Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Facebook Acqhirees Make a Quick Mark on Its Products

Facebook has a well-defined M&A strategy of bringing in talent from young, small companies*. The company has reeled in 10 acquisitions this year, in most cases shutting down acquired services soon after a deal closes. The most it is known to have paid for a company is $50 million for FriendFeed. This has helped shape the epidemic of short-term thinking in today’s Web start-ups; sometimes, showing you are technically adept and have interesting ideas is all it takes for you to get a lucrative contract with Facebook and give your backers a mild return on their investment.

Bret Taylor

But there’s also a pattern emerging for what happens to that talent once folks arrive at Facebook. Acqhired CEOs hold prominent roles on Facebook’s product team; nearly every recent Facebook product launch seems to have been led by an acqhired employee. Most recently, Facebook Messages was product-managed by Dan Hsiao, who joined the company with the FriendFeed acquisition. Hsiao had actually been a more junior member of the FriendFeed team, having started there as an intern in 2008. Now he is managing what Facebook called the largest engineering team it has ever put together for a launch.

Meanwhile, former FriendFeed CEO Bret Taylor is CTO of Facebook. Hot Potato CEO Justin Shaffer was product manager for Facebook Groups and is now product manager for the company’s Places and Events products (his company was only acquired in August). Divvyshot CEO Sam Odio is now product manager for Facebook Photos. Nextstop CEO Carl Sjogreen now holds the title “head of platform development,” according to a Facebook spokeperson.

And Gokul Rajaram, known for his seminal work as a product manager on Google AdSense, is now in charge of Facebook’s ad technology. Rajaram came to Facebook through the acquisition of his company Chai Labs, also last August. Multiple sources confirmed Rajaram’s role at Facebook, though Facebook declined to.

Gokul Rajaram

Facebook has its reasons for keeping a big-name hire like Rajaram under the radar; for one, Google can’t be happy to have lost the opportunity to buy his start-up. The former Googler has been an adviser and director to multiple companies, including Canoe Ventures and Associated Content.

Elsewhere, Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt from Facebook’s first acquisition, Parakey, have had significant roles on products like Facebook Questions and the Facebook iPhone app. Ross’s title is Director of Product, though he is currently on sabbatical. Hewitt is working on undisclosed projects but “more on the engineering side,” said the spokesperson.

Facebook is not yet talking about where it will assign Sam Lessin, CEO of the just-acquired storage start-up, and Cory Ondrejka and Bruce Rogers, founders of the just-acquired gaming start-up Walletin.

Facebook says it has about “two dozen PMs,” so the acqhired folks account for a significant but not dominant portion of that corps.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told me last month:

We have a big footprint but we want to operate like a startup and take risks, and the best way to do that is to get people who self-select towards being entrepreneurs… The only real theme is that we haven’t bought any companies yet to get the company. It’s always been because we have a lot of respect for the people involved.

This kind of track record may make Facebook an even more enticing acquirer for small start-ups. On the other hand, it’s probably disheartening for Facebook’s homegrown talent to see these opportunities handed to people who are brand-new and who, in many cases, have little experience working at the scale of hundreds of millions of users.

*Facebook has also explored larger acquisitions of companies like Twitter and Foursquare (though Kara Swisher reported those talks were less serious than portrayed elsewhere), but those deals were never consummated.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

Bret Taylor photo (CC) Brian Solis.