Behind the scenes of an acquisition

Behind the scenes of an acquisition

Sergej Grivtsov 6 min read
Behind the scenes of an acquisition On September 1

On September 1st, 2016, in the middle of a big party that was happening on the terrace of the office in Belgrade, the last paper was signed by which Devana became part of GoDaddy. Devana is the homegrown startup behind the ManageWP product - which serves to manage multiple WordPress sites, while GoDaddy is the world's largest domain registrar and hosting service provider. This was a big deal for our homegrown startup that got the ability to think about millions of users instead of thousands, and even became the first GoDaddy office outside of the US!

I will tell the story of what the journey from the acquisition to today was like from my point of view, as someone who was Head of Engineering in a startup, i.e. got to lead the engineering team in Serbia for GoDaddy.

What was it like for the first year and a half?

The first product integration was supposed to take six months and was completed in just three months - an excellent result that motivated the entire team to continue product development. There were various ideas for new features as well as for closer integration with the rest of the software. Most of the team visited the US offices at least once, as well as a technology conference held by GoDaddy. It's a very nice experience to see what it looks like directly in Silicon Valley, to meet colleagues who work on a wide variety of products, etc.

Due to circumstances, the person who was the initiator of the acquisition moved to another company quickly after it, while the founder of the product from Devana's time received other responsibilities. A large number of positive events in a short period of time masked the fact that outside of the initial integration, it is not clear what the expectations are from our team, as well as that the person who dictates the vision no longer exists. We had a honeymoon of acquisition before we realized that not everything is so wonderful after all. To be precise, if we had a team that just wanted to be ok paid for a little work and without too much ambition - however long that could last, this would be the perfect outcome. However, the whole team was eager to progress, prove themselves and achieve even greater success.

From the first day, my goal is for this to become a serious development center within the company, which will open many new jobs and be one of the places that allow people in Serbia to work on world-class products. Here I am talking about the entire development: product, engineering, design, marketing, etc. The good news is that the growth of teams is relatively related, so through the growth of engineering one can expect the growth of other teams.

We didn't move in line with this goal, but I was optimistic that it was worth trying more. However, not everyone was ready to wait that long, which is completely justified. People started leaving the company, and the largest number of departures happened after about a year and a half. At that worst moment, the team was more than halved.

With the company's support, we started hiring people to make up for it, but it still seemed like the office wouldn't go beyond maintaining the software that was built. Then my optimism was finally shaken and I was no longer sure if my desire to develop the office would be achievable.

How did things turn around?

The next six months passed much more successfully than I expected. In that period, we managed to find a solid number of new engineers and deliver new meaningful things in the product. The feeling that the team had ever lost people disappeared very quickly, much faster than I thought possible. However, even then there was no indication of further growth, vision and new projects. If anything, I was very glad that we didn't let everything just "fall apart" and that in that period a completely new WordPress technical support team, numbering over 50 people, was created, which made the office more meaningful.

This actually seemed like an ideal moment for me to look for new opportunities, because then I could do it with a clean heart - bearing in mind that I am leaving a built team behind, which will maintain what has already been built, while the technical support has the ability to grow and maintain GoDaddy in Serbia for the long haul.

I got a great offer to go abroad to work at one of the biggest tech companies in the world. I didn't feel like leaving Serbia, but I would do it for the sake of the possibility of further advancement. Just as I was about to announce my resignation from GoDaddy, the team in the US responsible for the Serbian part of the company changed, so I had this conversation with the new manager. I was asked to stay, with a clear message that there were bigger ambitions for the office, which came with a new leadership team, and a promise that I would see the first changes in just 3 months. I decided to give it another chance. I can always change jobs, and the opportunity to turn this into something bigger is only once.

In the promised period, a concrete vision was created and the office got a chance to become something more serious. These were still small steps, after all, this is a large corporation, but they had a very clear message. In just a few more months, we took the opportunity to create a couple of successful experiments that were visible at the CEO level and attracted the attention of more people in the company. This, together with the good results in the ongoing projects, led us to work on a wider range of projects and global company goals in the fourth year after the acquisition.

Although the acquisition was officially announced in September 2016 and the integration process was completed after only 6 months - at least from the perspective of the company and someone from the outside, I think the acquisition was actually completed after about three and a half years - in early 2020.

Of course, there were still challenges, but then it became clear that we had overcome the biggest obstacles and that now only the details were in order.

Does every acquisition take that long?

I think the following stages are inevitable during a successful acquisition:

• Initial "honeymoon" period
• Understanding the differences in expectations and culture of the merged companies
• Final acceptance of the new culture and work system
• A period of stable work in the new system
• Opportunity for expansion and further development

In the first period, everything is new and interesting, the problems are certainly not expressed yet. In parallel, people slowly understand the new environment and when the initial rush slows down, there follows a period in which new expectations are finally created and the new culture is understood. Finally, the phase of people's adaptation to the new culture is entered - at least for those who are still left. When you get here, the hardest part is over, it remains to show that everything is ok for a long period of time. Once this is confirmed, it is a matter of when the opportunity for further expansion and development will come.

In our situation, there was a great desire to get things done early on both sides, but various obstacles got in the way. I think two years is the absolute minimum for an acquisition (unless we're talking about extremely small companies where the entire focus is on that). That minimum would be achieved by combining the first three phases lasting a little more than a year, and then a little under a year of "confirmation" period. However, that would be in an ideal situation, which in the business world generally does not exist - you never know what will go wrong, but something will. Many problems seem silly to us now, but they were very difficult to solve while they were happening.

Senior engineers are said to multiply their time estimates by 8 for these reasons. If we look at the fact that the initial opinion was 6 months, and that x8 is exactly 4 years - the seniors know what they are talking about.

Where are we today?

I can say with pleasure that in the past period, we continued to function very well and that this led to the desire of the company to invest even more in our teams. This concretely means that we are now opening over 30 new engineering positions in Serbia - for several different teams, some completely new, some existing.

I can honestly say that the events so far have exceeded my wishes and expectations - at least from the moment I was on the verge of changing companies. We are all now excited to find out where we can go in the coming period, and if you want to join our further adventure, you can view the open positions at the following link.


[10:27 AM]