On walkabout in life and technology

Talent Acquisitions and Product Casualties

This week, Google purchased Sparrow SAS, the company that made the very popular Sparrow mail application for Mac and iOS. But they did not buy the company for the product, the bought the company for its people - the talent. Sparrow, the product, is done for.

Facebook also executed a talent acquisition on Acrylic, makers of Pulp, an RSS reader, and Wallet, a secure store. Both these products are now dead.

This is not the first or last time this will happen. Larger firms need talent to push their own products, but this talent does not directly apply for jobs with them. So, they need to buy the indie companies this talent starts up to gain access to these resources.

So, good for the talent

Of course, this is great for the talent. They get a massive signing bonus, they get great and stable jobs with the insane benefits these buyers offer, and they get to do what they love to do. How could they say no.

And it’s not like they are giving as much up. You cannot afford to run a company selling software at $2.99 a pop. Most of these wonderfully talented people are struggling to make a reasonable living, find themselves spending far too much time in support or in running their businesses, and not doing what they love.

A talent acquisition is the best thing to happen to them, and I for one am very happy for them.

So, bad for the consumer

But what about their customers, the people who purchased their products, use their stuff every day in their workflows, now that these products are effectively dead?

Matt Gemmell covers the predictable squawking in Entitlement and Acquisition, so I’ll not go there, other than to agree with his key point:

Sparrow’s acquisition is a success story. Indie devs make a great product, build a customer-base, and are rewarded with a buy-out from a big company and they get new jobs with that company.

As customers, we are not entitled to their product, we did not “invest” it, no warranties were made that the product would be around forever, and it should not have been “free” and open-source from the start. These people created a business, spent untold hours designing and creating a great product and we, the consumer, were lucky enough to buy and use it. But nothing, no product on the market today, offers any semblance of permanence. You don’t invest in Sony when you buy a TV!

All products have a beginning, a middle and an end. They get superseded, end-of-lifed, or replaced by better products from competitors. That’s the dynamic, competitive, innovative, consumer world we live in. And we, the consumers, are the real winners here. Because of this competition, we get better and better products every day. Just compare your computer, TV or car from the one you had 10 years ago. It’s the same with software.

So, no, consumers don’t lose, consumers just move on.

Is there a middle ground?

There are a couple of things that a talent acquisition can do to keep the product alive. One option is to open source the product. But this is only possible if no patent licenses were paid to create it, and anyway, most open-source products languish.

The other option is to sell the product to another company, like the guys at Sofa did a few years ago when they were acquired by Facebook. They sold Versions and Kaleidoscope to Blackpixel. But it seems that these too are languishing.

So, the indie reality

Running an indie development house is hard, takes immense amounts of time and talent, and the pay is mostly terrible. We keep going because we love our products, our customers and what we do. But we are forced supplement our income by doing consulting and contract work, just so that we can remain indie and do what we do.

Maybe if we could sell our products at more reasonable prices we’d be able to stay indies. Maybe if we could gain access to larger markets, more prominent advertising or cheaper distribution channels, we’d be able to be indies full time instead of sometime consultants. Maybe if you, the paying consumer, actually purchased our products, and got your friends to do it, we could stay in the game.

But even if all these maybes were truths, we all have our price. The offer in a talent acquisition is very, very hard to refuse, and the upside, the benefits, are amazing.

So lets look at talent acquisitions as what they really are, a sign that an indie is valued enough to receive the talent offer, and has succeeded. We should all aim for that success.

Hat tip to Marco Arment in Talent acquisitions for triggering this post.