You Knew What I Was When You Picked Me Up

There’s a native American tale of an old rattlesnake who asks a passing young boy to carry him to the mountain top to see one last sunset before he dies. The boy was hesitant, but the rattlesnake promised not to bite him in exchange for the ride. After that concession, the boy carried the snake to the top of the mountain where they watched the sunset together.

Upon carrying the snake back down to the valley floor, the boy prepares him a meal and a bed for the night. In the morning the snake asks:

"Please little boy, will you take me back to my home now? It is time for me to leave this world, and I would like to be at my home now." The little boy felt he had been safe all this time and the snake had kept his word, so he would take it home as asked.

He carefully picked up the snake, took it close to his chest, and carried him back to the woods, to his home to die. Just before he laid the rattlesnake down, the rattlesnake turned and bit him in the chest. The little boy cried out and threw the snake upon the ground. “Mr. Snake, why did you do that? Now I will surely die!” The rattlesnake looked up at him and grinned:

"You knew what I was when you picked me up."

Slate has an interesting piece peeking behind the post-Page Google M&A machine. Amidst the talk of new found focus and well defined business units, there’s a noted shift in their approach to the technologies and teams they’re pursuing. In years past Google has had a voracious appetite for talented startup teams, but that focus is turning, in large part, because those teams have often not had the effect on Google products that they’d hope. 

From the article:

Larry Page wants results. This is perhaps the most important change since Page took over: Gone are the days when Google would buy a company only to have it disappear without ever producing a product. Page now expects direct, regular reports from Google’s acquisitions team on how recently purchased companies are performing.

The problem with these acquisitions is that both the acquiring company and the founders are rattlesnakes.

Pre-acquisition founders promise that they’re committed to their vision and see the acquiring company as the perfect platform to realize it. Acquiring companies promise to get companies the resources they need to scale and not mess with what’s working.

But founders are founders, and even with the best of intentions their systems largely reject big company culture. And big companies are big companies, they just can’t help but bury startups in political overhead and unkept promises of scalable resources.

Which leaves many founders and big companies turning to each other with bite marks in their chests asking “why did you do that”?

To which neither should be all that surprised when the other answers back, “you knew what I was when you picked me up”.