Acquihire: The Startup Innovator’s Dream


Startups aren’t just hip new companies that either die or score a buy. They can become a path to that career you’ve been looking for.

Acquihire, v., n. [ac·qui·hire, ˌakwiˈhīr]. Also acqui-hire.

Not long ago, the senior panic set in among myself and my peers. No, I don’t mean a fear of becoming old (though that might be next on the hazy horizon). I’m talking about the gripping panic concomitant with becoming a senior undergraduate and realizing that, at some near point in the near future, we will have to be actual adults and work in a real-life job. What a nightmare, am I right?

On an email listserv, a friend of mine attached a promising opportunity she had found while job searching on our university job board:

Sign me up

Well sign me up please

Though hilarious (who actually took the time to create a fake corporate account and post this?), it’s quite dismaying how much we young twenty-somethings hoped it could, in some version of universe, be real. Yes, I’d love be a boss, etc. for a minimum salary level of 1M in Hotlanta; I’ll fan up my application smoke signals soon.

In other words, it’s a caricature of the end-point dream for which we don’t want to do the dirty work in years of sacrifice to attain.

But how on earth will we ever actually get to that dream job that we want? Google isn’t exactly pounding at my door over my limited 21-year-old résumé.

Last month, TechCrunch gave me five pretty convincing reasons why I should think about working for a startup instead. Startups, Adam Arbolino argues, “can equip you with invaluable hands-on tools and experience, growing your skills, knowledge and even responsibilities rapidly – and that’s something that’s difficult to come by in a medium or larger-sized organization.”

The more I thought about it, the more attractive startups began to sound. Though startups aren’t always easy or even successful, I want to learn how to really use some skill and some elbow grease in an environment that fosters innovation, freedom, and individual talent, and I’m increasingly doubting that large companies are the outlet for this desire.

Yet herein lies the dilemma. Unless I wish to continually work one hot-and-fast startup after another that either sink (fold and disintegrate) or swim (get bought out by one of those larger corporations) within about a year of their founding, then startups can’t be the end point.

Have no fear though, millennials, if you’re thinking along the same lines. There’s a recent trend in strategic recruiting out there that’s gaining momentum, and it just may be one of the most direct paths connecting your work in a startup to a position in large corporation later in your career. In fact, it’s so simultaneously catchy and useful that it’s this week’s neologism: acquihire

It began as acqhire, then extended into acquihire, and is sometimes even hyphenated as acqui-hire. Yeesh. This is slightly ironic due to the fact, as opposed to many neologisms that murkily wander into usage from slang or shortened forms of preexisting words, acquihire was very intentionally crafted by a single person. traces the word’s roots to the seed planted and nourished by blogger Rex Hammock in a post waaay back in 2005.

Though slow to catch, here we are nearly ten years later reading and using his buzzword on the reg. Regardless of spelling, all three generate the same meaning as portmanteaus of acquire and hire. But it’s not just a combination of two words that, at first glance, might have fairly similar meanings.

Instead, according to Oxford Dictionaries, acquihire signifies a large corporation’s acquisition of a startup not for the cool product, service, or idea it raised per usual, but rather for the talent of the startup staff. It’s the strategy that tech giants like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook are rapidly becoming masters of, and they aren’t slowing their game anytime soon. For example, Facebook’s acquihire of FriendFeed, the site that started the “like” function on news feeds now so integral to Facebook, wouldn’t have happened had not Zuckerberg offered the FriendFeed team jobs as talent hires in Facebook as well.

Liz Gannes of disdainfully dismisses acquihiring as an ego-driven, back-patting scheme that does little more than vainly save face: “Being able to say your start-up “sold” is more prestigious than just quitting your job to join the same company.” I suppose that there’s truth in this. But she also ignores the benefits of this symbiotic exchange. In a blog post about his personal experience of being acquihired, Pat McCarthy admits that his startup team became nostalgic for the mission they had to end. But he notes that what is ahead is much greater than that which is left behind: “Everyone is really excited about the bigger opportunity that is now in front of us.”

Acquihiring is about moving onwards and upwards. To the young innovator, it is the opportunity to build a career not only on what your resume says you’ve done, but truly on your talent and what you can present to the world as a person.

If you’re the specialist that a corporation needs, then the possibility of an acquihire is one mutually-beneficial step closer to the position you may envision yourself filling down the road. Besides the inherent skills and experience you’ll gain in being a part of any startup, consider the places that contributing to a successful startup could take you. Though they definitely don’t guarantee a skip and a hop into a spectacular pipe-dream job like the Hotlanta one above, startups could just turn into something more for you someday if you give it a shot and give it all you’ve got.

An acquihire just may be your career’s golden ticket.


One thought on “Acquihire: The Startup Innovator’s Dream

  1. Rachael, very well composed and written. I had no previous knowledge of terminology such as “acquihire” and “permalink” so you have enlightened me on those. I thought I had a good concept of what “startup” meant and you have broadened that concept for me.
    So keep your resume up-to-date and count on me for a reference.


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