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How Steve Jobs bought Bill Nguyen's Lala for $80 million

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Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs

When the late Steve Jobs acquired a new company, he didn't mess around. That's according to Aubrey Johnson, a former lead designer on the Bill Nguyen-led app Color, who has detailed how Jobs ended up acquiring another Nguyen enterprise, music streaming service Lala, back in 2009. Despite some struggles, Lala had a huge selling point: for most songs, it ranked at the top of Google's search results. This lead to interest from both Nokia and Google, but their offers apparently weren't near enough. Enter Apple. As Johnson recounts it, Nguyen contacted Apple and managed to arrange a meeting with Jobs, Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, and other executives — the conversation didn't last long:

Steve led the conversation while eating a beet salad: "I'm going to give you a number, Bill, and if you like it, let's do it and just be done with this whole thing. Okay?" Bill agreed. Jobs passed a piece of paper to Nguyen and Bill nodded. The deal was done. Apple successfully acquired Lala for roughly $80 million (purchase price) with an additional $80 million in retention bonuses for the remaining employees valuing the entire deal around $160 million.

The deal was significantly more than the $11 million Nokia reportedly offered. Johnson says that a number of Lala's employees ended up following Nguyen to his next venture, Color, and some of those same people ended up going back Apple when it acquired some of Color's "key assets." "Apple obtained the same employees for pennies on the dollar," writes Johnson. "This time with even more experience and startup life under their belt. Paying twice was genius."