Microsoft Just Bought A Company Founded By Engineers From One Of Its Biggest Competitors

Acompli Javier Soltero
Acompli co-founder Javier Soltero Acompli

Microsoft made an interesting acquisition on Monday: an 18-month-old startup called Acompli, with about 20 employees. The Acompli team will join Microsoft, CEO Javier Soltero, said in his blog post announcing the acquisition, so we’re calling this an acqui-hire.

Terms were not disclosed. Acompli had raised $US7.3 million in a Series A last year, according to CrunchBase. News of the acquisition leaked last week when Microsoft accidentally published a blank blog post with a URL containing the words “microsoft-acquires-acompli.”

Acompli was making an email management app similar to Microsoft’s own email program, Outlook, but for Android and iPhone.

Acompli’s claim to fame is that it makes it easier to deal with email attachments on your phone, and it was particularly built with enterprise IT departments in mind. It also puts contacts and calendar into the same app, and handles attachments from Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive (meaning Acompli has been working with Microsoft for a while.).

While that’s interesting enough — and reason enough for Microsoft to buy the startup — this acquisition also gives Microsoft people who have experience at one of its biggest competitors: VMware.

Soltero was a CTO at VMware, and landed there when VMware bought SpringSource in 2009 for about $US362 million. SpringSource had just bought the startup he founded, Hyperic, a few months earlier. He was part of a unit at VMware working on cloud technology, a strategic tech for the company.

Acompli’s other co-founder, JJ Zhuang, was the chief architect of Gmail competitor Zimbra, and ended up at VMware when it bought Zimbra in 2010. He worked his way up to managing a team of 100 engineers, according to his LinkedIn profile, leading a high-profile VMware project known as Horizon Workspace. (Zimbra was an odd-bird at VMWare and got sold again, to Telligent, but Zhuang had already moved on.)

Horizon is VMware’s attempt to take on Windows on the PC in the same way it took on Windows on the server. It allows a company to stream Windows apps over the network to any device (a Windows PC, Mac, tablet, or even smartphone).

So, with this buy Microsoft gets an email app that works on multiple mobile platforms, it gets employees with expertise in iOS and Android, and it gets employees with deep ties to a competitor. Not bad for a company that had raised less than $US8 million.

Acompli is joining the Microsoft Office 365 and Outlook team, according to the blog post by the corporate vice president of the unit Rajesh Jha, who writes:

This acquisition brings us an app with innovative technology and a set of talented people who are passionate about reinventing email and communications on mobile screens. It will expedite our work to deliver the full power of Office to mobile devices.

Here’s the blog post from Soltero announcing the acquisition:

I’m incredibly excited to announce that Acompli has been acquired by Microsoft. Our team and products will become part of Microsoft’s ambitious effort to reimagine productivity for the mobile era.

18 months ago we started building a team and a product around the idea that we could make mobile email better. Today that journey continues as part of a larger organisation with the technology, talent, and market reach that will help us take the vision of Acompli to hundreds of millions of mobile users across the world.

A lot has happened in the last 18 months. We started as a small team huddled up at Heavybit, quietly juggling the balancing act of delivering a reliable email service while creating a fundamentally new mobile email experience. With the amazing support and patience of our early users we got to a usable email app. Soon after that we were able to show more people what Acompli was and everyone started getting excited. We then launched and earned the love and support of mobile users around the world who both showered us with compliments and also told us (sometimes quite candidly) what we needed to do better at.

Soon after launch we started working with a number of enterprise IT departments who believed, like we do, that great products need to be “Loved by Users, and Trusted by IT.” Right around this time we began conversations with the folks at Microsoft about how we could go farther by integrating the capabilities of their Office 365 platform into our product while continuing to provide amazing support for email and file services from Apple, Dropbox, Google, and Box. Those conversations led to today, where we have decided the opportunity to join forces in pursuit of a better, faster, more powerful email experience is something we can do better as one company.

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing more about the exciting product plans we have as Acompli becomes a part of Microsoft. We remain committed to the original Acompli vision of making the best mobile email application on any platform and across all services. Your app and accounts will continue to work and the team will continue on our fast pace of improving and adding new functionality every couple of weeks.

On behalf of everyone at Acompli, I want to thank our users, partners, customers and friends for all the support and feedback you have provided us so far. We are excited as ever to have a huge impact as part of Microsoft. You can read more of Microsoft’s thoughts behind the acquisition on their blog.