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Famo.us pivots, fires 20 employees (techcrunch.com)
176 points by thepoet 566 days ago | hide | past | web | 147 comments | favorite

Hey all. I was the second engineer at famo.us and was later chief architect. I have many stories, but I won't go into any of them :-)

If you were interested in the library and are sad that this pivot means it won't be supported, I want to mention there is ongoing work in the OSS community outside the company supporting the pre-pivot vision.

I've personally been working on a fork called samsaraJS (http://samsaraJS.org), and there is another community effort at infamous.io.

These are both early stage labors of love, and always looking for contributors!

Please write your stories down even if you don't share them with anyone. You may change your mind years later and the brain has a way of blotting the craziest stuff out over time.

I don't understand, I thought Famo.us was a startup along the lines of Meteor--both passionately committed to a vision for the future of javascript/web development, both having raised the around same amount of money ($30 million).

I'm kidding--how could that be true when Famo.us was started by essentially a non-coder who touted his jQuery skills to falsely (and naively) present as though he was a coder. Did Steve even write a line of code. A startup this technical needs a super coder at the helm. In short, it should have been obvious to us outsiders that Famo.us was about nothing more than its unsuccessfully self-referential and self-serving name, "Fame."

Like many, I bought into it though. I mean--minus the hype-style marketing that should have been a clear warning that this company is not to be trusted--they did clearly assert their vision: to kill the Native Problem for javascript developers.

The fact that Steve was more concerned about money and making one of those type of startups, rather than hunker down with a small team and get a focused job done like the Meteor team has, astounds me. It's basically an outrage. How about hire a smaller team and not send them on wild goose hunts building stuff beyond the core vision. It's typical startup nonsense where inexperienced non-technical founders want to build the world and don't grasp the importance of focusing on a true MVP. I don't care that he was--i think--the #3 guy at Powerset, or that he kinda can code. From the looks of how busy he was at all the Famo.us marketing side of things, there's no way that guy was leading an engineering team--i.e. the only way this sort of grand vision could ever be accomplished.

The messed up part is that what they finally released at the end seemed to be on point with what we need. The interface is on point. It's a great start at least. Had they been more focused they could have arrived their earlier. And then they could have stuck to their guns and stuck it out until their framework got an actual following. But they never got a following, and therefore (combined with his needs for Fame and Money) Steve felt the need to pivot. Had they had any semblance of a following/userbase, this wouldn't have happened. Seen this happen so many times. You know, get that fire burning under your initial small group of passionate customers like kindling, like Paul Graham always says. They certainly had the perfect marketing pitch to do it.

All they had to do was take the vision to the bitter end like I hope Infamous.io or SamsaraJS does. For a while, as an outsider, I just figured they were suffering because the technology wasn't in fact possible. I.e. they couldn't truly get the performance needed for production apps. That they fell apart for any other reason is scandalous.

I wish the best to anyone picking up their codebase. We still need this stuff!


I am quite baffled by all this. I heard of Famo.us, but didn't give it more than 1 thought. I thought it was just another framework, I would have never thought that they had employees, let alone that many and raising that much money.

I watched the video in the article, and I can't believe that people are throwing money at someone with a pitch like that.

I feel like everything about Famo.us is all the wrong things that were described in the Reconsider article that was posted the other day https://medium.com/@dhh/reconsider-41adf356857f

I think that essentially their pitch was that they would become the development platform for building apps. If they had considerably grown the number of apps on their platform, and gotten lots of positive developer buzz, they would have easily gotten more funding, even if they weren't making any money yet.

The problem, though, is that building a new platform is really, really, really hard, and they didn't succeed. One of the biggest problems that I see that people underestimate is that most (not all, but most) great native mobile app engineers _don't_ want to build cross-platform apps. They tend to be "platform partisans", either loving Apple or Android, but not usually both. They always want to become experts in the latest and greatest platform technology. Perhaps more importantly, Apple and Google aren't particularly interested in cross-platform technology either. If you want to be featured in the App or Play Stores, you've got to have a native app that uses the latest iOS or Android features.

I see lots and lots of cross-platform mobile solutions on HN, but I rarely see people considering the incentives of both Apple and Google, and the mobile developers, when it comes to evaluating these solutions.

> The problem, though, is that building a new platform is really, really, really hard, and they didn't succeed.

Yes. We bought into it and did a proof of concept app with Famous. We did get it to work, but it cost way too much effort, there were way too many bugs, and it ran on way too few browsers.

We decided to not use Famous again. The proof-of-concept app lingers around, it's still cool and we're hoping for a new chance if a community version of (in)famous becomes somewhat more mature.

The incentive for developers is that you don't write the same code twice.

Of course this applies to developers whose goal is to create software, as opposed to those whose goal is to bill hourly.

That's only an incentive for developers if they individually are writing the code for both platforms. Many (most?) shops where an app is the main product (or a very important piece of the main product) have separate iOS and Android dev teams.

(As I've developed for both platforms, I think I have some standing to say this)

Hold on, it's not that we don't want to build cross-platform apps, at least not universally. In my case, it's because I believe the contortions involved in abstracting out multiple wildly-divergent APIs built for different languages to a common system runtime necessarily lowers fidelity and quality for both.

"Write once run anywhere" ends up being a lot harder than "Learn once write anywhere" - I'm hopeful that React Native will demonstrate the success of this approach on mobile (even though, personally, I wish there were a non-JS option).

> Perhaps more importantly, Apple and Google aren't particularly interested in cross-platform technology either.

Ah, the problem with generalizations about large companies. http://flutter.io/, by Google.

The fact that flutter exists doesn't really change my view that I don't believe that Google is pushing it. Flutter to me seems much more of a "Hey, let's get some brilliant people at Google on a fun, hard project" than something Google sees as the future.

I agree, though, that Google has somewhat more of an incentive to build stuff cross platform than Apple does. Google wants you to access their services from any device, while Apple makes almost all their money from the devices themselves.

I think Android is also still a second class citizen when it comes to app development and if they can get some people who would have started with an iOS app to start with Flutter they might even the playing field.

Though that's probably not really worth that much since they're a close second, unlike everyone else.

It mostly sounds like they got sick of writing the same app twice internally though, which I could definitely see happening to people who just want to ship product and aren't platform partisans (it would be a bit weird to me for iOS partisans to go work at google?).

Flutter is in line with Google's business objectives. The more people transition to mobile apps, the more mobile searches people will make (as opposed to in-app searches.)

They don't care if you are on Android or on mobile web, so cannibalization here isn't an issue; both lead to Google searches.

I think you misunderstand how Google operates. Google is a huge company that, even though less bureaucratic than companies of the same size, has many layers of management. I'd be surprised if any top executives even know that Flutter exists. My point is, adevine is right, Flutter is probably a small internal project that a bunch of devs got behind and got approval from a middle manager to release. It indicates very little about what's on the mind of the real decision makers at Google (e.g. the VPs in charge of Android or mobile or search).

Now, it might get momentum and eventually get more attention and more resources from Google leadership; but it also might not.

3D GUIs are a lot like graphical programming. Just a giant black hole that has been sucking up research and investment money for 30 years without much to show.

You do get some neat demos, but not a lot else.

The game industry has been using 3D GUIs and graphical programming successfully for years. Graphical programming is also popular in some other fields (MaxMSP for audio visual, labview).

Add TouchDesigner to that list, which is basically MaxMSP for demoscene-style visual effects. It gets used for fancy things like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zMI-qbmIPk

Which reinforces the point, 3D GUIs are a lot of fun but not very productive. In my workflow at my day job I want fewer GUI interactions and more production. AutoHotKey and 5 tonne overhead cranes help a lot, 3D GUIs not so much.

I won't discount the possibility that there will be some future problem that will be solved by a 3D GUI, perhaps astrogation.

I suspect the investment was made here because of the founder and not the idea/company. The founder's previous company (powerset) was sold to microsoft for 100m.

When it was first announced there was huge hype here on HN. I myself signed up. We were all really hoping that somebody had finally solved the cross-platform development pain. I was excited to see what the platform was going to do because at my company we really do feel the pain of developing for multiple platforms. So the investment isn't a surprise to me considering a CEO with a previous exit success and all the hype.

When they launched, though, it was just lackluster and had some major rendering bugs. It felt like the air got let out of the tires and everybody just moved on. So looking at it now, it's definitely difficult to see what all the hype was about.

I missed the first round of hype; was it originally all about 3D? Because that part definitely seemed crazy.

"I can't believe that people are throwing money at someone with a pitch like that".


I predicted they would not do good - easy to verify comment history.

Downvotes for a quote? Good job HN.

Relax. Downvotes are the air we breathe. Besides, a quote alone doesn't merit upvoting. Someone else said it.

thx for perspective, helped.

I will never understand how startups like this get money with such incompetent leadership.

Look at how this Famo.us office tour showcases the waste: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imc1p_laIt4

I've always disliked Techcrunch but I'm starting to realize how valuable their "Cribs" series is. They have the very best documentation of a dying culture of spoiled founders aimlessly running startups like a daycare for adults. I wonder how much longer people are going to be pulling this off for. Investors need to wise up and start giving their money to people who are mature enough to be modest and efficient with their company's resources before they've proven themselves as a business.

I seriously get the feeling people are just looking for any excuse to criticize Famous. I don't see what's wrong with their office. What's objectionable? A couple of $5 nerf guns? A cheap Lego board for project tracking? Or is it the fact that people aren't packed in as tight as they are at a place like Facebook (which is ironically something people on HN love to criticize)? The crappy makeshift studio they have? Seriously. Their office seems pretty normal.

The only thing you might find objectionable is the expensive SF location, which the article notes they got on the cheap at below-market rates, or the printer (the printer is probably only 1-2 thousand dollars, less than a Macbook).

Yeah, I don't see what's wrong either. The CEO is a fantastic interior designer. And his LinkedIn self-summary[1] is a real piece of art in its own right.

I find it hard to believe any of what this former employee wrote[2].

[1] https://www.linkedin.com/in/stevenewcomb

[2] http://techcrunch.com/2015/11/06/nopen-source/?fb_comment_id...

A non sequitur. I said there's nothing wrong or particularly wasteful with the office. I didn't comment on the company at all (the company is clearly in the dumps).

> I said there's nothing wrong or particularly wasteful with the office.

Just because you said there's nothing wrong or particularly wasteful with the office doesn't mean others agree. Outside of bubbleland, most people are going to struggle to understand why the CEO of a company that almost certainly doesn't have a cent of profit spent any time whatsoever thinking about how he could avoid "boring noise panels."

"Why not make this a piece of art as well on the ceiling?" Really?

When will folks learn[1]?

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9778832

And you know it was he who personally spent his time buying those noise panels (and not, say, the office manager) because...?

My broader point is people are just trying to find any excuse to uncharitably interpret anything just so they can to crap on the company.

"One of the things I wanted to sort of like inspire people with that worked here is you always feel beautiful while you're here." Those are the words of the chief interior designer himself.

Bottom line: this company crapped on itself. You're deluding yourself if you truly believe office managers are driving decisions to waste time and money on stupid sh*t like beautiful noise panels.

It's easy to criticize a figure who has made mistakes over his/her values that are unrelated to those mistakes. It seems that may be happening here.

He doesn't actually say he bought the panels. In that sentence he's talking about something he thinks is a company value.

My god, it might have cost thousands (THOUSANDS!!!) of dollars to install some noise panels on the ceiling to cut down on noise.

It doesn't matter how much it cost. It's about priorities. If you watch the video and get the sense that this company's founder has his priorities straight, maybe you can chip in and buy the next set of panels.

On second thought, it appears that the office is going to be pretty quiet soon enough.

He probably spent hours (invaluable hours!) thinking about those ceiling panels. I dunno, should their office be a hovel? Because you appear to have some sort of issue with this founder outside his attempt to make their office a nice place to work.

And why on earth would I finance ceiling tile purchases for some random company? There's something wrong with you.

ps -- while it's fine to be surprised at companies lighting money on fire, gloating about a company laying people off is all class.

> He probably spent hours (invaluable hours!) thinking about those ceiling panels.

When you run an unprofitable company that subsists on investor money, every single hour of leadership's time is invaluable.

> I dunno, should their office be a hovel?

So the choice for startups is a) a swagged-out office in one of the most expensive commercial real estate markets or b) hovel? What world do you live in?

> Because you appear to have some sort of issue with this founder outside his attempt to make their office a nice place to work.

You're free to believe this office represents a modest attempt at creating "a nice place to work," but outside of bubbleland, most people will see excess.

By the way, "a nice place to work" is just as much about how people are treated and interact with each other than it is about all of the "stuff" that gets put in the office. Unfortunately, leadership teams at many early-stage startups today don't seem to recognize this.

> And why on earth would I finance ceiling tile purchases for some random company?

It's only "THOUSANDS!!!" of dollars. You seemed genuinely concerned by the noise levels.

> while it's fine to be surprised at companies lighting money on fire, gloating about a company laying people off is all class.

I started my career at a dot bomb in the first boom/bust, so I have been on the other side. It taught me one of the best and most profitable lessons of my life: don't work for people who seem better at spending money than making it. Hopefully some of the younger folks who get laid off for the first time in this cycle will come away with lessons of their own that will help them avoid being fooled again in the future.

Finally, you seem to be missing the fact that lots of people are not surprised startups today are lighting money on fire. We see it every day, and many of us frequently point it out. What baffles me is that folks like you are surprised at where this leads and indignant when somebody points out that a bad outcome was more than likely. Shouldn't your indignation be directed at the people who are responsible for the incompetence, excess and waste?

Your hypothesis is perhaps ten thousand dollars of noise panels and hours of a CEO's time is material to a company and/or a factor in its success. Neither of those make or break a company. It's hardly "swagged-out", and is cheaper than other office space according to the very video you watched. Low noise levels do contribute to both productivity and someplace being nice to work in.

There's plenty of counterexamples (including several I've worked for) who have somehow succeeded despite spending relatively modest amounts of money to make the office a pleasant place instead of a loud dump with sawhorse desks and 20 year old carpeting. If you're complaining about sfbay rates, well, that's what office space costs here.

Believing spending well under one engineer's annual salary made a bad outcome more or less likely is nothing other than dumb.

> Believing spending well under one engineer's annual salary made a bad outcome more or less likely is nothing other than dumb.

Now you're being obtuse. It is the cumulative effects of leadership having out-of-whack priorities that can lead a company to the deadpool. Get it?

In any case, I'll take being Common Sense Dumb and having a successful, profitable business over being Silicon Valley Smart and handing out pink slips any day of the week.

Do investors really need to 'wise up' as you say? It seems to me that they are quite tolerant of this type of thing, because it's cost effective in the end. They're searching for billion dollar unicorns, the diamonds in the rough, and they have to launch hundreds of startups to get them. That requires a lot of young engineers willing to work for ramen and stock options. The perks required to bait them are a modest expense in the grand scheme of things.

Maybe because I'm no longer in my early 20's, something about agreeing to be an employee in that environment, e.g. staying late for "1st and 2nd dinners", for something you didn't found, just feels humiliating.

Office tour video nails it. Beer dispenser? 6-foot printer so staff can print their ideas in high resolution? Having 60 non-employees to live with them for free? And I'm pretty sure this is not even scratching the surface of non-sense that must have been going on there.

Even the TV host said it right in the video "This is crazy!"

That is amazing. They have so much extra space, so much money, that they let startups live with them - in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the US. Basically they were funding a dozen or so startups with power pipe and food. I wonder if they got any equity out of that?

TechCrunch Cribs... didn't know that was a thing. Glamorizing startup offices gives me a very 1999, bubble-y feeling.

Once you sell a search technology company for $100M (good luck with that), you too will be able raise ridiculous amounts of money for your next technology venture.

It totally makes sense.

One of the most cringeworthy videos I watched this year...

While I find the majority of that video as absurd as everyone else (it seemed like something out of Mike Judge/HBO's "Silicon Valley") I have to admit the Lego burn down project tracking board thingy was pretty cool.

> Open Source ≠ Business

> Newcomb himself admits it was a “divergent brainstorming process,” saying “We tried everything…we tried everything so we could create a business model around open source. And at the end of the day, we just couldn’t do it.”

What a load of shit. This has nothing to do with open source.

It's more like people don't want to pay for another JavaScript framework that claims to be better than the current web stack which at the end of the day, ends up reimplementing most features a web browser already has, but in WebGL. In the article, Steve even admits "We built a shitty game engine".

Recently, there were a few other attempts at reimplementing most of the web in WebGL, I think Flipboard had an article.

Let me point out, this is hard. You wind up with some of the features HTML/CSS already has that's faster, but a ton of missing stuff you end up needing at some point.

For example in WebGL, layout is non trivial, rendering text correctly is non trivial, events are non trivial. These things are an afterthought when working with HTML/CSS.

People love to shit on HTML/CSS and blame it for their problems, but at the end of the day, the grass really isn't greener on the other side.

Don't blame open source because it can't rescue your product. Great products and care for the community foster great open source communities, not the other way around.

Also trying to be faster than HTML/CSS is a hard game, the developers of Chrome and Firefox, etc are constantly optimizing.

Just wait until you see what Servo can do. Parallel layout is sick. https://github.com/servo/servo/wiki/Design#strategies-for-pa...

Sorry but I try out servo EVERY day and it will take a long time until this will be stable.

It's not ACID1, ACID2, ACID3 compliant. It misses a lot of CSS2.1, CSS3 and JavaScript feature's. Static sites working better and better (and are way way faster than firefox).

However I think that servo is the right step, however I just think that it should have more people so that the Innovation could be faster.

> I try out servo EVERY day

Cool, thanks for helping out! I hope you're helping them by reporting bugs when you find them.

> it will take a long time until this will be stable

Sure, it's a WIP. That's to be expected. Expecting otherwise is unrealistic.

> It's not ACID1, ACID2, ACID3 compliant


> and JavaScript feature's

Maybe DOM bindings, but Servo ships with bindings to SpiderMonkey, the JS VM used in Gecko, so all of the Language JavaScript should be there.

> I just think that it should have more people so that the Innovation could be faster

Check out the top story on proggit: https://www.reddit.com/r/programming/comments/3rqqvu/mozilla...

Currently we are not testing against our application always, but I sometime try it out and its working aweful.

also on acid2 i get different results every day/week. sometimes i'm good somtimes not.

Yeah servo gets more support, i still think it takes at least another year (or more) to ship it.

> It's not ACID1, ACID2, ACID3 compliant

Huh? Servo has passed Acid1 and Acid2 for, like, a year now. Servo doesn't pass Acid3, of course (although neither does Firefox anymore!).

I mean, I'm not going to claim that Servo is by any means Web compatible yet, primarily due to a long list of bugs and incompletely-implemented features. In terms of feature checklists, though, there's a lot done.

It's not, passing most of the times.

It's unstable. That doesn't mean thats bad.

And Firefox is passing Acid3. And always did.

I mean ACID1 and ACID2 failures are mostly regression that getting fixed a day after but still its not roughly stable.

> It's not, passing most of the times.

Acid1 and Acid2 are reftests. The CI system ensures they continue to pass on every commit. Commits are not merged if they break the Acid tests.

> And Firefox is passing Acid3. And always did.

No, it didn't always pass it. Acid3 didn't even exist when Firefox first came on the scene.

Firefox scores 99/100 for me.

This is a great point. The model probably could have worked, it's just that the framework isn't very desirable. A really easy to point at example of why this is so hard to do: they implemented their own formula for inertial scrolling, since mobile browsers don't really (or didn't at the time) let you interact with scrolling behavior at all in javascript. So simply scrolling through a site written in famo.us felt _off_. It's a small thing, but emblematic of the problems with their approach, in my mind.

Yep. Web tech needs all sorts of layers for all kinds of demanding software, so as long as you build something useful/adoptable, there should be ways to commercialize.

I'm more bullish on WebGL. To meet the desire to do VR, gaming, and data visualization on the web, a lot to be done. We went all in for the data side, and surprise, people with data problems are happy to pay for you to help them finally see it ;-)

Man, famo.us.

I dove in because i try to get a balanced view of things before I make up my mind about things, and there was some stuff in there that I really liked. I tried building something with it, and it didn't really work out.

But even worse was the way that they interacted with their open source community.

It was completely cathedral-style, for a long time. And just as they became more bazaar-like everything dries up from them. Nobody was on irc, nothing on the issue queues. The only thing we heard was more promises for x integration, and y integration.

Eventually the community got fed up and called them out on it, to which they finally admitted that they had started a complete rewrite behind closed doors to use 'mixed mode' css3d and webgl rendering. 6 months later, they released their new 'engine' rewrite, and an additional 'framework' on top of it, which really did not seem fully baked.

They subsequently made a really big deal of helping found the jquery foundation, and organized a jquerySF conference that had them on stage promising to replace major jquery widgets with drop-in famo.us ones.

And then nothing. Commits stopped, feedback stopped, slack channel was closed. News started filtering out of devs working there leaving one after the other.

The entire thing did teach me some important life lessons, though =) At least there's a few mistakes i won't make again.

Famo.us’ 15 minutes of open source fame have come to an end. JavaScript rendering engine Famo.us has pivoted away from its hardcore open sourced engineering platform which had raised over $31 million. It’s now refocused on commercializing the idea of powerful mobile web apps with a content management system for branded marketing apps.

Yikes. If ever I wanted a paragraph printed on a poster to scare me into working harder, this is probably the one.

"It’s now refocused on commercializing the idea of powerful mobile web apps with a content management system for branded marketing apps."

[buzzword translator activated]

"It's now building another Squarespace."

the bit that made me shudder was "Our mission at Famous is to empower digital marketing professionals to build beautiful branded apps that amplify every aspect of their digital marketing campaigns.". if you believe (as i do) that people just tune out and skim over everything that sounds like "marketese", that says absolutely nothing. surely there are better ways to say the same thing, that actually make people interested in what you have to sell!

It's a little flowery, but what about it is marketese to you? Other than the fact that they're talking to their new audience; terms like "branded app" are specific terms that have meaning to marketers.

what does it actually say? it's all entirely generic, and they're using a boatload of buzzwords to make it sound like there's more there than there actually is. the sad thing is there probably is more there, but that quote (which they've featured prominently on their webpage!) doesn't say it.

I would be wary of assuming the problem was that they didn't work hard enough.

Oh, I'm not saying that it was.

True, but that's generally one thing you can truly control about your work. "Hard enough" could be replace by "smart enough" or a handful of other terms.

Maybe their next pivot will be to print-on-demand motivational posters.

Heh, that reminds me of a few years back, when I was at Lockheed I printed several demotivatioal posters and quietly placed them up around the office.

I got reprimanded by HR after they found this poster I put up in one of the interview rooms: http://i.imgur.com/dzk0YcA.jpg

HR was interviewing someone who was seeking H1-B and noticed this poster hanging on the wall during the interview...

My boss (CTO !!) used to put up this poster with "I rarely test my code. When I do, I do it in production". Good times.


Anyway bold move, my office need a couple to lighten things up.

Heh - no, not fired. A gentle slap on the wrist... the head of HR was a good friend.

Today you would have been publicly shamed on social media by outrage culture and then fired.

or a platform for 3D-rendering of motivational posters driven by the information in the CMS

They should name it "synergy.js"


This one is much better, thanks.

  > Newcomb describes it as “one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had to
  > make because it meant letting go of some people.” Stressing the firings
  > weren’t easy for him. “Before I made the decision, I drove scar from San
  > Francisco to Baltimore and back to think it through,” he explains. “I took
  > eight days.”
I have fired people. It is brutal. I have been fired. It's worse. So managers, please: Never solicit sympathy for the pain of firing people.

I never understood how they could claim "this is not html5" and "we have a direct conversation with the GPU", when it appears to be just a bunch of <div>s with style="transform:matrix3d(0,1,2...)"?

Steve said a lot of things that smelled _way_ off to anyone technical. I remember calling him out on that specific "this isn't html5" line he liked to parrot years ago.

He either knew he was bullshitting, or he didn't have enough technical understanding to actually understand his own platform, and if pushed on anything remotely technical, he'd basically just throw his cofounder into the ring to overwhelm everyone with the (admittedly very clever) optimizations they were doing at their rendering layer.

I ran _fast_ the other direction, the whole thing gave off a horrible vibe.

I believe the justification was that the browser goes directly to the GPU for those particular style declarations. It's not quite wrong, but it was definitely a stretch.

Yea, the founder even says 'no it's not webgl' and then you see that te website clearly says its an abstraction of html5 and webgl >.> it's too markety speak for me- akin to the ridiculousness of salesforce's 'no software' motto.

I briefly contracted there and it was obvious to me that this would happen.

The platform they built is really amazing, but there was no sense of how they could start making money in any reasonable period of time considering their costs. I'm sure everyone who was working there will be fine as they had some tremendously talented engineers.

My biggest issue with it is that they made a great demo yet they didn't really have a useful framework. They kept things hush hush for too long , with a lot of teasing and by the time they released something, people moved on.

Compare to what ionic did, and i'm not a big fan of it, but the ionic team demonstrated the usefulness of their framework quite fast with concrete apps.

As for making money obviously, you make money with consulting, cloud services,tools for professionals and co, but you need a community at first place. Famo.us never had a one.

You basically hit the nail on the head.

That said, they were in fact making an effort to increase adoption with initiatives like Famous University, famous-angular and various project demos and usable widgets.

The answer to why they struggled to increase adoption so much isn't that clear to me, but what I do know is that they had a lavish office in an expensive part of SF, free food and a relatively large, well-paid staff.

Wait, you're telling me a VC funded JavaScript framework didn't work out?

Didn't work out YET. They'll bounce back!

Clickbait use of "Fired" - It's a pet peeve of mine when headlines used the term to create more drama. The correct term for terminating an employee due to business reasons as opposed to "cause" is laid-off.

Famo.us to me was always a platform/framework or even a language more than it was a product or service.

I have no idea how they could have raised $31M on that.

This could have been an amazing framework built by the open source community instead it's now just another growth before revenue scheme that went wrong.


Famo.us founder was a Powerset co-founder, which had an highly successful exit to Microsoft. This pattern often explains generous funding of outlandish ideas.

(for those like me that don't know Powerset:) Powerset worked on made natural-language search engine.


Interesting I didn't know that. Thanks.

"I have no idea how they could have raised $31M on that."

Downvotes for a quote?

I predicted they would not do good - easy to verify comment history.

They always seemed so smug about themselves and their lackluster product. I'm not the least bit surprised. I wish them the best though.

At least the employees who got canned weren't being paid as poorly as Gumroad's employees: https://web.archive.org/web/20141224195227/https://angel.co/...

Of course, Famo.us' employees seemed to get a lot less equity, but let's be honest: I'd rather make $175,000/year and get 0.05% of nothing than $75,000/year and 1% of nothing[1]

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10517008

> What makes our product offering unique is that our apps can be built without coding

Oooh... that's going to be a tough argument to sell to people.

This is the tech Holy Grail. Get rid of that expensive development team and let marketing "do something up".

Just ... not ... gonna ... happen (for any reasonable definition of "app").

I think most of us remember the DreamWeaver days of WYSIWYG editors. Products like squarespace have been hugely influential, I'm the type who would normally nope out of using such a product but I've recently become an advocate for the better ones in a number of situations.

Will it take over like they said it would ten years ago? Hell no. Will it gain more market shares as people apply it to the right problems? I think so.

True, I think there's been a trend towards less programming for specialized applications. But in a way you're making my case for me anyway: If what you are saying is true then the fabulo.us claim of being "the first" is false regardless.

Sounds not hard to sell to the technically-unsavvy at all. Their new product actually seems much smarter than the old.

Unfortunately it does sound an easier sell, I hear the frustrated screams of future developers being birthed.

“We have about five years of money in the bank, so now it doesn’t matter what happens in the market”

First time I heard of 5 years runway....

I'm more amused by how that statement makes it sound like the runway is the goal.

Famo.us business should be selling books and webinars on how to raise crazy money. They are definitely awesome at that.

Hype to usefulness ratio of 1000:1

Famous never should have been funded. Not because of lack of talent on the team, but because it's an inherently unprofitable idea. The responsibility of knowing that should fall on the team, not the investors. I think it was disingenuous to seek funding for this idea. GitTip or another OSS funding model would have been far more appropriate. A cross platform animation library should not have paid employees, and was an unfortunate choice for investors. (They burned 30 MILLION working on an open source animation library?!). It sounds like a few dozen people were lucky enough to get Bay Area salaries to meander around a broken idea. I don't think an investor would have the technical experience to realize the technology both would not work well, not solve the right problems, and not be marketable. They fired a dozen people? How many more are left?! Anything built by the remaining team should not be done under the Famous brand. It was disingenuous of the founder to pitch it as a fundable, profitable idea and use techno-speak to wow investors for something that many developers in the industry could see right through.

Not really sure why investors shouldn't be expected to be able to do due diligence on the startups they invest in.

UI development is so specialized now that I bet you could sell enough snake oil to lots of investors who would have a hard time verifying if your idea has profit potential or not.

I also think it's deplorable that Steve Newcomb went straight to investors for this without putting any of his own money into paying employees. It's one thing to sell snake oil, it's another not to even try to build a working snake oil prototype on your own time without taking someone else's money and burning it.

You could say that about literally anything, at these prices investors should be able to find their own experts in the field to evaluate these kinds of things.

Almost none of the comments I saw on HN were positive about this, which should be more of a red flag than usual given that developers are their target audience.

But whatever, I have no sympathy for VCs who have no idea what they're doing.

Do you have inside information we don't know about? You know for sure he didn't put his own money into the venture?

No, I have no more information than is in the article, but I have no reason to believe otherwise.

If you don't know whether or not the founder put his own money into it, then don't say things like: "I also think it's deplorable that Steve Newcomb went straight to investors for this without putting any of his own money into paying employees."

1) They did not burn 30M (as stated in the article, most of it is still there).

2) You are conflating difficult to monetize with inherently impossible to monetize. They are not the same thing. Just because it's challenging and failure-prone, doesn't mean it's impossible.

For a company that's building UIs their website in Firefox is unreadable due to the horrible font: http://imgur.com/8ANC4bH

I don't hate thin fonts - for example in bigger sizes it looks good - but the thin an small combination is a bad choice. In Chrome it's a little bit better but I still won't read it.

Ex-famo.us (pre-pivot short-term contractor'ish) here. It's sad to see famousJS go to the grave, but I'm excited to see dmvaldman's samsaraJS (http://samsaraJS.org) evolve into something great (cakaaaaaaw!). The pre-pivot famo.us was inspiring to work with and I was humbled to see all the projects being created by both the in-house and external teams.

It was an exciting place to work, for all it's ups and downs. Besides the product itself, the office, albeit ungodly expensive given it's location and size, was the perfect place to be productive and push yourself well into the night. There were spots you could work collaboratively next to others as well as little nooks you could "hide" and get some comfy undisturbed privacy. The ambiance of the place worked beautifully to be both creative and technical, together or individually. In the grand scheme of things, I think it's an expense that easily justified the potential reward.

On the other hand, the social culture that Steve crafted, often reinforced by his example, didn't sit right with me personally, nor did it sit well with many others. "Toxic" was an unfortunate word thrown around quite a bit while I was there. I do hope he takes time off to honestly...subjectively... reflect back on how he chose to treat people he calculated could be useful to him in the moment as opposed to those who were not.

On the flip side, when child-like dreamer Steve came through, speaking about his passions and what inspires him to do what he does, he was, in those moments, a really enjoyable guy and motivational figure to work for. I'll be casting an unpopular opinion here, but I do think the guy has it in him to lead another company to success, as long as he takes a cold, hard, unbiased, and honest look at himself to fully understand why famo.us, not just the product, but more the culture he crafted, failed with him at the helm.

The most important takeaway from my stint there was working with the incredible team and crafting the friendships I did. The level of talent that many of the original engineers had and the amazing personalities behind said talent gives me no worries that those who were let go will move on to something far greater and hopefully, personally rewarding. I already know that quite a few have! :)

http://www.thefamousgroup.com - Dat logo, though.

Another ex-famous person here (again, short-term-contractor).

The folks focusing on the techcrunch cribs video and drawing damning conclusions from it are, rather predictably, chasing a red herring.

For what it's worth I actually felt more productive, focused, and relaxed (in a good way) in that office than in any I've ever worked in before or since. The high ceilings made a remarkable difference. The mix of open and private spaces worked. Going to work in a place that felt like a higher-class version of your home but where you could collaborate with your coworkers was pretty amazing. It was basically what co-working spaces always try to be but can never fully pull off. It doesn't make sense to complain about the damage open plan offices are doing to productivity and then get angry at someone who does the opposite. Granted, you don't need a semi-luxury penthouse. :) But I think the office was an under-appreciated reason why they were able to get (and retain) a lot of great engineers. It was in general a very sane, reasonable environment to do good work in, in contrast to most offices.

jondubois, aikah, and others are on the right track. Making money off a front-end framework is a long shot. The monetization plan (to the extent there was one) was always heavy on optimism and reliant on a lot of things going very very right.

That's not to say it was impossible, though.

The reasons famo.us failed are the reasons most startups fail: 1. They didn't do nearly enough to truly understand their users and meet their needs 2. They didn't communicate or collaborate well or consistently enough internally.

I could say more about both 1 and 2, but I'll wrap it up there. The real narrative of what went wrong is one that's familiar and pretty generic. The subplots of what they were trying to build and who was involved just makes it all a bit more interesting to speculate about.

p.s. dmvaldman is the man – you should check out his framework and say hi.

I'm not sure you're allowed to call that a pivot.

"micro-app", a landing page you have to download from an app store. What a stupid idea.

Back when this got released, I thought "there's no way this is going to work". It was just too slow while hardly doing anything impressive. And it was billed as if it is actually faster than doing things normal way.

Why on Earth would they have a smushed iPhone 6 on that landing page for famous.co?

Making a business out of open source is hard. Especially for front-end related stuff. I think it's much easier to build a business around backend technologies - On the backend, there are more opportunities for things like enterprise plugins and integrations (as-a-service).

Also the frontend space is insanely competitive. There are a lot of really good frontend frameworks that most people have never heard of.

As an early intern, I wonder if the stock that I got after being let go from these guys will ever be worth a lick. :-/

Cash out!

To be honest, nothing about this has ever made sense to me. And I'm a JS developer.

I think, with the three javascript videos I had to click away while trying to read this article, I vow to never read techcrunch again.

I think they're exploiting their relationship with HN, and their need should be re-evaluated.

It kinda looks like he somehow made $31M selling "mystery boxes"....

Whoa, tell me more about your mystery boxes, I'm intrigued. Are they disruptive?

Can you think outside them?

You have to sacrifice a cat to find out.

You might have to sacrifice a cat to find out, but you won't find that out until you open the box.

In mother Russia, cat sacrifices you.

Aren't these the guys who implemented their own UI toolkit on top of WebGL because "HTML5 is slow and our stuff is GPU-accelerated"?

Like Gumroad, a company like this should not be staffing up to 20+ before finding some traction or at least some product/market fit.

Honest question: Is it normal for SV companies to be taking "beer breaks" during the work day?

I found that a bit strange.

They're going for the Ballmer Peak:


It is pretty common for beer to be available 24 hours a day. But it's pretty rare for people to make use of it.

How did they get a hold of famous.org? Should startups be spending money on domains like that?

In this case, yes, they should. Assume they spent 15.5 million on their javascript framework and 15.5 million on the famous.org domain.

The domain has a value of ~$25,000 (-99.8% return on investment).

The javascript framework has a value of $0 (-100% return on investment).

This will fetch something to pay back the lenders and investors if the company is shut down.

Actually where did they spend those 31m??

Can someone please explain what an "app engine" is? Is it 4-stroke or straight 6? Does it come with a cat back exhaust?

In all seriousness, to me a framework is just an opinoited way of doing things that makes a bunch of decisions for you so you have less to think about. It hinges on the fact someone has uncovered some useful abstractions that make the act of coding less tedious.

I checked out their demo and while it looked fancy, I didn't see any compeling reason to use it over plain html/css or three.js if you need fancy 3d stuff.

Also, calling your product "shitty" isn't the best strategy. Geeks see self-deprecation as a sign of weakness.

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