What’s Up Wednesday 6/12/19

Where Are They Now?

I stumbled clumsily onto this article from 2013 as I was trolling the internet.  The startups listed below were ranked as the top 30 to watch entering 2013 (it originally appeared on the entrepreneur.com website).  I didn’t know a thing about any of the listed companies – but for fun I decided to learn – if I could – how 2013’s top 30 were doing now, roughly 6 years later (who doesn’t like a “where are they now?” story).  Gleaning the information took an afternoon.  So here’s what I discovered:

Company:  Ampush

Founded San Francisco, CA in 2009 (in existence approximately 3 years entering 2013)

My Take: offered you online advertising specifically oriented toward the Facebook audience

What sticks out about this company is that it serves only Fortune 1000 (and emerging) clients.  So if you’re not emerging or in the Fortune 1000, we guess you shouldn’t waste their time.  I’m sure that their office is quite busy (as a matter of fact, the company has busy offices in San Francisco and New York City – and Pittsburgh (this one not listed on their website)).  What Ampush called itself then (in 2013) was a “….social ad-technology company” working to assist “brands and direct response advertisers….with Facebook ads”.  As of 2013, MasterCard had been a client.  Kellogg’s had been a client.  In the year of the story, Facebook had knighted Ampush with its Strategic Preferred Marketing Developer label.

Today, Ampush has moved beyond the Facebook-centric campaign policy, partnering with its clients to produce coordinated advertisements across all major online mediums – its 150 employees make it a successful medium-sized company and a nice story.

For this pick, Entrepreneur deserves a thumbs up.

Company:  Back to the Roots

Founded Oakland, CA in 2009 (in existence 3 years entering 2013)

My Take:  an online retailer of organic products

This startup allowed consumers to grow some of their own food items at home – specifically in 2013, if you were interested, it offered you a Mushroom kit and an AquaFarm (the Oxford online dictionary calls an aquafarm a “managed body of fresh or salt water used for cultivating or rearing aquatic plants or animals”)  Back to the Roots called it a “self-cleaning fish tank that also grows food”.  Meanwhile the Mushroom Kit would permit you to generate from 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of the vegetable’s oyster variety in under 2 weeks.  The nationwide distribution chain included 2,500 retailers.

Today Back to the Roots, Inc. has expanded its library of products to include “indoor gardening kits and aquaponics fish tanks for producing organic mushrooms, herbs, and vegetables at home”.  The company also sells organic cereal (breakfast cereal that is).  Its products continue to be available at prominent retailers like Lowes, Walmart, and Amazon (the three ads that showed up when I was doing this research).  While it’s still in business (and successful), it doesn’t appear that this company has set the world on fire.

Company:  Blue Track Media

Founded Dallas, TX in 2009 (in existence 3 years entering 2013)

My Take: offered incentives-based advertising

You’ve seen this (what the company was at its inception) – a place tailored to advertisers wishing to reward consumers for their participation in online polls or their feedback on a questionnaire (an old-school – desktop-based – approach to advertising, likely the reason that 1n 2019, the company deals exclusively in mobile ad campaigns – at least a 90-degree turn in the business model it would appear – but sometimes that’s a necessity).  There’s a neat story with this one – the founder told his mom (an emigre from Pakistan to the United States) that he’d be successful enough in six months to keep her from ever working again.  At the time, he kept his promise.  The company’s still around after ten years, but it doesn’t look like a blockbuster.

Here is a summary of the rest of the Entrepreneur story’s cast:

Company:  Cater2.me

Founded San Francisco, CA in 2010 (in existence 2 years entering 2013)

My Take: corporate catering that specialized in providing meals from third-party preparers

Takeaway: today the company has launched in 11 states, though its last expansion was back in 2017 (Miami and Atlanta)

Company:  CoachUp

Founded Boston, MA in 2012 (in existence for less than 1 year entering 2013)

My Take: was an endeavor to connect athletes with specialized coaches in all sports and all age groups

Takeaway: still offers these services, but has morphed into an on-line retailer of sportswear

Company:  Contently

Founded New York, NY in 2010 (in existence 2 years entering 2013)

My Take: billed as a matchmaking site for publishers, brands, and journalists

Takeaway: impressive list of customers (Walmart, Microsoft), however probably remains a small company – as an undergrad, I was employed at an HR-based tech company that boasted a laundry list of major clients (Coca Cola, General Motors, and others), yet it was never an operation of more than half a dozen folks on its best day

Company:  Conversation

Founded New York, NY in 2008 (in existence 4 years entering 2013)

My Take: provided online marketing for companies (boasted clients like VH1, L’Oreal, and Estee Lauder)

Takeaway: can’t tell if this company exists as part of another entity; apparently it no longer exists as Conversation

Company:  Crazy Egg

Founded La Palma, CA in 2008 (in existence 4 years entering 2013)

My Take: was a website analytics company in 2013

Takeaway: still in existence offering the same set of services (has expanded to include editing tools) – this startup has grown into a functional enterprise, but doesn’t appear to have left a massive footprint

Company:  Enplug

Founded Los Angeles, CA in 2012 (in existence for less than 1 year entering 2013)

My Take: offered digital signage capabilities to advertisers

Takeaway: remains in play with 18 workers (North America); 14 workers (Europe); 9 workers (Australia)

Company:  GiveForward

Founded Chicago, IL in 2008 (in existence 4 years entering 2013)

My Take: was an online fundraising tool for individuals to crowd-fund

Takeaway: has been absorbed by GoFundMe, the 800-lbs gorilla in this space; apparently no longer exists as its own entity

Company:  Gold Bullion International

Founded New York, NY in 2009 (in existence 3 years entering 2013)

My Take: was a technology platform for sales of precious metals

Takeaway: the twelve-person management team has extended the company’s dealings to the world of digital currency – the size of the management team suggests that this startup, after ten years, has grown into a medium-sized company

Company:  GSM Nation LLC

Founded Seattle, WA in 2010 (in existence 2 years entering 2013)

My Take: offered contract-free smartphones

Takeaway: retail phones are now part of the equation.  The company’s $100,000,000.00 yearly revenue speaks for itself

Company:  Highland Concerts

Founded Dallas, TX in 2010 (in existence 2 years entering 2013)

My Take: promoted music festivals

Takeaway: may have been bought out or absorbed by a competitor or simply gone out of business; cannot locate a website specific to this organization

Company:  Hipmunk

Founded San Francisco, CA in 2010 (in existence 2 years entering 2013)

My Take: allowed would-be travelers to compare offers from various online travel sites (to obtain the best deal)

Takeaway: currently sports circa 50 employees, three executives

Company:  HUMAN Healthy Vending

Founded Culver City, CA in 2008 (in existence 4 years entering 2013)

My Take: healthy-food equipped vending machines

Takeaway: has been absorbed by healthyvending.com; the entity, HUMAN Healthy Vending, seems to have disappeared from radar

Company:  iCracked

Founded Redwood City, CA in 2010 (in existence 2 years entering 2013)

My Take: on-demand off-site repair of iOS devices (would send out technicians to a customer’s preferred location); also offered buy-back capabilities

Takeaway: today engages (or has relationships with) over 600 repair technicians in twelve countries (these individuals are probably enlisted as independent contractors – or the equivalent of such in those 11 countries outside the United States that iCracked services)

Company:  Mile High Organics

Founded Boulder, CO in 2010 (in existence 2 years entering 2013)

My Take: began life as an online organic grocer

Takeaway: has swiveled to sell CBD oil (doesn’t appear to offer other products at this time)

Company:  Mobile Roadie

Founded Beverly Hills, CA in 2009 (in existence 3 years entering 2013)

My Take: allowed customers to create their own mobile apps

Takeaway: currently has around 50 employees

Company:  Next Big Sound

Founded New York, NY in 2008 (in existence 4 years entering 2013)

My Take: provided music industry analytics

Takeaway: has been acquired by Pandora (Next Big Sound still has 23 employees as its own entity)

Company:  Peeled

Founded Chicago, IL in 2011 (in existence 1 year entering 2013)

My Take: physical juice bar

Takeaway: cannot find a specific website for this organization; apparently does not exist by this name (perhaps not a surprise given the hyper-competitive nature of that industry)

Company:  PeerFly

Founded Alachua, FL in 2009 (in existence 3 years entering 2013)

My Take: sales and marketing techniques directed at affiliates and affiliate networks

Takeaway: still around, but doesn’t appear to have blown anybody’s doors off

Company:  Pencils of Promise

Founded New York, NY in 2008 (in existence 4 years entering 2013)

My Take: nonprofit that was attempting to improve educational opportunities in developing world

Takeaway: at present, sports team of 8 executives

Company:  Pure Fix Cycles

Founded Los Angeles, CA in 2011 (in existence 1 year entering 2013)

My Take: was seller of “affordable” physical bicycles online (and through dealer network)

Takeaway: it’s difficult to gauge this company’s success rate; the current products offered – and perhaps contrary to the original mission statement of the startup – may not truly qualify as “cheap”

Company:  Scopely

Founded Culver City, CA in 2011 (in existence 1 year entering 2013)

My Take: social gaming (focused on offering opportunities to independent gamers)

Takeaway: leadership team of six points to a middle-sized company

Company:  Spartz

Founded Chicago, IL in 2009 (in existence 3 years entering 2013)

My Take: produced a network of content websites that drew in as many as twenty million total readers

Takeaway: still exists as Dose Media, now a full-service media company; some of its content websites (OMG Facts and MuggleNet among others) remain popular

Company:  The Starter League

Founded Chicago, IL in 2011 (in existence 1 year entering 2013)

My Take: was in-person school that offered a crash course in coding

Takeaway: has been bought out (or was absorbed by) Fullstack Academy (fullstackacademy.com)

Company:  Tieks

Founded Los Angeles, CA in 2008 (in existence 4 years entering 2013)

My Take: offered a line of specialty (physical) shoes

Takeaway: has a very nice website; continues to sport a solid variety of specialized footwear products; and it also has Oprah’s long-time endorsement going for it

Company:  Two Bit Circus

Founded Los Angeles, CA in 2012 (in existence for less than 1 year entering 2013)

My Take: the company claimed to be building “products at the crossroads of amusement and entertainment” with a particular emphasis on child involvement

Takeaway: website features online story rooms, however they are accessible only on a pay-per-view basis and are not especially inexpensive ($30 – $35 a pop)

Company:  WePay

Founded Palo Alto, CA in 2008 (in existence 4 years entering 2013)

My Take: took shape as an online payment service for small businesses

Takeaway: now part of JPMorgan Chase (250 – 300 employees as its own entity); Entrepreneur deserves a big thumbs up for highlighting this startup

Company:  ZinePak

Founded New York, NY in 2011 (in existence 1 year entering 2013)

My Take: music release (publishing of artist materials) plus artist promotion

Takeaway: has become (or was absorbed by) the Superfan Company (thesuperfancompany.com); Linked In claims that ZinePak has 18 employees

This analysis is intended as an amusing lesson in startups.101.  What it shows is that regardless of the fanfare encircling an operation as it breaks ground, every endeavor eventually winds up in a place – sometimes (often, even frequently) it isn’t the place that was originally pictured, the place that may have attracted your aspirations as an entrepreneur.  That’s okay.  It can sometimes be necessary to abandon a project if it isn’t meeting expectations.  Some of the startups highlighted above, while they seem to remain viable as businesses, haven’t achieved the levels of success (the degrees of success) that their entrepreneurs probably envisioned.  You may need to ask yourself if you want to stay with a company that’s viable as a business but limited in its scope (or in its capacity for growth).  Sometimes it’s necessary to cut ties with one project in favor of another.

It isn’t always the first attempt at starting a business that succeeds.  And just because one attempt has ended in failure does not guarantee that the next attempt won’t flourish.  Failing at a venture doesn’t entail that you lack what it takes to succeed.  It’s never that simple.

And try not to get discouraged.  I remember what NASCAR owner, Rick Hendrick, said once in an interview (I’m probably one of the 10 or 11 liberal white guys in this country who’s a huge fan of NASCAR).  When asked what would surprise people most about his business career and accomplishments, Rick said that it was how close his team came to pulling the plug on their operation as it struggled early on to find success.  Just before they could do that, something good, something positive happened –enough at the time to keep them going.  That something good and positive produced another something good and positive.  The team continued to slowly build on those successes.  And so it goes.

Today, according to Forbes, Rick Hendrick is a billionaire.  Forbes isn’t always accurate when it comes to ascribing their net worths to folks.  So let’s just put it like this: for a guy who once came within an eyelash of chucking the thing, Rick Hendrick is doing alright.

Believe in yourself.  Believe in your vision.  Listen to your gut.  Don’t get discouraged.  Struggles don’t entail that you won’t eventually make it, that your goals won’t be fulfilled.  Try to remember that.

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