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More on Sparrow and talent acquisitions

My talent-acquisition post yesterday got a lot of attention and some great responses, mostly about Sparrow specifically.

I ended the article with this:

If you want to keep the software and services around that you enjoy, do what you can to make their businesses successful enough that it’s more attractive to keep running them than to be hired by a big tech company.

From Rian van der Merwe’s response:

But… that’s what I did. I paid full price for every version of the Sparrow app I could find. I told everyone who would listen to buy it. I couldn’t have given them more money even if I wanted to. So, as a customer, what more could I have done to keep them running independently?

I should have gone a bit more into this, but I had to run out and buy plants (in my exciting life as a homeowner) and decided to keep the article short and simple.

In the reality of our fast-paced, boom-and-bust industry, even very strong support from customers may not be enough for many companies to stay in business.

They might not take your money. In many cases, such as communication networks and social web services, there’s a lot more value in amassing as many users as possible and then finding ways to monetize the entire group at once, usually by advertising. Charging money before you’re huge is likely to inhibit the rapid growth required to pull this off.

They might not take enough of your money. Some developers and companies simply have poor business sense, or are too embarrassed to ask for a fair price. Many more are concerned that anything above rock-bottom pricing will cause too many potential customers to pass them up.

There might just not be enough customers. Even if a product can get a solid base of customers to pay a good price, it’s still not enough to keep a company afloat, or keep an independent developer working on it full-time, if there aren’t a lot of those customers. Running a business, especially with employees, is far more expensive than most people realize.

As I said two weeks ago when Mozilla canned Thunderbird, the market for third-party email clients is very limited and difficult.

Matthew Panzarino speculates, and I think he’s probably correct, that Sparrow’s business probably wasn’t very healthy:

First, I’m telling you honestly that neither Dom nor anyone else on the team has given me any inside information about this, so this is completely my conjecture.

That being said, I believe that the Sparrow team was building the best product possible in Sparrow for Mac, but not making nearly as much money as they needed to keep the business sustainable.

If so, when Google offered them a lot of money to come work on their extremely successful email service, what were they supposed to do? Sparrow probably made the right move, and almost everyone who’s angry about it would probably have done the same thing in that situation.

As Matt Gemmell yelled at many complainers, we shouldn’t condemn Sparrow for “screwing” or “abandoning” anyone, or for “selling out”.

It’s frustrating when a product or service you like goes out of business, and that’s effectively what happened here. Sparrow tried to succeed in an extremely difficult market, and apparently failed. Their customers supported their efforts up to this point, but there probably weren’t enough customers for them to refuse Google’s offer.

Don’t blame Sparrow. Blame the terrible market for email clients.

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