When I retired from corporate life, one challenge that I had to overcome was how to organise my calendar. In corporate life I had put all my activities, home and work, into Outlook running on the company’s Exchange servers. But once the tether to work was broken I had to find a suitable alternative. Fortunately there are several (free) online services, and being a Google Mail user already it made perfect sense to use Google Calendar. Having taken the first giant leap into Google’s world domination, it was but a small step to get the rest of the family converted too, such that we now have a calendar each and a “family” one for combined activities.
All well and good, but I’d also bought an iPhone, and calendar sync was just a
bit primitive two years ago. Neither Google nor Apple had done the software to connect the two. Hunting through the various support columns I realised I’d have to use a third party service to connect Google Calendar to the iPhone calendar, using the iPhone’s embedded Exchange protocols. I plumped for NuevaSync, which seemed to do everything that I wanted. I was a bit nervous about signing up for yet another online service just to synchronise my data, but crossing fingers that I would remember the login credentials when I needed them, I registered.
And it worked fine. It synchronised all the calendars I had set up (did I mention this had now grown to eight as I was also running the bookings for a local church halls?), allowing me to see everything I needed on the phone, and make changes and additions wherever I was.
I always wondered what was in this for NuevaSync, presumably a small start-up with a good idea. They seemed happy enough to provide the glue to connect Google Calendars to the iPhone and hence to spend money on the servers to run it all. Where was the money for them? Calendar sync is (quite rightly) a background function that nobody wants to actually see, so there’s no opportunity for even advertising revenues.
Then, inevitably, the email arrived to inform me that the “free trial” of the service (had they said that originally?) was coming to an end, and that I had two weeks to cough up or get disconnected. So I did what any sane user of the Web2.0 generation would do. Found that Google had now developed their own calendar sync and promptly disconnected from NuevaSync. To give them some credit, they did have a “delete account” facility, whatever “delete” means in today’s everything-is-cached world.
This experience does make me think back to just how many services and start-ups I have seen bite the dust over the years. When working for a mobile operator, one of my jobs was meeting bright-eyed bushy-tailed start-ups and seeing what they had to offer. Many had great ideas, but too many thought that the network operators were a ready source of funds to be tapped without enough knowledge of how the business model really works. True revenue growing applications were far too few in number. So having heard what they had to say, and avoiding being tempted into holding a “trial” that would take resources on our side with little prospect of making money, I wished them farewell. Depending on their level of funding they survived for a while, but without a sound business model so many of them were doomed to fail. Which is a shame, as so many ideas were really quite good.
Many of the best ideas were bought up by larger fish, clearly one of the more successful strategies adopted by some start-ups. Some of the not-so-good ideas also got snapped up, great for the start-up but not so good for the large fish who found they had an increasing number of small millstones round their increasingly weak necks.
The other day I was reading an article about 15 websites that had closed in the 2010, and it struck a chord with me. What I found interesting is that many of the shuttered sites were services being run by the large fish – Google, Yahoo, Microsoft. A few years ago virtually all of the 15 shuttered sites would have been small start-ups. My guess is that many of these big fish service were once start-ups that were snapped up in the acquisition days, but with the grim reality of rising costs and falling revenues have now been unceremoniously ditched.
So goodbye to all those sites that have been and gone, to the small companies who failed for reasons both good and bad, to all the bright engineers with ideas that were better than their business plans. I miss the variety that they brought to the business in a world now dominated by just a few large players. At least we have the consolation that the services now run by the big players are far more reliable than those pioneered by their start-up forebears. And with the resources available, the feature list grows longer by the day. Let’s hope that ingenuity has not been completely eradicated in the headlong rush to make money.