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Facebook Acquires Sofa (madebysofa.com)
179 points by muratmutlu on June 10, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

Talent acquisitions make me sad. I think about all the job creation machines that might have been.

There's a standard model in the valley on both the supply and demand side. It goes like this:

On the demand side:

Recruiting costs money. Hiring talent is risky when you don't know the caliber. Picking up one engineer at a time is costly and inefficient because you're competing with many other great companies. Acquiring a group of proven engineers not only solves all these problems but it gives you a way to lock them into working for you for years with an earn-out. And every engineer knows that dev's who "sold a startup" get laid more.

On the supply side:

A great business model is to come up with a startup that is super-interesting to talented engineers. Raise money and recruit them in droves with the prospect of massive wealth and being the next Facebook. Hand out stock options like candy and never mention the difference between short and long-term capital gains. Then when you hit 10+ great employees, start shaking your booty around the valley and see if you can flip for $2M per engineer plus a nice cash-out for founders and investors. [Usually around $20M total].

Talent acquisitions make me sad because they reduce diversity in the product place. I find it hard to believe that a company with 2,000 talented engineers will put out as much interesting stuff as 100 shops of 20 talented engineers.

Also, while I am not in startups, I thought the whole attraction for those who do them is the independence in doing your own thing. I find it hard to believe that this can be achieved after being subsumed in Google, Facebook, or other giant.

In an odd way "acquisition" defies that for a short period of time. It's almost like the startup is a means to acquisition.

But ultimately the attraction is independence and faster iteration. That's why you see people who wind up going back to startups.

It cuts both ways. Google smothered Urchin and pissed off customers, but they brought GA to a much wider audience and integrated with the rest of Google system. Similar for Writely and Grand Central and many more I would bet.

It would be really wonderful if companies could use open standards and honest dealing, so that firms could interoperate effectively with out merging&acquiring.

Our tax system punishes that, though, so it is much more cost-effective to buy a small company than to buy their product and pay sales tax.

Most decent engineers in the valley have at least a passing understanding of the tax system. But they also understand that being part of a successful startup looks pretty good on a resume, over and above the capital gains. And they understand that careers last longer than earnouts.

Sofa is one of the most talented design firms out there. I've had the pleasure to work with Jasper long ago and his work is brilliant. The fact that they made software was really only a byproduct of that. Congrats to the Sofa team on getting acquired, and I look forward to seeing your design work at Facebook!

Hey Adam, thanks for the nice words, it means a lot :)

Never heard of you till just now, but looked at your designs. Incredible work. You all should consider doing a video of you designing an icon or image or page or something. I'd definitely pay to watch designers of your caliber go through the process.

I want to see screencasts of programmers at work, while we are at it.

If you haven't seen this one of Notch, it is pretty inspiring:



Funny you mention this; I learned to program back in 2006 by watching a screencast of my best friend programming at CMU. I lived in Toronto.

second your amazing design skillz. i've followed your company for the past year or so. amazing products.

> "Sofa’s products, Kaleidoscope and Versions, are not a part of this acquisition. Both apps will remain available and we’re committed to securing a great future for them outside Sofa."

There haven't been any significant updates for Versions since I purchased my license for it two years ago, so I don't see how the situation for Versions could get worse at this point.

So you bought one license 2 years ago. Presumably it worked.

What's the problem again?

I'm sorry if I was unclear. In their post, Sofa wrote, "We’re committed to securing a great future for [Versions and Kaleidoscope] outside Sofa". I noted that they have not been particularly good stewards of Versions over the past two years, and that therefore the situation couldn't get much worse by handing it off to someone else.

I don't really disagree with the point you make below about software licenses, and that when you buy a license you're paying for the software as it exists today, right now. But I think my take is more along the lines of nestlequ1k's. When I bought a license for Versions, I went into that "relationship" (ugh) with the expectation that Sofa would continue to improve on it, and that I've have the opportunity to buy future upgrades. That's unlikely to happen at this point. So yeah, I got what I paid for, no argument there, but I can't deny that I'm disappointed with how things turned out.

The problem is that new features and improvements are not forthcoming, and when software is closed source it is impossible to take business elsewhere if the copyright holder loses interest.

When you buy a car, do you receive free upgrades?

When you buy software, you expect it to improve over time. Name a mac developer who posts on their site "we're no longer updating this software, but please buy it anyways". It would never get a single sale.

I don't mind paying for upgrades. But I want these upgrades to exist, and for the developers to commit to the product they are selling and improve it over time.

When you buy a license for the software, you are buying the license as of this date. You should not ever buy software for future possible improvements. The only situation in which I'd say it is really necessary is OS security updates.

If any customer ever asks me: "I'll buy it if you add this feature", I always reply: "please buy it based on current features otherwise I cannot promise anything".

You're living in a fantasy world. It may be how you think the software business should work, but it's not how it works.

Your opinion as a software developer means nothing in this case. Ask your customers what they think. You might be able to get away with this strategy for a little while, but it's a surefire way to kill any product. Stop updating an app for a few years and see how great your sales are after that.

I know of quite a few products that have not been updated since the late 90's, early 2000's and bring in quite a nice chunk of change.

The common characteristics:

* The customers are not whiners: Does it work? Yes? Sold

* Non-trivial problem: Inventory, computer graphics, math

* Pricing: Expensive

So, ok, some company making a subversion interface stopped updating their software. Someone else picks it up because it's /easy/.

That's why you don't make software for software developers! Sell them chairs or something.

These guys keep making money because the problems they solve are hard.

It looks like 'Facebook for Desktop' is gonna come out soon. They wouldn't wanna leave any platform unattended.

Next they might be adding cloud services for its users and for that they need to capture all of the platforms for their clients.

Every few months there is an ipad Facebook app. No official app. It's about time.

If so, that would go against Facebook's web-first mantra, not having an iPad app and all. I'm not sure why they would skip and build a Mac app, and I'm not sure why they would build a Mac app instead of a Windows app. Hopefully they're doing an HTML5 desktop app. Facebook in canvas or Facebook in raphaeljs would be killer.

Congrats guys! A side question, how does immigration to the US work for these guys? EB-5 Visa? I hear tons of stories on how hard it is to immigrate to the States, but when Facebook does it for you all of a sudden it is no longer an issue.

Totally random but I bet an L-1 works here. They become a subsidiary of Facebook in the Netherlands, they've worked there for at least a year, they just transfer to the parent corp.

I'd be curious to find out this too.

Some animals are more equal.

Quite the talent buyout I'd say: they're actually convincing people to move to Palo Alto from Amsterdam. That's not particularly Mountain View.

Surprising, too; If some BigCo would buy the company I work for and ask me to pretty please move across the pond, I'd reconsider inf times.

Sofa indeed has great talent.

However their track record with products leaves a lot to be desired?

Look at DiscoAPP. They put the app out, collected some money and left it to collect dust. I offered to buy the source and they said someday they would pick it up again. Never happened.

Versions is good app. But they simply move at a glacial pace. Again, collect money and development almost stops.

So I guess Cornerstone is going to get a lot more business as I think many long time Apple folks realize their purchases from Sofa are obsolete.

Shame because they have talent.

My wild guess is that Facebook is working on something that requires a lot of icons, such as a mobile interface.

What the hell, why...

Edit: I'm sure it will have something to do with their design skills, which are pretty good!

Actually, I think Sofa fits really interestingly in Facebook if they're wanting to go up against Foursquare and Square. Sofa has a bunch of experience with point-of-sale interactions. Maybe Facebook is going to reinvent the cash register/purchasing experience.

Or maybe it's just a talent acquisition. :)

Also that Facebook is trying to build a desktop software team. May be they too want to own the clients.


Maybe an application that has Facebook features + Facebook Chat a la Gtalk / Aim + Some sort of Skype integration to enable video chat for its users ..

It's ridiculously hard to find amazing icon illustrators.

really? dribble.com has loads.

> really? dribble.com has loads.

You meant dribbble.com. But yes ... these days it's pretty easy to find a good icon designer.

Online, sure. In real life though?

That's a tremendously small percentage of designers. Consider the number of people that get into design, the number of designers who are extremely good at what they do, AND the number who get into icon design.

probably talent acquisition?

Since they didn't buy any of their software, it's most definitely a talent acquisition.

Does anyone know how often Facebook does this? Is this just one of many that happened to make news?

There have been a decent number of them recently. Facebook had also previously said that the talent acquisitions are working for them and they plan to keep doing them.

Was it none of the software? I had a tough time reading it... seemed like definitely two pieces were out, but the e-commerce stuff might have been in?

No, Checkout and Enstore are staying with Sofa's JV partner, Acclivity, makers of the US versions of MYOB.

On one hand this stinks because Acclivity has shown little ability to create excellent software. On the other hand, Sofa's development speed is crazy slow. Way too much pixel-pushing.

Facebook recently had job posting for desktop application product manager. These sofa guys seem to develop UIs for desktop apps.

That team will be here in Seattle[1]. Sofa explicitly says they're moving to Palo Alto.

[1] http://www.geekwire.com/2011/facebook-making-windows-mac-des...

These guys have amazing design. Have you guys seen the cappuccino maker design? Incredible! http://www.madebysofa.com/#design

Tangentially related: http://mur.mu.rs/?p=156

Oh dear. Hopefully whoever picks up versions can devote more time to getting it feature complete.

Same with Checkout and Enstore. While Sofa has pretty good design skills, it's development speed leaves a bit to be desired.

I was kind of hoping they bought it so they could sue Apple for the name "Versions" for their new version control feature.

They'd been sitting on the floor until now.

After reading this post my insides were grumbling, "Ugh. Acquihire." And yes, this is actually the first TRUE acquihire to my knowledge, in that the products themselves weren't even a part of the deal.

But after browsing through http://www.madebysofa.com/#design, I'm absolutely floored. This is beyond top-notch.

This was a perfectly justifiable acquisition of sky-high talent.

Yes, I somewhat disagree with the acquihire in principle, but in these cases it makes sense. I liken this to buying a division from a large company. Keep the team intact, on-board them cohesively, and Facebook will have a big win here. I hope Sofa's team is successful in shifting Facebook's aesthetic from "function over form" to a better balance of the two.

Why is their name sofa and the logo a loveseat? Just saw their work and wow! Congrats guys!

Perhaps because All Logos Must Fit in a Square These Days?

Why does this make sense for them?

Did you work for MySpace?

Facebook is building a browser.

The Sofa guys are super talented and I wish Koen and his team all the best on this new and exciting venture! Congrats to Facebook on acquiring such an outstanding team! :-)

Brilliant designers.

I understand they wanted to capitalize on their talent, but I'm afraid that Facebook, like any other mastodon, will drain their shine. That would be really sad.

Wow! Just had a look at their designs and they are pretty amazing! Maybe Facebook are making a desktop app after all?

I think FB acquired them for their "Enstore" product. Enstore makes it easy for customers to setup merchant portals. My wild guess is FB wants to be like Amazon and eBay marketplace.

From the link above - the products were not part of the acquisition.

Amsterdam to Palo Alto!? Palo Alto is a shithole compared to Amsterdam.

Is Sofa still open for new business, even though Facebook now owns it?

You can find everything about our apps and Enstore here: http://www.madebysofa.com/future/

We won't be taking on any more contract work (haven't anyway since the end of 2009)

Cheers, - Dirk

Talent Acquisition.

Thrilled for them even though it's horrible to see FB continue to squash innovation.

How on earth is this FB squashing innovation?

Curious how people blame the acquirer for this type of thing and not the acquiree.

Their app, Kaleidoscope (http://www.kaleidoscopeapp.com/), sounds to be an incredibly simple app to make. Not that I am planning to make yet another app like that, does someone know if it's selling well?

Its actually an incredibly complex app. Beyond being a UI dream, it was also technically rigorous as they for example came up with their own custom diffing algorithms for more human readable diffs.

I hope there's an outside chance that they'll open its source. It really is a fantastic app.

And that web page is a thing of beauty - props to them.

OK. Does not still look complex to me from an implementation standpoint. Maybe I need to try it out to get a better feel for it.

Do you even know Cocoa? I do, and I can't even begin to explain how they did the linked code scrollviews comparing the diffs. Trust me: implementation was extremely complex.

I've seen the math behind it and you are definitely correct.

Could you please enlighten me?

In the fluid mode, the text on the two panes need not be of the same height given the insertions and deletions. So when scrolling, the scroll speeds for the two panes would need to be different. Is this what is being talked about?

I don't. I would guess though that the complexity being talked about is not coming at least majorly from Cocoa.

it's basically a KDE Kompare clone. The most innovative thing they've done is to provide native integration with new distributed source control environments.

There must be more to it given the backlash I am seeing on my comments.

I do not have a Mac, so cannot try it myself.

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