Google's Acquhire Binge

What do collaboration toolmaker AppJet, social search manager Aardvark and email search appmaker reMail have in common? A trio of little startups, they were all recently acquired by Google after being founded by former Google employees. So now those founders are returning to the nest — to work on similar projects, with generous re-signing bonuses in their pockets. These are multimillion-dollar acquhires.

More than 10 years after Google was founded, and five years after it went public, it’s a given that employees are going to leave, and new fresh faces will seem like better opportunities. In a time when Google is busy launching massive products like browsers and phones, folks with cool little ideas may well be better off exploring and testing them outside the company. It certainly would have been more convenient for its HR department had Google managed to keep these people employed by offering them opportunities internally — but then again you can’t feel bad for a company with $24.5 billion cash on hand when it has to go out and spend a few mil to recruit from the office park down the road.

Ex-Googlers also tend to be either comfortable financially, and able to fund their own projects off the ground, or at the very least well-résuméd enough to secure backing. (Others find financial security more relaxing than emboldening, and head off to retirement because they are rich beyond belief.)

It seems that Aardvark may be the only one of this trio of acquisitions whose product survives intact; the social search engine is now in Google Labs. Aardvark’s team had previously worked on Google projects such as AdSense, News, Firefox and machine learning. Meanwhile, the AppJet folks (who’d previously worked on Google products such as Search and Health) are teaming up with Google Wave, and reMail founder Gabor Cselle (who formerly was a Gmail intern) will be a Gmail product manager.

None of those startup products were able to find Google-like scale on their own, but they were all nicely designed and engineered and served a purpose. Development without Google’s global scale may have actually been a benefit; the missteps of last week’s Google Buzz launch showed that a new web product from within the company would have been better suited to a more modest rollout.

If the acquhire binge continues, who might be some of Google’s next targets? Some other ex-Googler web startups include Ooyala, TellApart, Red Beacon, MyLikes, OpTrip, Cuil,, Chai Labs and Howcast. Other acquirers have also taken a liking to Google offspring; for instance Facebook bought FriendFeed and Twitter bought Mixer Labs.

A history note via Om: Google’s not the first tech company to try to rejuvenate itself with old blood; Cisco pioneered the concept of a “spin-in,” which often involved investments in former employees’ startups and options to buy them.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): What the VC Industry Upheaval Means For Startups

Image via Flickr user mikebaird.

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