Designing Your Experience

with Jeff Veen

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Learn how to plan for and execute your acquisition

Jeff Veen

Design Expert, Good Taste Purveyor, Product Guy

Lessons Learned

Entrepreneurs can see an acquisition as an exit or as a boost that accelerates growth.

What worked: isolating startup teams, founders throwing themselves into leadership positions.

In acquisition, building relationship & finding a place the team wanted were as financial outcomes.


Lesson: Designing Your Experience with Jeff Veen

Step: #8 Acquisition: Learn how to plan for and execute your acquisition

Our team has doubled in the time that we've been at Adobe and the product is probably 10 times the size it was. It's been phenomenal, but we're getting integrated into all those desktop tools that millions of people use so that's just so, it's wonderful, validating. I think a lot of entrepreneurs can see an acquisition as an exit or they can see it as a boost, and we've certainly taken it as a boost. It's been great. Just accelerated everything.

So I think one of the reasons that we have been able to grow and succeed inside the big company was two sort of contradictory things. The first was that we more or less isolated ourselves. Big companies can have a tendency when a new start-up is acquired to hug them to death and just be so happy they're there and, “Here, we're going to just give you the marketing resources you've ever wanted and we're going to give you the HR resources. You're going to have everything you ever needed,” and you never do anything else but be at the company and try to absorb all these resources and all that kind of stuff. That can be overwhelming and so we did it.

We had some very, very difficult meetings with very well-intentioned people about how long will it take you to shut down and move it over to and we said that's never going to happen and they were like, “No, you work here now, we need your brand to change. Here's your new logo.” We're like, “No, we're not.” Those are the kinds of things that I think take all the steam out of a product group and they're just like, “What? Oh gosh, we've done all this stuff ourselves and we're so proud of what we've made.”

We basically kept the team as intact as possible. Everybody continued to report up in the same way to Brian and I, my co-founder, and sales didn't go off into the sales organization and engineering didn't move under the VP of Engineering at Adobe. We kept that all together. We didn't even move over to Adobe and our office was only a mile away. We didn't do that for a year just to make sure we were both ready

Eventually it was the type of team that said, “I know you guys negotiated a year and a half lease at our awesome office, but we really want to go over there. It's just going to be so much easier to be able to work with the people we need to work with and use the internal systems and all that kind of stuff.” So eventually it was that.

The other part of that, the more contradictory part, was by keeping the team relatively isolated from the rest of the organization, my co-founder Brian and I threw ourselves into the organization almost, pretty much, left Typekit entirely, took roles that we tried to have as much influence as possible because that gave us then the authority and the influence to be able to protect the team and to change the parts of Adobe that they wanted us to change, the reason they were acquiring us. So just like took all the meetings and went and did all of the behind the scenes work that has to happen at a big company to get the resources to increase our scope and to do all those things.

That was the advice I got from Caterina Fake who was one of the founders of Flickr and sold it to Yahoo, and she said, “Don't go into the big company and let some jerk decide your product strategy. Go be that jerk,” and I was like, “Well, I can certainly do that.” So I just threw myself at the company and said, “Everything goes through us, right? And everything goes through us

There was a lot of interest in Typekit going to a few different places. That's helpful in negotiations but ultimately we want to find a good home. We realized, before we even started writing code for Typekit, that we were going to be a hosted service that could never, ever go away. You can't turn Typekit off because then a few million websites are going to break. They're not going to have design on them anymore. The whole presentation of all these sites would go away, so we knew we had to find a place that we would trust to bring Typekit, no matter how long we ended up being there.

It was as much building a relationship, and finding a place that we wanted to work, as it was making everybody happy financially. It was a long courtship. It wasn't just a, you know? Once we decided, the deal went very, very quickly. We worked really hard on that, but that's because momentum is great when you're doing that kind of stuff. The meetings that we would have and the long, secret coffees and everything that we had to go and do were really, really important to make sure because we wanted to be successful when we got there, not just the day we signed.

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