In theory, Google’s failed acquihire of Dodgeball shouldn’t mean much to other entrepreneurs. After all, every startup and situation is different. However, thanks to a series of unplanned events, the failed Dodgeball acquihire had ramifications that are still influencing entrepreneurs today. According to Dennis:
“When we left, we took a picture of me and Alex with our thumbs down outside our office at Google, and I posted it on Flickr. And I said, “We left Google today.” And I wrote something short, and a little nasty, and, in hindsight, honestly, a little obnoxious.”
In case you’re interested, here’s the picture Dennis posted:
And here’s his original caption:
It’s no real secret that Google wasn’t supporting dodgeball the way we expected. The whole experience was incredibly frustrating for us — especially as we couldn’t convince them that dodgeball was worth engineering resources, leaving us to watch as other startups got to innovate in the mobile + social space. And while it was a tough decision (and really disappointing) to walk away from dodgeball, I’m actually looking forward to getting to work on other projects again.
So, what’s next? Starting today (Monday!) I’m joining the kids at area/code who are knee-deep in building all sorts of Big Games (remember PacManhattan? ConQwest?). Alex is moving on to IconNicholson where he took a gig as a Creative Strategist focusing on mobile and emerging technologies. (And sorry, but I don’t know what Google has planned for dodgeball going forward.)
ps: Clear your calendar for this Saturday (April 21). A whole crew of us are dj’ing to celebrate our escape. (details + invite coming soon!)
Nothing too terrible there, right? But, that’s not how the events were interpreted by the startup community. Instead, Dennis told me that:
“The word acquihire apparently came out of that experience… That term was born after the Dodgeball deal. And just that one paragraph of text and maybe the stories that we had told over beers to people had changed the way people thought about selling their companies to bigger companies and led a lot of people to stay independent.”
According to Dennis, the actual term “acquihire,” and the negative connotations associated with it, aren’t just a way of describing what happened to Dodgeball. The term actually comes from Google’s failed Dodgeball acquisition. It’s a way of describing how a massive company can ruin a promising, young business by gobbling up the talent before it has a chance to mature and build something truly impactful, which is what happened with Dennis. After all, Dennis eventually turned his vision for Dodgeball into the massively successful Foursquare. But is it fair to assume Dennis’s story represents the likely outcome of an acquihire?
Personally, I had multiple acquihire offers during my startup career that I rejected in order to keep building companies that eventually failed. In retrospect, I often find myself wondering if I would have been smarter to take the acquisition offers.
I doubt I’m alone. In reality, entrepreneurs shouldn’t avoid acquihire offers because of what happened with Dennis Crowley. Building a company like Foursquare isn’t the norm. It’s an aberration. It’s the exception to the rule because few startups ever come close to achieving what Foursquare did. Instead, we all know that the vast majority of startups ultimately fail. In that context, is getting absorbed into a big company really such a bad outcome? I doubt it.