I read an excellent post by Rian van der Merwe about the acquisition of Sparrow by Google. The sentiment was familiar. We've been around this loop quite a few times.
First, who I am. I am a software user and developer. I was a developer for a big company in the early 80s, then started my own company. Sold out to Symantec. Our product, which was a big hit, almost immediately died. Our users were probably pissed, but I didn't hear from many of them. Some of my employees were pissed, they were users and loved the product, and thought I sold out. I did sell out.
There are no two ways to sell out. And the company that buys your product doesn't get it. And they will usually lose the users. Back in the 80s this wasn't factored into the deals. These days the acquiring companies pretty much disclaim it up front. That's what everyone is noticing. Nothing changed really, just that people know more about how these things go.
I learned a lot from the experience, because I loved the product too. Not only did it not survive the acquisition, but the whole category of outliners suffered. A cause I believed in then, and still believe in today. So a lot was lost to make me and my shareholders wealthy. But I did the right thing for me. No regrets.
There's a cycle to tech. Something new and wonderful comes along with unlimited potential. The early users of it trip out. Some of them learn how to program, some of them already know how to. They become the developers of the new thing, and it becomes a platform. Then the investors notice something happening, and the business guys, and press people and money starts pouring in and companies start. More users. Lots more users. And more money and more press and more business people. Soon its a boom.
Then everyone realizes that there's a cool little group of people who make shit that looks stupid, especially to the big companies, but their stuff is fun, yeah it's ugly and underpowered but it's fun and has unlimited potential. And look at the cool shit the developers are making. I gotta try it. Can't use it at the day job. Oh shit. I think I should quit and make some products.
What Rian's post says to me is that we're coming close to the point where everyone gets pessimistic and thinks it's going to suck forever.
So keep your eye open for something cool and fun that doesn't really work but has shitloads of potential.
PS: I named my second company UserLand when I realized that the pivotal moment in the cycle is when the users take over. I wrote about this in my Bill Gates vs The Internet post, the one that kicked off blogging, back in 1994.
PPS: It doesn't have to be so cyclic, if the money and business people didn't insist on calling all the shots. So the sellouts are even more expensive that most people realize. For example, how much more growth there would have been if Twitter had said they were a clonable open source platform instead of a company. The founders might have made an order of magnitude less money (instead of billions they might have made hundreds of millions). I think the VCs would have made a lot more because there would have been more ways to slice it up, and more ideas tried out. So net-net we all made a bad choice there, growth-wise. It's one of the reasons I believe that if we can develop a new kind of VC the next time we go around the cycle, the down part of the cycle might not be so inevitable.