Acquisitions

For the past few weeks (years, even), it’s so easy to find articles that read something like this:

Today, I am incredibly proud and excited to share that VMware has announced plans to acquire Boxer. The Boxer team will be joining the industry leader in
enterprise mobility as a part of the AirWatch® team within the VMware End-User Computing business unit.

Case in point: This is an excerpt of an article that I read just recently. And when I read that, it stirs a mix of emotions.

The Fates of Acquisitions

On one hand, props to those guys for the acquisition. Seriously. They’ve likely received a large chunk of change for being acquired and will be given some serious resources to continue to develop their product.

Business

On the other hand, it seems that when acquisitions happen, the acquired end up facing one of several fates:

  • The product they started with ends up becoming corporately managed such that it evolves into something the non-enterprise user will no longer appreciate.
  • The data gathered over time ends up being useful for the acquiring company and those acquired are either moved to different departments or are let go.
  • The application’s development stops and quietly fades into oblivion.

In few circumstances do you read about the small, acquired team of people going on to thrive and continue managing their product as they were prior to being bought out.

Sure, we can make the case that it’s none of our business. Such is the case when we’re using an application or a service for free. It’s not uncommon for people to work on an app, take some investment capital, and then attempt to sell the product once it reaches a certain round of maturity.

This generates return for the creators and the investors.

Other times, I think it is our business (if for no other reason than they share it in a public forum). But especially when we’ve invested money in a product. And I’m speaking about this from experience of both running a paid-for product that was acquired and from someone who has paid for multiple applications to watch them be acquired and meet one of the aforementioned fates.

Nothing that I’ve said or will say is unique, but I find it more interesting to read about companies who started out small and slowly grew into something more.

Perhaps their product matured, their customer base grew, they created jobs, they built a sustainable business, and so on. An acquisition was never their goal and chasing the dream of the serial entrepreneur (of which there’s nothing wrong) was not their own.

Instead, they wanted to start with a problem, provide a solution, and ultimately create a business out of which they – and their employees – could make a living for themselves.

I don’t think one is better than the other, but I know that I’m more interested in the latter than the former. I also know that I enjoy reading articles, stories, and blogs from those who are spending their time doing the latter than the former.

Why Aren’t You Writing?

Unfortunately, those who are seeking acquisition seem to write much more about what’s going on with their business than the alternative. They aren’t mutually exclusive, but why is that?

I’ve my thoughts on it, but I’m curious about yours, as well.

Whatever the case, if you’re working to build a business and you aren’t writing about it (though some people are and it makes for great reading), why not? I’ve tried to do so, but haven’t done the best job possible. Maybe this is a gut check and I should do more of it.

And for those of you who aren’t doing so, why not?

4 Replies to “Acquisitions”

  1. I think for most people it comes own to a cost/benefit issue. They’re busy building a business, so time is very valuable. What value would they or their business derive from chronicling it? For many, they can’t see the value, or there is too little to make that type of commitment, which as you know can be time-consuming. For some people, like you for example, it makes sense. Your writing directly promotes and sustains your business, or at least the way you’ve wisely chosen to stake your position within the industry. But for others, depending on their business plans–it’s not for me to decide– there just may not be a payoff, of they just can’t see it. I think more people would realize some dividends from at least a semi-active effort doing what you describe than are doing it, but like they say, you can lead a horse to water…

    It reminds me of the flash-in-the-pan idea I had of logging awesome baby-tips I had come across or learned to share for other new fathers on a website, but I quickly realized why no one else was doing it; they’re all busy trying to raise a baby.

    1. I think for most people it comes own to a cost/benefit issue. They’re busy building a business, so time is very valuable. What value would they or their business derive from chronicling it?

      Depending on the business – and you know this, so I know it’s preaching to the choir – it can be a form of marketing. That has worked great for me.

      Then again, it’s the nature of my business right? (I mean, I know you said this so I’m just going on with that :).

      The thing is, so many of the neat things I find on sites like Product Hunt don’t have a blog which, to me, seems like one of the easiest ways just journal what’s happening.

      I wouldn’t expect, say, an accounting firm or a gardner to blog too much.

      Though I do think your point re: cost/benefit is spot on.

      It it reminds me of the flash-in-the-pan idea I had of logging awesome baby-tips I had come across or learned to share for other new fathers on a website, but I quickly realized why no one else was doing it; they’re all busy trying to raise a baby.

      I’d even go one step further and say it’s like a new-parent idea type of thing. My wife and I went through the idea of doing a blog. Then we were thought, you know there’s not that much time and how many other people have talked about this?

  2. Nice article. I know the Boxer folks personally so I was interested to see what you thought. As you say, time will tell in their particular case.

    While I agree in general with your sentiments, I think one thing left out of these sorts of musings is an honest look at what the alternative really is. While it’s true that products often decline after purchase, they also often decline in general. I’ve used quite a few tools over the past 20 years which were self-funded, did not go out of business, but clearly lost the drive and ended up with a stale and ultimately unsatisfactory product that I had to abandon. Two examples off the top of my head are Things and Toodledo. Several more are all of the products that were not Basecamp that 37signals built and then themselves abandoned.

    Does that mean they should have sold? Not at all. It’s just that we have this idea that if you don’t sell, it’s awesome for the next decade, but that’s not necessarily true.

    None of this invalidates your thoughts, of course, but perhaps it puts more perspective on what “status quo” means.

    1. Nice article. I know the Boxer folks personally so I was interested to see what you thought. As you say, time will tell in their particular case.

      Thanks Jason – your opinion on this kind of stuff matters! (and how cool that you know the Boxer team :).

      I think the article is clear, but it’s not that I’m against the usual start up stuff we read on TechCrunch. I just find more personal interest in smaller businesses that aren’t out for acquisition (though I disrespect no one who is out for that).

      I think one thing left out of these sorts of musings is an honest look at what the alternative really is. While it’s true that products often decline after purchase, they also often decline in general.

      This is a fair statement.

      I’ve used quite a few tools over the past 20 years which were self-funded, did not go out of business, but clearly lost the drive and ended up with a stale and ultimately unsatisfactory product that I had to abandon. Two examples off the top of my head are Things and Toodledo.

      Oh, for sure. And don’t get me wrong. That’s a shame. I used to love Things, as well but have ended up using a different tool (Fantastical, to be precise), but it’s always sad whenever a beloved piece of software central to your workflow ends up going the way of the buffalo.

      And I’m not saying this would happen to Boxer. I just hope it maintains focus on their core audience and attracts the wider one that VMware can bring (rather than going to enterprise-y route). But if so, that’s okay. There are plenty of other mail clients available :).

      Does that mean they should have sold? Not at all. It’s just that we have this idea that if you don’t sell, it’s awesome for the next decade, but that’s not necessarily true.

      +1

      None of this invalidates your thoughts, of course, but perhaps it puts more perspective on what “status quo” means.

      I think it does. If nothing else, it improves the conversation and I think it helps bring more to the thoughts that I wrote in a really interesting manner.

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