No, Trello Didn’t “Fail To Build A Billion Dollar Business”

That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read…

I’ve seen a lot of folks passing around that article about how Trello failed to build a billion dollar business. It’s stunningly obtuse.

The premise is that the software that was sold for a $400m acquisition was a failure because it wasn’t worth $1b.

This, to me, is ridiculous.

Trello was created by the firm Fog Creek. They designed and built an incredible product that appealed to and was used by many, many businesses – my own included.

When Fog Creek spun Trello off as its own entity, the amount of money they raised was $10m. That was the only money they ever raised, and it was all they needed to raise.

At Trello’s acquisition, they were breaking even with a healthy cashflow on an app that had taken relatively little investment, that was beloved by its users and accomplished everything it was designed to accomplish.

Fog Creek were the majority owners. And the sale made the company hundreds of millions of dollars richer.

For the investors who backed the company, that’s a solid return. For the founders of Fog Creek and for the team who were spun off, that’s an amazing win.

For almost anyone with a sincere connection to reality, a $400,000,000 exit is an amazing win.

The “Trello Failed” take is not only wrong…

Really, what is the issue with an exit that large, after a fundraise that small? I believe there’s a level of unicorn fetishism at play here that’s more than a little depressing. To think that on any level a company either reaches a billion dollars or has “failed” is to denigrate the work of entrepreneurs building amazing products and achieving amazing things.

To think that Trello’s exit is anything less than a solid achievement shows a scary lack of respect for their work and for what they built.

…But it’s also pointless!

A screed written by someone who wasn’t a member of Trello about all the things they coulda shoulda done in order to meet the author’s definition of success is so far divorced from reality as to make it a pointless read.

There might be some value in some of the advice in the article. Sure. But that advice would be a lot more valuable if presented as a guide to the various directions a company seeking a large valuation could take, rather than as a critical post mortem that doesn’t have a real connection to the internal goals, challenges and ideas that Trello were working with.

You know what? Fuck unicorns.

I have no real interest in billion dollar companies. I’m interested in companies that serve their customers, build amazing products and make money. If they happen to reach a billion, that’s great. But getting to a billion is not a goal that keeps me up at night.

Unicorns and the obsession with them are a problem. I don’t like the concept that a startup isn’t a worthwhile exercise if it doesn’t reach or isn’t aimed at getting to a billion. It’s devaluing for the ecosystem as a whole and it leads to pointless posturing and gatekeeping around what makes a company a “real” startup.

Trello didn’t fail to build a billion dollar company.

Fog Creek succeeded in building a $400,000,000 company.