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  • Writer's pictureJason Costa

A Lens for BD Opportunities

Several years ago when I was working on the API at Twitter, Facebook approached us about joining a mobile web standard that they were sponsoring at that time. This would have been sometime in 2012. I don’t recall the specifics of the standard, nor what their proposal really was; frankly it’s not even important to the story. What I do recall is that they wanted to make an announcement within the next day or two, and have Twitter sign on as a “major“co-sponsor and advocate in the consortium. We had to decide fast, given the tight timeframe.

There was a meaningful debate internally at Twitter about what that engagement could look like. After all, while Twitter was a proponent of open standards, we looked at Facebook with a fair amount of reservation. They weren’t exactly an ally to Twitter. So how would we participate, what would our role in setting the strategy look like, and did we really want to partner more closely with Facebook?

As the questions stretched into the next day on an internal email thread, we got a simple response from our head of engineering at that time: “no”.

A lot of people, who were quite eager to jump in and ride on the back of FB’s push, were confused and disheartened. “Why in the world would we not want to take this opportunity?”

Many folks thought it would have all kinds of benefits - building more credibility in the open source & standards ecosystem, improved engineering recruiting & branding, and more. What could the possible downsides be to jumping in on this opportunity? People, often quite passionate at Twitter (one of the great perks of working there), were getting spicy on the internal email thread.

Later that week, there was an engineering all-hands where the question was at the top of our internal Q&A system. I’ll never forget what the head of engineering proceeded to say in his follow up at this engineering all-hands. He grabbed the mic and proceeded:

“I said no to participating in this engagement for 2 reasons.

Number 1) when someone comes to you at the 11th hour and asks you to throw your brand equity behind an announcement, it means that they don’t really respect your opinion on the matter. They just want to leverage your brand in a manner that is ultimately beneficial to them; in this case as the standard’s co-sponsor.

Perhaps even more important though:

Number 2) if someone gives you zero time to really understand the minutiae of what you’re throwing your brand equity behind, that generally does not work out well for the invited party. Don’t get involved in playing a game that you do not understand.”

That was it. The room was floored. No one asked anymore questions about this Facebook open standard invitation and whether we should join the steering committee after that. I personally never forgot the episode, and even though it was specific to an open standard engagement, it’s always in the back of my mind as a lens when evaluating any kind of business development deal or partnership integration opportunity that fosters value exchange between two or more parties.…

Don’t get involved in playing a game that you don’t understand.

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