Operating Division or Technology Tuck-in: Being Realistic About Where You Fit in the Acquiring Company


Indulge me in a ridiculous metaphor. Are you a kidney – an organ that will be transplanted into a new host? Or are you a soldier – self-contained unit that will operate independently and report back up to the host?  

Here is the test: will you shed your administrative staff, integrate your technology into a bigger stack, and disappear? Or will you remain intact after the acquisition, carry on with your mission and report to the CEO of the acquiring company?

Organ transplants are tricky. Even if you match blood types and wash your hands carefully, the host may reject the transplant. Blood vessels have to be plumbed, anti-rejection medications administered. The new host body has generated itself around certain comfortable patterns, and it is uncomfortable with the new tissue that was invented elsewhere.

I recently pitched a middleware solution to an enterprise software company. I obviously can’t disclose who they are, so let’s refer to them by the code name “Soft Micro”. Generations of Soft Micro’s engineers had built the software, and the current generation did not want to deal with a new technology. They did not want a new team stealing their glory and sucking up their time. We delivered a presentation about our middleware and even as they smiled and nodded and paid lip service to the idea of absorbing the new tech, they took advantage of every opportunity to quash the project. “We have good engineers”; “this middleware wasn’t created with our back-end in mind”; “we don’t have resources to manage a new team. . .”

The presentation was over, attendees were glancing at watches and phone, it felt like a dead end. Then one of the Soft Micro guys asked quietly, “how are you solving the cloud compression problem?” Our lead engineer gave a brief answer that led to another “how did you?” question and the meeting was transformed from a pitch to a collaboration.

Why? Because every good tech team is starved for talent. There aren’t many engineers that meet their bar. And if they recognize, in your team, the kind of talent they are looking for, then you become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that an organ transplant is really an acquihire. If you play your cards right you will get value for the IP, but what you are really selling is the engineers who can make the solution happen in the new host.

The pitch is different if you are a soldier. In that case you aren’t selling a dreamy team, you are selling a dreamy business. If your business can reliably win sales and bring home enough earnings to be accretive, and do it in a way that is clearly aligned with the buyer’s business model, then you might be invited to the battle – but only if you know how to pitch the business. And this is very different from pitching the product, very different from pitching the team.

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