Photo: Holy Kaw
There’s an old saying in startups: “being early is the same as being wrong.”And it’s true.
For every huge successful startup you can name, there’s someone who tried to do it before and failed. Sometimes they failed on their own, but often they failed because they were just too early. They had everything but the market just wasn’t ready.
It must be the worst thing ever for these entrepreneurs to watch others make billions thanks to an idea and product they had. But that’s life.
SixDegrees.com was the original online social network, based on the game 'six degrees of Kevin Bacon' and the idea that we're all six degrees away from everyone on Earth. It had high growth from its start in 1997 but people probably weren't ready for a full fledged social network.
Remember AskJeeves? We loved it. For about a year.
It actually included many of the techniques that later made their way into Google, like semantic search (understanding natural language queries) and even ranking web pages by hyperlinks, which is Google's secret sauce.
The only problem? The technology just wasn't that good in those days.
Webvan's home groceries delivery service is eponymous for many of the doomed-to-fail startup. You may be doomed to fail if you spend $1 billion on warehouses and SUN servers before you launch. But home groceries deliveries online is a great business for latecomers like FreshDirect.
Another startup that had poor timing rather than a poor concept. The pet supplies market today is a multibillion dollar market, and it's fit for e-commerce. Pets.com failed because it started at the top of the dotcom boom and went in with every excess of the era.
Dennis Crowley's location-based social network was doomed by two things: no iPhone and no Facebook. No iPhone meant everything happened via text message, which isn't very userfriendly. No Facebook meant people didn't really understand why they'd want continuous updates on what their friends are up to.
Dodgeball 2.0 is called Foursquare, and it's a runaway success.
GO Corporation was one of the most well-funded startups of its time, with a mobile operating system and mobile, pen-based computers that were surprisingly good. It was a forerunner to the runaway success of the Palm Pilot, and in many ways of later touch-based computing devices like the iPhone or the iPad. It was just too early.
LetsBuyIt.com was an early online group buying service. It never worked out, because it focused on consumer packaged goods from big companies instead of local services by small businesses, and also because there weren't social networks then to propagate the offers.
For group buying to work online, it turns out, you need a number of things: a critical mass of people online, a critical mass of small businesses online, a critical mass of people willing to pay for stuff. None of those things were around.
So nobody's heard of LetsBuyIt, and Groupon is the fastest-growing company in history.
LoudCloud was the second startup by Netscape's visionary founder Marc Andreessen, and it was a bit too visionary. It did what Amazon and others do today: provide cloud computing services to startups and big companies. It was just too early to market and had to change its business to data centre operation and its name to Opsware.
WebTV had a good financial outcome, getting bought by Microsoft, but failed at their grand vision to bring the internet to TV. Is it because they were too early, or is it because consumers just don't want internet on their TV? Both, probably. But internet TV will still probably happen one day.
Next New Networks got bought by Google for a small amount of money to advise people who make popular YouTube videos. That's a sad end for a company that wanted to be the MTV of the web and make its own original content and make money doing it. But the economics of online content, especially online video, can be brutal. But one day, for sure, there will be an MTV of the web.
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