10 TechCrunch50 grads: Where are they now?

One of the newest entrants to the tech conference scene, the TechCrunch50 is now an annual occurrence. What's happened to some of the products and services that have made their debut there?

Tech blog TechCrunch is hosting the third iteration of its annual startup show next week, where 50 brand new sites and services are slated to be launched. The show was started in early-2007 by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington and entrepreneur and Weblogs Inc. co-founder Jason Calacanis as an alternative to the DEMO conference series. Instead of paying to be on stage (once selected) as is done at DEMO, companies selected by Arrington and Calacanis get to present for free.

Next week at the TechCrunch 50 conference, 50 new companies will take the stage and make a pitch, while about a hundred others--some new, some retreads from prior TechCrunch events, fight for attention on a paid show floor called the "Demo Pit."

How many of these companies that launched at a TechCrunch event have gone on to fame and glory? It was hard enough for these companies to make a mark when they were fighting for attention against dozens of other start-ups. It's even harder to continue momentum from a conference after the dust settles. Below are five that have done quite well, and five that haven't.


The good

Mint

Mint made its public debut at the TechCrunch40 in 2007, where it won the audience choice award, netting it $50,000 in cash (that it didn't really need).

The site presents users with a bold option: give us your bank account, mortgage, and credit card information and we'll help you track how you're spending your money and give you tips and tools on how to save.

Since 2007, it's since gone on to raise two additional rounds of funding, bringing the total past $30 million. The site also has 1.4 million registered users. and claims to be "tracking $175 billion in transactions, $47 billion in assets and has identified more than $300 million in potential savings for its users." It's also won numerous awards, including a Webware 100 award in 2009, a "50 best websites of 2009" recognition from Time Magazine, as well a nod from PCMag's "Top 100 websites of 2009"

Postbox

Postbox, a Mozilla-based e-mail client that launched at last year's TechCrunch50 show, has done well for itself inside a year. For one, it's publicly available and fully out of beta--which is more unusual than it should be. It's also a paid and license-based product, meaning the company isn't just giving it away for free.

Earlier this year Postbox won a Webware 100 award in the communications category as voted on by CNET readers. It was also picked as Lifehacker's "Top 10 Up-and-coming products" shortly after its release.

Xobni

Another e-mail utility graduate, Xobni, came from the first TechCrunch show back in late-2007, when there were just 40 companies presenting. The product, called "Insight," was a plug-in for Microsoft's Outlook e-mail software, and could replace Microsoft's built-in search tool, as well as show users details on the frequency of those they were e-mailing with.

In the months prior to 2007's TechCrunch 40, Xobni had picked up a little more than $4 million in funding. The product, however, remained in private beta until mid-2008, after which it was opened up to the public. Then, in early January of this year, the company announced another round of funding, totaling $7 million, including Cisco Systems as one of the investors.

The company also released a paid version of its service in mid-July that costs $30 a year and adds extra features on top of the free product. It remains a product for the desktop version Microsoft Outlook only, although the company is working on a version for Outlook mobile too.

Clickable

Clickable, a grad of the 2007 TechCrunch 40 show, is an online advertising management tool that blends analytics, reporting, and recommendations on ongoing ad campaigns across several ad platforms at once.

Despite the Internet advertising slump, Clickable's approach at serving as a front end for all the different ad platforms has helped it weather the storm. The service recently launched its second iteration, which is able to track and report on some of Google's newest forms of online advertising.

To date, Clickable has picked up more than $20 million in funding and picked up numerous Web awards nods. This week the company announced it had hired Dave Fall, former DoubleClick executive (made Google employee) to serve as senior VP of product and operations.

Yammer

Yammer, a Twitter for business, launched at last year's TechCrunch50 show and picked up the audience choice award and a $50,000 cash prize, followed by a $5 million round of Series A funding four months later. The service lets users within a company post status messages that can only been by others in the company--something which, was at the time, controlled through domain verification, and has since been expanded to whatever IP ranges the IT department picks.

Along with having a free version of its service, Yammer also has a paid version which charges per user, per month. All together, Yammer has more than 40,000 companies using it, although it has not revealed the markup of how many of those are paying.

(note: This post originally mentioned Yammer having a software service, an idea which was scrapped in favor of the hosted version.)


The bad

Blah Girls

At last year's show, the celebrity start-up--and arguably one of the event's highest profile launches was Blah Girls, a content site that blended a daily cartoon with celebrity gossip news. The site, which was demonstrated on-stage by parent company Katalyst Media co-founder Ashton Kutcher, is now a branded channel on YouTube, and has had its stream of videos dry up considerably to just a few a month.

Though back in May Kutcher inked a deal with CBS Television (note: CNET News is published by CBS Interactive) to get one-minute versions of the show run as segments on The Insider, but it seems as though Katalyst Media's attempts to build a gossip empire were short-lived. Instead, the Blah Girls brand is to live inside CBS' The Insider celebrity news site. That may not be a bad thing in the long run, but it probably hasn't quite lived up to Kutcher's aspirations.

Here was Kutcher describing it at last year's event:


Fitbit

This $99, WiFi-enabled pedometer lets you track your progress with online charts and fitness-encouraging tools. It was my CNET colleague Rafe Needleman's favorite product of last year's show ( despite some controversy ), although it's been slow to hit the market. Originally slated to be released this past spring, Fitbit's site currently says it will be available in August (last month) and that pre-orders are closed. According to a company representative I spoke to, the first pre-orders will be fulfilled at end of this month, or at the latest, next month.

The Fitbit is a tiny wireless pedometer that can sync up with its base station and post your fitness progress to the Web. Originally slated to launch in spring, it's release has dragged out to October. Fitbit

Though even with a public launch right now, it may have missed its window to pick up business from the tech-savvy fitness crowd. Apple's latest iPod Nano which was announced this past Wednesday , costs just $50 more than the Fitbit and comes with a built-in pedometer, can play music and FM radio, and can shoot and play back video. The Fitbit will certainly have a more focused online strategy than Apple is offering, but it's hard to argue with all the extra things you get for $50.

AOL BlueString

AOL's BlueString was a site set up for media storage and sharing. It launched at the TechCrunch 40 show in 2007. BlueString let users host and share their photos with family members through a Web uploader, as well as view local files through its file browser.

Users got up to 5GB of free storage on BlueString, and could bump that number up to 50GB for $100 a year, although AOL didn't wrangle up enough of those paying users to keep the service afloat. BlueString, as well as AOL's XDrive storage service (which BlueString was powered on), were shut down late last year, taking users' media down, too.

AOL's BlueString let users store and share media on its servers. The site was shut down in late-2008 along with several other AOL services. CNET

Zivity (NSFW warning)

Zivity, the only site out of the last two shows I would never, ever send my mom to, has not fared well since its launch at the TechCrunch 40 show in 2007. The site, which lets models post, and make money from (mostly nude) photos of themselves, as well as interact with their fans, laid off a third of its staff last October . Then, in July, its founders spun off a new community site called Top Fans that crowd sources and aggregates celebrity gossip.

Zivity did get off to a good financial start though. It won the $10,000 Howard Rice award at the TechCrunch 40--the runner up prize to the $50,000 awarded to the audience choice. Back in mid-2008, it picked up a $7 million round of Series B financing, although the lion's share of that money has since been funneled (by its investors) into Top Fans instead.

Zivity's CEO Cyan Banister also went on the record with VentureBeat saying the site was pulling in just 20,000 active users a month, out of 50,000 total registrations since launch--a surprisingly low traffic number considering the content.

Orgoo

Orgoo launched at the TechCrunch 40 show back in 2007. The idea was to provide users with a single interface to check multiple Web e-mail accounts. It also tacked on live user chat, and a way to send and receive SMS messages while not using a phone. The product itself worked great, in fact I wrote a glowing review of it back when it first came out . It's problem though, is that it has remained in private beta too long, and worse--died without telling anyone.

In fact the lights are still on but nobody's home, which is a true Web oddity. When most sites take the big sleep, they put up a note for a few months, then kill off the domain. Instead, Orgoo's main product can still be accessed but remains nonfunctional. You're able to dig into the settings menus, but you can't add new mail accounts or read through old archives or IM chats or messages. Its press page's most recent entry links to a video we posted back in March of last year , when the company demoed its now-defunct live video chat product , which continues to run as a standalone site.

Orgoo's e-mail service let users combine multiple accounts into one interface, just like most desktop mail clients. It's since been shut down, although the site remains up in all its non-functional glory. CNET

Orgoo co-founder Sean Rad tells me the company has since shifted its focus from consumers, and is working on a B2B product. For those that are looking for a product with similar features, competitor Fuser, which launched the month after, does many of the same things--and more.


Lessons learned

Statistically, there are bound to be some hits and misses at every trade show. What's really surprising about some of the products and services that didn't fare well from these shows is that many had a lot going for them:

Blah Girls had an incredibly simple formula for success--combining celebrity gossip with a short cartoon. It even had an Internet-savvy celebrity backer with Ashton Kutcher and was ready to go the day it was announced.

Fitbit still looks to be a very capable product, though I can see taking this long to get to market leading to its demise. When released, it will still be one of the most high tech pedometers on the market, but again, it's now facing competition from a very svelte Apple product that may not be as small or as simple, but has a few more features that make it useful when you're not interested in exercise.

Both Orgoo and BlueString were a great, simple products that were relatively easy to use.

Zivity was offering ad-free photos of naked women, free of charge. How can you miss turning that into a wildly-profitable business?

Not mentioned in this list are the more than 100 other products that were launched at previous shows (counting new sites from the demo pits)--some that continue to be closed off to the public, more than a year after being announced. For more on that, see our story from April , which covers both the TechCrunch50 and DEMO shows.

About the author

Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.

 

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