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Just Your Typical Startup Acquisition Announcement

Today, for the first time, I encountered Creative Commons content on Medium: an article called “Startup Acquisition Announcement” by Petter Palander. Here’s the license summary. I decided to take advantage of this open-source opportunity and post a revised version of Palander’s article on my website, which is what you’re looking at now!

“We’re super excited that we’ve been acquired by [large company]  — rest assured, nothing will happen to the app you love!” How many times have I seen a note along these lines?

For example, here is the Sunrise founders’ letter to their users, posted on the day their app was acquired by Microsoft:

To our friends and Sunrise users:

Today, we’re excited to announce that Sunrise is joining Microsoft. For Sunrise, this is just the beginning.

Sunrise started two years ago with a simple idea that by combining beautiful design and great engineering, we could reimagine your calendar.

Sunrise will remain free and available for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android and Desktop  — we’re not going anywhere.

And here are the acquisition notes from Microsoft:

Already downloaded by millions of users, the Sunrise app will remain in market and free after the acquisition.

Well. Wow. Nothing will happen. The app is not going anywhere! It will remain free! Amazing — and, of course, total bullshit.

Portrait of a sunrise by Susanne Nilsson.
Portrait of a sunrise by Susanne Nilsson.

Yesterday Microsoft announced that Sunrise will merge into Outlook. It took about eight months.

The Sunrise team is now officially a part of the broader Outlook product team […] All of this means Outlook will eventually replace the current Sunrise app. We will leave Sunrise in market until its features are fully integrated into Outlook.

Can anyone say “aquihire”? The Sunrise founders wrote a follow-up note:

Now here comes the sad news. As the entire team is completely focused on the Outlook for iOS and Android apps, we won’t be updating the Sunrise apps anymore.

Oops. Eight months between “Nothing will happen!” and “Forget we said that!” Are you surprised?

Unfortunately, this how most acquired startups behave. I get it: you don’t want to piss off the users who made it possible for you to be bought in the first place. Maybe the founders should have considered beforehand that one business model for startups  —  or at least one possible outcome  —  is to be acquired. Which is fine! Just don’t fool the users into believing nothing will change.

The founders, the buying company, and industry experts all know that business as usual won’t be the status quo for long. But most of a startup’s users don’t know that. They believe the company blog posts and keep on using the app based on how much they love it, as well as the founders’ reassuring statements. Until one day in the future when it just doesn’t work anymore.

Screenshot of Sunrise's website.
Screenshot of Sunrise’s website.

I loved, and still love, Sunrise. It’s by far the best mobile calendar app I’ve ever used. And I’m sure the team will do the best job they can to get the highlights of Sunrise into Outlook. But that’s not the point. What angers me is that users are deceived. Can we please just stop this bullshit and be honest to our users about what will happen post-acquisition?

Thanks to Aron Solomon and @bestham for the lightning-speed editing help.

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