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I helped drive Adobe's acquisitions of Typekit and Nitobi. AMA
132 points by kberger on Oct 3, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 66 comments
I'm Kenneth Berger, I work in product management at Adobe driving acquisitions and partnerships. I helped build the business cases, perform due diligence, and plan integration for both deals. I've been working at Macromedia and then Adobe for 7+ years. Very excited to work with both these awesome teams! Obviously I can't reveal certain details, but ask me anything, I'll answer as best I can.

Jason Kottke writes:

When I heard the news, my immediate reaction was not positive. [...] No one I know is filled with joy when using Adobe products...mostly the opposite. Typekit is a great service; I hope Adobe keeps it that way.


This sums up my reaction, as well: I use Adobe products because I have to, not because I want to.

I assume you'd disagree with folks like Jason and I about the joylessness of Adobe products, but I'd guess that we'd all agree of the importance of keeping TypeKit simple and elegant.

So what safeguards, if any, have you been able to put in place to ensure that TypeKit maintains its je ne sais quoi as it becomes an Adobe product?

I'm a lead developer at a company that creates highly-specialized training tools using Flash. We have an enormous library of content built over the last 10 years that we intend to support into the future. Adobe seems to be considering HTML5 as an alternative/addition to the Flash Player. There's a lot of conflict in the industry about Flash/HTML5, and Adobe is appeasing both sides by continuing to develop the Flash Player while investigating HTM5 export, acquiring and developing prominent HTML5 tools, etc. This is fantastic.

Do you have any recommendations for teams with lots of Flash-based content, to prepare for the transition to an HTML5 environment? Can we continue creating Flash content as we always have, trusting that Adobe will provide a means to migrate/recompile our existing FLAs or SWFs to HTML5 when the time comes? Or should we take any preparatory action to ease the transition? For instance, authoring our graphics using SVG, writing our code in an intermediate scripting language that may be compiled to ActionScript or JavaScript, etc?

I realize you might not be the best person to ask about this, but in your position it seems probable that you'd be aware of the roadmap for Flash. I realize the roadmap is confidential, but any tips or recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Alternatively, if you could recommend someone for me to talk to about this, I'd be grateful.

EDIT: Any sort of response would be great. There seem to be a lot of folks here who are interested in this issue.

Unfortunately I don't have the detail on our technical roadmap to give this the answer it deserves. I'll see if I can get someone from the Flash team to address this...

Thank you.

I have an email address in my profile if you (or anyone on the Flash team — Senocular, perhaps?) would like to take this conversation private. But I'm sure all the people up-voting my question would absolutely love an official, public answer.

And to clarify: I don't mean to imply that I think the Flash Player is going away. I'm just hopefully awaiting the day that my existing Flash-made content can run beautifully on the iPad and Win 8 Metro. Platform independence was the ideal that led me to choose Flash, and I'm excited about this ideal continuing into the future.

I just need to be sure that the processes I'm using today won't limit my options. My ever-growing library of resources — the result of a decade of hard work — depends on this.

Oh. HN/AMA, long time coming I'd say.

Q: Say I have a product or a service that I think might be a very good fit for Adobe, including a realistic, well thought out business side of things. Is there a way to pitch it to the people of your position if I have absolutely no connections in Adobe?

This is a hypothetical question, just trying to understand options for seeding initial acquisition interest. Thanks.

Yes, go to Mars Bar (7th and Brannan) and start buying people beers.

Seconded. This bar is full of Adobe people just about every single day, but particularly on Thursday and Friday around 5pm.

Point taken, but Adobe was just an example.

I'm sure you can extract a genericised suggestion out of those given.

Have you seen any good examples of iOS apps made from HTML5 with PhoneGap that are actually good?

There's a variety of examples here: http://www.phonegap.com/apps

I'm also a fan of the Travelocity Android app, which was built with PhoneGap.

None of those are actually any good. I installed the Travelocity app, and after fighting with the keyboard to select the airport from a dropdown, I got a javascript error that rendered the app useless.

PhoneGap does not make good apps.

Phonegap has nothing to do with form inputs, and is used to access native phone functionality (camera, address book, location, device information etc).

I'm building mobile app with HTML5/CSS3/Backbone.js/PhoneGap and it's an excellent stack that allows you to build native-like apps for multiple OS's. Everyone I've demo'd the app to has no idea it's not written in Obj-C..

You're absolutely right. I've spent hours debugging strange form input behavior related to quirks in Mobile Safari / UIWebView which are hardly Phonegap's fault. It really comes down to optimization and ironing out all of the wrinkles, though it can be a bit painful since most mobile browser quirks aren't well documented online.

My friends at Nitobi directed me to Xero Touch, which is IMO the best example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6wM5QJhVus&hd=1

While an iOS designer like myself sees a lot of telltale signs it's HTML (the flicker of loading buttons' assets for example) it looks very nice.


Getting past the normal corporate mumbo jumbo, what did you see in the companies that piqued your interest? Was it a talent acquisition? Do you actually see these technologies being integrated with existing adobe technologies (specifically Flash)?

It's exactly the properties that made them popular in the first place:

Typekit elegantly solves the licensing, technical, and user experience problems of serving rich typography on the web. That's something we've heard repeatedly is important to our customers, so we're excited to keep growing their business and investigate the right ways to integrate with Adobe applications.

PhoneGap makes it drop dead simple to develop native applications across devices using your existing HTML/JS development skills. As mobile devices continue to fragment and more and more companies need mobile apps deployed across platforms, this problem will only become more important to solve. We're excited to continue to contribute to the PhoneGap open source project, further develop the hosted PhoneGap Build product, and investigate what tool integration may make sense. We've already integrated PhoneGap with Dreamweaver in CS5.5.

So I would say these acquisitions are about talent, technology, and community. They are both amazing teams that have built great products with enthusiastic user bases--and it's important that they stay that way as they grow.

First, huge kudos to you and Adobe for making these acquisitions. And double kudos to you for doing your AMA here on HN!

Just curious, but since the move of PhoneGap to an Apache incubator project was announced within such a relatively close proximity to today's acquisition, I can't help but wonder if the decision to open source the code was something Adobe was aware of.

I mean, you must have been in the process of doing the due diligence during this time, right? It leads me to speculate the decision was somewhat of a joint one, or, alternatively, that maybe there were points of contention around it.

This might touch on sensitive information so I fully understand if you'll have to pass on answering this one.

Actually it wasn't contentious at all! Nitobi already had plans to donate to the Apache Foundation, and Adobe already had strong existing relationships with both organizations. We were glad to support that move to reinforce that we're here to support PhoneGap and further fuel its growth as a free open source project.

Can you point to anything in Adobe's history that would indicate it is a company that has any clue how to "fuel the growth" of a "free open source project"?

The first example off the top of my head is Adobe's involvment in jQuery development.

A little bit here: http://blogs.adobe.com/adobeandjquery/

1- How long (average)does it take to acquire a company from the time you send the first email to the time the check clears in their bank account?

2- For every company you acquire how many companies do you look into and end up not buying?

1- It really depends: on the urgency, on the size of the company, on the specific synergies. Big deals can be done quickly if we're confident enough in the high level rationale to figure out the details later. But sometimes the details really matter, even in very small deals. Sometimes only a few weeks, sometimes it's an ongoing relationship over multiple years.

2- For every deal we look at a variety of companies in the space, at least two or three, usually more.

Typical no-shops are 60 days, and startup-sized acquisitions can be closed in that period.

A motivated buyer can turn it around in 30 if necessary.

While Photoshop and Illustrator are top products, developers' tools from Adobe have been frustratingly bad. (Flex/Flash builder would be but one example.) Poor documentation, long-standing bugs, poor on memory usage, the list goes on.

Adobe's DNA seems to be to stuff as many features into a product, even if they're half broken. Does Adobe have a plan to prevent these new products from going the same way?

How long did the acquisition process take for each?

How important is conflict resolution during these deals?

(This one is really broad and shows some ignorance) When you are driving acquisitions, do you treat the deal like a developer would treat a large project? Do you have a set of requirements that you work toward? Do you have to track changes and perform QA?

Lots of small companies, like YC co's post demo-day, get bought as talent acquisitions. Adobe doesn't seem to focus on that stage much. Why?

Hard for me to say since I'm in product management--naturally my focus is on product.

Hey Kenneth:

I watched your two M&A announcements today with keen interest, because I've been watching the overall market change and we're kind of trying to figure out where Adobe fits into things. Where we used to use flash, we're using HTML5 for web and mobile, and where we used to use Adobe SMS, we're now using brightcove, kaltura, and others. We're phonegap hackers as well.

I'm trying to figure out if Adobe is more interested in building supporting tools, or if Adobe is trying to build more of a "one stop" platform a la brightcove appcloud and what people have built out in various verticals for different toolsets (heroku for rails, brightcove for video, pantheon for drupal, etc). As you look forward from the M&A strategy, how do you see the technical solutions coming to market? Are you guys trying to do a rollup, or augmentative strategy? I'm only asking because a lot of recent technical offerings have been out of tune with out Open Source stack approach, and while I'd love to work more with Adobe products, it's been really hard to figure out how and where you guys fit into the new Open Source / Cloud / SAAS / Mobile / HTML5 & CSS3 landscape.

It's obvious you guys are trying to get in front of the trends, but I just can't figure out what that actually is going to look like six months from now.

Any insight there into the overall strategy? I know you might not be able to answer it, but I'd love to know.

I'm not the right person to speak to overall corporate strategy. For an overview of the context of the announcements today, I would watch the MAX keynote or check out the Creative Cloud product page:


What strategic value does the acquisition of PhoneGap possess for Adobe? Is the idea to introduce integration of Adobe services (e.g. CreativeCloud) into PhoneGap to make it easier for developers, designers, agencies to build Adobe-enhanced mobile apps?

Well, the first thing to note is that Adobe has not and doesn't intend to acquire PhoneGap itself. PhoneGap is in the process of being contributed to the Apache Software Foundation, and will remain free and open source. That said, we're definitely interested in continuing to support PhoneGap's development via contributions from the Nitobi team. PhoneGap Build, the hosted service based on PhoneGap, will become part of Adobe. So part of the value is that service, but the key is simply enabling efficient, expressive design and development across devices, regardless of technology. We're excited to investigate what integrations will make sense, but right now it's too early to say.

If you consider it as a mobile version of AIR (http://www.adobe.com/products/air/) then its relevance should be apparent. Not sure why AIR is important to them in the first place though.

Contracts aside, what is the normal expectation regrading how long founders & employees of the start up remain with the acquiring company?

It really depends--every company is different and has a different set of dependencies between its employees. Both Typekit and Nitobi have amazing teams that we hope will be with Adobe for a long time.

Does Adobe have a strategy to fight HTML5 or make good progress with open standards b/c of the Typekit purchase? We don't want Adobe to shut down Typekit by any means b/c of how awesome it is and I'm afraid Adobe is resistant to HTML5 as an open standard. Please don't throw money at solutions to killing amazing products which enhance HTML5.

I would like to down-vote this question as it makes no sense given everything Adobe has done to the contrary of these concerns over the past year. I'm not a huge fan of Adobe, but I can appreciate their efforts regardless.

I advise the author to review the adobe labs and check out what has been done re:HTML5 and CSS3 over the last year.


http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/edge/ http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/fireworks_css3mobile/ http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/muse/ http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/captivate_html5/

The list goes on.

In addition, they've been a big participant in releasing fonts to typekit already. Why would they close the doors?

"Why would they close the doors?"

Very good question, but one that needs a responsible answer. Adobe wants the web to live on using its proprietary formats like Flash while a growing minority is resisting this and switching to HTML5. Adobe's efforts are a good start but have a long way to go. Muse, for example, has good intentions but in practice is a horrible product with extremely convoluted code.

I'm not a Flash hater as I love the fact that YouTube grew on this standard and many fun games are because of Flash but I also see the reason why HTML5 is a much better standard to get behind and why technologies like Flash will ultimately die unless they become more open.

You have to understand Adobe's view of Flash. The reason they were pushing so hard for Flash support is that they wanted to be the gateway to multimedia and interactivity on mobile devices. For the longest time, Flash was how you played video on the web, and Flash was how you made rich, interactive websites. When iOS came along it threatened that, and Adobe wanted to protect their stranglehold in order to maximize their profits (e.g. of Adobe's flash content creation tools).

They've now realized that this isn't going to happen; people are abandoning Flash Player in favour of more compatible, more nimble technologies. Adobe's a big company, but they know which way the wind is blowing, and they've responded by shifting with it.

The way things are looking, 'Adobe Flash' (the content authoring tool) is going to move to being an HTML5-and-fall-back-on-Flash-Player tool (or vice-versa). Eventually, Flash Player will die the death it deserves, and 'Flash' will just be the name of the authoring tool (along with Dreamweaver or Coda).

Basically, Adobe wanted to lock up (or at least make a lot of money at) the cross-platform mobile dev environment. They realized they can't do it with Flash Player/swf content, so now they're trying to do it with Phonegap Build and HTML5 content. More power to them.

Sadly, Flash still is how you play video on the web and make a lot of rich, interactive presentations on websites b/c only in the last few years has HTML5 started taking off. We're stuck in a proprietary world until we get over the bickering and complacency of open standards.

I'm definitely not trying to discredit the HTML5 work Adobe has done to play catch up but part of me feels like it's too little, too late in some ways.

Adobe has to make money, they obviously have a huge grip in the design community and they're not going away anytime soon so we need to push back as much as possible to make sure they don't continue on with bad practices and listen to the community, which increasingly they are. Sadly, too many of us feel abandoned when some of our favorite software gets left behind (Homesite) or bloated (Photoshop/Flash/Illustrator).

Adobe has shown no contempt for HTML5, while HTML5 pundits continually rip Flash. Adobe has repeatedly stated that their Flash product and their Web products serve different goals and markets, and they are in the business of providing cross-platform solutions wherever there is a demand. If you watched the keynote today, you would have seen that Adobe itself is creating some of the best HTML5 / CSS3 dependent applications. They would only be crippling themselves to undercut the progress being mad in open Web standards.

I am paying attention, trust me, but I am a little dubious, too, considering Adobe's past. If Adobe tries to throw money at bringing down HTML5, I surely hope this is not the beginning of that. May Typekit continue to thrive and improve without the bloat and closeness that Adobe likes to incorporate into its products.

What part of Adobe's past are you referring to? The part where they support open web standards? Or are you merely referring to Flash, that component that was doing more for "standards" back when browsers weren't.

How quickly people forget.

Haha, I hear you but I am also referring to the quality of their products.

Yes, Photoshop et al have added a bunch of really great features but along with that comes convoluted, inconsistent and sometimes ugly UI features. Is it worth the expensive prices? Not really.

Remember Homesite? They integrated that into the convoluted trash that we now have called Dreamweaver. Homesite's features made Dreamweaver the editor to have 7 years ago but I graduated from this editor b/c I couldn't stand how bloated it was and Dreamweaver fell behind.

What's to say this won't happen to Typekit? It could easily be integrated into a bloaty, proprietary crapware that will essentially kill it like many others Adobe has gotten rid of. Sorry, I just don't have a much faith in Adobe.

Adobe is strongly supportive of HTML5 and open standards. In fact, we've recently released two tools, Edge and Muse, that are built on HTML and related technologies. We intend to help Typekit continue to grow and continue to leverage open standards.

I'm glad to read this and hope that HTML5 and open standards becomes a huge priority for Adobe and not an after-thought.

I see decent intentions with products like Muse but its faults outweigh its benefits and I do not expect this particular product to see much life unless its vastly improved or changed.

As a web coder, I heavily rely on products like Photoshop and am disappointed with bloat and inefficiencies I've experienced over the years, so I really have hard time believing the same fate won't happen to Typekit. That said, I am going to try to keep the skeptic in me quiet as I watch what happens to this awesome product.

Another point to keep in mind is that our support of HTML5 and open standards crosses a variety of audiences. The folks who appreciate our contributions to jQuery and WebKit aren't usually the same ones who appreciate the easy visual design Muse offers. So while a given single product may not make sense for your workflow, the larger point is that we're strong supporters of HTML5 as a platform going forward. That support is being instantiated via a variety of tools, services, and frameworks suiting a variety of audiences.

I really want to believe you, but I've spent the last five years undoing horrors wrought by Dreamweaver on my clients' websites. Why should I believe this time is different?

What are your plans for build.phonegap.com, regarding pricing, feature scope and API?

Nitobi already announced preliminary pricing here: http://www.phonegap.com/2011/09/30/phonegap-build-moves-to-o...

We don't have anything else to announce right now.

By the way, you can replay the official announcement and see live broadcast of tomorrow's keynote at the Adobe MAX conference here:


How Adobe is gonna position Omniture's products now that Google Analytics has a premium offer and has a huge installed user base? Are you looking for specific acquisitions in the web Analytics space?

Were you at all involved with Amicima acquisition few years back?

When does Adobe decide to buy vs. build?

Obviously it really depends on the specific circumstances, but often it comes down to time, talent, and community. Sometimes the need is urgent, sometimes there's exceptional talent we'd love to join Adobe, and often there's a community that's not easily duplicable. I'd say all three played a role in these deals.

Keep up the good work-Solid acquisitions by bigger companies will move good tech forward.

Thank you for posting here. How do you design the technical aspects of due diligence?

your question is confusing

Put another way, how do you design the due diligence process for examining the technical assets of the organization you are going to acquire? IE: is it uptime stats, code review, etc

How do you arrive at valuations for acquisitions like these?

[EDIT 2: I deleted my first posting of the following comment, out of concern that it might not be appropriate. But darned it, it was a frustrating enough experience -- and one that others should not have to go through -- that I'm reposting my comment. My apology to anyone (other than Adobe) whom this may irritate.]

[EDIT: I'm hesitant to use HN for what might -- perhaps legitimately -- be seen as a rant. But this may be my only opportunity to make someone at Adobe having any degree of authority or ability to communicate with the relevant management, aware of this problem. Further, we are all at the mercy of Adobe technical support, to the degree we need it. And this applies, in this specific context, to the many students and staff on this site who might face issues in particular with regard to academic licensing.]

OT, but I recently spent in aggregate 7.5 hours [1] getting one your tech support to walk over to a manager and convince them to generate a correct license code for a thoroughly documented academic purchase, after the third-party licensing vendor who was supposed to do so failed to and then only, finally responded to an Adobe tech support rep, whom they told that they had no clue what license the Adobe tech support rep was talking about.

Said license generation and delivery took only 10 minutes, once Adobe tech support -- AFTER 7.5 HOURS of phone calls -- finally did it directly, themselves -- and for the first time, finally, did it correctly after also following my instructions as to what specific type of license was needed. (Rhetorical: What is wrong with this picture?)

Briefly put, someone needs to straighten out the delivery of secondary CS 4 license codes for support of academic purchasers of CS 5.x who are running Win XP 32 bit (said support being clearly described on the product package and in its marketing).

I realize that, officially, you are not the correct party to address, but since you're the only member of Adobe management who is likely to even see a comment on my part, let me just say that in this case your technical support, while always polite on the phone, sucked in terms of results and follow-up; you took several hundred dollars from the person I was helping while failing for over a month to deliver the product (license code) and support that was clearly described on the package; and on this basis I, personally, [changed to calm my tone down] cannot wish your company well.

(I was tempted to send your corporate HQ an invoice for my time, but I figured they'd be too obtuse and/or dismissive to get the point.)

1. I would never have spent that kind of time on the endeavor, except for the nature of my relationship with the purchaser.

Thanks for posting the AMA.

What sort of business criteria are you generally looking for in acquisitions? Is it technology or is it people or something else altogether.


Does Adobe plan more of these types of acquisitions in the future?

I'm assuming they'll buy Medialets eventually, and the only reason they haven't yet is they're not eye-to-eye on price.

Please for the love of all that is holy - stop buying companies!

It's really just so painful to see good companies sucked into the gaping maw of installer hell, 50MB downloads and bureaucratic 'enterprise' sales that - with exception of Photoshop - seems to be Adobe's main value add.

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