Google Writely: Will competitors be wronged?

Does the capitulation of online calendar application, Kiko, portend doom for all Google applications competitors?
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor

TechCrunch heralds the availability of the Google online word processor, Writely, with a warning to other Web-based word processing applications: “Google’s Writely released; will another sector be squashed?”

Online ajax-rich word processor Writely began accepting new accounts today after closing registration when the company was acquired by Google in March. A number of startups who used to compete with Writely will now have to challenge Google.

TechCrunch supports its headlining dire prognostication by referencing the capitulation of online calendar application, Kiko:

Now that Writely is publicly available in the Google suite, do these other vendors stand a chance? They certainly may, but yesterday’s surrender from calender company Kiko - with a nod to Google Calender - certainly makes you wonder.

Kiko’s nod to Google Calendar, however, was to say that Google Calendar was NOT responsible for Kiko’s folding.

“Actual lessons from Kiko” posted by Kiko’s Richard White at his blog reports:

Did you see Google Calendar coming? Yes.

It had been in internal beta for over a year and not all the Googlers at the 'plex are good at keeping secrets. The launch that really surprised us was 30boxes.

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.

That said they did have an impact on our ability to garner press for our re-launch…but it wasn't a case of Google coming into the calendar space and crushing us as some people have suggested.

Of additional note, White said blogosphere kudos are not sufficient to gain mainstream adoption:

it didn't matter how many posts we got on TechCrunch, LifeHacker or Scoble; we would still be stuck in the same Technosphere duking it out with Google, 30Boxes and everyone else…to gain any real traction as an online calendar service you have to target the cubicle dwellers and their Outlook calendars that only exist outside the sphere. Techie users are fickle, transient and demanding. You can spend all of your time implementing ATOM feeds and hCalendar export and never be the better for it.

We didn't have a plan for how to go mainstream, which, in hindsight, was a prerequisite for our success. We would have needed capital to do old school PR, marketing and sales and develop a sync service for Outlook. That said, I don't think either of Google Calendar or 30Boxes have managed this feat either.

The bizarre outcome of Kiko, in fact, seems case specific. White acknowledges, commenting on his own post:

Our failure is more due to our own ineptitude not the fact that Google crushed us.

The Kiko operations appeared to be unusual from the get-go. The start-up was backed by Y Combinator, an incubator style firm which says “We have a novel approach to seed funding: we fund startups in batches.”

The Y Combinator “Funding Application” suggests the firm does not aim to help start-ups succeed, long-term. Among the applications’s questions targeting its Winter 2007 “batch” of start-ups:

Which companies would be most likely to buy you?

If one wanted to buy you three months in (March 2007), what's the lowest offer you'd take?

If you'll have any major expenses beyond the living costs of your founders, Internet access, and servers, what will they be?

Y Combinator financial commitments to start-ups are not particularly significant. According to the firm: “Y Combinator makes comparatively small investments. The most we've invested in one company so far is $24,000.”

Y Combinator puts forth the appeal of a rapid “exit strategy” via sell-out:

Y Combinator funding lets you sell early, if you want to. We think startups will increasingly opt to sell themselves when they're small for a few million, rather than take more funding and roll the dice again. Google and Yahoo both like to do this sort of acquisition, and we expect it to become increasingly common.

Kiko has opted to sell itself, via auction at eBay with an asking price of $49,999.99.

At its eBay sales listing, Kiko provides a very undramatic explanation for its folding:

We are selling Kiko because we want to have time to work on other projects as a development team. We had a project in mind we just didn't want to wait on :)

UPDATE: Web 2.0 dreaming: get rich quick, or fail trying

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