Want a great exit? Build a great culture.

Asked about the importance of culture in making an acquisition, he didn’t hesitate for a second. Guido Jouret, Cisco’s CTO of Emerging Technology, said “We pass on acquisitions if the culture isn’t right. If it isn’t right, nothing else matters.”

Jouret is responsible for incubating Cisco’s future billion-dollar businesses, so I asked him after he gave the keynote at last week’s Plug and Play Expo what he thought the critical qualities in a startup’s culture that he looked for in acquisition. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he’d rattle off four things instantly…

(1) People who get shit done

This one’s pretty obvious. They want people who will make decisions, take action, and make things happen.

(2) People who are collaborative

In addition to getting things done, be willing to work easily and well with others.

(3) People who have an appropriate level of comfort with ambiguity

When the entrepreneur comes from an internal group, they tend to want everything to get completely figured out. For a someone to make it in his group, they have to be willing to adopt a more entrepreneurial attitude. When an entrepreneur comes from the outside, they need to be comfortable with less ambiguity; they are now part of a larger organization.

(4) People who are coachable

This refers to people being willing to accept and act on feedback from a number of different sources, including, but not limited to, their boss, their colleagues, and an executive coach. It speaks to having a culture when learning and growth is not only valued, but required. This one was my favorite, but I’m biased.

As a Startup Happiness Coach, I have my own set of cultural ideals, but I think it’s important to understand what major acquiring companies look for, so I really appreciate Jouret taking the time to share his views, and I’ll add others to to this blog as I get the chance to interview them.

Author: Marcy Swenson

Marcy Swenson is an executive coach who works with tech startup founders and leaders. She writes about about entrepreneurs, leadership, and startup culture on her blog at StartupHappiness.com. She is studying what factors contribute (or detract) to creating a happy startup culture. Prior to becoming a coach, Marcy was a co-founder with two successful exits; at CPTH (Nasdaq), she built the tech team that led to IPO. Forbes names CPTH the fastest-growing high-tech company in the world in 1999. CPTH grew to 3000 employees in 4 years; for comparison, Google grew to 3000 employees in 6 years.

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