Zuckerberg offers peek at Facebook's acquisition strategies

Facebook CEO says be a friend and have a shared vision, but scare them when you have to and move fast.

Steven Musil
Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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3 min read

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the man with the acquisition plan.

James Martin/CNET

Anyone who has ever been involved in closing a billion-dollar acquisition deal will tell you that you don't go in without a clear, well thought out plan.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg knows a thing or two about how to seal the deal on blockbuster buys. After all, he's the man behind his company's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, he personally brokered its $1 billion buyout of Instagram and closed the $3 billion deal to buy Oculus VR.

Zuckerberg offered a primer on the strategies he and his company employ when they see an attractive target during testimony Tuesday in a lawsuit with ZeniMax Media, which accuses Oculus and Facebook of "misappropriating" trade secrets and copyright infringement. At the heart of the lawsuit is technology that helped create liftoff for virtual reality, one of the hottest gadget trends today.

A key Facebook approach is building a long-term relationship with your target, Zuckerberg said at the trial. These deals don't just pop up over night, he said according to a transcript reviewed by Business Insider. They take time to cultivate.

I've been building relationships, at least in Instagram and the WhatsApp cases, for years with the founders and the people that are involved in these companies, which made [it] so that when it became time or when we thought it was the right time to move, we felt like we had a good amount of context and had good relationships so that we could move quickly, which was competitively important and why a lot of these acquisitions, I think, came to us instead of our competitors and ended up being very good acquisitions over time that a lot of competitors wished they had gotten instead.

He also stressed the need assure your target that you have a shared vision about how you will collaborate after the deal is put to bed. Zuckerberg said this was reason Facebook was able to acquire Oculus for less than its original $4 billion asking price.

If this [deal] is going to happen, it's not going to be because we offer a lot of money, although we're going to have to offer a fair price for the company that is more than what they felt like they could do on their own. But they also need to feel like this was actually going to help their mission.

When that doesn't work, Zuckerberg said scare tactics is an effective, if undesirable, way of persuading small startups that they face a better chance of survival if they have Facebook to guide their way rather than going it alone.

That's less my thing, but I think if you are trying to help convince people that they want to join you, helping them understand all the pain that they would have to go through to build it out independently is a valuable tactic.

It also pays to be weary of competing suitors for your startup, Zuckerberg said, and be willing to move fast to stave off rivals and get the deal done.

Often, if a company knows we're offering something, they will offer more. So being able to move quickly not only increases our chance of being able to get a deal done if we want to, but it makes it so we don't have end up having to pay a lot more because the process drags out.

It wasn't clear why these strategies didn't work on Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel, who famously rebuffed a $3 billion takeover offer from Facebook in 2013.

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