This website was archived on July 21, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.

Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

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.

How To Give A Good Presentation

I wrote a quick essay to promote my dad’s video series, Action Presentations. As a web phenomenon, Medium makes me queasy, but I think it can be a useful marketing tool. Longform social media, basically.

The essay is called “Capture The Audience And Keep Them Awake”. In it I summarize the information that my dad’s videos cover in depth. Pretty sassily: “Your audience is not very smart and they don’t care about you.” Amirite or amirite?

Audience @ LeWeb 11 Les Docks-9308

Paying For Free Content: Cynical But Optimistic Reasons

Today I paid for something that I could have gotten for free. The process was kind of annoying but I still did it. Usually people put up with extra hassle to avoid paying, like when they install a program in order to pirate media. On the other hand, I voluntarily underwent hassle to pay $10 for something I didn’t need to pay for. What was it, and why?

It was a blog, which positions itself as an online book, called Practical Typography. I read an article that Matthew Butterick wrote about Medium, a platform that I find insidious. Then I clicked around the site a little. I saved an article about the font Times New Roman to read later. Crucially, I found the page “How to pay for this book” and read it. Butterick explains that he doesn’t like paywalls but wants to be compensated for his work. Basically, he asked me to donate. I didn’t—and don’t—plan to read all of Practical Typography. But I donated $10 because I respect what he’s doing and I want it to continue.

Art by Scott Ogle.

I can’t put my finger on exactly what motivated me to chip in. This isn’t a website that I read often and am devoted to. It’s just something I came across while browsing, after following a link from Twitter. I wouldn’t pay $10 for a physical version of the same thing. And yet I voluntarily, at slight inconvenience to myself, gave the guy money. (The inconvenience was entering my debit card information, which I still haven’t memorized.) Maybe I did this because the author holds a view that I agree with:

“The im­mutable law re­mains: you can’t get some­thing for noth­ing. The web has been able to de­fer the con­se­quences of this prin­ci­ple by shift­ing the costs of the writ­ten word off read­ers and onto ad­ver­tis­ers. But if read­ers per­ma­nently with­draw as eco­nomic par­tic­i­pants in the writ­ing in­dus­try [by refusing] to vote with their wal­lets—then they’ll have no rea­son to protest as the uni­verse of good writ­ing shrinks.”

Quote from “The economics of a web-based book”. As a writer, I have a vested interest in convincing readers to pay for good writing. So of course I agree with Butterick. I think that’s probably why I donated. The other factor is identity.

People are fundamentally self-interested. We don’t do things that benefit other people for the sake of benefiting other people, but because of how the actions make us feel. Our culture prizes magnanimity, finds it to be publicly laudable, so there’s an advantage to being generous. Even if you don’t brag about it and nobody else knows, you know that you possess a personal quality regarded as admirable. That makes you feel good.

Free Form embroidery on recycled silk
Embroidery by Jacque Davis.

Everything I do that seems largehearted is actually selfish. For instance, giving out my zines for for free—I just want my writing to be read widely. Paying the other people who contributed to Balm Digest—I want to live in a world where the work of artists and writers is materially valued, so I take steps to create that world. All of it makes me feel good about myself.

Patreon succeeds not only because people realize, “If I don’t pay for this thing to continue it will stop existing, and then I won’t be able to enjoy it,” but also because being generous boosts their identity. Our culture commends that behavior. Which makes evolutionary sense: generosity nurtures strong communities, which enable our species to better survive and propagate.

(See also: Simon Owens on why publishers should pay writers even when they don’t have to.)

Sign up for my newsletter to stay abreast of my new writing and projects.

I am a member of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on an Amazon link from this site and subsequently buy something, I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you).