There's an old saying in startups: "Being early is the same as being wrong."
And it's true- for every huge successful startup you can name, there's someone who tried to do it before and failed. Sometimes they failed on their own, but often they failed because they were just too early. They had everything but the market just wasn't ready. It must be so tough for these entrepreneurs to watch others make billions thanks to an idea and product they had but, well..that's life. Here are six startups that are insanely similar to six companies we couldn't imagine our life without today:
SIX DEGREES ׂ
Founded in 1997, SixDegrees.com was the original online social network! Based on the idea that we are all six degrees away from anyone on Earth, SixDegrees.com’s premise was that we should post and interact online with our social connections. Users could send messages and post items to people in their first, second, and third degrees, and see their connection to any other user on the site, combined with popular features such as profiles and friend lists .While the site had millions of users, due to the lack of people connected to the Internet networks were limited. It would be a few years before the Internet's infrastructure could catch up with the concept of social networks and people probably weren't ready for the concept of sharing everything online. The company closed in 2001 and was then followed by MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Imagine going to a website and typing in any question you could think of. Seconds later receiving a list of answers and links to websites. Sounds familiar? Ask Jeeves was one of the first search engines! Founded in 1996, it actually had many techniques that later made Google huge, like semantic search, and even ranking web pages by hyperlinks. By 1998, the site was handling 300,000 searches a day. By 1999, it was up to 1 million The problem was that the technology wasn’t good enough in those days, AskJeeves.com ended up being a faded 90’s trend and Google just did it better.
If you pitched the idea of an online grocery delivery service to anyone today, they’d likely agree it’s a solid idea with a clear market. But when WebVan launched in 1998, people just weren’t ready to accept it. Webvan even offered to deliver groceries to customers within a 30 minute- Great! But we didn't love it as much as Webvan expected. The CEO firmly believed that 35% of customers would be buying groceries online by 2003-2004, so he prepared for this massive growth of customers and opened up warehouses, ordered fleets of trucks, and bought many expensive computers for the company's offices. The customers never came, and Webvan went broke in 2001.
LetsBuyIt.com was an early online group buying service. It never worked out, mainly because there weren't social networks then to promote the offers. Apparently, for group buying to work online, you need a huge mass of people online, a huge mass of small businesses online, a huge mass of people willing to pay for stuff. None of those things were around at the time, so nobody's heard of LetsBuyIt, and Groupon is the fastest-growing company in history.
WebTV was started as a convenient combination of both the internet and television. Founded in 1995, WebTV came as a box about the size of a VCR that promised to bring affordable Internet to living rooms without the use of a computer. The company grew enough that the founders exited with a sale to Microsoft for $425 million, who rebranded it as MSN TV, adding Messenger and Hotmail ( Remember???). But by that time, email and web-browsing on television had become stale. The idea was there, but was too ahead of its time. People weren’t willing enough to pay $425 to check email on a TV and the service was shut down in 2013.
Founded by Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker ( Later to be president at Facebook) , it allowed users to share music online for free—something that was tough to even imagine at the time. At its peak, more than 80 million users were swapping music. Then, Metallica stepped in- the band was upset that their songs were being shared for free, and took Napster's founders to court. Lawsuits from musicians piled up and Napster was forced to release a subscription-based model in order to pay back music owners. It failed in 2001, but blazed the way for Spotify and Apple Music to later learn from their mistakes.