[ Gowalla co-founder and CEO Josh Williams on "This Week in Startups" in December 2010. Episode here. ]
By Jason Calacanis
Since the leak on Dec. 2 that Facebook was buying mobile social startup Gowalla, which I was lucky enough to invest in, I've been getting a constant stream of questions.
-- Am I pleased with the outcome?
-- Did the founders do an end run around the investors?
-- Did Facebook do an end run around the investors?
In the words of Facebook's status feature: "It's complicated."
First, let me start by saying I'm thankful for the amazing hard work the team put in at Gowalla. It's been a pleasure getting to know co-founder Josh Williams, and I told him he has a blank check sitting on my desk if he starts another company.
I'm a huge fan, and if I could invest in Josh Williams I would.
That being said, the actual result of the small amount of money I invested in Gowalla is that I'm getting back less in the form of Facebook shares.
While Gowalla was an exceptionally well-designed product and received massive critical acclaim, it simply couldn't keep up with the rocket ship known as foursquare -- as well as foursquare's huge lead!
Clearly network effects were a major part of foursquare winning the day, as well as the amazing team Dennis Crowley put together. However, I'm certain that Gowalla not "winning" was not for lack of effort or talent on the part of the Gowalla team.
These guys are absolute killers, and Facebook got the team for, in my opinion, for a steal. The price should have been five times more, but as a minority investor I have little role -- and certainly no power -- in the sale of the startups I invest in.
The founders and lead investors get to make these decisions. They did their best to get a great sale and instead they got an OK one. That's life.
I respect the effort the founders put in, and truth be told, I wish they'd had a better result more for themselves than for me.
Founders are film directors. We get judged not by one film but by our body of work. This film may not have been a blockbuster, but the critics and sophisticated folks loved it. That's success, too, in my opinion.
Now, on to the hairy question my old business partner Mike Arrington brought up: did the founders screw over the investors by getting huge stock and compensation packages from Facebook?
The answer is no.
First, Facebook would not do this to the investors. It would be highly unethical for them to do so, and it would screw up the startup ecosystem, which it will depend on for the coming years to grow its business. If Facebook simply swoops in and buys out management teams, then it will not have management teams to buy out in the future. They know this.
Second, the team is highly ethical and they will want to get funded in the future. Screwing over your investors generally works once -- maybe twice -- in a career. That kind of thing sticks with you.
I've reviewed the basic details of the deal, and while the team members going to Facebook are getting good deals, it's nothing that would indicate an "end run" around the investors.
Now, I would have rather Gowalla's founders said to Facebook "You gotta make our investors whole or we're not coming," but I think that wasn't possible in this case.
I'll leave it up to the founders to handicap exactly why they sold, where they failed and where they succeeded in the business.
As investors, we're all big boys and girls and understand that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and many times you wind up somewhere between the two.
All I care about is that the founders did their best, they acted with integrity and we can all laugh about it in the coming years over sushi.
Mission accomplished on all of those fronts.
On to the next adventure.... never give up, never surrender!