Apps that Failed hard in 2017

There’s an infinite number of reasons why startups flounder, but a small number are great ideas that get funding and fail anyway due to timing or logistics. Quite a few apps that got shut down this year were in the social networks and food delivery categories. Some failures were due to similar services cannibalizing their user base, or maligned in the press, and others couldn’t define their market well enough to monetize.

Even if you’re not in app development, the reasons that well funded startups fail can teach us a lot about our culture and the relevance of technology in our daily lives. While we can’t all play the Linchpin, finding relevance and a unique position is a universal element.

Rehauling social networks

Success is often marked in the number of users a service has, or sometimes in the quality of partnerships. But for social networks, success has often blurred the lines between these two qualities - often taking the form of sponsored content that is engineered to look like user generated content, or paid advertisements that appear alongside followed content. The anonymous social network was a reaction to all this - they were meant to be a reboot of overly branded and curated platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Several apps in this category popped up at the same time, all with their own strategies to connect people. Most of them were adopted by a moderate number of users, but they received a fair amount of press expounding upon how they were used for cyberbullying. This is a sad irony for apps idealistically built to create a more authentic communication model - since the anonymity failed to create a visible community apart from the hate speech they became known for.  

Secret launched in January 2014, aiming to strip conversations down to messages, and create relevancy using geolocation. This app gained notoriety due to its Silicon Valley user base, being the breeding ground for industry gossip and personal attacks of developers fallen out of favor. Connections were based on the user’s contacts, so you could see that the posts were being made by someone you knew, or were removed by one degree, but unless they purposefully identified themselves, the posts were anonymous. These posts became more and more venomous, and founder David Byttow made the move to shut Secret down in April of 2015.

Yik Yak launched in 2013, and began to gain traction over Secret quite a bit later. Instead of posts from phone contacts whose identities were concealed from each other, Yik Yak connected people based on proximity. But the app was banned by several universities as a response to the student harassment and bullying it enabled.

To highlight the potential of alternative model social networks, Whisper is still operational. While this app eschews properties of Secret and Yik Yak, such as phone contacts or location-based connections, the app offers interest groups, video posts and chat. Whisper creates more of a confession forum community, which may not be as enticing for potential bullies.

Food delivery startups

Sometimes, a veteran entrepreneur can create a model that turns out to be less than sustainable for the long term. Enter Gagan Biyani, previously on the founding team of online education platform Udemy and expansion advisor to rideshare app Lyft. After launching the food production and delivery service Sprig in November 2013 in San Francisco, they expanded to several cities, then logistics demand and low customer base contributed to their shut down in May 2017.

The quality was high, with their guest chefs parade that included three-Michelin star holder Kyle Connaughton, or President Obama’s personal chef Sam Kass. But successful startups have to have lean and agile operations - sourcing ingredients, preparing menus and deliveries are complex and time consuming endeavors for such a fickle business model as consumer apps.

These are recurring themes within the food startups space, and the fate of apps including SpoonRocket, which closed down and relaunched in a streamlined iteration. Acquired by iFood, a Latin American food delivery mobile platform, it migrated to Brazil, skipped the food prep and now focuses on connecting restaurants and customers, and providing curated menus.

Even more significant, two other types of apps have matured in the last few years within the food space, and contributed to this ingredient-to-delivery model demise. Apps that streamline the online ordering process are extremely popular, especially in urban areas. With such a density of supply and demand, companies like Seamless and Grubhub have flourished by making the pre-existing practices of ordering takeout and delivery seamless indeed. As a secondary option, delivery apps like Postmates and Uber service restaurants that do not offer delivery, and expand access for customers that are outside of vendors’ delivery zone.

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