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What big companies that acquire startups get wrong, according to Walmart's e-commerce head who successfully sold 3 startups including Quidsi and Jet.com

  • Marc Lore is one of the executives behind Walmart's e-commerce push over the past few years.
  • Lore, who is the president and CEO of Walmart's e-commerce division and has sold three startups, said that the biggest mistake companies make when acquiring startups is letting them be.
  • He said startups actually want a chance to drive change at the mothership.
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E-commerce has been a growing priority for Walmart in recent years, as most recently evidenced by the recent launch of Walmart Plus, its membership program that many view as a direct competitor to Amazon Prime.

One of the executives leading it was Marc Lore, the president and CEO of Walmart's e-commerce division, who began working at the retail giant when it acquired e-commerce startup Jet.com in 2016. 

Speaking to VaynerX founder Gary Vaynerchuk during a VaynerX webinar titled Marketing for the Now on Tuesday, Lore, who has also founded and sold other startups including Quidsi to Amazon for $550 million, said the biggest mistake companies make when acquiring startups is thinking they want to be left alone.

"When you have a platform as big as Amazon or as big as Walmart, you want to be able to impact the mothership, and really be able to help drive massive change, much bigger than you can do on your own," Lore said.

It is no secret that Lore, who worked at Amazon after Quidsi was acquired by the company in 2011, did not particularly like his time there. He said that Amazon left Quidsi alone, which didn't quite work. But when Walmart was interested in Jet, he and his team made it clear to its CEO Doug McMillon that they wanted a stake in the future of the company.

"I told Doug [that] if you really want me and the team to help Walmart and help drive change, then we would be up for that," he said. "If you just want to buy us and leave us alone and have us do our thing, we're not interested."

He said that it was "empowering" when McMillon and Walmart's board entrusted Walmart's e-commerce operations to his team. Jet.com's website was discontinued and its brand was phased out this summer.

While he conceded that it was hard to affect change at a company of Walmart's size, Lore said that Walmart had made significant strides in recent years, pointing to initiatives like home delivery and Store No. 8, Walmart's startup incubator, which has produced a number of startups that have been subsumed by the company.

"It's hard to move an aircraft carrier and change direction," he said. "With that being said, I'm surprised at how much we've been able to innovate inside of a big company."

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