I can’t say I’m terribly surprised that what some would call “yet another Foursquare clone” has gone the way of the dodo. After all, as some have said, 2011 is the year the check-in died. With the entry of Facebook into the space, it is a wonder to some that even Foursquare survived.
In this author’s opinion, however, it would be a gross understatement simply to refer to Whrrl as “yet another Foursquare clone” and in my book a serious misunderstanding of the value of the check-in at all. There was something special about Whrrl from a user point of view – granted many of those traits were ultimately adopted by Foursquare, like adding photos to check-ins and making suggestions or “tips.” But the way community was featured around types of interest was new, in my opinion, and has yet to find an equal on the other products. UI was also very dynamic with Whrrl. I like opening an app and feeling like I have choices for what to do – options in case the standard “feed” gets tired. (Hello LinkedIn – are you listening? Groups, please.)
For me this acquisition of Whrrl by Groupon is indicative of a larger problem I feel exists in the start-up ecosystem for mobile and web in general – the exit strategy. By all accounts we should be congratulating the makers of Whrrl for they have reached start-up Nirvana. Being bought out for a huge sum of cash is ideal for entrepreneurs because it frees them up for moving along to make another start-up so they can go sell it to make another load of cash. It’s like flipping houses. That is not always so good for the housing market or houses, right? And what about us lowly users? Think about Delicious and their recent struggles. Wasting away into obscurity and facing potential abandonment after having been acquired by Yahoo! has left the service playing catch up with innovation and has proven thus far to be a wasted investment for Yahoo! We all were saddened (ok, maybe just me) by news that Yahoo might be shutting the door on it, and happy when the founders of YouTube (pre-Google acquisition, BTW) were willing to swoop in and potentially update the service and make something new and interesting.
But that doesn’t change the nature of the ecosystem. I think there is a problem with this current configuration. Especially in this economy, if entrepreneurs are not encouraged to stick around with their businesses and make them sustainable, then we are ultimately over-valuing every start-up from both an investment and an employment point of view. Were we not paying attention when the housing market collapsed? Entrepreneurs, in my opinion, need some help weening themselves off of the exit strategy as the ultimate goal of creating a business. We need more legacy, more loyalty, more service, not less of these things that are disappearing.
But what will become of Whrrl? I wish the creators the best of luck and congratulations on developing a marvelous product I’m hoping Groupon doesn’t ruin. But there could be some hope to this acquisition as long as it is seen as more of a merger, right? Oh yeah, and let’s hope the users benefit in the long run too – maybe even the ecosystem?
Here’s what the folks at Whrrl have to say about it:
“Whrrl’s mission has always been to increase the possibility of adventure in our daily real-world lives, and to that end, we invented an idea economy (with Whrrlbot as its inexhaustible champion!) It turns out that Groupon has a very similar mission, except they approached it by creating a new kind of deal economy. The mission alignment of the two companies and the fact that we’ve taken very different approaches is a big part of what makes this marriage non-strange, and in fact, very complementary and compelling. And what made this a no-brainer was Groupon’s massive adoption and meteoric growth. The opportunity to take the collective brain power and technology of our two companies and point them at a phenomenon already at huge scale is virtually impossible to refuse.”