Open Hack Day is probably the event that lead me to looking more seriously around the region for interesting companies – having never really spent time looking for companies to acquire I can’t say there is some rulebook or process to follow. I am sure others have some but in this case I was simply looking at the list from the IGTF team and thinking about areas of growth for Yahoo. With that in mind it was just a matter of getting out there and looking. People might laugh when they read this since they might be expecting some great process or process driven method but I was just planning on keeping my eyes and ears open since I was not expecting to ever do an acquisition in SEA. I won’t get into the specifics but Yahoo had tried to acquire in the region before but it didn’t work out for various reasons. So the expectation was that finding the right company and the right deal was probably never going to happen anyway. I was just excited to even be thinking about trying to do it.
On a side note – lots of companies in some parts of the region tend to have funky company setups or have not always been a legit company which can make an acquisition by a public American company almost impossible.
Yahoo Open Hack Day, http://developer.yahoo.com/hackday/, is a long standing tradition in the company but something I never followed until joining Yahoo. I was sent to Open Hack Day New York within my first few weeks of starting work with Yahoo. It was awesome to be on the road again, in New York and seeing lots of old friends. The idea was to study the event some to see how we could pull one off in SEA since I think at that time only India and Taiwan had hosted one. So at some point during 2009 it was decided that Indonesia would be the place for Open Hack Day Southeast Asia and that we would need to host it in Jakarta.
Wheels were now in motion.
One of my ideas for Open Hack Day was to showcase a few local products/companies who would have integrated with some of Yahoo’s Open APIs but the problem was most of these API’s were not that useful in markets like Indonesia. I won’t waste your time by digging into the Yahoo APIs or the pitch we had for developers since it wasn’t that great but we did have a lot users and most of our users would sign into Yahoo to use Yahoo services. So offering developers a chance to use Yahoo’s login credentials and get some press from Yahoo was not a bad thing for a startup.
So in prep for Open Hack Day I ran (mostly by plane) around the region trying to drum up interest in the event, helped to run a contest (managed by e27) to bring a developer from each country in the region to the event and evangelized startups to try and build something cool on Yahoo that I would highlight at the event. The idea was to find a cool startup (or 2 if possible), most likely in Indonesia so they didn’t have to travel, and use that company to show off the Yahoo APIs. I just felt like using a local to talk to locals made more sense than having someone from Yahoo do it. Of course lots of Yahoo folks fly in for the event to offer ground support but I was hoping to show off a local company more than show off Yahoo.
Given that in Indonesia and the Philippines we had a country manager and local teams, it made it easy to talk to the local Yahoo people to get some intros into small companies that they found interesting for whatever reason or another. Once I had that short list I went to those companies to intro myself, pitch them on Yahoo and lay out my OHD offer. Build something on Yahoo, get up to show others how and get some free press for your startup. That’s all I had to offer folks and for a lot of startups I knew it wasn’t enough to entice them or that they were too busy to bother with it but I wanted to try anyway.
As luck would have it not too many cycles into visiting places I was introduced to the Koprol guys. What can I say other than we just clicked – it was fun to meet them, learn about their product, their staff, their office and their way of looking at the local market. They also loved Yahoo and were just great people to hang out with. We left the meeting with Koprol promising to get back to me soon to see what they could do with the APIs and confirm whats possible to demo. In the back of my mind I was already assuming I had found my local celebs for OHD. I felt an immediate connection to the team, the product and the fanatical user base.
Sure enough the team got back to me to confirm what they could build or fake what I needed and I met with the founders to work out the plan. It is easy enough for anyone to Yahoo, or google, to find out what happened with OHD but looking back I am pretty sure everyone saw the event as a success. I also think Koprol got a nice uplift from it and was being seen as a cool company to talk to in Indonesia. It is important to highlight that OHD did not make Koprol but I think it was good for them and good for Yahoo. Enuff said.
Here is the slide deck from the event: http://www.slideshare.net/daniel.armanto/koprolcom-yahoo
With the event in the can, it was time for me to move on to other things but for some reason I always found myself visiting the Koprol office and staying in touch with the gang. It is through these meetings and hanging out that I started to feel like we should do something more with them but of course it was tough to figure out exactly what. I started asking the local corp development team what they thought, this is a rockstar team based in Singapore managing a lot of the International acquisitions for Yahoo, and was educated on the process for working with companies. Yes – I needed the education because I had no idea what the process would be. I talked to the Bizdev team in Asia and the other product managers to get some sense of what we might be able to do with Koprol. Keep in mind I did not immediately think acquisition but was more open to any working relationship that could benefit both parties.
Ideas could be:
– promoting the product
– integrating the product into some other yahoo product – things like messenger came to mind
– seeing if we could evolve advertising around the product – think deals or location based stuff
– license the product as a yahoo product or whitelabel it
In general the thought was just see if there were any worthwhile possibilities to explore.
So of course I started talking to folks from IGTF and the product team in Sunnyvale. At this time the product team for things like messenger and mail was being run by the same guy who created or at least managed IGTF. The core group around this time was also very connected to one of the top technologist at Yahoo, a VC now, and it wasn’t long before they suggested trying to acquire. The idea was messaging (conversations) was interesting, location is interesting (maps, user generated POIs, location based news) and that Indonesia was interesting. As a side note there was also the theory that Yahoo explore having more engineering outside of the normal India/China offices. At the time, now also gone, was an engineering site in Brazil.
So pretty much in a short period of time the basic idea was to see if we could acquire Koprol since it checked a few boxes for a few teams. I will add though that foursquare envy had nothing to do with this exercise. I, for one, never used foursquare and never really even compared the two products. I saw Koprol as location based conversations and more focused on non smart phones and emerging markets than trying to be like foursquare. I think the Koprol team will tell you they built it before foursquare and were fans of dodgeball. Point being is that the whole idea that Koprol was a backup for a failed foursquare acquisition is comical. I was never privy to the foursquare discussions or can even confirm they happened but I doubt Dennis would work for Yahoo – whatever the price.