Saturday, October 16, 2004

So long and thanks for all the fish.

So it's been a little while since I last wrote on this thing. Yeah, it's not that I've forgotten, I've just been busy. But don't worry, this update will be quite depressing and cynical. I promise.

Tom quit yesterday. That leaves me being the most senior employee at Nullsoft. That's not really an exciting proposition. In case no one has noticed, we've lost a lot of people on our team in the past 6 months. Each one leaving with varying explanations or circumstances, but all for the same basic reason.

It's these days that really allow me to sit and reflect. Winamp and SHOUTcast are quickly becoming yesterday's news. We really fought the good fight but in the end lost the war. Our enemy, the machine, was just to great to defeat. Believe me, we tried.

Being acquired by another company has nearly always been the kiss of death. I remember when the founders of Blogger came and talked to Justin and I over lunch regarding whether or not they should sell their company. I think the spirit of our message to them was that if they don't have to, they shouldn't. They'd lose all control and ultimately their baby, it was merely a matter of time. It was an interesting conversation to say the least. Unfortunately, 6 months later they sold to Google.

The thing that I've learned about acquisitions is that most companies who buy other companies have their own plans. When you sell, you must know that you're giving up everything you've worked for and that after you sign on the dotted line, it's all over.

Most of these marriages seem to have a honeymoon. Our honeymoon lasted about a year, for Spinner about 6 months.

When it ends, you won't notice but everything starts changing. First it starts off slow, with little things here and there. For example, they come in and 'renovate' the office you're in and replace all your kitchy and fun start-up furniture with the standard company cubicles. As time goes on, more and more starts being stripped away. Say goodbye to the free softdrinks, the rest of the company doesn't get those, why should you? If you didn't notice by then, you'll get a nice splash of reality when one day you show up at work and you've got bullshit corporate propaganda like 'Members Rule!' plastered all over the place.

Before you know it, all the cool people who used to work with you start leaving and are replaced by transplants from other parts of the company or some lame hire who is only there for a job. In either case, the replacements are less talented and less motivated to help you get your job done then the person who left.

But for those who hang in there, don't worry there's relief. Yes, the wonderful world of layoffs will make sure that those who stick around don't have a choice. This is when all the people who worked their fucking ass off are kicked onto the street, with the assistance of security personnel who make sure you don't steal any paper clips or notepads as you clear off your desk.

Ah yes, the joy of layoffs. Here's how it works. Usually, they set up two meetings, they're back-to-back. The first meeting is where they herd your coworkers into a room and tell them that they've been laid off and that they have 3 hours to clear off their desks and exit the building. The second meeting is where they herd those who are left into the same room (you can tell because of all the used tear-drenched tissues) and tell them that they are the 'go-forward team'. This translates to you're going to have to pick up all the slack your coworkers have now left behind.

The weeks up to the lay offs are especially fun. This is where you and your coworkers all know what's coming and are asked to keep working anyway. If you're truly unfortunate, you may get laid off with a 'transition period'. This is when they ask you to hang around another month or two and train someone else to do your job. If you don't agree, then guess what, you don't get your severance and you're kindly escorted out the building.

As time goes on, everything you loved is ripped from your hands piece by piece. What once was your passion that consumed 60-80 hours a week without a blink becomes a meaningless job. Once you felt empowered, now you feel weak. You looked forward to getting up in the morning to get into work and get shit done, now you wonder when will it all end.

It really amazed me that we held the team together as long as we did.

We stood shoulder to shoulder for a long time, fighting off bullshit, only to be split up and made to report to different bosses. We tried to retain our autonomy with our goal to remain true to who we were and to the millions of loyal users of our products. But it was just a matter of time. There was no way we could fight it forever. We would all soon be broken, irrespective of our contributions and our devotion to what we truly loved.

I can see the end of this chapter of my life. The past five years have had a huge impact on who I've become. I grew tremendously as a person and learned a lot about love, work, and people. When it comes to pass, I'll definitely look back and think fondly of all the great times I had. I'll appreciate all the friends I made and all the struggles we overcame, together.

In the end, I know everything will work out for the best.



  1. onward and upward steve!

    "In the end, I know everything will work out for the best." werd.

  2. Something's badly fucked in coporate land.

    Then again, we sold out, so why should we complain, I mean, they've even been nice enough to spend a few years teaching us that one should really, really never ever care about his work, ever. Thank you for this aol, now I can really embrace the job market with a renewed sense of maturity, I'm sure it'll come in handy.

    Anyway, I'm still happy about what were were able to do, and how much of until all hell broke lose. It was a bit like the H2G2: a hell of a lot of fun, and a really crappy ending.

    Cheers Steve, I wish I could hang out with you right now.


  3. Well, that sucks. It really does.

  4. Steve- Have you read the parting woes on /.?

    Your story is touching, and frighteningly reminiscint of the stories of many, many others.

    Hollywood has formula movies that get America to keep that engine running. Aren't there corporate acquisition teams whose HR departments have studied historical focus groups to prevent other Winamps? Shouldn't there be?

    I am sorry you went through this. It makes my heart hurt.

    Best wishes for your creative future.
    -Brett Walker

  5. to all of you guys at the original NullSoft:
    You created the single most appreciated app on the planet. Period. In my day to day work supplying services to the masses who are stuck to Microsoft like gum on the bottom of a shoe, I have installed winamp literally hundreds of times. And when I have finished removing the spycrap and viral infestations from their previously unuseable machine, it's not that the machine works again that impresses them. It's Winamp. My customers have praised me over and again for that one little application, that "winamp thing"... and I always tell them about the crew at Nullsoft, the story of a couple of kids who just wanted to make the best available to All of us, just because it was the most Right thing to do in this world. I haven't forgotten either, and neither will the rest of us. Thank you. It may not look that way right now, but you really did whip the llama's ass.
    Jon Knight
    Computergeek Services

  6. hey nothing to be sad or depressed about. you started the mp3 revolution with that little ugly (sorry ;P) program that really did kick not just llamas ass :)

  7. I've survived four rounds of layoffs at my job. The last one was huge. I was lucky enough to be sitting across the hall from the manager who did the executing. That day ranked as one of the top 5 shittiest days of my life. I can't imagine the feeling of those getting escorted out. The manager is a good guy, and he looked totally whipped and beaten by the end of the day.

    Why is it corporations must try to suck the life out of us? Never mind. I know why. The stockholder is more important than the employee.

    The months following the layoffs I really wondered who was lucky. Me for still being at the company doing the same job, plus someone elses? Or those being laid-off getting the opportunity to try something new. All of my ex-coworkers that I have kept in touch with are much happier where they work now.

    So yes, everything does work out. But corporations still suck.

    Thanks for telling your story Steve!

    Glenn Twiggs ::

  8. Incredibly well put. My startup got bought (or saved-from-going-out-of-business) from a megacorp and you could have just swapped the company names -- same story, even down to the new cubicles and removal of free soda! Our group was split up, reporting to different managers, the team no longer resembles anything remotely approximating "team." Very sad on many levels.

    Of course on a global scale, this is nothing to complain about (still eating three squares a day). But when you wake up one day and you realize that "something special" has been bled away from you bit by bit, day by day, it's sad.

  9. You took me through the pain all over again - and we didn't even get bought out. Our company went public, acquiring a big-ego small-brain CEO in the process. We acquired companies and probably ruined them, but it ruined us too. I survived all the layoffs and then quit after another few months.

    There were a lot of a comments about corporations sucking the blood out of people. Just remember - there's no corporate benefit to driving a team and its product into the ground. Our stockholders saw $1 billion turn into $12,000 (effectively zero). Greed was a factor, but it was the incompetence that really hurt.

  10. Yep, been there, done that. Poured my blood, sweat and tears into a passionate and energetic entity, only to have it sterilized and slowly drained of all life by a corporation. I actually when through two separate buyouts for the same entity, not pleasant.

    The bright side is that I made some amazing connections with folks that I hope to always know - we even have our own yahoo group, 2 years later. I learned a lot, and now I'm in the process of buying my own company. hopefully I learned how never to go down that road.

    You'll survive, and be better for it! good luck!!!

  11. It's amazing to see how similar this works across the world. I'm now also working for a company that issues press-releases as if they had invented all the products the companies they bought have created.

    I've worked for a company that was just as passionate about their ideas as you guys were [although I'm sad to say that I've never been among of the stars]. After the buy-out all the luminaries left and the same corporate bullshit that you saw happened to us [we kept the free soda though ;)].

    It is deeply saddening that the talents, passions and enthusiams of people are abused like this every day across the world, only to make more money. Generating revenue is something a good product will do when it's well managed, it does have its importance.
    But when you have to give up your soul just to pay the rent, that's just asking too much.

    We need a revolution. You guys start the revolution on a technological level, by inventing wonderful solutions to great challenges.
    Now we need a sociological revolution so that we can get rid of the demeaning practice of reducing people to a line on a balance sheet, which is what happens.

    Make something else that's beautiful and new and don't give in. The AOLs of this world NEED you more than you need them.

  12. Yes, but independent developers are the life blood for the future - the life blood of the so called "new economoy". they will never die... only multiply... wow that's catchy....

    Anyway...... everyone hear this.....

    The real power lies in the hands of programmers, system administrators, hackers (people who LEARN by hacking), and other people who don't rely on mainstream consciousness. This is what moves the World forward. The geeks make things work - what do corporate executives do for the World?

    The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
    George Bernard Shaw

  13. Good work on WinAmp 5, now you are free.

    It's time for us techno-liberators to start innovating some real life altering tools that will enable people to transform their worlds from one of cubicle dronnery, cardboard subsistence and plastic waste.

    WinAmp was one of the key tools towards liberating music, now we can work on liberating space and creating the social revolutions that will alter the way people perceive each other.

    The next step is FreeVolt, a philosophy of free software, free energy and free networking (and don't forget free love)... We're gonna be setting up community wifi and community centers, refurbishing old PCs into wireless mesh supercomputers so that kids in the hood can experience the post scarcity information age, and don't forget about the urban permaculture homesteads in abandoned buildings.

    Unfortunately the Man decided to force us to vacate our building because it wasn't up to code and a coke-headed develop wants to seize all of the property in the area by imminent domain, raze a bunch of homes and build yet another banal mall. Check out for more info...

    Solidarity from a llama farm in Ohio...


  14. I know what it's like to be the last one/few standing. Unlike cowboy-westerns, It just sucks. We had a "headcount" reduction last week, and its not easy helping friends load their stuff into their car. It's funny how now matter how small or large the office is to HR they are just "heads". Not Rob in QA or Keith from Flash-Dev; They are just nameless people who are to be forgotten. You've done an amazing job and changed the way people listen to music, and for that you should be proud. Good luck on whatever life brings you and always know that "Winamp really whips the llamas ass".

    Take care,

  15. very well written, feel sorry. ruthless though it is, gotta move on...

  16. Hello

    I was really shocked with this. I have been using Nullsoft products for over 3 years. I still keep old versions of Winamp there. I must not lie on you but I used SHOUTCAST to keep my Radio Station (Radio Kumanda running long time and I'm planning to use it again when we finish "upgrading it". I have no idea of what to think. I do not understand why this happend. But as someone else said here, party goes on.

    I've been on this "business", sort of speak, for over 4 years and I love it! I mean, I like having my Radio Station, which at the time, is under "evoluton".

    Winamp and Shoutcast Software is the best thing that ever happened to me. Now that is part of AOL and that Nullsoft will be an AOL Company I think there will be lots of restrictions for broadcasters like me.

    I wish someday open source software can be as normal as any other piece of software available today. I wish I can see a world where no corporate interests make dreams fall apart.

    I must be honest and tell that I'm a little bit disappointed by this. But I will keep on my dream that is having the chance to share music that not all the "regular" radio stations air. Keep the joy of being behind a microphone and speak to ppl which maybe I will never know.

    People at Nullsoft had their reasons to did this. I try to understand and maybe someday I will. We need to keep on the road and see what else we need to deal with.

    I do apologize if I was rude on this note. If someone wants to be in touch with me I most of the time (when I'm online) I use my Yahoo! Messenger ( and the ugly, nasty MSN messenger as well (

    And just some final words. At Radio Kumanda we are going into a change. We will change EVERYTHING, name, colors, casters, etc. But it will be the same idea at the end. HAVE ALWAYS SOMETHING GOOD TO LISTEN.

    Thnx for your time in reading this.


  17. Just wanted you to know that your post here has helped me put some perspective on recent layoffs at my company, including me. Though most of them were creatives, non-tech people, I was one of the tech people not needed anymore due to not walking and talking the party line.

    Never mind the fact that my users 100+ were happy as pie with me. New management that took over 6 months before had other plans that didn't include me.

    It's disheartening, and though I got a severance deal, the hit takes a lot out of you and after reading your story here, and the linked story over at Audion
    I'm feeling a bit less naive and dare I say motivated to get back out there.

    Anyhoo, thank you for sharing this.


  18. Did they keep the Llama as a consultant?

  19. This will sounds really unsympathetic, but what else did you expect from AOL? When AOL bought Winamp and Netscape, I moved on to other products because I knew eventually this would happen. I'm more amazed that either product survived so long. You should pull a Firefox and go create a new, better winamp. Hell, maybe Firefox would fund you.

  20. should have gone open source big guy...

    at least the product would have lived forever that way.

  21. Well, that explains why winamp has gotten so crappy lately. Guess I'll go find a new mp3 player #shrug#.

    Next time, don't spend so much time at work.

  22. Steve and NullSoft team,

    You guys did a really good job. Winamp is a legend. Your company may be acquired and your team scattered, but what you guys made is still going to remain (forever I hope).

    PS: I liked Winamp before version 3 was released. Since then the lady has just got fatter. I still manage to find older version of app you made which was more lean and mean.

  23. Take heart in the fact that for a brief moment in time, you produced a technologically brilliant product that re-defined the industry.

    Nothing can take that history away from you.

  24. Hi, my name is SpamWhale

    What the fuck is up with these spam messages. Oh my god, this is the new wave of spamming? attack the comments? sad. really sad

  25. But if the corporate environment wasn't so soul destroying they'd be able to build badass apps of their own . They can't, so they have to use what they *do* have to make up for it: fat piles of cash.

    You still get to go through life knowing you were part of something great, and thanks to the folks at HR you're now in a position to start round two!

  26. Winamp rocks. All I can say is nothing good (or bad) lasts forever and the hard part in life is appreciating what you have while it's here.

    You got to be part of something that most IT drones just dream of - not merely pushing bits around but creating a product, something that people use every day and identify with the people who created it.

  27. Ouch! This all hits home a bit too close. The cable company I worked for was bought out by current owners of Nullsoft. A lot of people have been or are about to be laid off, but somehow I have a permanent position.

    You can already see all the hard work that was put into restructuring my former company after it's bankruptcy, being frittered away. We had worked very hard to improve our network and processes and we are well ahead of the new company, but because they have a "big name" they do not choose to listen to all the experience we have obtained.

    Not much you can do except quit. Oh, well...

  28. I was a big fan and user of Winamp for a long time. I especially liked it because it was a much more flexible way to manage the iPod files, instead of binding an iPod to a single iTunes collection.

    My relationship with Winamp ended soon after the ml_pod plugin stopped working in some "recommended update" of Winamp 5.x.

    Apparently, Winamp 5.x began providing 'native' Winamp support. This 'native support' completely hosed the contents of my iPod.

    I now use Amarok on Linux to get similar iPod functionality as I once had with Winamp+ml_pod. Nullsoft's been dead to me for years.

    My advice, go contribute to Songbird and kick your former employer's ass with open source.

  29. Take what they pay you.
    Then take everyone worth having WITH you when you leave.
    Then start a new company on a new product that will bust them right in their shrivelled little nuts in the marketplace.

    "Find the thing that hurt you, and make it suffer."

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