When I first sat down to write the story about shutting down Newsberry, it was very therapeutic. I wanted to get it out there, all the real, honest thoughts behind it. What I didn’t expect was the amount of interest in our decision process, the amount of support and also the criticism, questioning and pondering it caused.
A common theme among some skeptics was why didn’t we just sell it. So, here’s why.
We wanted to
When we first started noticing that Newsberry wasn’t going to work out, we thought the best “way out” was to find someone to take it over. It couldn’t be that hard, people and companies were buying apps that were making no money all, and here we had a product that was actually profitable.
That said, we had no idea where to look. It’s not like we were going to put a For Sale sign up. We had active clients who we didn’t want to scare off. We were still actively supporting the product and we also wanted to sell a profitable service, and for that you needed customers. So we quietly put some feelers out to friends and family and came up with a figure we were comfortable with (sorry, that number isn’t public).
The first fish to bite
We started to get offers and interest from people/companies completely unfamiliar with email marketing, or the software business altogether. That just made us feel uncomfortable, and we turned them away. We had no interest in selling to someone who would kill it quickly.
Call us idealists, but we weren’t going to sell to just anyone. And we most definitely weren’t going to let someone with no software experience take our brand and run (or trip and fall) with it.
The closest thing we got to selling
We met with two really large hosting companies that showed an interest (independently). With one we had a lengthy, detailed meeting we thought went pretty well. In the end it didn’t pan out. They wanted a team to go with it, a decision we really respect. They understood that email marketing wasn’t easy and that it’s not just something you figure out. Obviously, we didn’t have a team to offer.
That was the closest we got to finding someone we liked for the product. A company with resources we didn’t have, a reputation they wouldn’t want to destroy by neglecting our customers, and financially could (probably) meet our price to sell. After that failed through, we really stopped looking. We just figured we’d try to make Newsberry work (again).
No to open source
Email marketing is a complex business, mostly because you spend all day preventing spammers from sending on your IPs so the spam doesn’t get to the ISPs, who then in return will block your legitimate mail. It’s shitty. It’s not just about building a beautiful product, it’s about dealing with external forces that control you. It’s something many companies are extremely good at (and we’re doing it now at Postmark). The code we built to run Newsberry does a lot of this. There are throttling settings, spam handling rules, behavior tracking, etc. If we open sourced it, it would absolutely get in the wrong hands. It’s just irresponsible.
We also don’t believe this code is open sourcable. There is a lot of legacy code; it’s not in the best shape and we don’t have the resources to maintain it. An open source project needs to be maintained, which is opposite of what we want. Getting distractions away from our team was a big driving force for shutting Newsberry down in the first place.
Speaking of distractions, selling is a HUGE undertaking. Maybe if we weren’t so worried about the quality of the purchaser it may have been simpler. But really, getting your code together, fixing issues, meetings, more meetings, lawyers, PR, etc. All of that can turn into a full time job. We were completely not interested in that. We weren’t going to get retirement money for it. And don’t forget, we still have two amazing products we need to concentrate on. In the bigger context, selling would be a bigger hassle than it was worth.
We don’t regret, for one second, not selling Newsberry. Looking back we had a relatively smooth transition of getting customers setup with Campaign Monitor, and moving our full concentration to Postmark and Beanstalk. Newsberry will remain our brand that nobody can tarnish.
We built a product, ran it for 7 years, and then shut it down in a way that just feels right. The end.