Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Web 2.0 fizzle begins

When dot com v1.0 when pop, remember how all those consumer plays that were floating on bloated bubble economics all suddenly re-invented and re-packaged themselves for the business market. Visto was a personal favourite of mine. Here’s the Visto product information, courtesy of the Way Back Machine, circa Jan 25, 1999.

What’s Visto Briefcase™?
It’s your private, secure space on the Web. Your most important information anywhere, on any browser—and it’s free! Free email, right? This is just fancy email isn’t it?
Hold on there! Free email is only a small part of what you get. What would you call an online package with:

  • high-powered email
  • full-featured address book
  • daily, weekly, monthly personal calendar
  • portable browser bookmarks
  • storage space for your files
  • new sharing feature to easily share your files and calendar

We call it your Visto Briefcase—and it’s free.

And then you have Visto today..

Visto is opening up wireless email and PIM solutions to all levels of users by providing the broadest and most open solution that works with all intelligent devices and leading email solutions from personal to enterprise. Visto’s solutions are widely available on a global basis through industry leading mobile operators . Visto’s solutions give control, flexibility, and choice back to wireless operators and mobile professionals.

I love how Visto 1999 mentions the word free, four times in its product description, yet I can’t seem to find the same word anywhere in its latest marketing gumpf. Funny how, when the bubble pops companies suddenly need to develop a revenue model, which for Visto was primarily selling through wireless carriers. Oh, and of course, of late, it’s worked out an even better revenue model – suing companies like Microsoft and RIM.

So with this in mind, I started to get nostalgia flashbacks when I found out that one of my favourite, but most frustrating Web 2.0 companies, Trumba, announced that it has decided to re-model itself around selling to businesses; ie people that are actually likely to pay. You might remember I was non-too kind to the Trumba folk in my post When Good Ideas Go Bad. I suggested that rather than going after the ordinary consumer they would have been much better off trying to provide the calendar engine to developers, publishers, app builders, etc.

Just about every portal, just about every intranet, every piece of CRM software has calendar functionality that they’ve had to pay their developers or external developers to build. Trumba should have set itself with being the calendar inside every online application in the planet. It should have been built from the ground up as a white label application, easily deployed and integrated into whatever you were building.

Trumba’s Ted Johnson left a comment on Squash last week saying:

We agree. Chasing the consumer with a pay-for service wasn’t a winning strategy. Yesterday we announced a refocus on businesses and organizations that need to communicate event information. See the press release or the updated web site.

Among the messages on the new Trumba website are: “We focus on calendar communications so you don’t have to”. And it lists its technical benefits as:

Trumba calendar tools allow you to upgrade your website calendar almost instantly.
development time
direct content updates by the content owners
Increase calendar reliability, security, and performance
Get updates and feature upgrades automatically

I wonder how much of their $8 million in VC funding Trumba burnt chasing the consumer holy grail? And Trumba actually did start down that path with a business model (admittedly not a very good one).

A lot of these Web 2.0 start-ups will have been going for about a year now. A lot will be feeling the pinch. Most people can bootstrap a start-up for 12 months but it starts to get really tough, if you want to do it for any longer than that. I very much expect to see a rash of Writely-style acquisitions over the next 12 months. Start-ups facing up to the reality that they’re not making any money and therefore finally coming to the realisation that they’re never going to crack the mega pay-day. So they’ll sell to one of the big boys for a handy exit sum and a good job in the process. Sure beats bootstrapping, hey?

But it’s a far cry from the Web 2.0 hype that has built up this expectation of dot com daze revisted…

The good news is that companies like Trumba are already taking corrective action before they’ve got one foot in the grave. Companies like Writely are taking reasonable exits rather than holding out for the motza. So these is a semblance of sense starting to infiltrate the Web 2.0 economy. For those reasons, I don’t think we’re in a bubble. As a company like News comes into play talking up big acquisitions and inflating the environment, simultaneously there seems to be a slow-release valve leaking the pressure out of it because enough of us learnt enough lessons from the first time around.

Web 2.0 is already fizzing. But it’s a good thing.


Filed under: Web 2.0

6 Responses

  1. Saul Weiner says:

    There’s an old economic saying that states a recession is a good thing because it culls the weaker firms from the pack, leaving the strong ones even tougher when the prosperous times re-emerge.

    Same thing will happen here as it does in every industry taht has ever existed. And then folks will realize one thing.

    Making it big in the consumer space is like playing the lotto: Tough to win, but when you do, generally you hit it big.

    Making it big in the business space is like owning a car dealership. It’s tough to start. But when you get your name out there, life’s a lot easier. And it’s an easier life generally.

  2. I will agree that there are signals that many Web 2.0 companies may be getting more realistic and accepting reasonable acquisition valuations.

    However, a big issue is that I don’t think there are sufficient acquirers to “absorb” the large volume of Web 2.0 startups out there. Also, certain acquirers may be more inclined to build vs. buy (especially if the technology barrier is not that high and the existing userbase is not that interesting).

    It’ll be an interesting year…

  3. Steve says:

    Personally I think it’s nice to see a little ‘irrational exuberance’ out there. And as before, many will fail, many won’t come up to their hype and many will disappear before they’re even noticed. But, a few will make a difference.

    Perhaps outside the Valley we don’t see the hype as much. Because my main concern remains whether the time-lines for normal users taking advantage of these ideas are wrong. Most users don’t use RSS let alone anything else: it may take a while to get to Web 2.0.


  4. shii says:

    I remember my Visto Briefcase 😦

  5. Brian Dear says:

    Phil, it’d be helpful if you did your homework. According to its own press releases, Trumba has raised $4.75 million in an “A” round (July 2004) and then it announced (November 2005) it raised an additional $8 mlilion in its “B” round.

    That’s $12.75 million, but doesn’t include how much they probably raised through angel and self-funding (these were very successful entrepreneurs already, remember, many coming from Visio, bought by MSFT for over $1 billion back in the day).

    So, the question I think you wanted to ask is not “I wonder how much of their $8 million in VC funding Trumba burnt chasing the consumer holy grail,” but “how much of their $4.75 million in VC funding did Trumba burn chasing the consumer holy grail”. The new $8 million in VC funding is, in theory, to be applied to chasing the B2B holy grail. 🙂

  6. harlowe says:

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