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AI startups could see a wave of 'acquihires,' and it might get messy

Dan DeFrancesco   

AI startups could see a wave of 'acquihires,' and it might get messy
  • This post originally appeared in the Insider Today newsletter.

Almost Friday! You'll likely never be as rich as Nvidia's Jensen Huang, but you can start to write emails like him. More on his "TL;DR approach."

It's the last day of our Memorial Day sale for 80% off a Business Insider subscription.

In today's big story, we're looking at the wave of talent-focused deals set to shake up the AI startup market.

What's on deck:

But first, forget the milk; we'll take the whole cow.


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The big story

M&A(I)

In the age of AI, if you can't hire them, acquire them.

Few things are more coveted in business nowadays than AI specialists. Everyone wants to supercharge their business with generative AI.

But with only so many AI specialists, the talent doesn't come easy. Compensation is steep — seven-figure pay packages — and competition is even fiercer. You know it's serious when Mark Zuckerberg is getting involved in recruiting.

So why worry about one AI specialist when you can get a company full of them?

The future of the AI industry could be a wave of "acquihires," writes Business Insider's Rebecca Torrence and Riddhi Kanetkar, who mapped out potential buyers and sellers in the space.

The M&A(I) industry is already off to a hot start this year, with 55 exits for AI startups in the first quarter, according to Crunchbase data.

And it's not just cutting-edge tech companies that are shopping. Acquihires give non-tech companies a chance to jumpstart an AI strategy that'd be difficult to stand up otherwise.

Acquihires come with plenty of risks.

Deals can be tricky in the best of circumstances, let alone in an overvalued market with high interest rates.

Companies looking to cut a deal are also flying a bit blind. VCs eagerness to back AI startups means there are plenty of companies big on valuation but little on substance.

And then there's the risk the people acquired aren't a good fit.

Technologists have the luxury of being particular about their work culture. Remember when OpenAI employees weren't pumped about potentially working at Microsoft amid the Altman ouster?

But some startups might not have a choice if funding gets tight and an acquihire is their only option. And if that's the case, that's a problem, Julia Gudish Krieger, a managing partner at Pari Passu Venture Partners, told me.

She's rarely seen acquihires work because the motivation for the deal is often more about getting a soft landing than having a passion for the product they'll be promoting or building in their new roles.

"If there are real synergies and the incoming group is genuinely excited to roll up their sleeves and help co-create, then I'm sure an acquihire can be magic in theory," Gudish Krieger said. "But this is easier said than done."


3 things in markets

  1. Oh my god! They killed Novo Nordisk! South Park's latest Ozempic storyline could be bad news for obesity drug makers and their investors. Publicly traded US companies prominently featured on the comedy show have gone on to underperform the S&P 500.
  2. The stock market and the economy are going their separate ways. Corporate earnings show continued growth despite a GDP slowdown. While rare, the divergence of the two typically means a great environment for investors. The S&P 500 has historically delivered average quarterly returns of 3.6% when that happens.
  3. Don't expect stocks to slow down in June, according to Fundstrat. The always-optimistic Tom Lee sees the stock market rising 4% next month. Continued disinflation coupled with lots of cash sitting on the sidelines means the market has more room to run despite reaching record highs. Here's what else has him so bullish.

3 things in tech

  1. Summer fit check: tech edition. In a wild turn of events, tech executives are grabbing (good) attention for their style. Fashion experts shared how tech workers can upgrade their often monotone wardrobes.
  2. Gmail is stuck in the Stone Age. When Google introduced the tabbed inbox in 2013, it was a game changer. There was finally a way to separate important emails from the clutter. But in the decade since, Gmail has failed to keep up.
  3. Apple comes under pressure. A group of French trade associations have implored CEO Tim Cook to halt the rollout of a new "web eraser" feature, over fears it could have a catastrophic impact on the online advertising industry. The tool would allow Safari users to remove unwanted content like ads, text, and images from webpages.

3 things in business

  1. A bizarre government rule is preventing young men from getting jobs. America's young men aren't working. Recessions and low wages could be to blame, but our broken unemployment system might ultimately be making employers reluctant to hire them.
  2. Your boss probably thinks you're annoying, too. As much as your boss gets on your nerves, chances are you're not completely innocent. From complaining to asking too many questions, career experts shared with BI the employee behaviors that drive bosses crazy.
  3. Elon Musk in the White House? Donald Trump and the Tesla CEO have discussed a potential advisory role if the ex-president wins November's presidential election, The Wall Street Journal reported. Trump could give Musk input on border security and economic policies, per the outlet.

In other news


What's happening today


The Insider Today team: Dan DeFrancesco, deputy editor and anchor, in New York. Jordan Parker Erb, editor, in New York. Hallam Bullock, editor, in London. George Glover, reporter, in London. Grace Lett, associate editor, in Chicago.


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