Of course this company is for sale

Posted: June 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Startups | 19 Comments »

I had recently left Microsoft after five years of slaving away as a program manager on various facets of Windows.  I’d departed to take a job at Wildseed, a company producing an over-the-top funky handset running Linux, targeted at the teenage market.  Yeah, that’s it on the right.

If the bizarre appearance and strange feature set doesn’t sound odd enough to you, I should mention that it was 2002.  The state of the art was the RAZR handset from Motorola, and Andy Rubin wouldn’t found Android for another year.  We were actually forking Red Hat, writing our own drivers, and all sorts of other flavors of insanity.  That was part of the fun.

But I digress. There was a rumor floating around the company, and in my very self-important 26 year old mind, I believed it was up to me to get to the bottom of it.  I took a deep breath and stepped up to the porthole of Eric’s office.

Eric Engstrom was our CEO.  He had a peculiar office.  It was big, but it was in an inner corner of the building, without much of a view.  It was kitted out with tall, spring loaded, bouncy stools for guests.  He told me once that he bought them so guests would get annoyed and not stay long.  He was dismayed when a few of his VPs found them comfortable and ordered them to sit on as their primary chairs.

Eric was (and is) a mad genius. I could fill an article with Eric anecdotes: The fascinating book about his time at Microsoft. The $40,000 bet that I could find an entire sealed barrel of St. Magdalene scotch two decades after the distillery closed (I won; he bought the barrel; I got a bottle).  His desire to create a film in which I would have a cameo as Evil Spock. But I digress, again.

On that day, I marched in to his office to get to the bottom of a strange rumbling I heard, and have him set things straight once and for all.  There was a rumor afoot that we might be looking to sell the company, and I was going to confront him about it.

I sat down, bounced a few times, and met his gaze.  He gave me a trademark Eric smile.  You’ll be familiar with it if you’ve ever seen a Nature channel documentary on alligators.  I steeled my nerve and asked him point blank: “Eric, I heard a rumor.  Is this company for sale?” Eric’s smile disappeared for a second.  He pursed his lips and laced his fingers, staring at the floor.  Then he looked directly at me and said, very slowly: “Dan, we’re a startup.  Of course we’re for sale.  This fucking plant on my desk here is for sale, if the price is right.  What do you think we’re doing here?”

Not everyone thinks about their company this way.  I have a good friend who is running a very successful startup with a fantastic future ahead.  He told me – and I quite believe him – that he would sell the company for a billion dollars over his dead body.  He was extremely clear that anything less than a multibillion dollar IPO was a pathetic failure, and he’d resign before he’d let such an abomination happen.  So his startup is not actually for sale.

But the rest of us startup types, the story is simple: just about every startup is for sale.

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  • George

    No sale. No IPO. No equity trade off. There are those scalable startups too. They just haven’t gotten to epic scale yet or isn’t well known if they exist.

  • Xuanyi Chew

    Link to Renegades of an Empire is broken

  • lexein
  • http://twitter.com/fettemama fettemama

    Good old times, when startup guys had skill and were writing device drivers. 
    Look at what we’ve got today: writing crappy webapps in javascript/$scripting language/html and they all call themselves hackers.

  • http://www.affenstunde.com James Barnes

    Fantastic anecdote – everything and everyone is for sale.

    Small point: RAZR went on sale in 2004. You were further ahead of your time than you thought.

  • Sudarshan Palliyil

    That was sarcasm right ;-)?

  • http://twitter.com/fettemama fettemama

    No.

  • Fred

    Um. Nathan Barley?

  • http://twitter.com/zburt Zachary Burt

    hacks.

  • Anoymous

     And of course, creating yet another css/js/thewhatever library and publishing it on GitHub (*tons* already) is “innovation”.

  • http://twitter.com/chris_steck Chris Steck

    Ah the taco shell.  I actually found one with a Nelly skin in my land of misfit phones box when I was cleaning out to leave RealNetworks a while back and gave it to Peter Zatloukal for time served. 

    How many times did Wildseed end up getting sold in various incarnations and how many did you stay through?

  • http://www.danshapiro.com/blog Dan Shapiro

     Fixed.  Thanks!

  • http://hark.com David Aronchick

    Love it. The thought that someone is not willing to sell is absurd – for every Zuckerburg who turned down a billion, there are a hundred others who held out for more money and now can’t fire sale their stuff fast enough.

  • http://twitter.com/handelaar John Handelaar

    Yup, looks that way: http://trashbat.co.ck/t12/index.html 

    It’s well weapon.

  • http://twitter.com/ajsharp Alex Sharp

    In the spirit of your post — your friend’s startup *is* for sale, just not for a billion dollars.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah cause there is sooooo much money in writing new device drivers these days.

  • Pingback: Of Course This Company Is For Sale [Link] « Macdrifter

  • http://blog.databigbang.com Sebastian Wain

    You made my day!

  • http://blog.daryn.net daryn

    Great post Dan. 

    Also, that Airtext feature was fun, I forgot about that. Maybe they’ll add it to the iphone 5 :)