Google Can't Hire Anyone, So It's Going Crazy Acquiring Companies

sergey brin cash

In the last twelve months, Google has acquired (or planned to acquire) 20-six different companies.

Why is Google going on such a crazy shopping spree? On a basic level, it can afford it, since it has billions in cash. And Google thinks its smart to invest in companies and people to turbo charge the company now for the future.

But, below those superficial reasons there seems to lurk a more vexing problem for Google. It’s no longer a sexy growth business, and we’ve heard that’s making it harder for Google to attract the best and the brightest in the industry.

Facebook wrested that mantle away Google. Facebook is growing like a weed, introducing new products, and most importantly pre-IPO, which means big paydays eventually for employees joining today.

Google offered $500,000 to an employee who was leaving for Facebook. He turned it down and joined Facebook anyway. (We’ve also heard Quora is hiring lots of talent lately. More on that later.)

Which, brings us to Google’s acquisitions. It bought some big companies, but mostly it’s smaller companies filled with industrious, intelligent, entrepreneurs.

Google used to be able to just hire those people. Today, if it wants them in the Google Plex it has to buy the company they’re working on.

SocialDeck is for its social gaming plan

Google paid an undisclosed sum for SocialDeck, a Canadian company focused on social gaming. It's a two year old company that could be good for Android games or Google's planned social network.

Angstro brought in one employee, basically

Google bought Angstro for Rohit Khare. He will be helping Google figure out social networking.

Google added visual search with

Google bought, which specialises in visual search. Makes sense for Google, a search company. Reported price was north of $100 million.

Jambool is good for social payments

Google shelled out $70 million for social payment company Jambool.

Google paid $228 million for Slide and Max Levchin

This is a big one. Google brought in Slide to add to Google Games which is reportedly in the works. Slide was a big app company inside Facebook at one point. Max Levchin is a member of the 'Paypal mafia,' and is generally respected in the valley as a sharp guy. He's not someone that would be at Google unless it acquired him.

Instantiations was a small Java and Ajax development tool group

We barely heard anything about this one, but Instantiations focused on Ajax and Java development tools, both of which are important to Google. Developer Joe Hewitt once savaged Google's tools for Android, which uses Java. Maybe this team will be fixing that?

Metaweb helps with semantic search

Metaweb was tiny company that Google bought to make its core search product a little better.

Google went big with its attempt to buy ITA Software

This deal is still pending, but Google wants to pay $700 million for huge travel software company ITA. Big travel site Kayak relies on ITA software.

Invite Media helps buyers use ad exchanges

Google paid $70 million for New York startup Invite Media, which helps ad buyers use ad exchanges. Google is an advertising company, so this makes sense. Invite's co-founder and CEO is 24 year old Nat Turner (on the left). Google should try to hang on to smart young talent like this.

Ruba is a travel site getting folded into iGoogle

Ruba is the ultimate acquisition-hire. So much so that Google is not even calling it an acquisition. It's just saying it hired the team from Ruba. TechCrunch reported the purchase. Here's how it describes Ruba, 'Ruba offer users a way to visually browse through cities and their attractions around the world, offering photo-rich guides and an emphasis on making it easy to quickly discover new locations.'

We hear 'start-up king' Mike Cassidy, founder of Ruba was immedidately put in charge of the core search algorithm group. Pretty big job.

Simplify Media will stream music to Android phones

Google announced this acquisition during its developers conference. Simplify Media is a small tech company that allowed users to stream music from the desktop to their mobile phone. Google purchased the company and will use the technology to stream music to Android handsets. (Apple is rumoured to be doing the same through its acquisition of Lala, which was a web-based iTunes.)

Episodic is a video platform that helps with monetizing

Google purchased Episodic in early April. Episodic is a platform that allows its users to monetise web videos by inserting ads. TechCrunch reported the acquisition, but didn't know financial terms. Episodic will join the YouTube team.

Plink will help Google's visual search efforts

Google bought Plink to help its mobile visual search, Google Goggles. With Plink's application, you can take a photo of a famous painting with your phone, then have information about the painting show up on your phone.

Agnilux is a stealth startup from former Apple employees

This is a very intriguing startup purchase. Google bought Agnilux, a stealth startup from the guys behind PA Semi, the chip company Apple purchase in 2008. Agnilux was believed to be working on some sort of server technology.

Labpixies helps Google's iGoogle effort

Labpixies makes widgets for iGoogle and Open Social. It will be joining Google's Tel Aviv office. In post announcing the purchase, Google's Dan Loeb writes, 'We are looking forward to working with Labpixies to develop great web apps and leverage their knowledge and expertise to help developers and improve the ecosystem overall.' During Google's developer conference, it showed that it would be pushing hard into web apps for the future.


Bumptop makes cool 3D user interfaces. If there's one place Google could use help its on user interface. Design is not one of Google's strong suits. As it does more mobile phones and prepares to build an OS for netbooks, BumpTop could help make these things look decent. This is another acquisition that had no announced price.

DocVerse was enlisted to improve Google Docs

DocVerse makes Microsoft office documents available for multiple people to edit simultaneously from different locations. Google paid a reported $25 million for the company and will fold it into the team working on Google Docs.

Google gets a talented group to help it attack Microsoft's Office cash cow, while also making needed improvements to Google Docs.

Google bought reMail to improve its mobile email

This is the ultimate acqui-hire. Google purchased reMail, which was known for a cool iPhone app. It immediately shut down the iPhone app and put reMail's founder Gabor Cselle to work on other Gmail products.

Gabor will be a product manager on the Gmail team and it wouldn't surprise us if he was making an official Gmail application for the iPhone.

Aardvark is the kind of service Google would have shut down during last year's austerity cuts

Aardvark is a social search tool built by a bunch of people that once worked at Google. If you have a question, you submit through Aardvark which routes the question via a variety of channels to people that could answer it. You can see how Aardvark works here.

Google has a fear of social networks like Facebook and Twitter eroding its search business. If ask your friends about a good coffee maker, and you could ask Google, who are you more likely to trust? Your friends probably. Aardvark exploits the advantage of asking your friends.

Here's the thing though. This won't be a big business. And it doesn't fit with Google's current search offerings. It's the sort of side-project that should be shut down in 2 years.

The AppJet team will work on Google Wave, which nobody uses

Another acqui-hire from Google. AppJet made Etherpad, which was immediately shut down after Google bought it. TechCrunch says Google paid a low eight figure sum for the company.

The AppJet team is moving to Australia where it will work on Google Wave. Google Wave won't be a big business for Google, but it will help in the long-run with Google's Docs business, its operating system, and even email too.

Teracent will chip in with Google's big display ad business

Teracent uses an algorithm to improve the creative elements of a display ad. (The lower of these two ads was selected using Teracent technology.)

Eric has repeatedly stated that display advertising is the next big business for Google. Adding a cool display technology to the company makes perfect sense.

Gizmo5 will help Google Voice develop into a bigger Skype rival

Google picked up this VoIP company for $30 million says TechCrunch. For that small sum, Google gets a good bit of technology and some smart people.

Gizmo5 is already integrated into Google Voice. Down the road, it could feature heavily in Google's mobile plans. It could also challenge Skype eventually.

AdMob is Google's thumb in Steve Jobs's eye

Google snapped up AdMob back in November, paying $750 million in stock. Google prefers to pay cash, so shelling out with stock tells you how much it wanted AdMob. Apple was pursuing AdMob at the same time, which might also be why it paid in stock.

Google is an advertising company with big ambitions in the mobile space. This has a lot of promise for Google's long term objectives.

The deal is still being held up by regulatory scrutiny, and we think it could be one of Google's last big acquisitions for a while.

Fun fact about the AdMob purchase: Google is paying $750 million for the company. The total mobile ad market had just $160 million in 2008, according to the Kelsey Group.

reCaptcha helps a little with book scanning

Google probably paid a small sum for reCaptcha. In exchange, it gets access to a smart fella in Luis von Ahn, who will stay at Carnegie Mellon as computer science professor.

As we wrote at the time, 'the twist in the deal that could help Google is that many of reCAPTCHA's words come from scanned newspapers and old books. By having humans type the scanned words into reCAPTCHA, they get help reading the scanned text. This could be helpful for Google's book scanning project.'

On2 was a pain in the rear to buy, but it could enhance Google's video offerings

Google's purchase of On2 kicked off its most recent shopping spree on a slightly ominous tone. Google offered $106.5 million for the company. Shareholders protested, saying they weren't getting a fair deal. So Google kicked in $26.5 million to sate the shareholders, which got the job done.

Google was really paying for On2's VP8 codec, which it has open sourced in an effort to simplfy and grow web video adoption.

Now see Google's other acquisitions

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