How to Gain Support for Your Project After An Acquisition

Rachid El Guerrab

Ex-Director of Engineering at Google



When our organization got acquired by a large corporation, our small R&D team was directly integrated into this large corporation. We had an idea to tell stories in a more interactive way and had already built some interesting pieces of content. We were keen to see how we could continue to work on this project and fit it in within the new organization. We were perplexed how to proceed; where to start from, whom to talk to first, and how to make our project relevant. We were aware that people had an infinite amount of issues and priorities they already worked on but we were determined to be noticed and to be paid attention to. Eventually, I took us two years to integrate our project with the corporation's main platform.

Actions taken

The first thing we did was to call cold people. This is a very unusual approach for technical people who still consider a cold call a sale's guy thing. I reached for a directory and started looking up for some names. I would cold email them introducing myself and my team and ask for a meeting. Obviously, we encountered many puzzled looks and unanswered emails. Nevertheless, we kept contacting people. In the meantime, we polished our presentation and became better at asking the right questions. Instead of relying on our manager to present our project we opted for a less formal and more personal approach. After the initial reactions which were very positive, we became quite confident. This was a huge mistake. Just because something is good, it doesn't mean that it is a good fit. We've also set some unrealistic expectations for our managers. That was another huge mistake.
Initially, after people would say no, we would just leave a meeting without really understanding why they said no. Then we started to gently push for an explanation by asking for a follow-up conversation. We would collect their comments from these follow-up conversations and made a list of requirements which later became our task list. When all the comments were clearly presented they looked doable. The hardest thing for me to understand was that there are things that go beyond logic and where the human factor plays a more prominent role. For a long time, I was insensitive to what was going on in terms of promotion cycles and reviews, how people and projects were valued, how people branded and positioned themselves within the company. Every company culture is different and personal incentives and agendas affect between sixty and seventy percent of everything that happens in bigger companies. My rational engineering mind had a hard time accepting this, but once I did I realized that I need to find people who will champion my project because they will personally benefit from it.

Lessons learned

  • During the first two years, we encountered many failures. But we have learned a great deal from these failures and lack of success.
  • Talk to as many people as you can. However, we have underestimated the amount of energy cold emailing and setting meetings would consume. Besides all the effort to prepare for the meetings, we had our actual R&D work to do. You have to accept that a certain amount of communication will eventually fail and you should think of it as training.
  • The value of a project is not intrinsically in itself but in the relationships it develops and how it fits within the company. Far less interesting things can be more valuable to the people we were approaching. This helped me learned to be more gentle on a fit side vs. a technical side.
  • Get the information from every no-meeting. Be prepared that most often people will say no. However, learn about the reasons behind that no.
  • In small companies, there are personal issues, but logic prevails and all you need to do is to present well your arguments. In large corporations, what is frequently called politics or more plainly life, plays a more prominent role. Therefore, you have to learn what are the incentives for people you are working with.

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Rachid El Guerrab

Ex-Director of Engineering at Google

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementLeadership TrainingFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer Progression

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