Jaiku's founder discusses Google's 'kiss of death'

Jaiku logo

Jaiku was a service that the entered microblogging scene at the right time in 2007, arguably offering a superior service to Twitter. The company’s explosive growth and keen grasp of mobile led to its sale to Google in October 2007..

While at the time co-founder Jyri Engeström believed the purchase would ultimately help to broaden the service’s user base, he recently told 37 Signals that Jaiku was “put on life support” at the height of its popularity. Under the assumption that he and his team would instead be building a new, more scalable service that would be tightly integrated with a small project called Android, the end result was very different.

“In the end, what shipped was splintered into features of existing products: the activity stream is a feature of Gmail (Buzz), the mobile client is a feature of Mobile Maps (Latitude), and profiles is a feature of Search (Google Profiles). Members of the original Jaiku team, myself included, eventually left Google because we were all frustrated by these events,” said Engeström.

Today Jaiku is still running, but it’s a far less active version of its former self. Its blog hasn’t been updated since 2009 and the site is maintained by volunteer Google engineers on their spare time.

Despite feeling frustrated over how Jaiku was managed, Engeström gained valuable lessons from his brief time at Google.

“I personally learned a huge lesson, which was that being acquired by the market leader can be a kiss of death to a startup. If the acquirer is at the height of their power and you are still regarded as small and insignificant, they will find it incredibly difficult to change their ways — even if they are the smartest people in the world and your product represents a disruptive force to their business in the long run.”

After leaving Google, Engeström founded Ditto, a mobile start-up for sharing what people are up to and exchanging recommendations about restaurants, movies, and other activities. Now that he has the opportunity once again to build a product from start to finish, he is far more optimistic today than when he left Google.

“The beauty of the internet ecosystem is that you can start over, and rapidly create something that totally outdoes what everyone just a short while ago talked about as the be-all and end-all (think Friendster, MySpace). This promise of starting from scratch applies especially to entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, and I’m energized to be working on a new startup.”

Feel free to check out the 37 Signals blog for the entire interview with Jyri Engeström.

Written by David Lux

David is a blogger, marketer, and spends copious hours devouring content concerning autos, tech, and then more autos. You can follow him on Twitter: @autocontent
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