Startup acquisitions, offers, and exits, and why the next few years will be interesting...

Internet startup acquisition prices keep trending upward. A few years ago, Myspace sold to News Corp for $580 million. Then YouTube sold to Google for $1.6 billion. At that point, that $1.6 billion price tag was unheard of. That came shortly after Facebook rejected an offer from Yahoo! for $1 billion.

More recently, Groupon supposedly rejected a rumored $6 billion acquisition from Google. Then Foursquare rejected an offer for $140 million. Heroku just got acquired by Salesforce.com for $212 million in cash. It's pretty incredible that these websites have managed to create such a large perceived value in such a short amount of time.

The companies that have chosen to stay on their own - mainly the more "fringe" web apps like Groupon and Foursquare - make me wonder if it will be worth it for them in the long run. It makes sense for a company like Facebook, who has managed to put themselves in the center of the internet, but for companies like Groupon or Foursquare, I'm not so sure. Sometimes I wonder if they rejected these large offers because of an inflated sense of self-worth, or because they think they'll be able to make themselves worth 10x that in a few years.

Time will tell.

I'm sure the hot shots like Groupon and Foursquare have great plans for their companies, but it will be interesting to watch them, and to see if their multi-million dollar - or in Groupon's case, multi-billion dollar - gambles pay off.

As much as startups are the culmination of dreams that these founders have, if I was offered a large sum of money for something I built, I can't say I wouldn't cash out, go buy a mansion and a yacht, and enjoying life for a little while.

So I guess kudos to these companies who believe in themselves, think they'll be able to accomplish greater things in the next few years, and to those who don't see money as the end goal in life.

What are they smoking up in Cupertino?

So it's true. iOS 4.2 was released today, and as rumored, the iPad version changes the orientation lock switch into a mute button. I have to say, this was a pretty stupid move.

While nobody knows why Apple made this change, it's safe to assume they made it a mute button to be more consistent with the iPhone's ringer/vibrate toggle switch. But this makes absolutely no sense, and here's why: BECAUSE THE IPAD DOESN'T RING OR VIBRATE! You can easily mute an iPad by holding down the "down" side of the volume rocker for about a second.

The only other thing I can think of is that they have something planned for future iPads that would incorporate a vibrate feature, or maybe video calling that would make the device ring. Regardless, Apple should make this decision an option, and not decide this for us. They especially shouldn't be taking away a feature that users have already grown accustomed to.

And yes, I know the orientation lock is built-in to the software, but it's not nearly as convenient to get to anymore. And I'm not the only one who thinks this way. All you have to do is Google "ipad orientation mute button" to see how upset people are with this change (look at comments on every blog post written about this).

It's pretty disappointing that Apple would make a move like this. It's one thing to not release a feature for a year or two. It's something totally different to take one away. I'm sticking with the old OS until Apple either makes this an option or the jailbreakers come to our rescue.

A few great web-based services I can't live without: YouMail, Outright, Shoeboxed, Dropbox

I use a lot of online products and services in my daily life, many of which I now rely on. I thought I'd take a minute to highlight a few of my favorites.

YouMail

YouMail is my voicemail provider, and happens to be located right down the freeway from me. Even though I have an iPhone and could choose to use Visual Voicemail, YouMail is so much better. Not only does it transcribe my voicemail and send a text message letting me know, but it can also transcribe messages and email me the transcriptions or even the MP3 of the voicemail itself.

Youmail also has plenty of other useful features like personalized recordings for different people and you can even greet callers by the name recognized on caller ID.

The weakest part of YouMail is their web interface. It kind of looks like it was made in 2001 (hint hint: we should talk!). But the service is great and an outdated-looking interface isn't going to keep me from the great service they provide.

Check out YouMail →

Outright

Outright is service for small business owners that takes the hassle out of bookkeeping and figuring out taxes. It handles the collection of tax forms from contractors automatically and does all the expected stuff like connecting to bank accounts for easy record-keeping.

Check out Outright →

Shoeboxed

Shoeboxed is, without a doubt, the easiest way to manage receipts. They give you an email address that you can send digital receipts to. Their system automatically parses what you send them and figured out the total, payee, and category the receipt belongs in. You can also scan paper receipts into the system.

On top of that, they also have a mail-in service that lets customers send in receipts and lets them deal with the hassle of scanning. I plan on sending my first batch of gas receipts (among others) to them today. It also plays nicely with many accounting programs, including Outright.

Check out Shoeboxed →

Dropbox

I doubt the need to even mention Dropbox. Everybody I know uses them. I've written about them previously here. Dropbox is a service that backs up and syncs files on your computer between your other computers. When I save a file on one computer, Dropbox instantly backs up the file online and syncs the updates with my other computers. Wherever I go, I always have the latest versions of whatever I'm working on. Dropbox is one of the most important things to happen to computing in the last decade.

Check out Dropbox →

What is a star made out of? Same thing as a politician: hot gas.

I'm a big fan of the internet show put on by Pat Gray and Stu Burguiere every morning. Once a week, they call random convenience stores around the country and ask the clerk 4 quick questions. If the person doesn't know the answer, Pat or Stu will usually make something up. This is one of the better dialogs between them a clerk. Last question is the best. (You'll find a transcription of the questions and answers below the video.)

Q: How much does it cost to run for President of the United States of America?
A: It costs you your entire soul.

Q: What is Social Security?
A: I'm not sure because I'll never collect it.

Q: Why do kids get participation trophies
A: Because they are losers.

Q: What is a star made out of?
A: Same thing as a politician: hot gas.

California is screwed.

Politics aside, California is screwed. I'm not talking about how people vote. I'm just talking about people in general. I'm talking about the clear downward trend of quality people in our society. People are so incredibly selfish. Nobody thinks of others anymore. There was a time when people were genuinely kind, when people were courteous while driving, and when people were friendly in everyday encounters.


Today was a breaking point for me. I witnessed two people fighting over position in line for a gas pump. An oblivious person backed into me with his car. I was cut off by a driver while I walked through a parking lot (I guess pedestrians don't have the right-of-way anymore). I was almost hit by a guy running a red light. I was almost hit by another person making a right turn who failed to stop and look before turning.

Far too many people think the hands-free calling law means they can hold their phone on speakerphone. Nobody turns their head when changing lanes and nobody signals. People are so distracted by their cell phones that those of us who aren't distracted have to look out for them and guide them back into their lanes by the occasional honk of the horn.

I intentionally seek out stores with positive, friendly cashiers. It makes the experience exponentially better. There was a time when people waved to each other while driving through neighborhoods, and when strangers would engage in friendly small talk. I am disappointed that I never got to experience that culture here.

Of course, it's not like this everywhere. In fact most of America is still relatively friendly. The pace of life is just different.

But in terms of California, I don't see things ever getting better. It's still every man for himself. And unless people realize that we're all in this together and no one is so important that they can't be friendly, courteous and polite, California will continue down this spiral and continue to become a less and less enjoyable place to live.

Coming soon: a way to completely customize your Posterous theme

Hundreds of thousands of people have found Posterous to be the smartest and easiest way to blog. I switched a couple years ago after becoming frustrated with the hassles of maintaining a self-hosted Wordpress blog.

While people love Posterous, a pain point has been theme choices and customization. While Posterous has been busy beefing up the selection of themes (see here and here), I am constantly asked questions like "How do I change the date format of my posts?" to "How can I upload my own background image?" and "How can I add my Twitter feed?" Up until now, these changes have required digging into code. But not anymore.

Today, I'd like to present my solution: My own easy-to-use theme editor with a bajillion options that will let you tweak the heck out of your theme without dealing with any code. Oh, and it will be free! =]

This editor is a perfect complement to the built-in theme editor provided by Posterous. And with new changes Posterous has made for developers, you can install these themes in one simple click, without having to copy and paste code whatsoever.

Oh, and along with this editor will be coming a whole slew of new themes, both free and premium.

Over time, all of themes I've ever built will be offered through my new editor. While I'm busy putting the final touches on the system, you can sign up to be the first to find out when I launch. Sign up for updates at http://themes.posterous.com or follow me on Twitter.

Haters gonna hate

Last night, I was @replied by someone on Twitter asking for my email address.

A few hours later, I received a forwarded email thread. As it turns out, my recent post about Apple.com vs Microsoft.com homepages was the topic of debate. This guy and a group of his friends had been analyzing my post and ripping it apart. Along with a couple valid points came a lot of hate because they thought I was an Apple fanboy (which I'm not). Here are a select few of the quotes from different people in the thread:

He doesn't even raise a single valid point.  Nothing he says is backed up by any reasonable evidence. Everything little thing he says basically screams "I'm a f***ing idiot. I don't get any of this."  If he's trying to make any coherent thoughts, valid points, or striking debate, he's absolutely failed in every way imaginable. I'd be floored if this guy had ANY experience in web design, front or backend work.

The fact that this poor dope couldn't debate his way out of a wet paper bag, or construct a tangable thought and effectively convey it to sway opinion, I have to say he appears to simply be another uninformed apple fanboy trying incredibly too hard to bitch about the big guys.

There is so much more I could have ranted about with what this dips*** said. I could have delved in depth about design process, the backend of why things are done a particular way in web design, etc, etc. This guy is a troll in a way. I think he really does stand behind his ideas and opinions, no matter how slanted and ignorant they are. 

Somewhere down the road, only having one mouse button to lick must have made cognitive thought / basic problem solving skills go right out the f***ing window with this dumb sap.

I certainly don't credit him as some kind of intellectual duelist, hell, I'm no debater myself, but as far as making a point and swaying opinion go, it looks like he barely got his out without causing his Macbook Air to go up in flames from the amount of drool that likely seeped out of his slack jawed mouth while typing this mindless heap of s***.

And then one of them suggested sending the thread to me, to which one replied:

I hope you do, that dumb f*** needs some help.

I remember seeing this kind of pointless hate when I use to hang out in digital video newsgroups back in high school. People would rag on others for no reason. I've never understood the mindset or the insecurity (possibly?) of those who have nothing better to do than to type long responses with mostly four letter words to others. Note that there is a difference between constructive criticism and ranting, and just general, pointless hate and running of the mouth. You don't see this kind of behavior in face to face confrontations, and I don't see why there has ever been a point to it online.

And that's one of the things I love about the Posterous community as a whole. About 99.9% of the people on Posterous are genuinely nice people, and a joy to interact with. So if you're part of that 99.9%, I'd just like to say thanks. It's been fun getting to know some of you over the past year, and I look forward to interacting with more of you in the future.

Homepages: Apple.com vs Microsoft.com, and why Microsoft has an image problem

In today's lesson about how NOT to design a homepage, we're going to focus on Microsoft.com.

First, go to http://apple.com. Nice, huh? Alright, now compared that to http://microsoft.com.

Now let's note some key differences:
  • Apple.com looks like it was made in 2009. Microsoft looks like it was made in 1999.
  • Apple.com is sleek. Microsoft.com is...very blue and cheesy.
  • Apple uses little color, which can be a detractor. Microsoft uses way too much color.
  • Apple's navigation highlights several core products. Microsoft tries to cover everything in the kitchen sink.
  • Apple features a single product, while Microsoft tries to promote three.
  • Apple has four small boxes to promote different things at the bottom of their homepage. Microsoft throws in random links and lists to fill up space. Oh, and a random ad.

Companies pay big bucks for usability and design reviews. But because I'm such a nice guy, I'm going to review Microsoft's homepage for them for free.

(Having trouble reading my notes? At the bottom of the image, click Download full size.)

I point all this out because I am a big fan of Microsoft. Everyday, more and more people switch their allegiance to Apple, simply because "they get it." While Microsoft makes some good products, they certainly don't go out of their way to prove it.

When I visit Microsoft.com, I should be greeted by the latest and greatest, not some website clearly assembled by a marketing department to "cover all the bases." This homepage serves no purpose, other than to make sure that everybody within Microsoft is happy that they got their little share of the homepage.

Microsoft needs a leader who can communicate with the world that they are still relevant. This homepage certainly doesn't do the company any justice.

iPhone app updates: startup vs corporate culture

I was updating iPhone apps the other day and noticed the difference in how app developers describe their updates. In almost any app developed by a startup or internet company, app updates often provide detailed descriptions of the updates made to their application, whether they're new features or just bug fixes. Example:

A couple other examples are Skype and Angry Birds.

But with E*Trade, a rigid, financial, East Coast company who I can only assume lives by a very strict code of corporate culture, they simply described their app update with "Maintenance release" (a very corporate term, by the way).

WOW! Thanks E*Trade! I can't wait to download your app update full of maintenance stuff!

The point is, people like to know what's going on with their devices. Even if you're just fixing stuff, let people know! If you're going to require a user to update your app, you should at least give them the courtesy of letting them know why they're going out of their way for you.