Yep, Social Discovery Startup Sonar Is Dead (And Its CEO Explains Why)

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So, uh, what’s going on with Sonar? The startup, which promised to connect users with relevant people nearby (using data from Facebook, Foursquare and elsewhere), seemed to have disappeared from the web, as noted in a Valleywag post earlier this month. But we’ve been trying to get in touch with the team to figure out if the startup was truly dead or just preparing for a relaunch. When I spoke to former CTO Paul Fisher last week, he didn’t sound entirely sure himself.

Well, co-founder and former CEO Brett Martin just eliminated that ambiguity with a post on Medium about “the rise and fall of @sonar”. And in an email, he told me, “To my knowledge, there’s no one working on it full time. I stopped working on it a few months ago.”

You may have noticed the odd caveat there (“to my knowledge”). Martin said that’s because Sonar was “a corporate entity that was owned by various parties” and “those parties could be doing something with the asset that I am unaware of.” (I reached out to Nihal Mehta, who invested through ENIAC Ventures, and he said there were larger investors who are “dealing with the assets.” He added that ENIAC would “back Brett again in a second — it just didn’t work out this time.”)

So what lessons does Martin draw upon in his blog post? Well, there are a bunch, so you should probably just check out the whole thing, but one of the big themes is distraction. The things that Martin said “I wish I spent less time on” include focusing on events, working with agencies, pursuing side projects, and worrying about the competition.

On the last point, he noted that “the insider media had fabricated Highlight as heir to the throne” in the run-up to last year’s South by Southwest conference. (Not that we had anything to do with that.) What actually happened, in Martin’s view, was that “Highlight never went anywhere but we definitely wasted a ton of energy and sleep ‘responding to the threat’ when we should have been figuring out how to make our own business work.”

Martin also said that, “when the ambient social networking space iced over in the spring of 2012,” Sonar spent nine months unsuccessfully trying to get acquired by a daily deals company. As for what finally killed the company, he wrote, “I ultimately stepped away from Sonar when I came to the conclusion that, despite all that we had invested, everyone stood a better chance starting anew.”

Judging from LinkedIn, he’s now working on a new company.

Fisher, meanwhile, recently left to become CTO at tablet publishing company Onswipe, but he said it wasn’t because Sonar was shutting down (not at the time, at least), but because of the opportunity in his new role: “It was a tough decision to leave [Sonar], as I have always been a believer in the team and the incredible product we had built.” He added, “Sonar was an incredibly talented team, and even if the company doesn’t continue forward, I have incredible respect for the entire team and its investors.”