My reaction to this news is obviously “great for the team, great for the investors, great for Facebook because they really believe this is a game-changer for them.” Haters gonna hate but you won’t hear any knocks from me on the team for giving up too soon or the VCs for pushing the exit. What fascinates me about this story is how they got to this big announcement in the first place.
First, it starts with product. WhatsApp’s founders had a vision, they even taped it to their desks. They were maniacally focused on product from the start — it had to work, it had to be clean and it had to be fast. That’s it. No flourishes, no extras. Just a great solution that delighted its users. Which it clearly does.
Second, it had to scale. They built a product with 450 million customers with only 50 employees. Sure, maybe that’s simpler in the mobile app market versus the enterprise software market, but still . . . well done.
Third, they had to get in someone’s way. Strategic buyers don’t go around buying companies anymore. They buy products that either 1) cause them pain or 2) give them a return on investment. WhatsApp wasn’t causing FB a whole lot of pain yet, but Zuck is thinking 10, 20 years out. And he has the control to do what he wants. Control has always been on the top of his list even as a venture-backed CEO and now as a public company.
Fourth, have more than one interested buyer. It’s tough to run a successful auction when there is only one person in the room. You can only get top dollar when you have competition and rumors are that Google was interested at about $10 billion. A good banker can help get you that last bit of value and it looks like Morgan Stanley did their job for WhatsApp’s team and investors. But if you don’t have the first three on this list, even the best banker can’t magically create interest when there isn’t any.