There’s one little post-script to this whole WhatsApp business. According to the Wall Street Journal’s live blog of the conference call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that WhatsApp would continue to run independently — duh— referring to it as Facebook’s “standard operating procedure.”
Um…. since when? Since…Instagram? Because back then we and everyone else reported that Zuckerberg’s commitment to allow Instagram to remain independent was a massive, glaring, honking exception to Facebook’s acquisition playbook. Saying that Facebook didn’t completely absorb companies was like saying Zuckerberg never wore sandals. So much so, that many didn’t believe he’d stick to his promise with Instagram.
From a story I wrote at the time of that jawdroppingly large deal:
Zuckerberg is known for having singular control over everything product-wise at Facebook — (Systrom) would not have agreed to let Instagram be a standalone app otherwise. Much is being made of the price tag, but this term of independence was clearly Systrom’s real price. And that’s likely the reason that the company was continuing to negotiate a huge venture capital deal at the same time. Systrom was only going to do this deal, if the terms and the price simply could not be declined.
Pre-Instagram that level of autonomy was precisely not what Facebook was known for, particularly when it comes to its acquisition strategy. People acquired into Facebook did well. Their projects were killed almost immediately. They fit into the Borg and there was no pretending otherwise.
Zuckerberg’s blithe “this is just how we roll” explanation of how Whatsapp will fit shows how different Facebook’s acquisition strategy has become pre-IPO roadshow and post-IPO roadshow. Acquisitions were previously a means of assimilating talent, and Facebook was better at that game than most. Now, with the wherewithal of a surging public stock, the success of Instagram behind it, and the obvious fear of the inflection point of the mobile Web, Facebook’s game plan has changed. Deals need to move the needle, and the company has the currency to go big. It’s less Borg and more Voltron. (Or Frankenstein if the strategy becomes unwieldy.)
The comments also show what Zuckerberg wants entrepreneurs to think about Facebook’s acquisition strategy. As we previously reported, there’s a good reason Zuckerberg tends to win these deals. He knows how to sell engineers and is good at doing it personally, frequently during long walks or weekend BBQs at his house. When he was running the “Borg Playbook” he used Facebook’s comparatively small number of engineers per active user to his advantage by wooing teams with the promise that they could make a huge difference to a product used by a billion people. Where else could you do that?
The new message is: Oh we’ll leave you alone. That’s what we always do. Just ask Kevin. Instagram is the key to people so blithely believing it this time: While it’s very much not what Facebook is historically known for, it’s what Facebook did on its most visible acquisition to date.
Yet another reason why Instagram is the deal that keeps on giving for Zuck.
[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]