Social event planning is one of those things that makes “web 2.0” seem like such a good idea. Every time we have to click through an Evite, we cringe. We can’t say we use Skobee, Renkoo, or even aggregator sites like EVDB’s Eventful, Zvents, and Upcoming on a regular basis — that would require a mass migration by the people we do stuff with. But we do hope that someone makes it easier and more efficient to make social plans online. Perhaps that’s why we were surprised to learn that Skobee — one of the much-hyped young companies in this space, one that had been named “best in show” at a web 2.0 conference five months ago — has essentially gone into remission.
After hearing tips about the three founders actively seeking jobs, we began to notice other telling signs: the company blog had been taken down; the Alexa charts had taken a nosedive. It turns out that after multiple failed acquisition talks, the founders have had to reduce Skobee to a side project and have taken jobs elsewhere. The company had raised a small angel round but hadn’t managed to secure VC funding.
In an interview last week, Skobee CEO Noam Lovinsky said Skobee had only 3,500 users. “Uptake hasn’t been rip-roaring like we would have hoped,” he said, admitting to tactical mistakes but declining to specify what they were.
To jog Web 2.0 land’s institutional memory, in March we saw Skobee present at IBDNetwork’s Under the Radar conference, where it won “best in show.” The judges at the company’s session enthusiastically assured Lovinsky he was a promising acquisition target.
Fast forward to last week, when we met a startup called Involver led by a couple of energetic recent college grads. They are doing essentially the same thing as Skobee, only with more of a focus on finding something to do rather than organizing people to do something with. The unfunded six-person company launched a San Francisco private alpha this week. A public beta isn’t due till next year.
Involver uses a combination of input, implicit cues, and outside information (e.g. rankings from the Last.fm API for band popularity) to surface events a user might be interested in. The company might be overly ambitious to think it can build the ultimate event database (via crawling and scraping, including efforts to contact local venues and calendars), but the relevancy idea is pretty cool. However, multiple sources have told us Google is building its own events aggregator, and it’s fair to say they’ll attempt to make search results relevant.
So what about Renkoo, Skobee’s event-planning fraternal twin? The company seems to be healthy — though a public beta is still at least two months away. Its angle is an intensive integrated SMS-email-browser system that facilitates negotiating casual events. Renkoo had more luck wooing venture capitalists than Skobee did, and raised $3 million from Matrix Partners earlier this year.
Skobee hasn’t shut down yet, but it’s not going to improve without people working on it. This almost makes the Kiko guys look good for knowing when they’ve failed, and making a clean break (the eBay auction, by the way, has been bid up to over $55,000). Running a startup is hard work, and we don’t fault Skobee for trying. Few people outside the company have been negatively affected by its problems. But think of all those cool new services we’ve all checked out in the last year and never returned to. Maybe it’s time to take a second look.
Update: Noam called in to say that the 3,500 figure we used should be designated as Skobee’s number of active users. He was concerned this would be confused with the company’s number of signups to date, which he says is 30,000.