COVID-19 is truly turning out to be the black swan event of our lifetimes – it will have profound near- and long-term consequences on talent markets around the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently noted that COVID-19 could contract the global GDP by 3 percent in 2020, causing the GDPs of 170 countries to shrink and making it the steepest downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. As discussed in our recent blog, Will COVID-19 Ease the Relentless War for Talent?, talent shortages will become even more acute and the supply-demand gap for emerging skills will further widen as companies undertake rapid digital transformation and adapt to the “next normal.”
Against this backdrop, some firms are seeing this time as an opportune time to acqui-hire – or acquire startups primarily for their talent.
We have been here before. Acqui-hiring tends to spike during and after economic crises. The early 2010s saw a flurry of acquisitions by Silicon Valley giants including Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, aimed at acquiring hot skills. We believe there will be a similar acqui-hiring surge in 2020, with multiples firms announcing plans to acquire emerging skills and accelerate their efforts to build niche capabilities.
Why do companies acqui-hire?
Mark Zuckerberg once said, “Facebook has not once bought a company for the company itself. We buy companies to get excellent people.” This sentiment highlights the premium companies place on good talent. Companies acqui-hire to leverage multiple advantages such as access to highly-skilled talent, reduced time-to-hire and training efforts, developing niche capabilities, and launching a business model.
Facebook has plans to hire 10,000 additional FTEs in its product and engineering teams to tackle high utilization after the pandemic abates and to combat misinformation in advance of the U.S. presidential election in November. Amazon and Google are aggressively hiring product, design, and engineering talent. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently stated that the company plans to hire aggressively, just as it did after the 2008 financial crisis.
With multiple startups facing reduced valuations due to the economic downturn, it is highly likely that a significant chunk of this demand for talent will be addressed through focused acqui-hiring. Additionally, we expect leading Indian service provider players supporting global services delivery, like Infosys, TCS, and Wipro, to accelerate their acquisition efforts to gain strategic capabilities and grow business inorganically. And Walmart Labs has announced plans to hire over 3,000 FTEs for its India centers, aiming to strengthen its India COE by hiring new talent and acquiring relevant startups.
We are already seeing many acqui-hiring deals in 2020, a few of which we describe below. While not all were triggered by the COVID-19 aftermath, we expect the business and economic repercussions of the pandemic to accelerate this trend.
- Google recently acqui-hired Superpod, an app that allows users to post questions and quickly receive answers from experts, to boost Google Assistant’s capabilities.
- Tata Group-owned Titan Company, a traditional watchmaking firm, recently acqui-hired HUG Innovations to strengthen its smartwatches and wearables division, and plans to set up a development center in Hyderabad to cater to hardware, firmware, software, and cloud technology.
- KPMG India acqui-hired Shivansh Solutions, an SAP consulting and implementation services provider, to augment its technology implementation practice, retaining Shivansh’s directors and the core team of SAP consultants.
- Leading tech-enabled logistics marketplace, LetsTransport, recently acqui-hired and onboarded the team of a web and mobile app development startup, Pixlcoders, to strengthen its supply chain, technology, and applications divisions.
- Alphonic Network Solutions, a leading mobile application development company, recently completed the strategic acqui-hire of Roaring Studios, a digital startup to augment its web and mobile app development.
As these deals indicate, acqui-hiring presents a great value proposition for companies to access highly motivated ready talent, augment existing offerings, and develop new capabilities. It also proves lucrative for startups, especially those that might be struggling with funding during an economic downturn. We are already seeing early signs of funding scarcity, with industry analysts reporting that total startup funding in New York City is down 48 percent from year-ago levels since the lockdown started in mid-March.
Acqui-hiring can be a win-win for everyone. However, to ensure acqui-hiring success, companies must address critical factors beyond the usual legal and contractual due diligence.
What makes acqui-hiring work?
To make acqui-hiring work, companies must:
- Explore cost-benefit trade-offs – While multiple acqui-hire opportunities may exist in the market, assess their strategic near- and long-term priorities, and shortlist startups that align with their firms’ objectives and address crucial talent-supply demand gaps.
- Assess culture fit –Ensure that the acqui-hired talent, who usually possess an entrepreneurial mindset with a constant need to create, has the capacity to adapt to a systemized, rules-based corporate environment.
- Evaluate employee attitude –Make sure that the relevant skills are accompanied by the right attitude to avoid potential attitude issues.
- Ensure smooth integration – Properly manage the integration process to eliminate in-house talent’s apprehensions about, and potential resentment toward, acqui-hired team members.
The way forward
The economic aftereffects of COVID-19 will surely create some paradoxes. While on one hand startups may be challenged and job markets ravaged, on the other hand this time could present an opportunity to re-strategize priorities, revitalize operating models, build capabilities, and acquire the right talent. We believe companies that proactively realign their workforce strategies and tactically utilize acqui-hiring will emerge stronger and more resilient.
Companies looking to acqui-hire as way to address emerging talent challenges must undertake the following steps to ensure effective outcomes:
- Review the global workforce strategy and identify relevant talent supply-demand gaps
- Identify and evaluate potential acqui-hire options
- Undertake comprehensive legal and contractual due diligence
- Develop a comprehensive roadmap for integration with the existing operating model.