 2 year anniversary of our acquisition by Adobe. I’ve learned a lot that I want to cover later, but one question I was recently asked was what can do in an acquisition as a founder to help manage your team to success.
I was not a perfect executive after our acquisition. But I did put the pieces in place so our revenue could triple in the 24 months following our acquisition.
Do better than me here, and as a target, I think your team will thrive:
1. First, as Table Stakes: Make Sure the Key Employees Don’t Leave. You need a combination of carrots and gentle sticks. You need strong enough economic incentives as carrots NOT sticks, that they won’t leave to do the Next Thing for 3 years ideally, 2 years worst case.
It doesn’t matter how much they make when the deal closes. They also need, for the next 2-3 years, to have an offer so good they just can’t refuse it.
But carrots alone encourage a certain amount of laziness. The carrots should be tied to hitting performance goals in a reasonable fashion. Otherwise, the pressure will be off, and growth targets won’t be hit.
You lose the key employees too soon, you lose the domain expertise. Unless it’s an acqui-hire, the domain expertise is a huge part of the reason you/they bought.
2. Protect the Non-Managers from BigCo B.S. Going from a start-up to a BigCo involves a huge amount of seeming B.S. Odd budgeting, painful hiring and HR processes, “politics”, new fiefdoms, cross-department drama and jealousy, etc etc. Whatever it is, insulate the lay employees from it so they don’t see it. Take the hit yourself, do the meetings, have the arguments, but make sure the frictions impact the lay team as little as possible. Let them keep doing what they did well, just with more resources behind them.
3. Understand You Have to Revert to the Mean in 12-18-24 Months and Plan for it. At some point, no matter how hands off the acquisition is at the beginning, you have to become part of the acquirer’s culture. Do things their way. Not entirely, not 100%, and not at first. But ultimately. They have a way of doing things. They are too big and old to change. You have to help guide your team, over time, to doing things their way.
We hit 24 months of great growth, and evolved over that time to work the way our acquirer worked. That’s the way it works. Do the best on that path you can, for your team, your customers and your product.