10 years ago I sold my
startup for $2.2M and
then fall into depression — Slinky Story
First of all, I’m glad to post my first article regarding this thread. One of the reasons why I couldn’t write about it is a non-disclosure agreement that limited my actions to 10 years.
So back to the topic, today I’m 35 years old and behind my back almost 18 years of experience in creating startups. I started programming at the age of 7 thanks to my schoolmate whose father worked at a programming research university. The first $25K at 16 I earned on the sale of a site for the phone resale and computer equipment — it was a tone of money for me.
Then I moved quickly and already after 3 years my engineering skill was really serious. The HR-G team regularly updated my resume before I started working on G-products as an engineer, but much earlier I started a company called Slinky (Summary Link of Y). I had no idea what could be the big story in that period. The idea was simple, like 1+1, easy peasy.
We put together a semantic search engine for graphic animation files and added markup tags for each file just like the Google engine did for websites. Many may say that the same Giphy did it. The answer is -yep, but years later. — I’m talking about 2010 and 2011. I can’t claim that the founder of Giphy copied us or just caught the same idea later than us. BTW, as I know he worked at Google too. The time-gap between us and them was almost 2.5 years. In addition, our main popularity was in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. For this reason, I bought a premium domain (slinky asia) from a Japanese juice company to expand our presence ($18K).
One way or another, for a while, I worked on Google products and also on my own startup. Of course, I did not violate the corporate agreements/culture, because the company preferred to add me to the team as an external developer. It was convenient not only for me, but also for them, because under (the terms of the typical) job-contract, all intellectual property could belong only to Google.
Everything was calm until my startup began to grow fast as hell. We increased the number of products and features. We’ve released several themes for the Google browser. You can get them here — https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/slinky.me?hl=en&_category=themes Years later they are still popular.
These were some of the first browser themes. They are still popular today (more than 1.5M users). In some way, I changed how everyone’s familiar browser looks. I’ve repeatedly asked the company’s management to allow users to change themes for the browser, because this functionality would allow people to customize the window to the Internet as they want.
After another six months, we broke the wall and even achieved cooperation with G. In fact, we were afraid that we would be thrown out of the game.
Everything went on until a flurry of criticism fell upon us. We’ve been hit by the biggest attack by Chinese hackers who found a breach in our servers and got video of the first laptop from Google (ChromeBook).
List of sources:
Almost all the well-known US-media wrote about this incident, and it almost destroyed us. 99% of sources pushed something that never happened or made up a scandal in order to make as much money as possible from all this.
Our capitalization was disappearing rapidly day by day as the scandal went viral. Before the scandal, we were valued at $85M (for those years it was really a lot), then almost $3–5M. Clients left us and advertisers stopped paying us for our platform. We received advice from Google lawyers and many others. I spent almost $230–250K on lawyers. The lawyers advised me that I should not react and not answer anything. Sergey Brin and several other company executives were mentioned in the conflict, so I accepted categorical silence and understood that my startup was dying.
In addition to the main direction of the scandal, my case became high-profile for an investigation that lasted almost a year. At the moment, I still can’t reveal some of the details as requested by several parties (despite the interval of 10 years). Some clauses of the non-disclosure agreement have a validity period of 100 years.
What happened next?
After a while, I started negotiations so that we would join a lot of well-known companies, but I got rejection after rejection. No one in the US wanted to buy us for fair money, although until recently we were loved by everyone in the valley. On the one hand, nothing has changed; on the other hand, our company was destroyed by this scandal.
After 8 months of intensive negotiations, a large Chinese search company [NASDAQ:SOHU] bought our intellectual property, R&D stuff, part of our team and everything that could compete with Baidu.
This is how I got $2.2M. Luckily it didn’t break me and I’m still making amazing products.