Originally published on Pandodaily on July 22, 2012
Does anyone else find it interesting that two of our most engineering-centric technology companies just bought an email client and a news reader last week? I mean, aren’t Google and Facebook just stuffed with engineers who could jam these products out in their sleep? Don’t get me wrong, both Sparrow and Acrylic have good products and I’m sure great product teams that will add value to the respective acquirers. What makes these purchases interesting to me is that I’m just enough of a gray beard now that when I see incumbents acquiring basic service product teams, it reminds me of prior acquisition sprees.
As far as I’m concerned, the Web 2.0 acquisition binge began when Yahoo acquired email and news reader vendor Oddpost, which was run by Automattic’s CEO Toni Schneider. For those of you who don’t remember, Yahoo was a little freaked out in 2004 because Google had launched Gmail with a ton of free storage and a massively better user experience than their Yahoo mail service. Oddpost had a slick AJAX email browser app, and Yahoo was (at the time) smart enough to know that they would lose customers to the better user experience and needed folks who understood how to build products for this “Web 2.0” user experience. From that point to when Intuit bought Mint in 2009, incumbents kept buying start ups that threatened their core service with a better user experience in the browser.
So here we are again, major companies buying start ups who understand the emerging new platform that provides a better user experience. Turns out Meeker is right again and we are at the beginning of a “re-imagination of nearly everything powered by new devices” where a focus on connectivity (mobile & social) and, as always, beauty (the better touch navigation experience) will drive a lot of change in consumer behavior.
These basic service acquisitions, as well as the real starting gun moment of Facebook buying Instagram, feel like the beginning of the “touch era” of acquisitions. That’s when the deja vu kicks in for me, because it reminds me of Hotmail challenging Outlook, then Gmail challenging Yahoo Mail. New platforms (Browser, AJAX, and now Touch) provide challenges for incumbents, and start ups who build on new platform get bought up.