Getting acquired seems like the goal for most.  Perhaps it is.  No exit at all isn’t that fun for most of us.  Liquidity matters, and is important, and is important to talk about.

But getting acquired isn’t as simple as just signing some paperwork and getting some cash or shares.

A few more existential thoughts and learnings:

1. The “quality”/brand of the acquirer is less important than we tend to think

Selling is selling. It’s not yours anymore. I know it may sound appealing to “Continue Your Vision Inside of Google” or “Go 1000x Bigger Inside of Apple” or say “We Were Acquired by OpenAI!” or whatever narrative, but even if it’s true at some level, it doesn’t matter in the end, 2-3-4 years down the road. Selling to Google in the end isn’t more glamorous or better than selling to Waste Management, Inc. for the same amount of money, not in the end, not really. For most founders, the rewarding part ends about 90 days after you sell, no matter to whom. No doubt it is better to see it flourish in the hands of a leading tech company. But still, this will matter less over time than you think. Google and OpenAI 10 years from now will have very different tactics (if not strategy) than Google and Open AI today.

If You Sell Your Company — Prioritize Dollars Over Prestige

2. True, bona fide, binding offers aren’t quite as common as you’d think (and as the media suggests)

Buying a company is a big deal. It takes a lot of political capital and drama on the part of the acquirer. You’ll get a lot more soft offers than firm ones, and more What If offers than signed, binding term sheets. Just because a CEO or SVP at an acquirer talks to you about acquiring you, doesn’t mean it will really happen. In fact, they may be saying the exact same thing to your competitor(s).

Take a look at Thomas Tunguz’s latest data here.  There are only 58 or so $50m+ U.S. reported software acquisitions a year.  Now, this understates the total M&A activity.  A lot of smaller deals aren’t reported, and it doesn’t include data outside the U.S.  But you can still see the universe of $50m+ acqusitions … isn’t that huge.

3. Corporate Priorities change every year, so if you say No, mean it

Both CEOs and SVPs move on. See, e.g., Microsoft and Yahoo! back in the day.  Say no by all means. But if you do, don’t expect a better, or really, another offer, next year in most cases. They’ll be on to the next wave of AI or Security rather than Analytics or Sales Productivity.  Would Salesforce have bought Slack today, even with its strong post-acquisition growth?  Not for $27 Billion.  Would Microsoft have bought Yammer today?  Pretty unlikely.

4. If You Have Something Truly Game Changing, or At Least On Its Way to Getting There — Probably Don’t Sell.  But be intellectually honest here

Just because you only have so many at-bats. Especially if what you have isn’t faddy, or subject to large disruption risk. Because in 12-24-36 months, you’ll just be so much bigger, better and stronger.

Harry Glaser, founding CEO of Periscope data, had a tough and honest discussion here re: their $130m exit.  As growth slowed, the options narrowed:

5. Your Product May Die or at Least Atrophy If You Don’t Help it Survive Post-Acquisition

Most acquisitions fail. If you sell, and you don’t fight to make it survive the first 24 months after acquisition, your product will probably disappear. Who else will really care, that much? 99% of the folks involved are already on to the next acquisition.  Brett Goldstein, ex-head of M&A at Google, had a lot of great insights on this below.

6. Plan to Stay 24 Months

Most founders want to move on after an acquisition, and that makes sense. It’s not yours anymore. But seeing the next chapter unfold is a great learning experience. Plan mentally to stay for 24 months, no matter how the compensation packages work out. If it ends up being shorter, OK. Longer, you never know. But mentally plan to stay 24 months. That way, you’ll be able to handle whatever comes next much better. The single most important thing you can do is identify who can own the day-to-day for the product post-acquisition. You should try to migrate to a more strategic role, if possible. Find your successor, either on your team, or theirs. Whatever works.  Both Harry and Brett echoed this reality.

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