The case against acqui-hires

8:00am, Monday August 11th

Today is one of the hardest days of my two year journey at Clef.

Already tormented by the ups and downs of fundraising, a big deal fell through on Sunday and we start our week feeling down. Standing at my desk, I struggle with the worst feeling I’ve come to know as a founder: aimlessness.

The success of our company feels like it is on the line, but I click between tabs and write pointless emails, waiting for something, anything, to happen.


4:03pm, Monday

me & a well connected friend and mentor on gchat

Them: hey, you there?
Me: yeah what's up
Them: I have a crazy idea
Me: what is it? Love crazy ideas.
Them: Open to an acquisition?

At the lowest low, it’s amazing how wonderful a lifeline can look. Today’s lifeline comes in the form of an acqui-hire (a talent acquisition).

I stop struggling with what to do next and start imagining what it’d be like to be free from the struggle in the first place.

I stop thinking through the next deal and start wondering how I’d deal with the acquisition money.

I stop worrying about our company and start wondering about the company I’ll keep.

A significant amount of money in my pocket; a “successful exit” under my belt; the constant weight of perpetual uncertainty and fear lifted from my shoulders.


4:11pm, Monday

Me: doubtful, but not a hard no. Who’s looking?
Them: I can’t say but a very reputable place. I just need to know if your team is open to it. If “no” then it’s easy to disregard.
Me: I think it’s likely to be a distraction, but if you think it’s someone who would be interesting to us and would be serious about this than we’re open to a conversation. that’s coming from me and my two co-founders.
Them: Can you email me a profile or 1-pg PDF of the team’s background and technical experience? Trust me that it’s reputable. I wouldn’t waste your time.
Me: give me a little bit and i’ll get back to you. got to talk this through a little more.

The hardest part about running a company is believing. Believing in an idea. Believing in a group of people. Believing in the exception to the rule, the 1 in 100 victory. Believing through the best and worst times.

Believing in success against everyone and everything forcing failure.

Acqui-hires let us stop believing without admitting we were wrong to believe the whole time. We walk away with money in our pocket, a success on our resume, and members of an exclusive club, but the thing we believed in for years — that we poured our lives into for years — dies.

Acqui-hires save our face but kill our dreams.


5:43pm, Monday

From: Jesse Pollak <jesse@getclef.com>
To: A well-connected friend and mentor <hi@mentor.com>
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2014
hey, thanks for reaching out.

we had a longer conversation and we're going to pass. in thinking through the potential deal, we decided that we're not at a point where we can accomplish any of our personal goals through an acquisition. it'd likely mean killing the product we love and believe in and having high lock-in for modest reward at an unknown company.

all that, plus the inevitable distraction and morale-effect of having a "second choice" makes it bad timing.

I really appreciate you thinking of me and hope you understand.

Jesse Pollak is a one of the founders of Clef. He gets to build a product he loves every day of the week. Follow him on Twitter here.

I couldn’t have written this without the support and input from my wonderful co-founders, Brennen and Mark.