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Facebook, TipJoy, the Deal that Didn’t Happen and the Hire that Did (allthingsd.com)
97 points by pakafka on Aug 22, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

Basically it appears like Facebook made the rational calculation that hiring the developer at retail is a lot cheaper than buying the company wholesale.

That is consistent with what I have argued in HN comments: with the glut of start-ups (50 from YC alone this year?) prices will drop towards replacement value. The replacement value of a start-up amounts to a hiring bonus for its developers. This is likely true even with substantial user traction.

We saw much the same thing in the implied valuation of iLike - after liquidation preference, developers basically get a hiring bonus, if they stick around. And iLike had 10 million monthly users on Facebook.

So unless a start-up has a plausible path to independent profitability, it is going to be subject to the brutal laws of a buyer's market. In other sectors this effect has been well observed: take enterprise software for example. There are public companies with $100+ million revenue that trade for basically not much more than cash on hand.

Note to the reader: don't believe every plausible-sounding explanation of events you read on a comment thread.

I'd like to know why you think this isn't close to reality. There are tons of startups out there with no path to independent viability. Why wouldn't potential acquirers simply wait until the founders run out of what little money they have on hand then snap it up for a pittance? Or simply hire the developer?

If someone can get something to market in three months the first try, it's going to be much quicker on the second try, especially if they don't have to deal with all that "other" stuff (marketing, business dev, launch plans etc).

I'd like to know why you think this isn't close to reality.

Because I was there in person when reality took place.

These are what outsiders know: a) Facebook and many acquirers looked at the company and passed b) Company ran out of money c) Facebook hired the developer, who also posts in the blog that his idea would work far better as part of Facebook or Twitter. I am not asserting that (a) and (c) are directly connected. It is perfectly possible that the people who looked at the acquisitions aren't the same ones who made the hire and the two sets of people may not even have talked to each other.

However the one thing no one outside Facebook can really know is why they passed on the acquisition. My reasonable guess is that they figured it would be cheaper to hire (some, not necessarily the same) developers and do it themselves. Are you asserting that it is outside the realm of possibility for them to have thought that way? Or that future acquirers, facing similar choices, would not calculate that it would be cheaper to hire developers after they run out of money?

"However the one thing no one outside Facebook can really know is why they passed on the acquisition."

I know exactly why they passed on the acquisition, and it was not because they thought it would be cheaper to hire someone.

It's strange to watch you keep insisting on this. You said something mistaken when there was no evidence, and now that evidence has emerged contradicting you, instead of changing your theory, you fight to find a way to make the facts conform to it. It's like watching a creationist respond to geology.

I will accept that Facebook did not think this way (ie. it is cheaper to hire developer than acquire). But to be fair to me, until this parent comment, nowhere had you actually mentioned that you knew exactly why Facebook passed on the acquisition. Until you mentioned that fact, it was reasonable to assume that one party in a negotiation does not know all the motivations of the other party.

Having said that I would still let my thesis stand while withdrawing the Tipjoy incident as any kind of evidence of that thesis: given the proliferation of start-ups and the buyer's market, it is reasonable for acquirers to think that way.

If Facebook thought there was value, then $5mm for the company + founders, particularly in a stock deal, wouldn't have caused Facebook to make a decision not to buy.

The reality is that Facebook has a fairly large engineering contingent, and that writing a tipping application for the Facebook platform, will likely be a "from scratch" exercise - so there is little value in the codebase IP from TipJoy.

The actual architecture/algorithms associated with a tipping application are probably not so complex as to make Facebook believe they needed to purchase a company to get that knowledge. TipJoy has no patents that I could find on online tipping. And, Facebook wants to leverage its own social network - TipJoy just never really established enough momentum to develop their network and traffic volume to the point at which other organizations saw value that they wanted to acquire.

But, with all that said - it's true that _one_ of the reasons why Companies will purchase other companies is to acquire their engineering staff in one fell swoop. In the case of TipJoy, their small size worked against them. There wasn't much of an engineering staff to be acquired.

At the end of the day, this story probably repeats itself more often than you would imagine - as PG implied when he noted there are other YC alumni working at FaceBook - the only reason we're noticing it right now is that TipJoy is relatively high profile, and it became public knowledge that at least one of the founders is now working there soon after the startup shut down.

"their small size worked against them"

Thanks. That clears it up for me a bit. If in a hypothetical case there had been three developers, and a company hired all three of them without buying the company, things would have looked suspicious to more than a few people. With one person, it's easier to argue that it just made sense, given a particular scenario.

This, along with the fact that many startups have more to offer than just founder experience, also makes me think that this is unlikely to start a trend of hiring without acquiring.

If the grandparent poster is correct, it's quite possible that YC's model has serious flaws. Considering these implications, wouldn't a reasoned counterargument be more appropriate than snark?

Did you happen to see this?


Yes, but that comment doesn't explain why the deals fell through. However, you did mention something about this later, in the comment at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=780273.

Yeah, if the startup's sole value is that it looks good on a résumé, that's true. But many startups have added brand value -- if Microsoft wanted to get into micropayments, for example, I think Microsoft TipJoy would have more initial traction than Microsoft Micropayment using the same developer. FB already has a great brand name.

In my mind, brand value equates to user traction. User traction alone isn't enough for valuation (particularly in sober times), particularly when the acquirers have massive user-bases themselves.

Microsoft's historical acquisitions were of that kind (starting with DOS!): technology/development teams, with little or no premium paid.

As an acquirer this is perfectly rational behavior.

Why make a VC rich? That is the logic that is increasingly being applied and the proliferation of start-ups makes that logic very compelling. Let's say FB next needs a real time video service. Do they really need someone else's brand or audience? They would likely scout for a hot development team with good technology, and there are many to choose from.

In this particular case, Ivan's already mentioned that the brand was a net drawback, in the previous thread about TipJoy this week.

This completely doesn't tell the whole story, and those of you commenting should realize that.

Comes across as "there's more to it", but it did tell a side of the story that your earlier announcement didn't mention at all, which is why I guess people are interested in it.

Hope you both come through it all ok in any case, and good luck at your new job, and at some point in the future, your next stab at a company.

Ivan, I'm noting your comment, and Paul's, on my post. But the offer I made multiple times to you and Abby still stands -- if there's more info that you want to get out, I'm happy to chat. pk

This is my favorite online "journalism" technique ever. When someone you want a scoop from won't comment, just make a bunch of crap up and then when they get angry say "hey feel free to comment".

No Matt, it's not that. It's writing up a story, not having received comments from one party, explaining how you've given the party many chances to comment on the matter, for honesty's sake and the integrity of journalism, yet never considering that perhaps that party's refusal to comment could be due to other matters, legal or what have you, and indirectly making that party look shady for not returning the honest gesture.

Assuming he is a moderately competent journalist that has done his homework about the subject he is writing about, he's aware of this:


What part is made up?

"Some basic, undisputed facts: ... he and his wife are shutting TipJoy down and returning what’s left of the $1 million they had raised to their investors."

Do you have any sources, documentation or other reason to believe that TipJoy raised $1 million?

Re: Tipjoy's Series A. Multiple reports pegged it at $1M. http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/09/24/tipjoy-raises-1-million... http://www.thedeal.com/dealscape/technology/angel-investor/e... Are you saying those reports are wrong? Or that the company didn't call down the entire round?

Re: Comments. I reached out to Ivan and Abby more than 24 hours before I published the story. I understand why they'd be reluctant to respond, and I told them that.

I appreciate the back and forth on this board -- Paul's comments have been particularly enlightening -- but I'm going to bow out now. Please contact me directly if you have specific comments or questions. Thanks. pk

From your article:

You could see why some of TipJoy’s backers, which include BetaWorks, the Accelerator Group, ex-Googler Chris Sacca and the Y Combinator start-up factory, might cry foul.

Have any of them actually cried foul? I recommend following up with them if you are really interested in the facts.

The part about the $1 million VC money. But perhaps it wasn't you who made it up.

It was him who called it an indisputable fact.

Er, "undisputed" is not the same as "indisputable". Just sayin'.

How much time did you give them to respond before posting your story?

And just yesterday or 2 days ago I wrote this under the story of TipJoy shutting down:

"The whole story seems to repeatedly wave the arms and shout:

"Hey, Twitter! Hey, Facebook! Here we are! We know how to do this! Hire us, hire us, hire us!!!".

At least that's how I read the story. And I'm quite convinced it's their intent. Which shouldn't be a bad thing too.

Well, of course customers' money is the most important thing, no doubt about it.

But it struck me that you mentioned several times in the article that you know what and how to do, you just don't have the leverage of being the main body. Why would you deny it? Is it something bad? I don't think so. Would you refuse if Twitter or Facebook approached you with a decent offer?"

And for this I was severely downmodded. Well, wasn't the part of Facebook approaching you right? In my opinion you should have made this known to give people the full picture. For them to judge and make opinions having all the facts, not some of them.

Will you be working on something similar to tipjoy or will you be working on unrelated stuff ? (I understand almost everybody commenting below assumes that you got 'snapped up' at firesale prices but they're going on the assumption that tipjoy is what they want you for, not your general knowledge of the art).

I think most people probably do realise that. I understand you're probably not in a position to tell it all just yet either. Seems like it would be in Facebook's and your own best interest to clarify the already-public information (if not more), though? Kill the speculation before it starts to echo.

Speculation of what exactly? You're telling me a sentence like this would cause legitimate speculation:

"Supposedly there is no proof that PG is a cold blooded killer but there are no facts to prove otherwise."

Most of that article was stretched assumption & hyperbole, at best.

The only shady thing in all of this is that site forces a pop-up.

Speculation on why the original deal fell through, for example? It's fair to say that speculation has already started, as the original article shows. I presume it has no basis (the fair presumption at this stage), which is why I think it's best for Facebook to just put the facts out there.

Your example is flawed as there is circumstantial evidence here to start speculating from. People aren't making up random ideas, they're filling in gaps. It's not right, but that's what happens when only part of the story is known.

It's the most difficult kind of article to rebut: the kind that "raises questions" without drawing any conclusions. But they sure made the situation look pretty shady.

But they sure made the situation look pretty shady.

Really? I read it twice and while I agree that the author was trying to make it look shady, all he actually comes up with are "undisputed facts". It's like trying to make a horror movie by adding scary music to paint drying.

I know nothing about the details here, but when an attempt at innuendo refutes itself, that's pretty weak.

So basically Facebook got the same benefit as if they had acquired the company(the talent) for less money and the investors got screwed.

Debatably, they got less than half the talent, thank you very much!

Abby > Ivan? :-)

At less than a tenth of the price?

I sense strife intra-marital strife.

Presumably they don't get the brand, domain name, existing code base, and access to registered users.

There's probably a lot more to this story than we know--there's no need to jump to conclusions.

> brand name

The founders have themselves said that they have little traction, and 3rd party payment services will not add much value.

> domain name

Doesn't matter, when brand name isn't useful

> Existing code base

Its takes significantly less time to build it the next time.

> Registered users

Facebook has 250 million users! <1% cant matter anyway.

Right, and that's why no one was interested in buying the company.

Investors own the company, not the employees--even if they are founders.

I don't think Facebook needs the domain, code or registered users. They liked the idea and obviously the people behind it. But to launch it on a Facebook like scale it would need a rewrite, tons of legal power and probably a new name anyway (even TipJoy learned to not like their name).

I would like to hear PG's (or other investors) views on this.

Facebook didn't do anything wrong. Tipjoy was out of money. They'd been talking to several potential acquirers, including Facebook, but those deals all fell through. So the Tipjoys were going to have to get jobs somewhere. Since they were worried about money and Ivan admired the hackers at Facebook, I asked FB if they'd offer him a job, and they did.

It doesn't portend anything for the future of startups, as this story seems to imply. If your startup tanks, you have to get a job somewhere, and lots of hackers get jobs at Facebook. There are several other YC alumni working there.

I wonder if they fell through, because in Kirigin's words:

"We strongly believe that social payments will work on a social network, provided that they’re done within the platform and not as a 3rd party."

So at that realization the acquirers decided to build rather than buy.


I know how TipJoy could make money fairly easily. Would like to help.

Comparing this to voting, most people vote because they want to be seen in a good light by their friends and family (and some vote because they don't understand probability). Perhaps some sort of similar social pressure could have been employed with TipJoy.

My contribution voting makes as much difference as it should: 1 person = 1 vote.

By your logic, I guess I shouldn't worry about my carbon footprint.

Whether you should worry about your carbon footprint depends a lot on what your friends and/or family think of the issue. On a practical individual level, it's all about looking good in front of your friends and/or family.

You've reductio'd to something that isn't absurdum.

Understanding probability is not a reason to not vote.

From: http://web.bsu.edu/cob/econ/research/papers/bohanon2002ir.pd...

Public-choice scholars have long argued that voting is instrumentally irrational because the probability that a single vote will change the outcome of an election is nearly zero. Dennis Mueller made the point well when he noted that "the probability of being run over by a car going to or returning from the polls is similar to the probability of casting the decisive vote. If being run over is worse than having one’s preferred candidate lose, then this potential cost of voting alone would exceed the potential gain" (1989, 350).

By that logic no one should bother voting, in which case the entire system would fail to work at all, obviously a flawed outcome. Thus voting does matter, so you should vote. Worrying about the probability of your vote being the winning vote is pointless, there is no winning vote. If the election was decided by a single vote, then every single vote counted and as mattered just as much as the last vote.

While your individual vote might not statistically matter in choosing the winner, in aggregate, it most certainly does. Voting is not an individual thing, it's a collective thing and judging it by the individual is simply the wrong approach.

By that logic no one should bother voting, in which case the entire system would fail to work at all, obviously a flawed outcome.

An outcome you do not prefer is not automatically irrational. You just don't prefer it. The solution is not to wish everyone would act against their own interests to produce your preferred outcome, but to change the incentives so that your preferred outcome is the natural result of rational choices.

> An outcome you do not prefer is not automatically irrational.

It has nothing to do with my preference. An outcome that fails to result in anyone voting for a system intended to get people to vote, is a failed outcome, no matter how you look at it.

I've thought an unhealthy amount about this. My solution is for everyone to copy the vote of whichever one of their friends seems like the best voter (most intelligent, unaffiliated, conscientious, etc.) If someone thinks they are a better voter than all of their friends then they decide who to vote for themselves. The advantages of this system are twofold:

1. On average, better politicians get elected because the voting decisions of society's best-equipped voters are being amplified.

2. Only a small part of the population has to bother themselves with following political news. Since they're such great voters they'll probably do it in much greater depth (reading actual bills and scientific papers; carefully scouring campaign websites instead of believing rumors they hear on TV.)

Not a bad idea actually, but to simplify it a bit.

Most everyone has a friend they consider much smarter than themselves, just do what he says.

This applies to much more than voting.

That doesn't quite work, because if you've got an unusual situation then it'd be unreasonable to ask your friend to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

That was a very nice thing for you to do.

It's like the Zeno's Arrow of stories: we get half the remaining story every time.

This is an really interesting situation. What I'm really curious about is how/where IP of Tipjoy would eventually end up? Ivan doesn't own those IP, TipJoy does.

Assuming Facebook had initiated the acquisition, I can only imagine they're after 1) The technology/IP behind Tipjoy 2) The talents

I find it hard to believe that Facebook would fork out $5M just for the "talent", so I think that was more of a technology buy for Facebook.

So if that's the case, Ivan would be threading into an unfavorable situation since their investors technically own parts of TipJoy and would want to protect TipJoy's technologu and IP. I do think there's a potential that those investors could file claims against Facebook and Ivan if he does end up working on Facebook's payment system.

Again, I'm not pointing out anything against Ivan but I do want to know as entrepreneurs, if we do get into such a situation, what sort of risks/factors could arise from this?

This is clearly a conflict of interest. The founder should have disclosed the terms of employment offer to the investors (if not general public)

On what basis are you saying that they didn't?

Edit: Well, now we know. "No basis" actually turned out to be an understatement. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=779693

Edit 2: just noticed that it was you who asked the question. Credit where credit's due.

Well, that thickens the plot considerably.

Ivan & Abby, are you both heading west? I'll miss having another startup here in Arlington.

Isn't a startup's founder obligated to act in the best interest of the inventors whose money and risk made the venture possible?

There's no evidence that they didn't.

FaceBook held all the cards here - all they had to do was wait until TipJoy ran out of money, then snatch up one of the founders when he goes looking for a job. Which is what they did. What else would you have the founders do?

Just highlights the importance of bargaining position. Make deals when you don't need them, because you won't be able to when you do.

Just highlights the importance of bargaining position. Make deals when you don't need them, because you won't be able to when you do.

I think this is the real take home here.

Wow. What a ride it must have been. I wish to be part of such a ride someday. :)

Sad to see another entrepreneur leave Boston.

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