How to survive an acquisition

Last week Facebook announced that they will be shutting down Parse.


I have so, so many feelings.  But this isn’t about my feelings now.  This is about what I wish I had known when we got acquired.

When they told us we were getting acquired, it felt like a wrecking ball to the gut.  Nothing against Facebook, it just wasn’t what I signed up for.  Big company, bureaucracy, 3-4 hour daily commute, and goddammit Parse was my *baby*.  What the fuck was this big company going to do to my baby?

Here’s the first thing I wish I had known: this is normal.  Trauma is the norm.  Acquisitions are *always* massively disruptive and upsetting, even the good ones.

This was all compounded by the jarring disconnect between internal and external perceptions of the acquisition.  The surreality of being written up in the press and having everyone act like this was the greatest thing that ever happened to us, versus the shock and dismay and confusion that many of us were actually experiencing.

Here are a few more things I wish I had understood.

You don’t own your product anymore.  Your product is now “strategic alignment”.  Look at yourself in the mirror and repeat that five times every morning.

Your customers are not your customers anymore.  Your customer is now your corporate overlord.  You can resist this and try to serve your old customers first, but it will wear your engineering team out and eventually drive you mad.

Cultures will clash.  Yours will lose.  You *must* learn the tribal and hierarchal games of the new org if you want to succeed.  They don’t make sense to you, and you didn’t choose into them, but you must learn them anyway if you want to succeed.

Assume good intent.  Aggressively assume good intent.  If a big company buys up your tiny startup, lots of people are going to condescend to you and assume they know how to solve your own problems better than you do.  In retrospect, I realize that a lot of tiny acquired startups *don’t* know what the fuck they’re doing and so the behemoth just gets used to assuming that everyone is like that.  Just grit your teeth and take it.

And if you honestly can’t see yourself ever embracing the new parent company, whether for cultural or ethical or technical reasons, you should leave sooner rather than later.  (UNLESS it’s for the golden handcuffs in which case for god’s sake try to emotionally disengage and do not be a people manager.)

One of Facebook’s internal slogans is something like “always do what’s best for Facebook”.  I never gave a shit about Facebook’s mission; I cared about Parse’s.  I remain incredibly proud of everything we accomplished for Parse, MongoDB, and RocksDB.  If only our strategic alignments had, well, aligned.


How to survive an acquisition

19 thoughts on “How to survive an acquisition

  1. Simon Edwell says:

    What a hypocritical bunch of shit. How much cash did you make from the acquisition itself and with all those Facebook shared rocketing up in value? You could have left directly after the event and started something else – something similar even. It wasn’t your baby – someone else started it. You just came along afterwards and via a bunch of shitty, poorly received talks, took all the glory.

  2. I loved the Parse talks at MongoDB world (I think you gave a talk there, right?)… still have my RocksDB shirt with me. Sorry you have to watch this unfold 🙁

    1. Barisa says:

      Thanks for writing about the Parse, I was curious what was your view.

      Big fan of yours and Parse’s work.
      We use dvara at work, and we had used your talk at Dublin SRECon as a guide how to upgrade our MySQL database :).

      Looking forward to your book on databases and scaling 🙂

    1. I so, so, so hope you are right. Massive props to Kevin Lacker and those who saw the writing on the wall and did an amazing job preparing to open up the ecosystem.

  3. givenowio says:

    Thank you for what you’ve built. Our app is backed by Parse, and you’ve made it possible to help real people in a critical time because of how well you executed on your vision. I’m sure you’ve heard the same from the myriad other companies you’ve enabled thanks to the mBaaS innovations that Parse pioneered. I’m dismayed as everyone else that Facebook’s bean counters missed this immense forest for the trees of immediate profitability. They won’t soon regain developers’ trust.
    – twitter: @aphex

  4. AJ says:

    Can you not take Parse back and continue where you left off? (Thank you for giving us Parse, it is such an awesome piece of tech)

  5. Felt a little bit like this when M came into Linden Lab. I can’t imagine being at a cool small company and being eaten by one of the amoral corporate behemoths like Facebook. If I didn’t get out immediately, I would probably die of despair.

    I live in fear of not making it in academia, because if I have to go back to corporate America, I consider it all but inevitable that I’ll end up somewhere that crushes my soul.

  6. […] company’s new overlords, it tries to soothe the sting for employees who’s work will now likely be distorted or flushed, and, most importantly, it seeks to reaffirm the seller that They Did The […]

  7. Kristine Toone says:

    I had this bookmarked from… some time ago. Just found it again, and it was a good read. My company was acquired by IBM. It’s now been just over 2 years. It’s been a roller coaster, and everything you said is right on. I needed to read this today, especially “aggressively assume good intent”. Good reminder on this Monday morning.

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