SmartRecruiters Blog

Did Two Hiring Mistakes Cost Facebook $9+ Billion?

As you’ve heard, Facebook acquired WhatsApp for $19 billion. This drastically shifts the market share on texting, the long-term value of technology, and has me looking back on what could have been. Recruiting’s a $400 billion market, and occasionally, single hiring decisions can have billion dollar implications. Both WhatsApp Founders wanted to work at Facebook in 2009.

The credentials of WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton demonstrated enough talent to earn a job interview (10 years as a Yahoo software engineer with previous stints at Adobe and Apple), but Facebook didn’t think he was the right for the job, as he (now famously) reported on Twitter:



Forbes estimated that Facebook will end up paying Acton $3+ billion (stock & cash) as a part of the WhatsApp acquisition. Acton didn’t have to look far to connect with more ‘Facebook rejects.’  Forbes reported that Jan Koum also expressed interest in working for Facebook, and the company rejected him too in 2009. Koum would move on to become WhatsApp’s co-founder and CEO. As part of the acquisition, Facebook will end up paying Koum $6+ billion.

For those doing the math, Facebook will compensate $9+ billion to two people who were rejected applicants in 2009.

This week, the hiring manager (Mark Zuckerberg) said, “I’ve also known Jan for a long time, and I know that we both share the vision of making the world more open and connected.”

Facebook Hiring

It begs the question, ‘Why didn’t Facebook hire these two visionary engineers when they applied in 2009?’ Most recruiting technologies center their marketing around finding the best candidates. And it’s true, without access to the best, you can’t hire the best. But what happens when the best candidate enters the room? This story raises a bigger question, applicable to everyone who is hiring:

Do you ‘know’ when the best candidate is in the room?

The three simple rules to help you identity and close top talent are to hire as a team, use the proper candidate assessment, and be fast. In more detail:

(1.) Interview with at least 4 members of the team. By getting more people involved in the hiring team, the company gains a more diverse picture of a candidate’s skills and values. This collaborative approach will lead to less bad hires.

(2.) Use the proper candidate assessment. You need to add quantitative data points to your decision making. By choosing the right assessment, you can gain insight into a perspective hire’s skills and personality.

and (3) Be fast As SmartRecruiters CEO Jerome Ternynck said, “I aim to hire every quality candidate within two weeks of expressing interest. When talented people express interest, you hire.”

Most of us don’t have $9+ billion laying around to buy back those hires that got away.

Hire Smart

David Smooke

David Smooke was the Director of Content Marketing and Social Media at SmartRecruiters and is the Founder of ArtMap Inc & AMI Publications.