Spotlight on Invisible Tech Startups

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns . Alexis Grant wants it to be OK for a start-up t...


This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. Here is a collection of past columns.

Alexis Grant wants it to be OK for a start-up to just be OK.

In our imagination and in pop culture, it may seem like there are only two paths for tech startups: spectacular successes with Ferrari and Ferragamo for everyone, or titanic failures. Startups that change the world or die trying are the ones that people write books and make movies on.

The myth of Silicon Valley virtually ignores the vast middle ground between the incredible and the unforgivable. Grant tries to fill the void.

Last month, Grant launched They were acquireda website and database to chronicle online start-up founders who sell their businesses for between $100,000 and $50 million.

For most of us, that magnitude of a business sale would be glorious. When I was still relatively new to writing about tech companies, a startup founder confused me by apologizing for selling his old company for “only” tens of millions of dollars. I quickly learned that in the age of TikTok and Theranos, $1 million — and today, even $1 billion — is as disappointing as a single potato chip in a bag.

Grant, a former journalist and founder of a start-up in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., said that when our culture glorifies companies that become billion or trillion dollar companies and founders that work non-stop, people who slowly and steadily build smaller businesses start-ups can feel left out, especially if they are parents like her.

“For many people this can lead to a sense of failure – is this the only way to succeed?” said Grant. “But the reality is that there are many ways to build a startup.”

They Got Acquired is part of a tactical guide for business owners that Grant said she wished she had when she launched her two previous start-ups. And that’s partly encouraging for people building their startups that don’t have billions of users but are nonetheless fulfilling for founders and employees.

“There are many people who build [start-ups] that way, but they often go unrecognized,” Grant told me. “It’s more desirable for me and a more desirable route for a lot of people.”

During the pandemic, there were a wave of Americans who started their own businesses. Grant tries to highlight role models for entrepreneurs beyond Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg.

Above all, Grant started They Got Acquired because she felt something was missing for people like her.

For ten years, she started and sold two online businesses and helped create another, the financial website The Penny Hoarder. When it came time to sell, Grant felt lost. “I didn’t know where to start or where to find the right professionals to help me,” Grant said.

They Got Acquired compiles information about startups such as their revenue and approximate acquisition price. Grant imagines the data will help other business owners get a better idea of ​​what their businesses might sell.

Interviews with startup founders are posted on the website, and an upcoming series of podcasts will feature entrepreneurs sharing practical tactics and strategies. Jodie Cook, who started a social media agency, described for They Got Acquired how she made sure the the business could function without it.

Grant said she loves the business story of a mother-daughter team, Marianne Edwards and Anna Maste, which started an online community for RV travelers. They sold their business last year for at least $1 million, Grant said, adding that she was encouraged that Maste initially only worked on her business a few hours a week.

A friend of mine who knows Grant sent me a link to They Got Acquired, and it was an “aha” moment. I have already written about the boot system that fires for and rewards the greatest possible ideas.

This can lead to life-changing innovations like Tesla’s electric cars and Google’s search engine. But it can also force founders to overhype their technology and reduce themselves, their families, and their employees to spent dust. It’s encouraging to see more confetti and support for a different path.


  • Technology companies have become powerful levers of war: During Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, officials in Russia, Ukraine, the United States and Europe sometimes conflicting demands for global communication and information services from Google, Facebook, Telegram and others, report my colleagues Adam Satariano and Sheera Frenkel. (I’ll have more on that in Wednesday’s newsletter.)

    Related: Microsoft has coordinated an effort to stop malware which was designed to obliterate critical computer networks in Ukraine.

  • Show me the money: Employees of some tech companies want more of their pay in cash rather than stock, The Wall Street Journal reported. One way to interpret this: Workers at big companies like Amazon and Google don’t believe their companies’ stock prices are going to rise from here. (Subscription may be required.)

  • Cameras and sensors follow you around Amazon’s new high-tech Whole Foods store, but you can’t take photos or videos of yourself while shopping. My colleague Cecilia Kang tried the DC grocery store which skips the lineand spoke to local residents about the tradeoffs between convenience and creepiness.

It’s an unexpected story about musical legend Johnny Cash and actress Elizabeth Taylor.


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