It Doesn’t Really Matter When Your Competitor is Acquired. (Except It Means You Weren’t.)'

Jason Lemkin

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 6.29.50 AMThere’s a common bit of advice we entrepreneurs and execs always get:  worry less about the competition, and more just about growing your own business.

It’s good, sound advice.  But man — it’s hard advice to follow.  Between your competitors’ 100 tweets a day about how Everyone In the World Loves Them, their $50m in venture financing last week, their We Rule the World press releases (that no one reads but you) … competition is all around you.  And that’s not even including the deals you are working on every day, every week, every hour, trying to beat the competition.  If you’re a founder or in sales or marketing or customer success … you’ll be talking about the competition Every Single Day.

And the one thing though that gets your attention more than anything is when a Big Tech Co. enters your space.  Either by building a product from scratch — which is anxiety-provoking enough.  Or worse, buying a top competitor that already has great customers and real traction.  Oy.

Yeah, it’s good to worry.  I mean, if Salesforce buys your #1 competitor, they have, overnight, added two orders of magnitude of resources and potential customers and all that to your competitor.

But let’s look at the empirical evidence in SaaS (and some adjacent examples):

  • Salesforce buys Assistly->  Did this kill Zendesk?  Not according to the IPO the other day.
  • Oracle buys Eloqua.  Salesforce buys ExactTarget buys Pardot.  Did this kill Marketo, or Hubspot, or Act|On?  Not near as I can tell.
  • Twitter buys Tweetdeck.  Did this end the market for Hootsuite or Buffer, or really anyone?
  • Salesforce buys Radian6.   So what?
  • SAP buys Ariba.  Tradeshift and Coupa keep growing. Maybe even faster.
  • Citrix buys Zenprise.  Didn’t seem to impact Airwatch or MobileIron.  Or Airwatch itself getting bought for $1.54 billion.

The list is endless.

And it’s not like a lot of these acquisitions failed or anything.  In fact, most of the products on the list above have substantially grown post-acquisition.  In turns out, once an enterprise application has hit at least $30-$40m in ARR … it’s almost impossible to kill.  It will still grow, the customers will still renew, etc.  For years, even worst case.  Throw some more sales resources on it, and it can accelerate post-acquisition.

But somehow, even though they maybe could … the acquirers almost never kill the competition post-acquisition.  Nine times out of ten, they just seem to grow the market, make the competition stronger.  Maybe because so many SaaS categories are really natural oligopolies, not monopolies.  More on that here.

Of course, having said all that, there’s one thing that’s relatively clear:  when a Big Tech Co buys your competitor — I highly doubt they are going to buy you, too.  Having been a VP in a Fortune 500 Tech Company, I can tell you: acquiring two of something is really, really tough.

So if Google, Salesforce, Adobe, Oracle, whomever, buys your competitor — scratch that acquirer off your Liquidity List.

But otherwise, just act as if your competitor raised another $20-$40m in venture capital.  Which they did, because that’s how much extra capital the acquirer will allocate to them.  And assume they just added a deep, unbreakable strategic partner in the acquirer itself.  Salesforce is forever aligned with Pardot 😉

But maybe … not too much more than that.


Published on June 6, 2014


  1. I read the news about acquisitions, and think, why weren’t we even considered. Thank you for this information. It puts my mind to rest and gets me to refocus on the basics: building our business to the best it can be. Love your advice: “There’s a common bit of advice we entrepreneurs and execs always get: worry less about the competition, and more just about growing your own business.”

  2. Great advice! I often fall into the “why them?” category. But your comment: “There’s a common bit of advice we entrepreneurs and execs always get: worry less about the competition, and more just about growing your own business.” gets me back on track. Thank you.

  3. Jason, I love this post. Thank you.

    It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to these stories and get trapped in a scarcity mindset where we might feel like we are troubled. Focusing on the big picture is hard, which is why reminders like this are great :).

  4. Question: If your market is attractive enough, maybe one of the acquirer’s competitors would want to buy you, right? In that case, the initial acquisition of your competitor may be good news… Thoughts?

    See you at the SaaStr Conf soon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share This