What The Acqui-Hire of Sparrow, Pulp, Wallet etc might tell us about Tech Entrepreneurship

Today, there were some buzz in the tech world about the acquisition of Sparrow by Google, Pulp and Wallet app makers Acrylic by Facebook. Getting their company acquired by a larger company to make their products bigger and stronger is a dream for most entrepreneurs. You can see from these posts (here and here) that these acquisitions (and many recent ones) were not really acquisitions but a hiring of the talented team behind these apps.

The customers are obviously unhappy about this since the products will get shelved and they might have no support or upgrades in the near future.

As an entrepreneur myself, I feel that entrepreneurs are in a tough spot. I understand how tight the money situation can be when you are building a product. If entrepreneurs who have built very successful products like Sparrow have to abandon their products to go work on other products at a larger companies, is the path for tech entrepreneurs very bleak?

My gut feel is that the tech economy where users expect most products to be free is partly responsible. Most web and mobile apps are expected to be free. If they even cost a dollar, they have to cross an extremely high bar in terms of customer expectations to be popular.If they have even the smallest of bugs, negative reviews on the stores can sink the product.

The app store model means that you pay once and get lifetime upgrades free of cost. New versions of the mobile operating systems come every year (for iOS) and every six months (for Android). The developers have to create updates to ensure that the app functions well under the new OS. But they won’t get any extra remuneration for the extra effort spent for the latest release.

So it makes sense that the founders having worked on their products for 2-3 years realize that they are better off being part of a larger company where they have better control on their financial life.

Unless, another explanation is that the larger company made an offer that they could not refuse. If you know which one it was, please let me know! As of now, I am going with the former.

Startup Depression?

You might have heard about it. Most start up founders get depressed. (Here are exhibits A, B and C). I read about it and in my naivete, I thought I was immune to it. This is a post to put my depression out into the world and hope that it also helps some other founder who might experience it during their startup life.

As with everyone, I have had my share of depression. The good thing is that I get out of it soon thanks to my awesome wife and son. So far most of these episodes have not affected me longer than a day. Like they recommend in the exhibits above, surrounding myself with awesome family and friends is a good way to get out of the d-spot when it hits you.

This time it was different. We encountered a problem with our Android app. You can read about it here. The issue was that we had done everything we could to test the app before it was released to the market and yet we encountered this problem. We even tested the app once again using the Android 2.3 emulator but we could not replicate the issue.

I have to give credit to our awesome users throughout this process. They were extremely nice and willing to provide screen shots, logs and any other information that we needed to identify this issue. One of them even sent us an email saying “Don’t be embarrassed about this problem. I am glad to help you guys since you are creating such an useful tool for people like us!”.

But even with these words of encouragement, I felt depressed. I realize now that my depression had to do with the fact that I am unable to do much about this problem (mainly because I am not developing the Android app). Looks like one of the ways I have been staying clear of depression is to meet my problems head on and take care of them. Since in this case, I cannot take a hands on approach to solve it (by writing code myself!), I felt depressed. Very.

Once I realized this, I knew that the only thing that I can do is to go to the other ways to tackle the d-situation. Go back to family and let the knowledgeable people solve the problem they know and understand very well. So I went for a walk with my son, talked about people, sky, earth and the moon and I am now back to being my normal self.

BTW, the Android problem is still unsolved. I know that having the confidence that it will be solved is almost 90% of the way there. I will hopefully post an update on that front soon.