Acquiring companies, to acquire talent

ACQHire, the Mark Zuckerberg approach to hiring.

For those who haven’t used the application or who haven’t seen the film, Mark Zuckerberg is the prodigious programmer who created Facebook. Almost ubiquitous, the social networking application has conquered those under 30, almost done the same for those 30-50 and is now in hot pursuit of conquering the global population of the over 50’s, 60’s and beyond. It’s an astonishing story with almost 700 million people now using the application.

The question that I pose about Mark Zuckerberg relates to his policies for talent acquisition for his company. Facebook competes for the best talent and jostles intently with Google and other tech leaders. They employ superb composite and HR branding technique to attract that talent.

Mr Zuckerberg, the world’s youngest billionaire is also a keen advocate of what he calls ACQHiring. This is a process of getting talent through buying startups and smaller tech enterprises simply to get the people involved in that start up. He buys the company, gets the people then winds the business down, drawing the people into Facebook to lead, conceive and implement innovation.

Do we have something to learn from Zuckerberg? Is this a viable policy for businesses in other arenas? Sure many businesses don’t quite have the glitz and glamour of Facebook’s meteoric rise, but is this something that we should all be considering. It seems to me to be curiously expensive. The 12 man Friendfeed business was bought for almost $51m (£31m). It quickly became obvious that the company was bought expressly for the talented people who conceived Friendfeed and for the contribution that they could make to the more mainstream Facebook platform. Friendfeed whilst successful in it’s own right was always at the more geeky end of the social networking world.

The price on the heads of the best software engineers are seen as being somewhere between half and one million dollars in an ACQHiring deal according to Vaughan Smith who has been involved in helping Facebook to negotiate 20 talent acquisition deals over the last four years.

The imperative in attracting the talent in tech is fierce as companies extend their HR offerings and innovation to get the very best people. This is why companies like Facebook, like Google say that the deals are worth it.

Social networking is seen as battle ground for today’s tech companies. In a similar fashion to the browser wars in the 90’s, the best proven talent is pretty thin on the ground, so acquisition can be a great way of recruiting and hiring proven talent.

However not all investors feel comfortable with this approach. Dave McClure of Venture 500 said of the talent acquisition strategies currently rife in the industry: “It is not what we are aiming for as investors, we are trying to build large, lasting businesses.”

“Engineers are worth half a million to one million,” said Vaughan Smith, Facebook’s director of corporate development.

Aside from perhaps the ethical question of destroying potentially great ideas and creations in order to suck talent into the giants, is does this represent value for money? Are organisations better off using more mainstream recruitment approaches to identify external and internal talent, nurture and motive those maximum ROI return? Certainly many organisations have the resources to invest deeply in people who demonstrate the commitment and will to shine. Is ACQHiring simply symptomatic of the limitations of talent management processes in these companies or just a necessary adjunct in cut throat global business?

What are your thoughts?

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