For better or worse, a great deal of investment in technology is driven by pattern matching. In that world any company (including Automattic) that generally eschews hype, is largely subscription driven, and has a small number of employees relative to its audience should be thrilled at the 19 billion dollar acquisition of WhatsApp. The deal is incredible.
This has kicked off another round of pattern matching and halo effects, which are currently incredibly favorable but will evolve over the coming years based on how things go post-integration, just like the public perceptions of Geocities, Youtube, Doubleclick, Bebo, and Skype wildly shifted based largely on the press coverage over their latest traded value.
I’m thrilled with the outcome for WhatsApp and the manner in which they built their company, their product, and I hope they bring more of that thinking to Facebook, but I don’t think they should become a playbook any more than Instagram should inspire a no-revenue playbook. The pattern we should take away from this story is that there is no pattern. (In Perl, “there’s more than one way to do it” or Tim Toady.) As an entrepreneur making decisions for your company, always go back to your first principles of what’s important to you and why you started in the first place. As a journalist, try not to fit everyone into arcs you’ve seen before or ascribe value to previous coverage (or lack of coverage). As an investor try to evaluate every situation on its unique merits. Should founders be CEOs or not? Well, it depends on the founders, the company, and what it means to be CEO, not what an over-normalized sample of a few hundred companies did before in completely different contexts.
There are also products that succeed with design that seems childish or terrible on the surface (Myspace, eBay, Snapchat). A lot of what it comes down to is have you made something people want, and are they finding out about it from their friends. That’s often the realm people think of as marketing. The best marketers in the world don’t fit our preconceptions of what that word means because they’re in hoodies instead of suits and create environments and ecosystems rather than the traditional trappings of marketing.