17 Mar 2021

Would you like to own Exist?

We took our first payment for Exist on 2 April, 2014, almost exactly seven years ago now. Its origins stretch back further, to when we first began work in mid-2013, so it's been nearly eight years since the idea for Exist was first conceived. Back when we were still trying to prove the concept, another startup founder tested our commitment by asking us, "Is this an idea you can work on for ten years?" We didn't quite make it, but we stuck it out for the better part of a decade, and I think that's an achievement.

In the time we've been running Exist, competitors have come and gone. We've outlasted a number of integrations, like Jawbone UP, and seen others be acquired, like Fitbit. Because we never took any investment, and were only interested in building something for the two of us, we were able to find a sustainable business model. We never went for "growth at all costs", nor did we have to provide a "10x return" for investors only concerned with getting what they're owed. And we've done it all without selling user data or funnelling it into shady advertising practices. Our privacy policy doesn't have to talk about how we use personal data for advertising and marketing purposes, because we don't. I'm proud that we've been able to build something ethical and sustainable that has worked. It is possible to build a business based on user data and not throw away your values. It didn't make us rich, but that was never our aim.

Even so, in the last year or so, our enjoyment has lessened somewhat. I could tell I was finding it hard to be motivated to work on Exist. I felt overwhelmed by my responsibilities and because lessening that burden wasn't an option—there's no-one else to take over for me—I withdrew, and avoided them. Progress on new features slowed, and the quality of our user support decreased. I didn't enjoy coding any more, even on other projects. I didn't want to admit it, but in retrospect, I was suffering the classic symptoms of burnout. I speak for myself, but I know Belle has felt similar issues too. The effects of the pandemic both on our income and our mental health didn't help either.

So when we were approached in 2020 about a potential acquisition of Exist, we were interested. We'd had offers from other parties before, but had always turned them down. This time, the circumstances were right. It appealed to us to pass the torch, to see Exist live on in some other form, and to be given that beautiful clean slate that would allow us to do something entirely new. We began discussions, went through due diligence, and felt optimistic.

But last week, we found that the sale of Exist would not happen. That was it. We were back in the same situation we'd been in previously.

It's obvious that this isn't sustainable. Having already made the decision to sell it, we're mentally committed now—we need to follow through. So: would you like to own Exist?

To be clear, we are actively soliciting offers for Exist as an ongoing SaaS (software-as-a-service) business. Our public stats page provides a broad idea of our current income and user numbers. This sale includes the exist.io domain, website and server component, the Android and iOS apps, all the integrations—everything. Our ideal buyer is someone who believes in the goal we're trying to achieve with Exist of helping users better understand themselves, understands the value of what we've built, and shares our values around user data and privacy. There's so much more that could be done with Exist, and many different directions it could be taken in depending on the vision of the buyer.

For users, what this means is that as of now we're not actively developing anything new for Exist. This means our manual tracking functionality remains incomplete (although a future owner is welcome to complete it). The majority of the work has already been done "on the back-end", but plenty remains to build the user interface for manually tracking things. It's unfortunate given how useful it will be, and I am truly sorry to not be able to deliver.

I am also sorry to not be able to keep running Exist for our users. Have you ever read one of those acquisition announcement blog posts where the founders try to spin it as a good thing for users? "Isn't it great for you that we're getting out?" I don't feel that way. I see this as a failure, in a way, to live up to our end of the deal where you pay for Exist and we work on it. But the benefit for users is that we can find a new owner who has the energy, and the means, to keep building Exist into something even better.

One of our commitments as listed in our privacy policy is that we'll let users know before we sell Exist, so you have time to export your data if you don't want to be part of the transition. This will be a hard requirement of any sale, so when it happens we'll be letting our users know. In the meantime, we'll still keep running Exist, providing support, and fixing bugs. We're still open, come on in.

if you are interested in purchasing Exist, please email us at hello@exist.io.