The Biggest Mistakes A Once-Buzzy, Now-Dead Startup Made

Brett martin tc disrupt sonarTechCrunch DisruptBrett Martin presenting at TechCrunch Disrupt NY

Sonar, an app that helps introduce people to relevant strangers in the same room, has died.

There was a time when the startup’s future looked bright. Sonar generated a lot of buzz at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2011 where it was a finalist. It raised $US2 million round of financing. The next year, it was positioned to dominate SXSW, a big technology conference in Texas.

What went wrong?

Its founder, Brett Martin, wrote an honest “postmortem” of the company.

Here are some lines that jumped out:

  • Sonar focused on engagement instead of growth. “We focused on engagement, which we improved by orders of magnitude. No one cared,” Martin writes. “Growth is the only thing that matters if you’re building a social network.”
  • Sonar listened to would-be users, not actual users. “People asking [for a feature we implemented] were not actual users, but rather people that ‘wanted to be’ users,” Martin writes. “We had mistaken noise for signal. ‘I would use your product if only you had X feature’ is a dangerous signal to follow.”
  • A competitor distracted Sonar. “The only way one startup can kill another startup is by getting into the other’s head and leading them off a cliff,” Martin writes. Highlight, a similar people-finding app, worried Martin’s team and distracted it from focusing on its product.
  • Sonar spent too much money trying to make itself desirable to an acquirer. “Companies don’t get sold, they get bought,” writes Martin. “The best way to get bought is to build something of value. That’s hard to do when you are trying to sell.”
  • Startups die when founders give up, and Martin gave up. “Startups don’t die when they run out of money, they die when their founders let go,” Martin writes. “I ultimately stepped away from Sonar when I came to the conclusion that, despite all that we had invested, everyone stood a better chance starting anew.”

Read the entire postmortem, here.

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Want to read a more in-depth view on the trends influencing Australian business and the global economy? BI / Research is designed to help executives and industry leaders understand the major challenges and opportunities for industry, technology, strategy and the economy in the future. Sign up for free at

Tagged In

failure sai-us startups