Verifiable (shut down August 1, 2010)
Stuart Roseman shut down Verifiable, a crowdsourced charting and data analysis site, to start SaneBox, a product that automatically identifies important email and separates them in a user’s inbox. Below, he explains how he knew when it was time to pull the plug on Verifiable.
“We couldn’t charge for it. It was pretty clear. I’ve done this for a long time. I said, ‘This is a bad idea. I need a new idea.’
“The Verifiable problem still exists. It hasn’t been solved. There’s still chart junk. It’s got to be easier. But Verifiable was something I thought the world needed. SaneBox was something the world was asking for.
“My new mantra is: ‘I will make a product that people want to pay for and that they will be happy to pay for.’ I wake up in the morning and I say that. And I go to sleep at night and say that. It really changes everything.”
Wesabe (shut down June 30, 2010)
Wesabe launched as a site to help people manage their personal finances. While competitor Mint was acquired by Intuit, Wesabe eventually shut down. In “Why Wesabe Lost to Mint,” Marc Hedlund dissects what happened.
“Mint focused on making the user do almost no work at all, by automatically editing and categorizing their data, reducing the number of fields in their signup form, and giving them immediate gratification as soon as they possibly could; we completely sucked at all of that…I was focused on trying to make the usability of editing data as easy and functional as it could be; Mint was focused on making it so you never had to do that at all. Their approach completely kicked our approach’s ass.
“You’ll hear a lot about why company A won and company B lost in any market, and in my experience, a lot of the theories thrown about — even or especially by the participants — are utter crap. A domain name doesn’t win you a market; launching second or fifth or tenth doesn’t lose you a market. You can’t blame your competitors or your board or the lack of or excess of investment. Focus on what really matters: making users happy with your product as quickly as you can, and helping them as much as you can after that. If you do those better than anyone else out there you’ll win.”
Storytlr (shut down February 24, 2009)
Storytlr let members create their own lifestreaming service (i.e. connecting Twitter, Flickr, Last.fm, and other accounts) at their own URL. Founder Laurent Eschenauer on what happened:
“Storytlr started as a personal project to power my own site. People liked it, so we decided to build a nice UI and start hosting it for others. We were developing and operating the service next to our day job and families. We were quickly successfull, reaching beyond 10,000 users quickly and this meant a lot of strains on our lives (maintenance, support, etc.) and budget (~500$ monthly hosting bill) without any revenues.
“At that point, we started researching potential revenue models and investors, but quickly realized that the service was not well suited for a strong revenue stream. It was a tough choice, but, for the security of our families, we decided to pull the plug.”
TwitApps (shut down September 13, 2009)
Stuart Dallas created TwitApps as a technical exercise for himself. But after some early blog coverage, it attracted 4000 active users (and that number was growing). Despite that base, he couldn’t turn it into a product that was worth the effort.
“I considered the whole thing to be a toy project for a long time and it took me a while to realize that people were starting to rely on the service.
“Once you’ve established a free service and that service has other free competition, it’s very difficult to monetize it. It’s also very hard to change people’s impression of what something is once they’ve decided for themselves.”
“It became difficult to juggle the time demands of supporting TwitApps with the requirements of a full time job, several contracts and the need for downtime. In the end something had to go and it was clearly going to be the bit that wasn’t earning any money.”
Related: “TwitApps shutting down”
Vox (shut down September 20, 2010)
Vox was Six Apart’s friends and family blogging service. According to Michael Sippey, the company felt emphasizing TypePad was a smarter business move.
“It’s a question of focus. We’re focused on TypePad and supporting bloggers and publishers with advertising products. And that is a much more scalable proposition.
“It’s a different type of business than the friends and family blogging service that Vox provided. And it’s not that Vox wasn’t a great service or didn’t provide great utility to people. It’s that for us, from a strategy perspective, we needed to focus.”
Swivel (shut down summer of 2010)
Brian Mulloy was CEO of Swivel, a site where people shared reports of charts and numbers. The site had thousands of registered users, but less than ten paying customers. In “The Rise and Fall of Swivel.com,” he discusses how hard it is to make a truly functional product.
“This is the reality between a prototype and a working product: there are so many details that go into turning an original idea into a product, most people don’t realize that. You can spend a lot of time on that. In fact, to the point where a year goes by and all you’ve done is that you’ve fixed a bunch of bugs. So you can either scale back the features and only support a limited set of functionality, or scale up your team to support all of those things.
“I’m certainly wiser now, to know how easy it is to build a nice façade, and how much more work it is to really develop these features and make them truly functional.”
Swivel’s Product Chief Dmitry Dimov adds:
“We weren’t able to describe what the actual uses were: this is what you can do, this is why it’s useful, so people would use it. We also weren’t able to prioritize our features, and we had very limited resources in terms of how many developers we had, etc.
“There was such a huge variety of things to do, that as fresh entrepreneurs, we had difficulty saying: here’s the one thing we’re going to do.”
EventVue (shut down February 5, 2010)
Josh Fraser thought it was crazy that people would spend thousands of dollars and fly across the country to attend a conference without actually knowing who else was attending. So he created EventVue to create private social networks for events. The product evolved from there but never took off the way he hoped. He discusses the journey in “A few words about EventVue.”
“EventVue was always a vitamin instead of a pain killer. Conference organizers typically liked our product but none of them said they needed it. It didn’t make their lives easier, make them more money or cut any of their expenses — it was just ‘nice to have.’
“We wrongly assumed that since we were obviously improving the conference experience, organizers would want to pay for it. One of our customers memorably said ‘If I wanted to improve the conference experience I would buy everyone steak dinners. I don’t care about the conference experience. I care about selling tickets. What can you do to help me do that?’”
Related: “EventVue post-mortem”
(Quotes without links were collected from interviews. Those interviews were condensed and edited.)