Google Slaps $100M Golden Handcuffs On Wildfire To Retain Employees After $350M Acquisition

After buying social marketer Wildfire for $350 million, Google wants to ensure it keeps earning money and the employees don’t bail. That’s why Google set up $100 million in earn-outs and retention bonuses, multiple sources confirm. One, an investor I spoke to directly, verified the $350 million price tag we published last week and that the golden handcuffs amount to $100 million, twice the $50 million we and others expected.

The $450 million should be enough to inspire Wildfire’s daring founders Victoria Ransom and Alain Chuard to keep leading the 400 employee team who love them. [Update: The $350 million + $100 million has seemingly been confirmed by positive reactions to this article by Wildfire employees without any dispute of the numbers.] With fat-wallet enterprise giants Salesforce and Oracle having bought the startup’s rivals, the bountiful bonuses should prevent Wildfirers from straying to competitors or seeking new adventures in startup-land.

Google’s total investment is especially wise, as over the years I’ve seen several acquisitions in the marketing space end with founders or clutch employees sailing off soon after deals close.

While there’s certainly satisfaction in helping another business reach its customers, especially when you’re independent, marketing doesn’t quite have the same philosophical pull as bold ideas in communication, cleantech, healthtech, or education. Plus there’s always a hot new startup with a puzzle to solve, or one’s own crackpot idea to take a chance on. Wildfire’s employees were a flight risk.

By combining some extra dollars on the horizon with Google’s notorious perks and the chance to apply the juggernaut’s resources, Mountain View could make sure those it acquired serve their time. And more than that. The retention plan isn’t just stock that will vest over years, but bonuses earned for hustle.

Ransom and Chuard originally started Wildfire as a week-long side project to market their travel company Access Trips. Largely on their own for a while, they eventually grew the startup through a tiny seed grant from fbFund into a heavyweight of cross-platform social promotion. So congrats to the Wildfire team for creating a company so valuable Google didn’t just buy you out, it built you in.

You can tell how strong the company’s culture is and how important it is to keep the founders around from this video showing the heartfelt presentation that announced the acquisition to the Wildfire team: