Joyent and Samsung: Thoughts after the close

June 29, 2016 - by Bryan Cantrill, CTO

You may have seen that Samsung is acquiring Joyent. One of the quirks about acquisition announcements is that for any company with even a modest number of shareholders (be it private or public), there is a lag between when the acquisition is announced and when the acquisition actually closes — creating a peculiar time in which everything has changed and yet nothing has. In big, complicated public cases (e.g., Dell’s acquisition of EMC), closing an acquisition can take months or (in cases that involve two gigantic companies and/or regulatory approval) years. And if you’ve dealt with mergers and acquisitions in the past (or if you, like me, are merely an engineer who is prone to worst-case thinking) you know that even announced deals can fall apart for many reasons. (And in this regard, for whatever reason, 2016 has been the worst year in a while.) Given this, you can imagine that I’m pleased to report that the transaction has indeed closed — Samsung doesn’t merely intend to acquire Joyent but has (as of Friday!) actually acquired Joyent — and we can now be a little more concrete about things.

First, now that we’re completely through the process, I’d like to get something out there that is obvious but bears reiterating: for any company — but especially for a startup — the path to being acquired is long, arduous and very (very!) distracting. Because things can fall apart at any moment for reasons out of your control, you must (naturally) focus on your business — and yet, at the same time, you must (again, naturally) assist the potential acquirer in understanding your company and its history, technology, business and so on. And even when it’s not directly distracting (in terms of assisting in due diligence or answering other questions or working through proofs of concept), having a serious potential acquirer is emotionally distracting: it’s very hard to prevent your mind from wandering a vast spectrum of outcomes and concomitant reactions — even though from the outside, nothing is in fact happening! So for us, just getting the announcement out there was a huge relief: not only did it denote that the journey was (almost, hopefully!) over, but at least the tension no longer had to be endured privately.

In terms of public reaction, it runs a gamut. Most, of course, are simply supportive — and that the news was high-profile meant that people who we didn’t necessarily know were showing their support (the highlight of which for me was someone I had never met shouting “Congratulations, Bryan!” from across the Montgomery BART station). Some, however, react assuming that you’ve not been so much acquired as lost in a high-stakes executive poker game — and there were quite a few “Congratulations, I hope?” in my inbox. Others assume that you’ve made out like a bandit (wealth management spam: looking at you) or that you are surely now going to take time off and retreat to your villa to plan your next big idea. Still others assume that everything publicly said has been under duress and at the tip of a corporate bayonet — and that there is some dark hidden tale to be told when the walls aren’t listening.

I know that there are acquisitions that inform each of these reactions, so it’s perhaps disappointing for some to learn that my blog entry was entirely in earnest and it is what it looks like: we’re thrilled with the acquisition — but for reasons that run deeper than mere personal enrichment. I have long been a believer that great technologists are drawn first and foremost to mission, team and problem. (Compensation, while not unimportant, lags these three.) Our mission at Joyent has been and remains to advance computing: we have a bold, opinionated (and open source!) stack of SmartOS, Manta, Triton and ContainerPilot — and we are unafraid to go our own way. Of course, we are not contrary for its own sake: our opinions are informed by the problems that we see in front of us, and we have also believed — more than most traditional infrastructure software companies — in a tight feedback loop between our software and how it is actually used, in production. In this regard, production use serves as oxygenated blood for infrastructure software development: while I (vehemently) disagree with recent claims that “infrastructure software is dead”, I do believe that without being informed by production use, the vital organs of infrastructure software will wither and die. So it is no accident that we both operate a public cloud and make that software available and open for others to run on their own hardware — running our own software as a service improves both.

Given our steadfast beliefs in both our mission and in the primacy of production use, the Samsung acquisition represents a tremendous win: it both accentuates our mission and greatly expands the production use of our software. Samsung will quickly become (for example) one of the world’s largest users of cloud-borne ZFS, one of the world’s largest users of containers in production, and so on — a boon for not only our technologies but for the other customers they serve. And Samsung to us is exciting not merely because of the new scope with which our software is going to be used, but because of the scope of the solutions themselves: like many Joyeurs, I have spent my entire career deep in the chilly bowels of computing, and it is singularly gratifying to think of our software being a component (if a distant and hidden one) in a product that ultimately lives in a pocket or on a wrist or in a car or in a living room. Not only do these products have tangible immediacy, they are deployed at a scale measured in billions — and embody the next generation of challenges in computing.

This brings us to a final but essential consequence of closing: should you yourself share our values — if you both want to build real, relevant (open source!) production systems and you believe that those systems should reflect an engineer’s aesthetics as to the Right Way Of Doing It — know that the closing of the Samsung acquisition means that we are dramatically expanding the team of technologists at Joyent. This does not mean merely expanding the core engineering team (though certainly that!) but also product engineering, product, operations, quality assurance, solutions architecture and so on. If you are someone who has used and loved our software and would like to be a part of taking that software to the next level — or if you are someone who has never heard of Joyent until now but are as excited as we are about building the foundation of the future — reach out: we are remote-friendly and — thanks to Samsung’s worldwide footprint — much more easily able to hire globally than we could before, and we’re very much looking for fellow hammer swingers with like minds!