The big blog debate of the weekend appears to be around the topic of acqui-hires.
Sarah Lacy got it started with this post, then Nick O'Neill followed up with this response, and Michael Arrington also jumped into the mix with this post. Even Howard Lindzon got a bit in on the mix with this Tweet.
Overall it’s an interesting topic to me, and something I’ve spent quite a bit of energy thinking about over the years.
First when I was shopping Statsfeed around a bit, and then more recently again with the Knowabout.it adventure.
In both cases, I had what I considered solid acui-hire options. In both cases, I ultimately chose to shut the companies down instead.
Why? Lot’s of reasons really, here are just some of the big ones:
1. I was done (if I wasn’t, we wouldn’t be talking).
Statsfeed was a fairly successful lifestyle business. It made a nice annual profit and I had basically grown it as much as I was going to be able to on my own (it was going to be what it was for me for about as long as I wanted to keep doing it). Coming to that realization, I decided I had finally got to a point where the project really didn’t excite me anymore and I wanted to focus on other things. This was my whole reason for starting to talk to people about buying it in the first place.
Knowabout.it was a bit different type of beast. It was slowly-but-surely gaining attention and users, but it was also losing money month-after-month.
We had a plan, but we weren’t executing all that well on it. And the biggest whole in the plan was the big gap in the middle (which is smack-dab where we were for the last six months of the project)…and we didn’t know how large that gap in the middle actually was or how long we were going to be in it.
Long before we, as a team, finally came to accept that we weren’t going to get any (financial) help, I had started to explore other options (primarily in hopes of helping getting us through the gap).
In exploring those options, and shifting my focus away from the core product for extended periods…along with the daily increase in (funded) competition within the space…I became a bit sour on the space as a whole.
Also I had strong opinions on what was working for us, and what wasn’t going to work for many of the other approaches (btw - many of those opinions have already started to be proven true).
The last thing I wanted to do was end up folded into one of these other companies, forced to be just another member of a team working on an approach I didn’t actually agree with all that much (and luckily I had the good fortune of having lots of other, more interesting, ‘job’ options to consider).
2. I didn’t have investors or returns to worry about.
Since I didn’t have the added pressure of having to earn anyone else money on the end-result of either of these companies, I had the luxury of always being able to just walk away.
This is probably key, and probably highlights why it’s a bit unfair for me to say I’m against acqui-hire as a concept (since I basically wasn’t losing anyone but myself money).
All that being said, if investors were involved I believe I would have pushed *much* harder to keep going…and only as a last-ditch effort, where a reasonable return for my investors was the primary consequence, would I have accepted an acqui-hire (ie. much more than a 1x return).
3. I *seriously* value my freedom.
When I stop to think about it, long term I would probably make a lot more money just being an employee somewhere. I would have better health insurance, better vacation time, better savings and a much larger retirement fund. I would also sleep more and likely have a lot less overall stress.
But here’s the thing, I’ve worked for lots of companies in lots of different roles over the past 20 years…and I’ve been able to find a reasonable amount of success in just about all of them as well. It’s never been enough for me.
I thrive in chaos, I’m energized by problem-solving, and I *need* to be continuously challenged. In my experience, employees don’t get any of that (and in fact work hard to avoid all of it). Sure, I can 'play the game’…but it’s never enough fun and so I always end up firing myself.
Even if I accepted an acqui-hire, I would have a seriously tough time riding out the vesting period as just another employee…and I would absolutely be chomping at the bit to get back out there. (the only way it would really work was if it was more a merger than an acqui-hire…but then that’s an entirely different post/debate isn’t it?)
…so ultimately, selling me on the idea of an acqui-hire being a good thing is pretty hard. It’s definitely situational, and it might even be a great idea/result for some…but it’s really not my thing.
If I really want to work for your company, I’ll apply…otherwise, I’ll stick with building and running my own stuff (without a net, thank you very much).
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Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.
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