June 29, 2014

50 Top Startups from 2010: Acquired, Pivoted or Still Going?

Editor's Note:

This is one of the longest posts I've made - in length and duration. It's said that one year in the life of a startup is the equivalent of dog years when compared to more established companies. So looking back to a post I made just over four years ago is the equivalent of a generation of startups, and a quick glance at each shows what you'd expect from a generation of change - with some names graduating to the big time, others running in place, and yet a good chunk who've disappeared altogether.
My goal with this June 2010 post was not to highlight the top private companies, as I withheld inclusion of many of the bigger companies, like Facebook and Twitter and Tesla. Instead, it was to show 50 I was following that had promise, leveraging a tool from Symbaloo. I highlighted 50 top startups on the Web. I was reminded of this effort when, at the conclusion of my kids' kindergarten year, many teachers featured computers with Symbaloo organizing their Web.

So let's go back to the list of fifty, and see what's happened. How many are on the verge of hitting the big time, how many are out of business, and how many got acquired?
Walking Down Fifty Top Startups of 2010

#1: Foursquare Status: Independent
At the time of the post, there was no buzzier company than Foursquare. It was the undisputed leader of the checkin. It beat back competition from Facebook Places, and its places database became the backend of even more third party apps. But its Swarm app has seemed to fall flat among users, and nobody's quite sure where the company's headed.

#2: Spotify Status: Independent
At the time of my post, Spotify hadn't even made it to the US. Now it has 1,000+ employees and is the clear market leader in streaming music, with Apple's Beats and others chasing. The company is looking to finish the music business revolution started by Napster more than a decade ago, and remains one of my favorites.

#3: Automattic Status: Independent
Automattic, the company behind WordPress, isn't going anywhere. They've got about 250 employees, and have been acquiring small services like Intense Debate, instead of getting gobbled themselves. They haven't had a big exit like Tumblr, or become a small part of a big company, like Blogger at Google, but they're a lead option for publishing, from blogs to full-featured sites.

#4: Posterous Status: Acquired by Twitter
Posterous was acquired by Twitter in 2012, and while they initially promised their Spaces service for private blogging would remain live, it was quickly killed, becoming yet another acquihire. They'd raised $10 million overall.

#5: Blippy Status: Pivoted beyond recognition
The Blippy I liked didn't turn out how I had hoped. Its initial privacy bump with credit cards being revealed online came at an inconvenient time, right as they raised funding and were poised to come out of the gate strong. That, combined, with an audience skeptical of their focus on oversharing, meant they had to do the dreaded pivot. Phil Kaplan, cofounder of Blippy, left with momentum flagging. Now they're an app for animated GIFs.

#6: SlideShare Status: Acquired by LinkedIn
In 2012, Slideshare was acquired by LinkedIn for a rumored $119 million. That'd probably be around $300 million in today's inflated market.

#7: Tumblr Status: Acquired by Yahoo.
Following incredible traffic growth, Tumblr became the biggest acquisition made by Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer, who has a tough task to transform a Web pioneer. The $1.1 billion deal in May of 2013 was huge in many ways.

#8 TweetDeck Status: Acquired by Twitter.
The social networking client (which debuted here in 2008) was won by Twitter in a bid above $40 million, after a rumored buy from Ubermedia. TweetDeck founder Iain Dodsworth has since left Twitter, and is working in stealth on Gathers.

#9: Square Status: Independent
The company, headed by Jack Dorsey, cofounder of Twitter, made a stake for itself in an incredibly challenging market, and you can see their payment readers in small businesses or cabs. You could argue they got too big too fast, or margins are tight, but they've neither crashed nor graduated since the first report.

#10: Quora Status: Independent
Quora is an odd duck. They were a Web darling at the end of 2010, founded by early Facebookers, and attracting engagement from a who's who of Silicon Valley. With one founder jetissoned, and the company now being a fifth wheel at Y Combinator, it's not sure whether they're the next Wikipedia or Yahoo! Answers. Nobody really questions the quality of the discussions, but everything else is questioned.

#11: CinchCast Status: Pivoted beyond recognition
The audio Web publishing service I really liked, and used regularly, is vaporized, as was my published content. The shadows of that plan show a site focused on cloud-based conference calls and Web seminars. Meh.

#12: Sports Blog Nation Status: Independent
If you don't remember the name Sports Blog Nation, I'll bet you've seen their content. This one time sports publishing empire expanded to what's now Vox Media, taking on smart writing for tech and much more. I've been lucky enough to see this happen in front of us over the last decade, and consider the founder of SB Nation, Tyler Bleszinski, a fellow A's fan, a good friend. If there are any questions about Vox Media, it's whether the content business can be valued in a world where it's so easy to make it for free.

#13: Bit.ly Status: Independent.
Once Twitter switched to its own t.co URL shortener, bit.ly's perceived value for short link and analytics dropped dramatically. The company refocused on performance tracking and engagement, and is still plugging away, even if you don't hear about them daily, as you used to.

#14: my6sense Status: Independent.
Months after my initial post, I expanded my time helping my6sense from consulting to something closer to full time as VP of Marketing. We launched a lot of cool tools, but there wasn't a big enough market (or funding) to make that dream a reality. So I left to Google, and the team refocused on mobile advertising. Founder Barak Hachamov is now working on Samba.me, a reactive video messaging play.

#15: Thing Labs Status: Acquired by AOL.
Thing Labs, and the Brizzly team, were acquired by AOL after getting an offer in July of 2010, which I had incorrectly hypothesized was from Foursquare. Soon after, Brizzly was shut down, and the team splintered inside of AOL, to take up roost at Avocado, Dropbox and other places.

#16: Plancast Status: Pivoted beyond recognition
Plancast was given a funeral and the post-mortem was written in early 2012. The social events sharing company just didn't take off. The site still exists, focused on planning and event management.

#17: Seesmic Status: Acquired by Hootsuite.
After a bazillion pivots, and clear buddying up with Salesforce and Microsoft, the remnants of Seesmic were sold to Hootsuite in 2012. Founder Loic LeMeur seems to have retrenched into his annual conference, LeWeb.

#18: Lunch.com Status: Independent.
Lunch.com, a community around relevant news and opinion, has been very quiet - but seems to have its diehard users, as many of these sites get. I'd bet it doesn't cost much to run, so there's no urgency to shut it down, but it's hard to predict a rebound.

#19: Gowalla Status: Acquired by Facebook.
After years of chasing Foursquare's fumes, Gowalla's team waved the white flag, and was acquired by Facebook in December 2011.

#20: DropBox Status: Independent.
DropBox is a consumer cloud giant, and has managed a significant position, even when faced with industry competition from practically all the big names: Google, Microsoft, Apple, Salesforce to name a few. The world awaits what will happen once DropBox goes public.

#21: Lazyfeed Status: Dead
The lead developer made many intesting apps, including a Twitter and RSS mashup LazyScope, and Joint.im, but users haven't always followed. So Lazyfeed is gone.

#22: Hunch Status: Acquired by eBay.
The consumer-focused personalization company pivoted to providing services for businesses, and looks like a good fit for the online auction giant.

#23: Ecademy Status: Acquired by Sunzu
Ecademy was acquired by Sunzu in July of 2012, and the open business networking community's content was later vaporized. Most the original Ecademy team is now working on social media tactics with Scredible.

#24: Xobni Status: Acquired by Yahoo!
Initially rumored to join Microsoft in 2008, the address book apps and plugins group was acquired by Yahoo! as part of Marissa Mayer's buying binge in the summer of 2013.

#25: Tweetmeme Status: Dead.
Nik Halstead's smart consumer facing link site that pulled content from Twitter was sunset in 2012 in favor of analytics and more professional work, a move that made sense when Twitter reduced opportunities for consumer-facing developers.

#26: Feedly Status: Independent.
Even if Google Reader is dead (a moment of silence, please), RSS isn't. Feedly was among the most obvious to benefit from the feed reader giant's closure. Nobody really asks how Feedly makes money or what its future plans are… just that it keep working and doing well. It does. As they debuted here, I'm always happy to hear good news from team Feedly.

#27: Klout Status: Acquired by Lithium Technologies
I despise the idea of Klout. Independent arbiters giving you a score is distasteful. But that didn't stop the company from being famous (or infamous) and at least one other company deciding that their stockpile of data and faux reputation was worth paying for. So that happened. Congrats to the team.

#28: Justin.tv Status: Independent
Justin.TV is still around, while most of the team(including Justin himself) now is working on Twitch.tv, a games streaming platform. Justin.TV recently told customers that videos will no longer be archived, since nobody was watching anyway. I have to assume most people at this point are watching YouTube.

#29: Amplify Status: Dead
The Amplify we once knew, which encouraged you to build and share something between a tweet and a blog post, is gone - shutting down in February of 2012. Ironically, they pointed users to web clipping service Clipboard, which itself was shut down after being acquired by Salesforce.com a year or so later.

#30: OneRiot Status: Acquired by Walmart Labs
After pivoting from the unfriendly world of real time search to the world of ad networks, OneRiot was picked up by the active, if not lofty, palace of Walmart Labs in September 2011.

#31: Lijit Status: Acquired by Federated Media
Lijit has had its share of bumps over the last four years. The company was picked up by Federated Media in October 2011, and in early 2014, spun out when Federated Media sold off its content business in the beginning of this year. Now, Lijit claims they're back, under a new name. Lost? Me too.

#32: Echo Status: Independent
Echo may first have been known as a comments competitor to Disqus and others, and was among the first to capture reactions from the real-time stream. They successfully moved to aid enterprise companies with adding social platforms and engagement with their platform. They're quietly executing - even if an endgame isn't obvious.

#33: MyLikes Status: Independent
MyLikes bills itself as the largest content and advertising platform in the world and has a top-notch board. The social advertising platform raised just under $6 million in 2010, and isn't noisy about trumpeting its success. Side note: Robert Scoble and I were introduced as advisors in early 2010 when they raised seed funding, but things are quiet on that front.

#34: Outbrain Status: Independent
Outbrain, like it or hate it, is most well know for its “more like this” or “you might also like this” type of content ads spread across the web. Their goal is more engagement on content, and they do a great job at it. They've raised nearly $100 million, with the last round being in 2013.

#35: DailyBooth Status: Acquired by AirBnB
In a “you didn't see that coming” deal, the photo sharing site team behind DailyBooth ended up as an acquihire for dodgy rental service AirBnB in the summer of 2012. Meanwhile, DailyBooth is dead.

#36: Gist Status: Acquired by Blackberry (RIM)
Gist, the one-time contacts manager, was acquired by Blackberry in early 2011. A little more than a year later, news came that Blackberry would shut down the original site. Oh well.

#37: Soluto Status: Acquired by Asurion
The cloud service for remotely managing devices was acquired for more than $100 million by insurer Asurion in late 2013. Maybe not an exciting ending, but the checks still clear the bank - a good turn for $18 million funding by VCs.

#38: Tungle.me Status: Acquired by Blackberry (RIM)
As with Gist, social calendaring app Tungle was acquired in early 2011 by Blackberry to improve their software suite.

#39: Qwotebook Status: Dead
A fun idea for a quote repository and database, started by my good friend Drew Olanoff (and listing me as an advisor) didn't really get off the ground. Next time.

#40: Regator Status: Independent
Blog and content directory Regator is still tracking blog trends and aggregating news from the Web. But I haven't heard a word from them in some time, and they're not talking.

#41: Untitled Startup Status: Independent (with a new name)
Damon Cortesi's untitled startup ended up being Simply Measured. The social media analytics company now sports 159 employees and says it's used by more than ⅓ of the top 100 global brands. Hats off to you, Damon. I knew this was one to watch.

#42: Twazzup Status: Independent (but mostly dead)
Twitter's battles with developers over web clients and search made some promising ventures less so over time. Founder Cyril Moutran lists his time at Twazzup as ending in 2011 on his LinkedIn profile, spending more time on his role with Feedly.

#43: The Cadmus Status: Dead
The Cadmus is no longer being maintained, but the team behind the Twitter analysis tool is working on a host of new products under the name Anomaly Innovations in San Francisco.

#44: Branchr Status: Dead
The one time text and image-based pay per click advertising company, who once claimed hundreds of millions of ads on tens of thousands of sites, seemingly vaporized. Web site? Gone. Twitter account? Dead. Huh.

#45: Graphic.ly Status: Acquired by Blurb
Graphic.ly, the comic book enthusiasts platform, was integrated into Blurb earlier this year, having raised about $10 million in funding.

#46: BlockChalk Status: Acquired by Klout
BlockChalk, a Twitter-centric community bulletin board, renamed itself BlockBoard, and was later turned into an acquihire by Klout (see above) in February 2012.

#47: FitBit Status: Independent
FitBit, in my view, lit the fire of the wearable gadget revolution. They're the default fitness tracker, competing with Nike, Jawbone and others, and I've been a devout user for the better part of two years - even if I wasn't at time of this post in 2010. So far, they've managed to keep independent. I'd see them being picked up by a big company before seeing them go public, but if they did, I'd invest.

#48: RockMelt Status: Acquired by Yahoo!
Yahoo acquired Rockmelt in 2013 and the products were shut down shortly afterward, despite rock star visibility at launch, and the support of Marc Andreesen.

#49: Live Intent Status: Independent
LiveIntent is focused on email advertising and engagement. They've been at it since 2009. And they're hiring. But if I had to do this list again, they're probably not top of mind.

#50: Fabulis Status: Pivoted beyond recognition
I loved Jason Goldberg's Socialmedian, and launched it here. Fabulis was his next attempt, a social network for gay men. I liked the idea, but wasn't the target market. When Fabulis pivoted into Fab.com, and had a meteoric rise for flash sales and other online commerce, I was again cheering on Jason from the sidelines, and root him on through the subsequent downturn. We'll see what happens with Fab, but Fabulis is most certainly dead.


I never claimed I was ranking these fifty startups as the most likely to succeed, or ranking them in order, although it's easy to see the first ten named were stronger than the last ten in my list. But when the list was posted and people questioned the longevity of these companies, I knew it would take time to bear it out. With four-plus year hindsight, we have those results.

Of the fifty companies named, 21 are independent, 19 were acquired, four pivoted, and six are dead. I expected more to be dead, outright, but it shows me many companies in search of an out found a willing corporate partner - be it another startup, or a large company, be it Blackberry, LinkedIn, Yahoo! or eBay. Tumblr sold for more than a billion, and Spotify is valued at much more. Others, no doubt, went for nothing except a handshake. Interestingly, none of these 50 were acquired by Google.

If I were to do this again, with hindsight, there'd be less focus on Twitter tools, but in 2010, one thought Twitter's platform was not just an interesting testbed, but potentially a big business. And I didn't even mention Uber.

Meanwhile, Symbaloo, who hosted my original list of fifty… they're still around - and found a niche.