Blog Post

Will the Mug Outlive the Start-up?

Call it yet another sign that start-ups have too much money: The once-ubiquitous branded coffee mug is coming back to life, at companies who haven’t yet seen their second cuppa funding.

By plopping one on my doorstep Tuesday, hyperlocal search/opinion Web play Smalltown has officially entered itself in a contest I call “will your mug outlive your start-up?” This is no small competition, and my cupboard has more than one relic from the great mug era known as boom 1.0 (alternatively referred to as the bubble 1.0.)

The Smalltown offering, which is of a shape and consistency that is pleasing (big enough handle to grip, good diner-ceramic feel), is right now favored to outlast the company, which is treading into the uncertain waters of user-developed local reviews, an area with a crowd of competitors, like Intuit’s Zipingo. Some of them, like Insider Pages and Judy’s Book, have already run into trouble.

Back to the mugs: My favorite of late is a sturdy plain white job with the logo of Spyglass, the old Mosaic firm that licensed its technology to Microsoft for early versions of IE.

Spyglass then became probably one of the last first-bubble victors, getting consumed by OpenTV for $2.5 billion in stock in March 2000.

While the OpenTV stock isn’t worth as much these days, the mug still functions as it was meant to on day one. Anyone out there with mugs that have outlived their corporate origins? Drop a link to a photo in the comments and we’ll compile a diner hall o’ shame while we get the Major Dickason’s brewing.

25 Responses to “Will the Mug Outlive the Start-up?”

  1. A quick explanation regarding why Smalltown asks “Are you sure you want to leave Smalltown?” when a user clicks the browser back button:

    Smalltown is a web application that lives in the browser. Once it’s loaded, the application never does a page refresh; it operates entirely in one “screen” similar to a desktop application. Since we don’t have any “pages”, the back button means “leave the application”.

    This is a fairly new paradigm, and users – including me – have muscle memory to click the back button. When we do so, and we didn’t intend to leave the application, it has to reload. We decided reloading the app was more annoying than responding to a dialog box, so for now we use the pop-up to confirm the user really does want to leave our application.

    We’re working on ways to integrate the browser back button into our application. It’s a very tricky problem, both from a technical and a user experience perspective. But when we crack that code, we promise to remove the pop-up right away.

  2. Om,
    Just wanted to clarify — we aren’t in trouble and in fact changed direction well in advance of trouble or Insider Pages induction into TechCrunch’s deadpool. We are in transition — and I’m blogging about it at asackof_seattle but my bet is that we’ll outlast your mug competition. If we do outlast your mug competition, coffee is on me — if we don’t, coffee is on you. Time will tell. Stay tuned for our relaunch.


  3. So when can we get our GigaOm mugs?

    But forget the mugs, Smalltown’s biggest offense is the “Are you sure you want to leave Smalltown?” pop-ups you get when hitting the browser back button. Uh, yeah I’m sure, that’s why I clicked “back.”

  4. Paul Kapustka

    Trust me, the days of people coming to your door are not over — except now it is scammers and dubious marketing schemes that usually employ naive youths to offer dead-tree magazine subscriptions. At least telemarketing has the do-not-call list.

  5. I like the idea of the mug, it brings back the grassroots feel of marketing. Remember when someone would come to your door and sell you a vaccuum, and you could trust they would not rob you at the same time. I wish we could bring back the days when people came to your door, instead of telemarketers from the mid west calling me all night long…or at least til 9:30pm.

  6. Smalltown has user-generated reviews like Insider Pages and others, but that’s not what’s interesting about our sites. Smalltown’s innovation is a technology we call the Webcard, a new form of local word of mouth advertising.

    (This thread is about mugs, so I’ll ask people interested in learning more about Smalltown Webcards to watch our video quick tours at .)

    Now, about that mug you received from us…

    Our sites are truly local. Attaching small brochures to mugs and hand delivering them to doorsteps is surprisingly affordable when it only involves one town like San Mateo. Figuring out the ROI of local efforts is very different than regional or national campaigns.

    We also handed out It’s-It ice cream sandwiches at the San Mateo Halloween Festival we sponsored because It’s-It is a local company. And we handed out milk and cookies baked by a local bakery at the Burlingame Holiday Pageant.

    Local has changed how we think of schwag ;-)

  7. Along the same vein, we shouldn’t buy jewelries, houses and anything that can outlast us. The point is, those mugs already served their purpose. Otherwise you wouldn’t blog about them and their corporate sponsors. These companies will spend their money one way or the other. I am glad it is mug instead of some useless stuff.

  8. Yeah, not sure why you can’t, Angie. Agreed about the t-shirts. I dump them if they’re not soft and size small. Only piece of schwag I use on a regular basis is a nice hefty multitool I got sometime last year. Can’t say I remember what startup name is inscribed on it, though!

  9. Ceramic mugs are more sustainable than say paper cups. I like my startup mugs – they beat the boring, oversized startup tshirts that overcrowd my local 24 hour fitness. What kind of girl would wear one of those??

  10. I don’t have any startup mugs, as I have maintained my college mug since years back…

    But, I think the dotcom mugs are on their way up these days, and you can bet 90% of these startups are on their way to your cupboard…

  11. I’m not sure this is fair– do ceramic coffee mugs ever go away? Unless you drop it or throw it away, they’re gonna outlive you ;)

    Now, those insulated things that fall apart after going through the dishwasher a few times, that’s another matter…

  12. We run a website for the part of North London where we live. It’s a busy little vanilla forum, so it does a lot of the things that these well funded startups are doing. We have local politicians on it, a google maps directory and it’s used by the community.

    But I just don’t see that there’s a business opportunity that can justify multi-million dollar seed rounds. The technology is too cheap, too easy and too quick to change. Big directory players, local newspapers and others are all going for this space to defend their business, whilst there are people like us out there who are prepared to do it for free precisely because it is small and local to them.

    Where do these guys add value? Their ability to see a market is not the same as having the ability to exploit it.