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There was a time not that long ago that Sonar was one of the most promising startups around, which included a lot of hype at TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2011 and SXSW in 2012. Never heard of the app? It was a social discovery app that used platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare to inform a user of near by friends and tell you how you’re connected. Why do we keep using the past tense? Because Sonar has gone belly-up.
Failing startups are fairly common, but Sonar appeared to have a bright future. People seemed to genuinely like the app and its features. And, aren’t these sort of people discovery apps all the rage right now? So, what went wrong with Sonar?
Well, we don’t even have to speculate. Sonar founder, Brett Martin, already did that for us with a brutally honest “postmortem” that he posted on Medium. It’s a great lesson for any future entrepreneurs on how to make your startup successful, but here are a couple of highlights.
- Sonar listened to too many requests, such as adding LinkedIn. While people asked for this feature, no one actually used it.
- Instead of growing the company, the founders were more interested in engagement. Martin explained, “Growth is the only thing that matters if you are building a social network. Period. Engagement is great but you aren’t even going to get the meeting unless your top-line numbers reach a certain threshold (which is different for seed vs. series vs. selling advertising).”
- Don’t attend events until “you’ve built your own audience.”
- Forget side projects and what your competitors are doing. “The only way one startup can kill another startup is by getting into the other’s head and leading them off a cliff.”
- “Startups don’t die when they run out of money, they die when their founders let go.”
For more lessons learned from Sonar’s collapse, you should really check out the letter that Martin wrote. Hopefully, more founders will thoroughly read the post and take something away from it. It’s not everyday that a failed startup founder pours their heart out and admits where they went wrong.
While Martin gave his reasons for the failure of Sonar, what are your reasons for the app’s demise?