Corp Dev Language Translator

Words used by corp dev (i.e. people in charge of making acquisition deals) and what they actually mean

Brenden Mulligan is a product designer building LaunchKit, a set of tools to help mobile makers launch apps. He also works on Cluster, and previously created and sold ArtistData and Onesheet.


We’ve had lots of “conversations” with lots of potential acquirers. Most of these were just one or two emails, and we rarely considered anything seriously, but they all share some language that we thought was pretty hilarious. Here’s a taste:

“We were looking into apps and teams strong in X and came across your website.”

Translation: You happened to come up in a quick search, but we didn’t actually look into your company in detail.

“A few of us came across your company and it looks like you’re doing some interesting work.”

Translation: I literally know nothing about your company but you were added as a lead in our CRM tool.

“Would you be available for a quick chat to discuss what you and the team are working on in a bit more detail?”

Translation: I’m going to try to get as much information out of you as possible with giving you nothing in return, and write every word you tell me into a database our whole team has access to forever.

“We’ll continue to follow your progress.”

Translation: We’ll reach back out when we see you haven’t raised more money and you are probably more desperate because of your shorter runway.

“If you do ever reach a point where you’d like to engage, please don’t hesitate to reach out.”

Translation: Call us when you’re almost out of money and are panicking.

“Wow, sounds like things are picking up! Let’s hop on the phone this week?”

Translation: Shit, you’re getting traction. We need to chat soon so we don’t have to pay for your growth.

“Sounds like you guys are getting some great traction, so let’s keep in touch.”

Translation: We probably won’t be able to convince you you’re worth very little right now, so let’s wait until later.

“[Acquirer] won’t consider your product, users, or tech to be the value in a deal; it’s really all about the people.”

Translation: You’re essentially getting jobs with salaries, with a tiny bonus for giving up on what you’re working on. NOTE: This is actually a helpful, honest comment and one you should appreciate.

“This could still be a great outcome for you, your team, and (depending on how much you’ve raised) investors.”

Translation: This probably won’t be a great outcome for you and even a worse one for your investors. And your team will probably resent you.

“How much have you raised? At what valuation?”

Translation: We need to figure out the absolutely lowest number we can offer without alienating your investors so much that they warn their other portfolio companies not to talk to us.

Best advice for dealing with this?

Get to the point as quickly as you can. Find out if anyone in the company actually gives a shit about what you’re doing. If they don’t, end the conversation as quickly as possible.

Here’s an email I’ve sent to try to get to the point quickly.

Since you’re reaching out as corp dev, I’ll try (for both of our sakes) to make this conversation as efficient as possible. We’ve been lucky enough to have acquisition-related conversations with many large companies, and the trend I’ve noticed is when corp dev reaches out first, it ends with a proposed deal structured as a talent acquisition. When someone from product reaches out, it tends to be more meaningful (though we obv never found a scenario that would inspire us to stop working independently).
If you guys are looking for teams to bring in for low figure deals, we’re not going to be a good fit for that right now. However if there’s more to it, let me know because I have a fiduciary responsibility to my shareholders to evaluate every option, and would be happy to quickly talk about if there’s a reason to move forward.

I will also include a quick company summary if they asked to learn more about the company.

As far as a company overview, we’re # incredibly talented engineers and designers with a growing product, supportive investors, and plenty of money in the bank.

That usually does the trick. They’ll either be more interested, which means they have genuine interest, or bail, which means they weren’t targeting you for a strategic reason in the first place. The above email got this response:

Brenden,
Really appreciate the candid response, sounds like you guys are getting some great traction. We’ll continue to follow your progress. If you do ever reach a point where you’d like to engage, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Caveat: Talk to product people if they reach out

If someone on the product team (not corp dev) reaches out, that can lead to fun and interesting conversations. Even though similar tactics are used, there’s a high likelihood of those people actually liking what you’re doing and valuing your product.

They’re still going to try to gather as much information as possible (and will write it all in the corp dev database) but they also might be experiencing similar product challenges as you are, and it can be interesting to talk to them about dealing with them at a most likely larger scale. So I’m way more interested to give up my time when a product person reaches out than when the first email is from corp dev.


If you got value out of this article, please / recommend it below. Connect with me on Twitter @mulligan with any comments / thoughts.