What’s it like to have your startup bought by Apple? Stressful.

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What’s it like to have your startup bought by Apple? Stressful
Everyone thinks of the money. But there's a lot of work to get there.
Photo illustration: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

What’s it like when Apple buys your startup? According to David Hodge, founder of mapping app Embark, the answer is: stressful.

Apple bought Embark back in 2013 as part of its efforts to grow its mapping services. Embark focused on building free transit apps to help people navigate public transportation. In a new series of tweets, Hodge reveals the behind-the-scenes story of the Apple acquisition.

Apple acquisition: A stealth meeting

Hodge says Apple invited him to Cupertino, ostensibly to pitch an API improvement Embark requested. In fact, he calls the visit “an audition” for Apple to make an acquisition offer.

“What’s it like to sell your company?” Hodge continues later in the thread. “Well, it’s a hellish process that might kill your company if it doesn’t work. Also, there’s lots of paperwork.”

Despite holding a coveted invitation to the 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference, Hodge could not attend many of the sessions because of negotiations with Apple. These talks ultimately took three months. It also cost $195,000 in legal bills for a deal Hodge worried might not close. The company’s runway for launching its product went from a “comfortable” 16 months down to eight.

Apple buying your startup proves jaw-achingly stressful

Hodge, unsurprisingly, reports not sleeping well during the Apple acquisition process. He also “developed an excruciating issue with my jaw from apparently clenching as I slept.” Throughout, he was unable to tell friends and family what was happening.

Closing day was scheduled for August 16, 2013. Hodge arrived at Infinite Loop, but received an urgent message saying that one of Embark’s investors had not signed. Apple was getting frustrated. Finally, the two sides completed the deal. However, Embark team members could not talk about the acquisition. So the team threw a private party in a shed. They also had to clear their offices without anyone realizing.

“It was hard,” Hodge concludes. “We got very lucky to get to the point where Apple wanted to talk to us and we got lucky that it worked out after that.”

It’s not clear how much Apple paid for Embark. But it’s interesting to note that, while this was a once-in-a-lifetime deal for Hodge, Apple is constantly acquiring companies. In May 2019, CEO Tim Cook said Apple acquires a company every two to three weeks on average.