Picnik CEO on Getting Bought by Google, and How It Affects Startups and Consumers

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incredibly fast-moving, agile company with a great, great culture. We all felt the culture fit between the Picnik team and Google team would be an awesome fit—the delightfulness of the people and product at Picnik, and the smart, fun people at Google. There’s something very cool going on with their culture and the kinds of people they self-select for—ambitious and also fast-moving, optimistic, and very positive. It’s very easy for Googlers to see the upside in something great.

X: What does the deal mean for the Seattle tech startup community?

JS: In an M&A market that is supposedly down, there are deals that can and do happen. It’s not a complete doom and gloom scenario. I also think you can get very, very healthy, great valuations for your company as long as the fundamentals are sound. I’m trying to shed more than a ray of hope to my colleagues doing startups in Seattle. Focus on being profitable, having a viable business model, having a great product and great traffic—those are things that even in this down market can still translate to a very positive outcome. Picnik’s sister companies have a lot to be proud of if they’ve survived ’09.

X: Any other advice to your fellow tech startups?

JS: It behooves any small startup, if you’re focused on M&A transaction as your exit—and who isn’t?—to definitely manage your relationships very well with potential suitors. It doesn’t happen out of the blue or by itself. It’s always the result of some time and effort you’ve put in. For talks to get serious, you do have to put effort and time into managing those relationships.

X: Who at Google paved the way for the acquisition?

JS: It was a combination of Mountain View and locally. But it was definitely driven by folks in Mountain View. There were jaw-droppingly smart and fast-moving people on the corporate development team in Mountain View who worked really, really hard to put a deal together, and drove to get consensus in Google. There were product people in Mountain View and Kirkland, WA, who were convinced that Picnik will continue to be a groundbreaking service and add lift to Google. That’s not always the case—we got very lucky. What typically happens is you get bogged down by bureaucracy, or you need approval from some senior VP, or corporate development doesn’t talk to the product people.

X: How does Picnik becoming part of Google affect your partnerships with sites like Flickr and Facebook?

JS: What Picnik is bringing to the table for Google—added to what Google already has—will continue to push the envelope forward. Google has a very open model. They’re competitive with other companies, but they also have a very excellent way that they think of themselves as helping everyone. With all the different partnerships that Picnik has, we foresee a situation where we continue to push out value to all our partners.

X: But isn’t there a threat to your Flickr partnership, since Google’s Picasa photo service competes directly with Flickr?

JS: I don’t believe so. We have so many Flickr users that enjoy Picnik. I feel it wouldn’t make sense to me, or to Flickr, to anyone, if that changed. What’s important is that all the fun of Picnik continues to get enjoyed by users. Anything could happen, but right now, as I think through the issue, I think it’s millions of Flickr users—so you can’t really disturb that. That has always been our strategy from day one—be everywhere where your pictures are.

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