Blog Post

From Best in Show to Side Project in Six Months

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.

26 Responses to “From Best in Show to Side Project in Six Months”

  1. Paul Horne

    I loved Skobee — just started using it again today when I needed to plan some stuff with friends, but realized it hadn’t been improved or updated since last year. I don’t understand why no one wants to invest in this thing and market it — if Evite can catch on the way it has, with such a non-intuitive interface and no AJAX, I would think that Skobee would ultimately do well.

  2. @Skeptic: I don’t see how giving out your funnel numbers in this situation is such a big deal. And 9% is pretty good as far as free services go (of course it’s all contigent upon how he defined an ‘active’ customer, so you could argue this is relatively meaningless data).

  3. ChosenVIP and collegetonight look very similar. From the description I have seen from both it seems as if they’re in competition with each other. It’ll be fun to see which one of these two comes out on top.

  4. “Every time we have to click through an Evite, we cringe.”

    And then these discussions about making money with social planning software–what about collecting a vast number of very active e-mail addresses and hawking them to SPAMMERS? Now that is something to cringe over.

  5. The bubble is definitely back. The signs are all over. As Nick says; “I see lots of tools being developed and being confused as startups…and the business models are, surprise, surprise, ad revenue. Sounds just like the last bubble”, I can’t help but agree with him.

    Besides, if it was the IPO burst last time, this time it will be the Online Ad Biosphere this time. No matter how big it might be, there are finites to everything. It can’t sustain the boom for too long.

  6. Let me see if I get this right… the CEO felt it was important to contact you to let you know they only retain about 9% of their new users? I’m no master strategorist or anything, but I’d probably recommend against sharing that in the future…

  7. Sherwin

    Not to mention that the desired age group (18-24) is using Facebook, etc. for this stuff. Nobody outside of Silicon Valley is using any of these “Renkoo”/”Skobee” type sites.

  8. Yeah, well also last time I checked it was pretty easy to blast an email out to everyone whenever I throw a party. No ads, no stupid web 2.0 invite management software. I just send an email to my messy friends telling to come over and get sloppy drunk, and they do.

    Oh, a funny thing about Evite, in Spanish “evite” means “avoid!”. Great name for a party invite service. Guess nobody among the founders spoke or understood written Spanish…

  9. Anonymous

    The problem is, none of these companies have any idea how to make money, nor do they seem to care if their products actually work (or are supported by the majority of browsers). Lots of wiz bang crap, with little true utility or focus on the user experience. You guys want what you call a “better” Evite with no ads. Business model please?

  10. A team of six people? No public beta until next year? Jesus christ, what are these guys taking so long, are they using Java or something??? Oh, wait a minute…

    Involver looks promising, but if you want something that does the same thing, and does it now, check out http://www.showaholic.com.

    This is a side project I’ve been working on (yes, a team of one, not six), and finds concerts in your area, based on your musical tastes (It also uses last.fm for finding similar artists).

  11. Instead of all these new-fangled “web 2.0” invite thingies, how about someone just do a better Evite? You know: less advertising, event details in emails, integrated payments, calendar integration, etc.

  12. The bubble is back. I got creamed the first time around and my biggest success was Startupfailures.com. I see lots of tools being developed and being confused as startups…and the business models are, surprise, surprise, ad revenue. Sounds just like the last bubble.