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Topsy-turvy as the Trend Is Tech Talent Grabs, Not Land Grabs

23/01/2014 13:31 GMT | Updated 24/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Last December's acquisition of Topsy Labs by Apple was unexpected and many in the tech industry raised their eyebrows at the reported £122 million price tag.

Topsy Labs is/was a social media analytics company that is one of select few that have access to Twitter's 'firehose' of more than 400 billion tweets. It gives them almost exclusive access to Twitter's most influential mavens and the resultant trends and memes that emanate across the social network.

The deal signalled Apple's belated move into social media and undoubtedly presages more strategic moves into this space. While many had never heard of Topsy Labs until the acquisition, the eight-figure price may prove to be a bargain. After all many thought that Google had overpaid when it bought YouTube for more than a billion pounds in 2006.

If nothing else, it shows how competitive the social media monitoring industry is. In March 2011, Salesforce bought Radian6 for almost £200 million, earlier proof that tech behemoths are taking this sector very seriously indeed. Presumably Google is already talking to certain companies about their ultimate move into social.

But while US tech giants circle US big data social monitoring companies and the market evolves, one UK company is not only making moves to join them in Silicon Valley, they are also being clever about who they hire.

The company in question is Brandwatch and they are using Topsy's acquisition as a 'talent grab', rather than the usual policy of a 'land grab'. In this case, Brandwatch are not only setting up an office in California, they are taking on ex-Topsy staff to accelerate their move into the space.

"As a global technology company, establishing ourselves on the West Coast has long been a priority for us. Apple has presented us with a huge opportunity here, and we're certainly going to make the most of it," says Giles Palmer, Brandwatch CEO.

This strategy is smart. Whenever, a company is acquired, it is the sales team that are most vulnerable to change. While the executive management team, board and founders are happy to toodle along waiting for their earn-out terms to expire and bank the money, the sales team are the first ones to look away for new challenges.

The hires of former Topsy executives Even Walser and Aaron Hayes-Roth as VP, Enterprise Sales and VP, Strategic Alliances, respectively also comes with a twist. As well as putting together a team, their first job is to find an office to work from, proving that strategy can come in many different ways.

Build it and they will come, or more pertinently, hire them and then they'll build it. Topsy-turvy, one could almost call it.

Apart from the cuteness of this idea, the bigger story is that companies can hire who they like, but Silicon Valley continues to be the cynosure for any tech company that is serious about growing and learning. The people and the hires are important, but proximity to the Valley and big data is the reality. Brandwatch's Palmer sums it up in one sentence.

"Ensuring we're close to the epicenter of the social media ecosystem will help us to provide our clients with the most relevant, accurate data available," he says.

It will be intriguing to see how Brandwatch's move to California pans out, but the bigger story is likely to be what Apple does with Topsy Labs. Its super sales people may have joined the opposition, but let's see what the Topsy management team does under the Apple aegis. Interesting times ahead...