One of the most interesting facets of the whole TechCrunch fiasco is complaints from the editors that they have been ignored by AOL. MG Siegler and Robin Waters both mentioned this in their recent posts and as far back as March, Mike expressed concern that the AOL integration was not going swimmingly.
All this sturm und drang reminds me of my experience after Yahoo acquired MyBlogLog. And it reminds me of many other tech acquisitions. Flickr? Delicious? Upcoming? Lest you think this is a uniquely Yahoo problem, remember Dodgeball, Jaiku and Slide at Google, Netscape and Bebo at AOL, Dopplr at Nokia, Palm at HP, MySpace at Fox, Skype and StumbleUpon at eBay, Flip at Cisco, Danger at Microsoft… shall I continue? There are plenty of reasons to hold the acquiring companies accountable for these shit shows, but if my own experience is any indication, the acquirees can also shoulder some blame.
Many freshly minted millionaire founders think “If Company X was willing to pay us all this money to join, why the hell won’t they listen to us about <insert gripe here>?!?” For instance, shortly after MyBlogLog was acquired, we had our first engineering hire nixed even though Todd had run a 20-person dev shop for a decade. We were flabbergasted — they could acquire us for millions but not trust us to hire someone?
Here’s the thing — the moment you are acquired you become an employee. Sure, there are a few people in corporate development who still think you are god’s gift to the business, but to everyone else you are simply Employee Number Whatever. Same chain of command, same IT policy, same hiring process. In most large companies, individual mid-level employees do not have the ability to make substantial changes quickly. Before you dismissively write this all off as bureaucratic bullshit, I’d point you to the three branches of the US government. It’s all about forcing major changes to happen SLOWLY.
As an acquired founder you get to run your product the same exact way that every internally grown product is run. Unless you are brought in at a senior executive level, you are not at the acquiring company to fix their problems or change their processes. The CEO probably won’t even remember your name in six months. You are not going to get special privileges. You are no longer a beautiful or unique snowflake. That ended when they wired you the check.