RIP Mailbox, or: Founders, how to stop worrying and love being acquired

Rahul Vohra
Feb 29, 2016 · 7 min read

Mailbox, we hardly knew you.

In December 2012, TechCrunch introduced you as the best email app we’ll ever use. Something that could fundamentally change the way we do things.

In March 2013, 93 days after your debut, Dropbox acquired you for $100M.

Unlimited resources. Global distribution. Your next step: fundamentally change everything, of course.

Except that’s not what happened. Last week, less than three years later, Mailbox was shutdown. And so, with a protracted sigh, you join the long list of acquisitions that went up in a cloud of cash.

As an entrepreneur creating a fantastic new email experience, I can’t help but say this… Looking for a Mailbox replacement? Sign up for Superhuman!

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But as a founder who knows how hard this journey is, the demise of Mailbox makes me very sad. (I sold Rapportive, also an email company, to LinkedIn.)

The truth is this: sometimes acquisitions fail, despite everybody having the best intentions. Below are my tips on making yours work.

How to survive being acquired by a big company

Before we jump in, let’s introduce two roles. First, the managing sponsor. It was probably their idea to acquire you in the first place, and they are probably your new boss. Second, the executive sponsor. They likely report direct to the CEO, and it could well be their budget that was used to buy your company. In smaller acquirers, or for larger acquisitions, these two may in fact be the same person; the tips below assume they are different.

We should work hard to make more acquisitions succeed.

It is undoubtedly fine art, but I am certain we can do better. It requires experienced acquirers and open-minded founders. It requires sharing lessons and honest dialogue.

If you know anybody going through an acquisition, please send them this post. You might just save their happiness, and spare the world yet another product shutdown.

Thank you to my friends for sharing their experiences, and to Bill Trenchard, Ed Sim, and Jason Calacanis for reading drafts of this post.

Still looking for a Mailbox replacement? Sign up for Superhuman!

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Rahul Vohra

Written by

Founder & CEO of Superhuman. Founded Rapportive. Computer Scientist, Gamer, Entrepreneur, Designer.

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