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Adobe's $20b Collab with Figma
...and the DOJ's quest to stop it
Six months after the biggest acquisition of design software of all time, the DOJ is attempting to block Adobe from buying Figma, suggesting it would lead to a monopoly. The sentiment from the design community has been consistent – they too would rather it not happen. Figma, for the past several years, has become the darling of the UX world, allowing for browser-based collaboration with a free lightweight product. This is very different from the 40 year-old creative giant that offers robust products for subscriptions.
To many, this was not a match made in heaven. Instead, it meant that Adobe would gobble up the smaller product so that it would never have to compete with it. Figma, at the time of the purchase, was boasting a $10 billion valuation, so Adobe, in true “if you can’t beat ‘em, buy ‘em” fashion, offered a monumental $20 billion.
Adobe doesn’t believe that this deal is antitrust, suggesting that “Figma is a leader in interactive product design, focused on building a collaborative web platform (while) Adobe is a leader in the creative tools space, helping millions of users create amazing visual content.”
Except, read that same quote again, but change the word “Adobe” to “Figma” and it would still make sense.
The addition of Figma to the creative landscape changed the way web design could be done. Building upon Sketch, another non-Adobe product, Figma ran with the great idea of something less robust than an Adobe product, only providing the necessary tools for quick design. Oh, and collaboration – probably the biggest boost for working within a design team. No longer did you need to pass versions among teammates or save a “final” version of a file, only to have a newer version being saved 5 minutes later by someone else.
Antitrust probes are no stranger to tech, with other products like Google Maps currently having their own investigation. In the past, these sorts of probes have even changed the course of business. Back in 2020, Visa had agreed to buy the financial services company, Plaid, for $5.3 billion. During the time of its own antitrust investigation, Plaid’s valuation nearly tripled, reaching $13.4 billion, ending the need for the deal to happen in the first place. The deal fell through.
Will that happen with Figma as this newer lawsuit emerges? Would they change their mind and back out of the deal? Considering how much Adobe may have even overpaid compared with Figma’s 2022 valuation, maybe not.
In 2023, much of Adobe’s negative sentiment stems from its pivot to subscription-based services a decade ago, shortly after making another huge acquisition.
Back in 2012, Dylan Field and Evan Wallace were just planting the initial seeds at Brown University that would become Figma. Meanwhile, Adobe had its eyes on another east coast creative company called Behance. Behance, then, was just over 1 million members strong, and was one of the first ways that designers could showcase recent work online without aside from building a site from scratch. The move, to Adobe, made sense, as it allowed them to switch from software updates every 18 months to moving to a subscription-based service we know today as Creative Cloud.
Adobe bought Behance for $150 million. Today, Behance has grown to 30 times the number of users, and the brand is very much intact and Scott Belsky, the co-creator of Behance, still works with Adobe as the Chief Product Officer, Executive Vice President of Creative Cloud. He also has publicly suggested that much of the staff that came from Behance stuck around with Adobe to build really great things with the larger company.
Adobe has made many mistakes throughout the years, but the acquisition of Behance and shift to a more cloud-based community was an excellent decision from their perspective (for us designers, it’s debatable). A decade later, instead of sticking with XD, an objectively inferior product to Figma, the company saw where its customers were heading, and used its money to bully its way out of a head-to-head competition. The future of product design is collaboration, something the more robust product XD could not catch up to. Instead, perhaps this time and research could go into making Figma even better. In 2022, the company was listed as a top 100 place to work for a second straight year by Fortune. Will they screw this up? Will the DOJ not allow it to happen in the first place? We’re still too early in the process to say, but after six months of digesting it, could it actually be a good pairing?
And please, don’t hold back any thoughts in the comments section.
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