Jaiku Co-Founder Discusses Google Buyout Disaster

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-04-27 Print this article Print

Remember back in October 2007 when Google acquired Jaiku, the mobile microblogging tool?

Some people, including myself, thought the startup would become for Google what Dodgeball didn't: a viable entree into the world of mobile social networking.

As I wrote on this blog then:

Jaiku enables users to post thoughts, converse, and share photos, blog entries and other digital stuff with friends.In other words, Jaiku's software enables microblogs, or short text messages used to update those in a social network on what's new.

It never happened for Google.

Jaiku in January 2009 was unceremoniously dumped into Google's open source garbage bin. The service is now maintained by volunteer Google engineers on their spare time.

It wasn't personal, just a big spring cleaning, detailed by Vic Gundotra, who has become Google's social software guru.

Google went on to partner with Twitter, which while relatively anonymous when Google landed on Jaiku has since taken off like a rocket, fostering a vibrant ecosystem of social media.

So why am I dredging this up nearly two years later? Jaiku co-founder Jyri Engeström, who currently runs mobile recommendation company Ditto, provided an "exit interview" for the 37Signals blog detailing what happened, or what Google did to the company he fostered. That is to say, not much.

Engeström was excited to join Google because he assumed his software service would be tightly integrated with the Android platform, "which I thought was the best thing to happen to the mobile industry and was led by Andy Rubin, who had the cojones to take over the world."

That's a somewhat prescient thought. Android has become the leading U.S. smartphone platform by dint of sheer volume.

Instead, Engeström found himself challenged on a number of levels and I think his next words are a must read for any startup mulling a sale to Google:

I quickly found my job very different from being a startup founder, because a Google social graph and activity stream touched every existing product from Search to Gmail to Maps, and a large number of influential people weighed in, who did not look at it from the perspective of building a tightly integrated whole.

That's a big cultural and operation break for people used to building a Web service from scratch and who sell out to scale it at Google, where it needs to intertwine with literally dozens of Web services.

Rather than becoming a core Android app, Jaiku software became features of existing products, including the activity stream in Google Buzz, the mobile client in Google Latitude, with Google Profiles becoming a search nugget.

Of all of those "features," I'd argue that Google Profiles is the most important because it could be the lynchpin for social services Google is building, but only if Google can get millions of people to not only sign up for, but actively interact with Profiles-based services such as Google +1.

In any case, Engeström left Google in disgust and now you know why. Google has become too ingrained its ways, which should serve as a cautionary tale for those who ae considering selling out to Google:

I personally learned a huge lesson, which was that being acquired by the market leader can be a kiss of death to a startup. If the acquirer is at the height of their power and you are still regarded as small and insignificant, they will find it incredibly difficult to change their ways -- even if they are the smartest people in the world and your product represents a disruptive force to their business in the long run.

For those who do find themselves in this startups hell, do what Engeström did; leave and build a new company.

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