TechCrunch Saga: An Acquisition Allegory

If you are in startup land and watching TechCrunch’s very public hiccup/blow-up, behold a feast of lessons for startups. If you haven’t yet experienced first-hand the arc of a startup enjoy it here. A passionate founder hammers away at a business in his apartment. He grows and nurtures it to maturity and shared success. He manages it through uncertainty, and imprints on it his own heroic brand. The brand grows and the business succeeds. It draws the attention of acquirers and, bada-bing, bada-boom, the rest is history right?

This story resonates with us not solely because of the rubber-necker spectacle of a public peek into an often private process. It is, rather, an allegory that fuels our industry.  To abuse Arrington’s own analogy: Pirates met the Navy. Inevitably Arrington was going to leave AOL. He has the heart of a pirate. Pirates don’t do well in the Navy. In the vacuum that follows him of course there would be fear, uncertainty, doubt and sadly blame. How different people react to that vacuum, is, again, on spectacle at TechCrunch.

After an acquisition and the inevitable dissolutions, you’ll see the disgruntled and the full on gruntled. Those who say, “Management are idiots and I didn’t sign up for this,” and those who say, “I love my job and want to try and make this work.” While these changes are all fairly predictable and a completely natural part of the startup process, people in the crucible sometimes loose sight of that process and sadly attack one another. What was a strong cohesive team as a startup can become a high school drama of passing recriminations in a larger company.

If you’re in startup land, you will go through this. As you do, remember that our understanding of history unrolls over time from a seeming straight line today. What looks worthy of contempt today may simply be less than a full understanding and appreciation of events. While your chapter at the company may need to close, others will prefer to go on. Or maybe you prefer to stay on as others leave. Are your peers worthy of contempt? You can’t know your peers’ motivations and, this close to decisions, you can’t know all the facts of what happened.

If you leave, the ones who stay are not betraying you. They are simply wired differently for the transition. The ones that succeed in the new organization, succeed because the skills needed to manage and preserver at a larger entity are entirely different than those needed to create an entity from scratch. If you stay, the ones who leave are not abandoning you.  They weren’t built for the Navy.

The company will change. It may continue its success in a new form. It may not. But everyone involved in this classic startup success story should be glad they were a part of it, and should be thankful they had a balanced team. You needed each other to be successful and you will need balanced teams again at your next startup. You are going to do this again right?


About Frank Barbieri
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