By now you’ve probably heard that The Little Calendar App That Could(n’t) Kiko has been absolved and is being sold on eBay alongside diapers, that’s a tough ending, especially for a fledgling company funded through Paul Graham’s prestigious Y Combinator warm incubator. From Paul’s Kiko eulogy:
“What nailed Kiko was Google Calendar. Once that came out, not only did Kiko’s growth stop, but a lot of existing users defected. Justin and Emmett told me a large fraction of Kiko’s users had Gmail addresses.”
Defected? Paul makes it sound as though they had no choice and the Google SS was at their door. People checked out Google’s calendar because it was new, and, well, it’s made by Google. Kiko still had the upperhand because a situation is only damning if you make it so, and Kiko certainly did that. Kiko could have surveyed Google Calendar, saw opportunities for innovation, and then executed. In a business world full of copycats, all you have is innovation and marketing so you better work on those two as much as possible before throwing in the towel. To this outsider’s eyes it looks as though Kiko sat on their hands and waited for the inevitable to happen, which is one certain way of causing your business a lot of direct harm.
“Google may be even more dangerous than Microsoft, because unlike Microsoft it’s the favorite of technically minded users. When Microsoft launched an application to compete with yours, the first users they’d get would alway be the least sophisticated– the ones who just used whatever happened to be already installed on their computer. But a startup that tries to compete with Google will have to fight for the early adopters that startups can ordinarily treat as their birthright.”
God forbid a startup have to work in order to build a userbase, because that would be too damn difficult. 9rules gets absolutely no love from Silicon Valley (because we’re an east coast company? or we have a black CEO? who knows!), so that makes it even harder to gain traction but it’s happening because we work hard at it. It’s stupid for any entrepreneur to believe they are entitled to anything, in fact it’s the complete opposite. If it were easy to start a company and sell it for millions of dollars then everyone would be doing it, but because it’s not, it should be assumed that the process is extremely difficult. Google Calendar launched and rippled the Kiko dreampool, but to counteract that they should have regrouped, refreshed, and re-evaluated their service, business model, employees, everything.
Kiko wasn’t fucked until they decided they were fucked, and they decided they were fucked the moment they turned around and looked at Google Calendar coming from behind. What they should have done was keep their head forward and innovate, because that’s the only clear path away from danger.
Update: Check out Richard White’s explanation of what happened:
Did Google Calendar kill Kiko?
No. One of our biggest traffic days was when Google Calendar was released because we were mentioned in all the new stories as one of their top competitors. In fact, we repositioned Kiko to take advantage of a market that most other players, including Google Calendar, were neglecting: users outside the US. We added options like Monday week start and different date formats. We setup a wiki and let our users translate Kiko into 11 languages. And we moved away from a US-only SMS reminder system to one that worked internationally. At last count 60-70% of our users are from outside the US.
So there were definitely alternatives to just hanging up the hat, as Richard mentions.
Google and Yahoo and Microsoft Are In Your Space
What’s the most oft-asked question when you’re asking people for a lot of money? Well it goes like this:
“What is stopping [GIGANTIC COMPANY] from doing what you’re doing?
Everybody is scared of GYM and deeply in love with GYM at the same time. Entrepreneurs are scared because of a Google Calendar / Kiko scenario, but we are in love because they might purchase our company. It’s a love/hate relationship, and if you’re building an application that’s somewhat generic (web-based email, calendar, online office apps, IM, etc.) it’s shifted to the hate side. There are essentially two ways to innovate, and if you’re lucky, then you do both of them at the same time:
- Innovate in your business model, do what others haven’t done before.
- Innovate in your execution, produce things that others have not produced before.
When you’re producing an application that’s been done 20x over before you started (web-based calendar) you have no choice but to pick #2 and innovate in your execution. Kiko could have kept their neck above water if they had stayed the course and built cool new additions into their application, or expanded its reach/audience/target, but they heard the footsteps and fumbled. It wasn’t that Google destroyed them, it was that Kiko self-destructed.