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Autodesk to Acquire PlanGrid (YC W12) to Accelerate Construction Productivity (autodesk.com)
417 points by gwintrob 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

This is a big deal: this is by far the biggest acquisition of a YC startup with a female founder/CEO.

If you want to get an idea of how formidable Tracy Young is, watch her talk at the 2015 Female Founders Conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pKR212H5vQ

What an incredible and inspiring story... truly the highest highs and the lowest lows.

Some take always that really resonated with me:

- Life is is short and it isn’t. Don’t waste time working on “trivial bullshit.”

- A small “family” can take on a bigger, better funded copycat because the small, nimble team obsesses over the sticks.

- Sometimes you’ve gotta just “man up.” I thought it was interesting Tracy used that language, but you can just tell that she doesn’t have time for the bullshit. Be the honey badger.

- If you don’t find joy in what you do say to day, you’re doing the wrong thing.

Congrats to PlanGrid!

Absolutely, Tracy and the rest of the founding team are a force. Their YC story was awe inspiring and emotional.

Tracy was one of the first people to believe in me, and encourage me to apply to YC.

Glad to see this wonderful news for PlanGrid, and hope to see many more big things coming from them now that they’re at AutoDesk!

Wow that talk was just amazing. Instead of your usual success BS, she just stands there and tells her story in a natural voice. Truly inspiring.

If I remember right, this is also the second largest YC acquisition of any kind :)

Amazing job and congratulations! This acquisition votes YES on YC's approach to build user experience, on the fact that the real incumbent exists only in your users's hands.

On the other hand, PlanGrid could be worth quite a bit more than this acquisition pays. I don't buy their argument of 100 billion TAM in one of the Medium posts[1], but it surely had greater potential than what is realized in this deal, had it expand into nearby territories.

[Ask HN: When people tell founders that you need to convince investor that yours will be a billion dollar company, do they mean a billion dollar in revenue, or a billion in valuation? There's likely an order of magnitude difference here hence I wonder which is the default during a normal conversation without further qualification on the number.]

Third, video says it had 10k paying customers in 3 years of launch, while at 12k 4 years later when acquired. Was it saturating the market, or was it fighting considerable churn after raising its B round? Always amazed by the team's ability to sell the service at this price level, that says how much of a pain PlanGrid is solving.

Anyway, job well done!

[1] https://medium.com/plangrid-technology/plangrid-answers-dani...

> This is a big deal: this is by far the biggest acquisition of a YC startup with a female founder/CEO.

I feel I may be ignorant, but doesn't drawing attention to her gender like this only work to diminish her accomplishments? I feel as though she did an amazing job, and siloing it into "best of..." as opposed to letting it stand on its own seems only to lessen the significance of her work.

Maybe I am naive and do not appreciate the difficulties of being a woman in tech, or perhaps I am too idealistic to think that we should not acknowledge the tribulations of achieving this as a female...but to me it seems to cheapen it rather than strengthen it. It's drawing attention to her gender rather than the accomplishment itself.

I am aware of who I am replying to, and I truly am not trying to sling mud here and I fear I may derail this comment thread when it really should just be a celebration of what Tracy Young has done, but then again if I never ask I'll never learn.

It would be awesome if we lived in a world where VCs, investors, and the tech industry in general just invested in people who deserve it. But we're so far from that world right now (just google vc investment in women-founded cos).

I think what JL is bringing up here is important because there is no room for naysayers with this exit. It's a monumental achievement, (for anyone!) but particularly a big F YOU to all the rampant misogny and boys-club culture that persists in tech among investors.

I don't speak for women, but I will say as a mostly-white dude, I have never thought "are there even CEOs or founders that look like me?" whereas I have, through the years, heard that many many times from women and POC.

What Tracy and her team have done is really fantastic. The fact that she's a woman is important only in that it begins the process of shutting up the old boys club, and (hopefully) a sign of things to come for those people who haven't traditionally been given the benefit of the doubt.

It's more than just shutting up the boy's club, and you alluded to it. I think it is important to shed light on the fact that she is a female founder because there are lots of young girls out there that need to see that someone like them, at least in one respect, can achieve something like this.

And a very welcome story after uBeam & Theranos.

Young girls who need encouragement aren't already reading HN's comment section.

> I feel I may be ignorant, but doesn't drawing attention to her gender like this only work to diminish her accomplishments?

How would it diminish her accomplishments? As a woman founder, the deck was stacked against her, so her accomplishing this makes it even more impressive.

> How would it diminish her accomplishments?

You're creating a separate category based on her gender, which is sexist in and of itself. It may have good intentions, but you're treating her different because of her sex. If we believe that genders are equal I'm not sure we should be drawing attention to it as a handicap. And if it is a handicap, which seems to be what you're saying, this only promulgates the status that men are more likely to succeed and I initially read it as discouraging.

I guess I just framed it differently than you. You see it as progress towards overcoming the adversity gap of being a woman in tech, whereas I naïvely think we should just treat women as equals. If calling attention to it is a necessary step in overcoming inequality then so be it.

I guess the issue is how do we change the playing field so it's no longer a handicap? I have no idea how to solve sexism and I am not trying to incite rage. I am asking questions because I am trying to have a conversation. For those who have responded civilly, thank you. I have some thinking to do.

Recognizing that the deck is stacked against her because of her gender isn't contributing to stacking the deck further against her. It's doing the opposite; it's pointing out an example that women can succeed in the industry.

Framing both the reality that the tech industry systematically discriminates against women, and pointing out that fact, as if they're two sides of the same coin makes no sense.

I think you're misunderstanding my perspective. Think of it this way. If I said "Tracy did an amazing job for a woman" would you not read it as disparaging? I am fully aware that was not the intention, but that is how I and I am guessing many other people initially read it (judging by how many people upvoted my comment). If our goal is to challenge people's perspectives (ie women are just as capable as succeeding in the tech industry as men), it's important to understand how they read things so we can communicate effectively.

I guess I think of it as fighting sexism with more sexism. We are making a special case to point out her gender, which is pointing out that we don't treat men and women equally in tech. That's sexism, even if it's meant to be good instead of bad. We are trying to solve sexism with more sexism. I guess it may be a necessary step to get to where we want to go, but honestly I'm not convinced it's the right way to get there. To me, simply treating women as equals rather than drawing attention to their gender is the way to go. And we are not treating them equally now, otherwise we wouldn't be mentioning gender.

But I could be wrong. Maybe it is a necessary step to get to where we want to go. I am not a woman and do not pretend to understand their perspective. I am currently trying to understand it more by reading the arguments for and against affirmative action, which I believe has many parallels to this discussion.


Anyway, I appreciate your replies.

jl is Jessica Livingston, the only female founder of YC. I, personally, see nothing wrong with her adding this detail.

It is insider info on YC alumni that I'm guessing isn't in the article and probably can't be found any other way. She is a reliable source.

Recommend you read this for some perspective on the issue. Indra Nooyi’s story opened my eyes a lot:


As a female founder, yes, absolutely.

This comment makes me so uncomfortable, I will probably close this tab and take a break from HN for a while.

I find it weird that we can't have a dialogue about this. Parent post wasn't inflammatory, and yet by its mere nature it makes you uncomfortable?

That is not to say anything of the truth of the post. I happen to disagree with it quite a bit. But people with opposing views (even in issues that seem very cut and dry eg we should celebrate women in tech) should be questioned, not shunned.

> I feel I may be ignorant, but doesn't drawing attention to her gender like this only work to diminish her accomplishments?

Please watch the video. Every now and then she mentions her own gender as a very rare-to-find CEO, and clearly use it to her own advantage. I'm not judging whether its good or bad just merely stating the fact.

I fully agree with you. Welcome to the world of identity politics where every achievement must fill a narrative based on you gender//religion//sexual orientation.

The worst in all of this is that people pushing this are the ones that want to eradicate racism and sexism, which is a very brave goal but by attracting attention to all those external factors, They only create more racism and sexism.

Oh please. Succeeding despite adversity is worth celebrating. Just because that adversity is entrenched sexism and racism doesn't make it any less adverse.

You are right in a way though: there is going to be more visible sexism and racism from some sectors of society (e.g. Trump). This is to be expected as those fights move further towards victory. As Gandhi put it: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

Well done to Tracy Young for this step towards winning.

I fully agree that adversity is worth celebrating. I'm therefore 100% congratulating Tracy Young for this achievement. I'm congratulating her on the base that taking a company to this point is really hard.

I'm not congratulating her based on her sex or race. It is unfortunate that some sexist and/or racist behavior exist in tech but if you treat people differently and congratulate them based on their race//gender and not on their individuality, you are not doing anything differently than the racists//sexists.

Can confirm, Tracy is the real deal.

It’s also cool that this is a female founder in an industry that is thought of as characteristically male. It’s not like Spanx.

I prefer biggest exit, don't want to always assume acquisitions.

The implication, of course, if that if the founder had been a male, this would be a less big deal?

I had the pleasure of being employee #38. I wrote the visual diff sheet compare feature, among others. I left about two years ago when the company had grown to 200 people.

Tracy, Ralph, and Ryan are authentic people. They really cared for everyone who worked there. (I can remember Ryan pestering me to take more vacation time).

Their success is well-deserved. I’ve spoken personally to customers who didn’t even have a computer or smart phone - the first piece of modern technology they used was an iPad for PlanGrid.

This acquisition is a testament to the moat PlanGrid built in the field. Competitors tried their hardest to sell to the CxOs/head office, only to find out no one in the field wanted to use it. (There are parallels to iPhone in the enterprise space.)

Know your customers and build something they want to buy. Always good advice :)

Anyway congrats to the whole team!

How much does employee #38 make from his/her vested equity these days? I understand this is a very nosy question, but nonetheless having one more datapoint on the financial outcome from an early employee in a company that exited at ~$1B would be valuable. It truly couldn’t get better than that (assuming the funds were raised at ok-ish terms), so I assume your number must be in the multiple 7 figures at least!

Using a throwaway for obv. reasons. I'm employee lower thirties in a company that recently went public with a similar valuation. Unlike gp, I am still with this company, and really like it there.

Ignoring taxes, vested comes in at about 1 mill. I'll pay about half that in taxes. I have a few hundred k in unvested from subsequent awards.

I've hit the start up lotto, but I will not likely pocket 7 figures from equity for a long while, assuming continual equity awards. Well, if the stock does really well, I could pocket 1M, but it needs to go up quite a bit. Honestly, I would likely have made more over these many years in aggregate at a FAANG. But I've enjoyed myself and still look forward to work every day.

I'm blessed and lucky. But the startup lotto is not as good as you might think. Never count equity in a start up. Go for the salary.

Really appreciate your comment, these insights are very valuable.

Why half in taxes? Isn't this a capital gain? So 15-25% fed cap gain plus about 10% California income (if even applicable)

Alternative Minimum Tax

There's a good summary here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alternative_minimum_tax#Stock_...

Basically, if you are given stock options with a strike price of $small, and then the company has a liquidity event and you exercise your options when the shares are at $large, your AMT taxable income increases by $(large - small), and you'll owe taxes on it for the current year (at AMT rates), regardless of whether you sold (or were able to sell) any shares. This is in addition to the short or long term capital gains that you'll eventually owe after you actually sell shares.

Apparently some people went bankrupt after the first dot-com bust because they owed absurd amounts of money in taxes but weren't able to sell any of their shares (e.g. due to employee lockup) until after their company's stock tanked.

If this happens and you are able to afford the taxes, there's a mechanism to carry your losses forward and get AMT credits in future years, but the rules are hilariously complicated, and you either won't get credit for anywhere near what you paid initially, or you'll end up getting a tiny tiny fraction back for the next hundred years.

It kind of sucks. There's been talk of fixing this for a long time, but I don't think it's ever gotten anywhere.

*I'm not an accountant; do your own taxes.

Keep in mind you pay the AMT, so you need to have liquidity, but you will get those extra taxes paid back eventually, via AMT credits.

Source: me, I have gone through it exactly and recouped ~100k of AMT I paid, in about 4 years.

You usually are awarded stock options. A paper that gives you the right to buy stocks for a specific price. Those options (like most things employers will give you) are seen as income, because the employer give it to you as a reward for your work (just like salary).

So usually, when your company exits, that's when you then "exercise" your options (aka actually buy the stocks the options allow you to buy) and then sell those stocks.

Then: - Exercising the options triggers income taxes on the value of the stock you are getting (minus what you pay for it) - Selling the stock triggers capital gain (short term if you sell before 1 year, long term after holding them for 1 year)

A simple example: - You join and receive 100 stock options at $1. That means you can buy 100 stocks for $100 total. - Your company IPOs at $5 per stock. - You decide it's time to sell. You "exercise" your options -> so you spend $100 to buy 100 stocks at $1. Those stocks are worth $5 each, so you receive $500 in value. -> You get taxed on $400 of income (just like salary, bonus, etc). - You sell your stocks for $500 instantly. You get taxes short term capital gain on $500.

So you had in mind you'd make $500 (yayyy we IPO at $5 and I have 100 stocks) but you actually end up with ~$200 in your pocket.

This is if you exercise at/after the IPO. If you can afford it, you can exercise early, get taxed on that earlier value, and then it will be mostly capital gains. Higher risk, cause it could end up being worth nil, but higher reward.

yes, there are a lot of other situations, but this is the general one and I was explaining the situation where why the person would not be paying capital gain tax

Yea, I was just adding on to your comment to shed light on why ISOs can be good in certain situations.

its only long term cap gains if you hold the stock for more then a year. if you exercise and sell immediately, its income.

Who said it was in the US?

If I had stayed the full four years I would have vested between $600-$800k; I only vested around half that.

The only people who hit low seven figures are very early employees, maybe #1-3. The exceptions are the really unique unicorns like Google or FaceBook, which print so much money everyone gets rich.

Cool. Sounds like your full grant at the end would have been for ~0.1% of the company, so assuming a 50% dilution over the years, the original grant was in the ~0.2% range. It's a little bit stingy but overall (unfortunately) in line with my expectations of what employee #38 usually is granted.

One more point that confirms one should really go work as employee at a startup for many reasons _except_ the financial outcome expectations.


If you want to launch your own startup it is a great way to get some experience; if it pays off that also gives you a nest-egg to live on while you launch or bootstrap.

If you don't want to or can't work for one of the BigTechCos then it still pays well compared to most jobs. Complaining about a six-figure payoff during an acquisition is one of the most Bay Area™️ things you can possibly do :)

> I can remember Ryan pestering me to take more vacation time

This is a very low bar for caring for an employee.

PlanGrid has (or had?) "unlimited" vacation time. Unlike some places they really encouraged people to use it. There was no issue with liabilities on the books since you weren't banking vacation days; it didn't make any financial difference to PlanGrid if you took 0 vacation days or 5 weeks.

Ryan was trying to make sure I wasn't over-working myself and I appreciated the thought (it just so happens I was waiting to take a long Christmas vacation).

Also vacation is a liability on the company's checkbook. Many companies stop adding vacation days after certain amount is reached to force you to take them.

From an iPad App that made it easier to read blueprints to $875M. Amazing.

I had the fortune of listening to Tracy Young while at YC and the story of the company and her other founder was inspiring. I wonder if this is the shape of what will happen with other companies like Remix (former TransitMix).

Good luck to PlanGrid. Eventually the corporate bureaucracy causes enough frustration to make the best people want to leave after the handcuffs have expired. I hope Autodesk has learned lessons from its prior acquisitions and can integrate them effectively.

I remember an anecdote from the current CEO of Autodesk. A few years ago, while having dinner with his wife at a San Francisco restaurant, he was seated next to a group of PlanGrid employees who proceeded to talk about their strategy. At the time, he said he was unimpressed with PlanGrid. Times have changed!

And be careful where you have your public conversations.

> I hope Autodesk has learned lessons from its prior acquisitions and can integrate them effectively.

They haven't.

They’ve done a great job with PlanGrid.

I wonder what role Carol Bartz played in the deal (she’s been on the board for 2.5 years and was Autodesk’s CEO for 14 years).

Congrats Plangrid. I was your neighbor back in 2014. I remember when you guys needed to expand your office and you were looking to start using some of the space we were subletting all the way back when.

Ironically, 2 years after that I got in to YC and now run our company from Japan. Time flies!

Ah crap, I had an offer from them a few years back with good equity comp, guess I should've taken it haha...

They seemed like a really great company with mature management.

If it's any consolation I got headhunted by PlanGrid earlier this year. I knew of them in a professional context and was ready to sign on the dotted line after the recruiter's opening salvo. Turns out the hiring manager and recruiter were completely disorganized and seemed more interested in playing games than actually hiring. PlanGrid basically snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Reading this news blurb resulted in a bit of mixed emotions for me. Earlier this year, prior to my run-in with PlanGrid, I walked away from a decent chunk of unvested stock options in a rather well known publicly traded company. I suppose they deserve each other.

Curious about the details here. What games were the recruiters playing?

The recruiter rescheduled the phone screen the day of, went radio silent for the rest of the week — not even an OOO autoresponse (Burning Man was that weekend, go figure). When I got a response the following week the recruiter was unwilling to go into any significant details including some sort of expected salary range.

At best the impression I was left with is one where Plangrid is a company where communication is wholly unimportant and not valued. It didn't seem worth my time to pursue them.

I'm really curious, how much equity is considered a good offer?

It's maybe not up to Google/FB/etc standards, but given my experience level and the company's size at the time I considered it generous. It was equivalent to ~2 years worth of the offer's salary at today's price.

Wow this definitely raise the stakes in the construction software market. Autodesk is going all-in and poised to become the incumbent in construction software. They are seeing what many other companies are failing to see, but there are many other formidable platforms pushing hard too, including Procore, all the Oracle offering which includes the recent acquisitions of Aconex and Textura and many niche players.

The difference is if the Superintendent doesn’t want to use the software it doesn’t matter. Construction businesses live and die by the super, something these other players never seemed to understand.

The people working in the field love PlanGrid. More than one company has been forced to abandon a competitor because the field crew refused to use anything else.

Know your customers. Your real customers. Build something they want to buy. When big players enter your territory be a honey badger :)

Not to mention what they are doing with drones and software. It's quite amazing. They did quite a bit of work with 3D Robotics. https://forge.autodesk.com/customer-stories/3dr

I used publicly available data on the people behind PlanGrid as a test for my project (data's probably out of date by now). Still, if anyone wants a quick overview of the some of the people behind PlanGrid, here you go:


Big congrats to Tracy, Ralph, and the whole team!

Seems like a better fit than Socialcam

Good luck to the current customers, I guess the documentation and UI will become a nightmare while the price goes up.

Congrats! PlanGrid is a terrific concept.

Congrats to them, but personally not surprised. Buying literally everything construction related is Autodesk’s schtick.

Some parts will stay great, some parts will stuff in half-baked FBX format support to pretend their independently developed products all interoperate.

So it's iOS (Swift or Obj-C), Android (Java) and Windows (Java or C++), but I see python in the eng team. Can you do all three with python alone?

Congrats Tracy! PlanGrid is a great company lead by a fantastic and hardworking CEO. Very excited to see their success.

Exciting news. Huge fan of Autodesk and YC. Congratulations to PlanGrid!

Awesome, congrats - amazing seeing this hard work pay off!

were the financial terms of the acquisition disclosed?

"Autodesk, Inc. (NASDAQ: ADSK) has signed a definitive agreement to acquire PlanGrid, a leading provider of construction productivity software, for $875 million net of cash." https://adsknews.autodesk.com/pressrelease/autodesk-to-acqui...

With a per-share price ranging from $0 to $250.

What does it mean that some of their shares are valued at $0? Is this typical? I'm not too familiar with the details of acquisition accounting

Congrats Tracy!

Congrats! A fantastic app, and fantastic team.

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