The 2013 retrospective lists! The best part about New Year’s Eve? Probably. We’re doing our part by saying some fond (or not-so-fond) farewells to the companies and businesses that are no longer with us. These 15 didn’t survive the year that was. Some died young. Some have been urban stalwarts for decades. All shuffled off their mortal coil. We’ll take a look back at how special brews of mismanagement, bad luck, and a lack of prescience led to white flags being waved, gates crashed by the relentless onslaught of late capitalism. Competition! So, turn on some Sarah McLachlan, grab some tissues, and get started.
Who they are: A mother-daughter team responsible for perhaps the most comfortable, warmest pairs of smartphone-friendly gloves around
When they opened: September 2010
What happened: We’ll start off with the closest a shuttering gets to a happy ending. Agloves didn’t succumb to any competitive pressure – according to the daughter, Jean Spencer, demand was ‘higher than ever’ in 2013. What was being brought low was her relationship with her mother and business partner, Jennifer Spencer. It’s hard to know what about the business was wreaking havoc on the relationship, but something about Agloves was toxic. So, rather than let the business and the cash come between them, the Spencers shut down Agloves and focused on making amends. Putting the warmth of family over the cold coin – now there’s a nice holiday story.
Who they are: Pseudo-psychological hokum designed to help you ‘discover’ yourself by pigeonholing you into an archetype you probably already identified with anyway. Shows you content associated with that archetype, and lets you see what archetypes your friends are.
When they opened: 2012, in its current form
What happened: When a website’s concept page essentially tries to tell you that knowing to call yourself a ‘rebel’ is the secret to leading an empowered and fulfilled life, you know you’re looking at the kind of hubris and braggadocio that lead startups to an early grave. Unfortunately for Archetypes, the dime-a-dozen personality quiz and subsequent content aggregation left out one important part – making money. The startup secured $19 million in funding during its first two years, which culminated in a shift from a commerce site to what you see at present. The site never made money. It filed for bankruptcy this year, with investors running out of optimism and refusing to pitch in another $20 million. 32 of 40 employees were laid off, and with debt far, far north of assets, it’s doubtful there’s much of a future here for the 100,000 or so users of Archetypes.
Who they are: Photo storage site that used algorithms to show you the best ones first. Would also email you photos of yours from that same day in previous years to you every day. Also provided unlimited storage for a fee.
When they opened: March 2013
What happened: No snark here, just a straight up bummer. Everpix was a critical success – a photo organization service that dispensed with the features no one used or needed, like ratings, and focused on the one feature everyone loves – being able to see their best pictures easily. Everpix nailed that, and even had over 50,000 users at one point. Unlike a lot of startups, they were even bringing in revenue (what an idea!) with user accounts providing unlimited storage for $4.99 per month or $49 per year. Unfortunately, the service, started by a couple of French computer scientists and anther guy out of San Francisco, was a labor of love. The guys eschewed unsavory business practices like forcing people to sign up for accounts to view their friends pictures, opting to focus on making their product as good as it could be. But in time, their lack of focus on growing their business caught up to them, and the revenue stream was too small to keep Everpix afloat. It was simply a great product that not enough people knew about. They’re now liquidating in an attempt to pay the bills, after a few potential acquisitions fell through earlier this year.
Via The Verge
Who they are: An advertising company of sorts that exists on a meta-level of the Internet machine. A tool for marketing departments and advertising agencies to provide and look at crowdsourced information about paid advertising experts in the field.
When they opened: 2010
What happened: Not sure what to make of this one yet. It sure seems like Trada is calling it quits, but it’s hard to imagine why. According to a Venture Captial Post report, Trada was the 27th fastest growing company in the United States, as ranked by Inc. 5000. Trada got a steady dribble of funding over the years since it started in 2010, and millions of dollars in revenue was coming in. And yet, reports from last month indicate that most of the staff has been laid off, and closure or bankruptcy is imminent. Trada, which was backed by Google Ventures to the tune of $6 million in 2010, and its founder, Niel Robertson, are claiming that the layoffs are part of their ‘changing business model.’ Maybe, but as we well know by now, that’s a refrain that doesn’t always ring true. We’ll have to keep an eye on this one, but it’s awfully hard to put a positive spin on laying off most of the staff.
Who they are: Longtime developer and publisher of scores of hit video games, including – umm, give me a second – well, they made some pretty sweet wrestling games for the Nintendo 64. They did publish the Saints Row games. Arguably the high point. That South Park game survived, getting picked up by Ubisoft.
When they opened: 1989
What happened: What’s your favorite game of all time? Chances are, it didn’t come from THQ. THQ was never known for making the best games, but it was always known. It was one of the classic third party developers of gaming in the ’90s, and, like that old cat that makes a mess of the carpet and hisses at everyone, they weren’t widely loved, but it doesn’t feel quite the same without them. It was a long, slow march for THQ, as rising debt and high-cost misfires finally became too much to bear. Layoffs hit hard, and development teams went scrambling to find new homes (many of whom did). Sad to see an old friend go, but the end of THQ did give us one of the best stories to come out of the year that was in failed businesses – that the main headquarters were allegedly burned down for insurance money.
6. Fred Flare
Who they are: Online novelty shop. The best place to get celebrity papercraft sets? Bet on it.
When they opened: 1998
What happened: The saddest entry on this list, Fred Flare truly was an old friend – a shop whose products we featured several times on Chip Chick. It’s also a bummer because Fred Flare had been around since 1998 – practically the dawn of the modern Internet. The vicissitudes of capitalism turned the tide against Fred Flare in recent years, as stiff competition in the world of novelty online shops restricted revenue. A site redesign that was to be a savior instead turned into a death knell, and founders Keith and Chris had no choice but to close up shop.
Who they are: Most recently, a solid-state storage manufacturer
When they opened: 2000
What happened: There’s only room for so many players in the solid state game. So suggests OCZ CEO Ralph Schmidt, mulling over his company’s bankruptcy in an Ars Technica report. Schmidt also cites NAND supply problems and credit issues as factors in OCZ’s downfall. But, OCZ’s story has a better ending than most – namely, a buyout. Earlier this month, Toshiba announced it was buying OCZ in its entirety -technology, products, staff, the whole thing – for $35 million. We don’t know whether or not the OCZ name will live on, but at least the company won’t completely die out.
Who they are: Oh, I think you know. A pioneer in the truest sense of the word, Atari was one of the forerunners of the video game – quickly becoming today’s premier entertainment medium.
When they opened: 1972
What happened: Nolan Bushnell’s brainchild, Atari was once at the the very top of the video game world. They gave us Pong, but really, when you consider Atari’s significance in the early world of video games, what haven’t they given us? In January, Atari filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy with the intent of selling off its undeniably lucrative logo and franchises – Pong, Centipede, and Asteroids, and you know those can make a buck. If you feel like you’ve read this before, I don’t blame you. Atari has been hacked up, morphed, and reanimated so many times that it’d make Frankenstein’s monster feel civilized. That’s the thing about being a former titan – even in death, your lifeless husk will always retain value. The Atari name, assuredly, will live on. Its present form will not.
Who they are: It’s a city. That city in Michigan. You know the one.
When they opened: I don’t know, in the 1700s?
What happened: Man, I don’t know. I’m not about to try to explain the decline of Detroit in a hundred words. It’s safe to say that the answer is a lot more complex, and the blame more widespread, than most talking heads and pundits would care to admit. Suffice it to say the auto industry struggled, unemployment shot up, and the city ended up mired in debt that just would not stop growing, even as more and more people continued to abandon the city. This was the year that Detroit threw up its hands, becoming the second city in the United States (first one was Stockton, CA last year – yeah 209!) to file for bankruptcy. The city is now negotiating with its creditors, searching, somehow, for a way to revitalize what was once an iconic American city.
Who they are: A young startup and makers of marketing software.
When they opened: 2010
What happened: CEO Rob Eleveld isn’t saying, but mass layoffs and shut doors tell the tale clearly enough. After receiving initial funding in 2010, Optify churned along selling marketing software to other businesses until – well, until they didn’t. The layoffs and closure in November seemed to take everyone by surprise, employees and customers alike. In fact, according to a Geek Wire report, one company bought Optify’s services, only to turn around and read news of Optify’s impending doom on the same day. Surprise! The website is down, the doors are closed, and the employees have been told to go home. It doesn’t get any deader than that.
Who they are: Photo sharing site, allowing you to send digital postcards to friends featuring you at various locations. Seriously called themselves Hipster.
When they opened: 2011
What happened: It takes a strange mix of moxie and an utter lack of creativity to name yourself Hipster, but there you have it. The result, comically, was a service that had virtually nothing to do with anything popularly associated with hipsterdom, unless you count the irony therein. In fact, in the beginning, no one knew what Hipster was – there was just a web page telling people to sign up for a service called Hipster that was coming soon to San Francisco. Naturally, thousands of people signed up for – you know, let’s take this opportunity to fully realize that, when a startup needs to resort to drummed up gimmicks like this to get clicks and sign-ups, 99.5 percent of the time it’s because there is nothing under the veneer. The only secret they’re keeping is that they have nothing to show you. Anyway, Hipster actually turned out to be a way to take photos of yourself around town – you could send photos to friends, and others could look at a visual history of a selected location based on user uploads. Excited? Neither was anyone else. Numbers fell off after people actually found out what Hipster was, and the company called it quits in February.
Who they are: Rented out movies and video games, sold candy, soda, and microwave popcorn if memory serves
When they opened: 1985
What happened: Netflix. Red Box. Hulu. The Internet. Digital downloads. The Pirate Bay. The list of suspects in the murder of Blockbuster is so long, you could start a game of Clue with them. The old movie rental house actually went bankrupt in 2011, but a handful of stores stayed open after Blockbuster’s assets were sold off. This year, the last remaining Blockbuster stores in the United States closed for good – a harbinger, perhaps, of the end of tangible media. We’ll always have memories, and we’ll also have the awesome South Park episode where Randy buys a Blockbuster and goes nuts à la The Shining. It’s illustrative to think of what a Blockbuster pitch would be like today. You have to leave home, go to a place, get something to watch, pay, then drive all the way home. And sometimes they won’t have what you want. Sound like that’s going to fly in 2013? Nope.
Who they are: Photo uploading app promising users the possibility of selling their photos for cash
When they opened: 2011
What happened: Pictorama nailed the first half of their venture – attracting photographers. No surprise there – who wouldn’t want to make a little extra scratch with all those smartphone pictures they’d probably be taking, anyway? The second half of the venture – actually getting others to buy the rights to those photos to use as stock images – never materialized. Not enough buyers meant not enough revenue, and Pictorama started losing money so fast that by the end, they couldn’t even afford to pay out on their uploaders’ accounts.
14. Better Place
Who they are: Electric car company that would have sold affordable electric cars. The cars would lack batteries, which would be rented from Better Place and could be swapped at any number of robotic stations.
When they opened: 2007
What happened: You can probably tell from the description why this one failed. Robotic stations. Those are expensive to build, and Better Place needed to build a lot of them. They tried a pilot run in Israel, a small country where the founders hoped the concept could be tested and borne out. It wasn’t – the infrastructure was too expensive. That’s a massive hurdle, especially considering the even more massive hurdle following it – attracting customers. Not enough customers bought in to Better Place, which was hurt by the fact that not very many electric car manufacturers make cars with swappable batteries in the first place. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from high-flying firms, the overly optimistic vision gave way to hard reality, and Better Place filed for bankruptcy in May.
Who they are: Uber for private jets
When they opened: 2012
What happened: Rich people backed by other rich people letting down other, equally rich people. Blackjet was supposed to be an on-demand private jet service – users would pay a membership fee (a paltry $2,500), and could then book a seat on a private jet in seconds – in theory, anyway. In practice, Blackjet ended up having an opaque, months-long approval process for new accounts that comically took place after the membership fee had been paid in full – in the meantime, those would-be new users weren’t actually able to use the service. Blackjet, which contracted with other private jet companies in what was basically a middleman role to fill empty seats, was beset by user complaints. Makes sense, since the service was non-functional for so many people who tried to use it. Despite early support from Ashton Kutcher, Jay-Z, and a bunch of big-name investors and tech elite, Blackjet has now laid off most of its employees and is hemorrhaging cash.