Shizzow: Side project to startup to side project again

When Shizzow announced that the startup—the foray into becoming a full-fledged company—is returning to the realm of side project

One of my favorite things about having worked on Silicon Florist for more than two years is watching the progress people are making. And watching how things change. I’ve been lucky enough to watch ideas, events, and companies come and go—and I’ve had the chance to document their stories. It’s never something I intended to do. It just kind of happened.

Sometimes those stories are happy. Sometimes they’re not. But they’re always good stories. The latest story I’ve had the pleasure of documenting as it went full circle? The story of Shizzow.

What’s Shizzow, you ask? Well, it was Portland’s own foray into the world of sharing location information. Back in the day where there was Brightkite and a couple of others. It was a strong competitor to the location sharing services. And a way to be more social by knowing who was where when. Or as it was described in the first post:

Shizzow provides the technology for you to notify your friends of your location, with as little effort as possible, so you can spend more time hanging out with your peeps and less time trying to coordinate bringing them together through phone, email, SMS and IM.

I liked the idea. And I really liked the folks who were working to put it together and make it into something. I can still remember sitting down with Ryan Snyder and Sam Keen when they unveiled the idea. And then hearing Dawn Foster was going to help. And later with Mark Wallaert.

It was just a good group of people trying to build something that had a ton of potential.

I liked them so much, in fact, that I invited them to share their idea with the folks at the Silicon Florist hosted Portland Lunch 2.0 at CubeSpace.

And I wasn’t the only one who thought so. The entire Portland tech community embraced them. And Shizzow, little by little, became a community pursuit. And the Shizzow folks knew it.

I’d like to give knucks to Scott Kevton and Ray King, who served as fabulous advisors; bows of gratitude to the publicity given by Rick Turoczy at the Silicon Florist, Cami Kaos and Dr. Normal at Strange Love Live, Marshall Kirkpatrick at Read Write Web, and Adam Duvander of MapScripting; pint glass clinks to Sue Brown, Matt Gifford, Reid Biels, Bill Jackson, John Nastos, Don Park, Sam Grover, Ken Baer and the other developers who pounded on the Shizzow API; and high fives to Sam Keen, Gus Torres, Carolynn Duncan, Aaron Hockley, Ryan Buchanan, and the countless number of others who have helped along the way.

But it wasn’t all champagne and roses. Like any startup, Shizzow suffered some bumps and setbacks.

For as quickly as Shizzow took off locally, it struggled to find a following in other areas. At the time, that didn’t seem to matter. We loved it. We used it. We knew where people were. And things kept getting better and better. From our perspective.

But then the market changed a bit. Competitors got funding. Platforms grew more prominently. New people and companies began to enter the race with new ideas—and then the game changed.

And then the economy changed. And suddenly it wasn’t so easy to bootstrap a startup and work on some side gigs. And with little capital, there simply weren’t enough hands to get everything done.

New shiny objects came along. Shizzow remained a strong product, but some of the lustre began to fade.

And now, we’ve come to today. When Shizzow announced that the startup—the foray into becoming a full-fledged company—is returning to the realm of side project.

We’ve seen the writing on the wall for some time now, with services like Foursquare and Gowalla pushing forward and securing funding, that the outlook for Shizzow and its future was dim. We’ve had to admit to ourselves, after each of has suffered periods of burnout while attempting to juggle full-time jobs and this startup, that we simply cannot continue to push Shizzow forward with our current lack of resources.

So Shizzow will continue. But not with the speed and effort it once had. And it will return to the realm of side project for Mark. Not shuttered. But maybe a little mothballed.

So what did we learn from Shizzow?

It was a great effort. With many lessons learned by the founders. And many more lessons for all of us to take away for our own edification.

And yeah, it’s a little sad having to write this. But it happens. These are startups.

And while Shizzow didn’t skyrocket to the levels of some of its counterparts, it did manage some things that were far more important. It captured our imagination with its potential. It built community. And it built connection. And it did all of that at a time when those things were desperately needed.

And honestly—quite honestly—Portland is better for it—and the startup community here is better for it—for having had the opportunity to go along for the ride.

Here’s looking forward to the next startup that manages to accomplish as much as Shizzow did.

For more from the source, read the post on Shizzow’s future from Ryan Snyder. And if you appreciate what they managed to accomplish as much as I did, please leave them a comment.


  1. […] Shizzow: Side project to startup to side project again […]

  2. Game mechanics (badges + reputation), an iPhone app, and viral status updates through Twitter and Facebook are certainly driving FourSquare adoption.

    But the real money is in the “specials nearby” feature. It’s free for merchants now, but could easily be converted into a paid marketing model.

    Who is going to get the jump on Portland merchants and own their geo-targeted marketing dollars?

  3. I always felt the lack of a mobile application, iPhone or otherwise, was one of the places that Shizzow started losing ground to other apps like Brightkite.

    When Foursquare gave everyone motivation to check in with badges, that completely changed the game.

  4. It would be interesting to do a side-by-side comparison of the approach(es) of Shizzow and those of the _other_ location services/games/apps. Was it just timing? Was it a fundamental approach to the value/usefulness of a location service? Was it because one approached it as more of a game (mayors, badges, etc.)? Just wondering what can be learned by looking at a few top-notch products in a relatively new space that are experiencing different results (so far).

  5. Portland dove head first into the location sharing market before pundits really started gushing non-stop about it. Now Mashable and others have started declaring location (apparently we can’t call it geolocation anymore) a big trend for 2010.

    So with that in mind, I think the big lesson to take from Shizzow is this: just like with OpenID, we are clearly living up to our name as a city-wide incubator for smart ideas.

  6. (copying my comments @ Shizzow blog here)

    Thank you Shizzow team for all the hard work you put into this great service, and establishing Portland in the geolocation/mobile start-up scene. I’m sure this community will still grow strong start-up ideas in geolocation/mobile and Shizzow will always be the ‘patron saint’ of that scene.

    I’m blessed to continue the relationships I’ve developed over time with some Shizzow team members and look forward to seeing future projects from these talented people.


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