The ‘startup bubble’ meme has officially gone mainstream: shows like 30 Rock and The Office are making jokes about ridiculous startups with no revenue model looking for funding.
Startups are a tough target for parody, though, because nothing writers come up with is going to be any crazier than some of the real companies people are actually founding.
It’s a cliche, but it’s true: you just can’t make this stuff up. And some of the very weirdest, most ridiculous-sounding ideas actually get funded.
Don’t believe us?
To prove we're not being mean-spirited, we're starting with one you've probably heard of already. Blippy lets you link up your credit card and your Twitter account, so that every purchase you make is broadcast to the world.
As you read through the 10 other companies we picked, if you're ever wondering what the people behind these startups could possibly be thinking, remember this: Blippy has raised almost $13 million to date.
What it is: Layoffspace.com was meant to be a job site that doubled as a social network for the unemployed.
How it worked out: The site is dead. Perhaps the problem was timing: Layoffspace launched in April 2007, a year before its target audience really came into its own.
Or perhaps a vertical social network targeting an ever-shifting demographic that people are ashamed to belong to is just a bad idea. Who can say?
What it is: The CueCat was a cat-shaped barcode scanner that plugged into your computer's keyboard port. Users would use it to scan custom barcodes -- or 'cues' -- in print advertisements. Scanning a cue would send the user to a website related to the ad.
How it worked out: In a lot of ways, the CueCat was ahead of its time -- barcode scanning apps for smartphones are now ubiquitous, and QR codes are widely used as links.
In a lot of other ways, the CueCat was just a terrible idea. The company raised a fortune, and spent it sending out unsolicited CueCats and signing up major publishers and advertisers. None of which made people want to sit in front of their computers scanning bar codes in magazine ads.
What it is: GameCrush lets you pay $0.60 a minute to play Xbox Live games with women. You can rate your 'PlayDates' based on 'hotness', 'gaming skill', and 'flirtiness' to ensure the cream rises to the top.
How it worked out: GameCrush was a finalist at the latest TechCrunch Disrupt, and raised a $700,000 seed round.
What it is: Audioo lets you make all of your voicemail public. The idea was to use the hook of sharing funny voicemails as a way to build up a huge, transcribed, searchable database of the human voice.
How it worked out: Audioo was a side project of a less controversial and exciting, but more profitable venture. The site is now up for auction, and the team is back to plan A.
What it is: Withings manufactures a scale with built-in wireless networking, so it can communicate your weight to nearby devices. This lets you track your progress getting in shape, or even tweet out periodic updates on your weight.
How it worked out: Withings is up and running and apparently going strong. We've even seen a few people we follow on Twitter using the broadcast feature. Who knew?
What it is: Honestly.com -- formerly Unvarnished -- is a site that lets anyone publish anonymous professional reviews of you to your profile, whether you like it or not.
How it worked out: This startup has the rare distinction of being controversial before it even launched. Michael Arrington wrote that a startup like this was about to be announced, and people were already outraged at what sounds like an invitation to anonymous defamation. When it did launch, one reviewer called it '2010's worst startup.'
But Honestly.com recently raised $1.2 million from name brand investors.
What it is: Mashable described Agester as 'Hot or Not for your age.' You uploaded a photo of yourself, and people would guess your age. You could also create a profile, and use it as a tool to meet people. The connection between learning the awful truth about how old you look and meeting new friends was never entirely clear.
How it worked out: Agester.com now hosts a Japanese alternative medicine site. So apparently not so well.
What it is: Shweeb is a New Zealand startup that wants to build a human powered monorail. People would get from stop to stop by pedaling in pods like the one pictured here.
How it worked out: There isn't an actual Shweeb transportation system anywhere yet, but Google has put $1 million into the project.
What it is: ChatWithAStar.com was meant to be a portal for celebrity bloggers. It was founded by closing pitcher Billy Wagner and sports writer Burton Rocks.
How it worked out: Celebrities decided they didn't need an athlete and a sports writer to help them manage their online presence, and the site bombed.
What it is: The Meet Pen was an idea to revolutionise the way we meet new people. When you saw someone at a social function whom you wanted to meet, but couldn't or wouldn't introduce yourself to for whatever reason, you would pull out your Meet Pen and 'click' it in their direction. When that person got home and checked their Meet Pen, it would tell them you wanted to meet, and make the introduction automatically.
How it worked out: To the best of our knowledge, the team behind the Meet Pen were never able to secure funding, so the idea has never really been tested. The successes on this list make us humble, but we suspect this one isn't going to catch on.