i-Together closes BlogFriends, mothballs Buzzspotr

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UK startup i-Together last night said it was closing its Facebook application BlogFriends, an RSS feed sharing app which had attracted upwards of 27,000 users and was growing. i-Together failed to attract a second-round of seed funding for the project which was designed to give greater exposure to non-A-List, “long-tail’ bloggers – funding which was required to improve the offering. However, they seemed to struggle to wrap a definable business model around the idea, notionally advertising-based, and fell short of the 100,000 users they’d aimed for.

In a statement iTogether said:

“Blog Friends is actually an unusually complex and resource-intensive application to maintain and grow. It also is pretty original in the way it combines your extended, fuzzy social network and your interests as filters for your blog recommendation River. Because Blog Friends was so original and quite ambitious, we had no way of projecting accurately just how many users we could welcome before our solution began to creak.”

A “sister” service to Blog Friends, Buzzspotr, which creates a “buzz” around locations like cafes, and hooks into Twitter’s API, has also not attracted backing, although it has yet to leave closed alpha stage, and has received an enthusiastic welcome form UK geek observers.

The team that built both projects – Luke Razzell, Benjie Gillam and Jof Arnold – plan now to re-focus on consultancy work at Brainbakery and Weaverluke, a move which will effectively mothball the company they created, i-Together. They hope to launch Buzzspotr to the public at some point in the future.

My analysis is this: Blogfriends was a nice idea, and had it reached 100,000 users could well have been a Facebook application with a future, perhaps inserting keyword advertising into blog feeds inside Facebook. But the project did not gain traction amongst Facebook’s rather non-blogger crowd, and felt for a long time like a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’ application. People who read blog RSS feeds tend to use full-blown RSS readers, and there are very few examples of attempts to ‘mainstream’ RSS which have worked outside well-funded giants like Google.

Buzzspotr (reviewed here), however, has a lot more potential and it’s a great shame that the simple lack of a small amount of funding has halted its development for now. The team that built both these projects is widely known in London as being amongst the best in their field – and the Buzzpotr idea of creating a social network around real-world location is essentially sound, and has lots of possibilities, not least hyper-targeted advertising at a local level. Afterall, Plazes – which requires you to download a full application to your laptop so that it can tell your friends where you are, raised €2.7m last year from Doughty Hanson Technology Ventures. The last I heard, Buzzspotr now allowed Twitterers to talk to each-other in cafes across the US. Plus, it is platform independent of Twitter and could potentially hook into a number of messaging apps. Angel or seed-fund specialists reading this would do well to get in touch with the team and see if it cannot be revived in some way.

  • http://www.twitter.com/chrsoz Chris

    Isn’t this, in part, an indication of where the UK is start-up funding wise? In SF/west coast the team would have got backed fast (based on the fact that they’re a strong set of people) and would have got both these things out of the door, with the initial focus being on just building out the propositions and getting traction, and then working out how to monetise once that’s been achieved.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t funding to be had in the UK, whether seed vc (there are 5 obvious funds that focus on very early stage investment that I can think of) or angel. And there are obviously some great initiatives going on to support and kickstart the start-up environment, e.g. seedcamp, opencoffee, web mission, etc. But in relation to angel specifically they’re not obvious and easy to find, and they’re just not as abundant in number as elsewhere (and it’s angel that most of us very early stage outfits need). And the angel groups don’t seems comfortable with what they see as more speculative consumer internet propositions (particularly as they want to see the monetisation mapped out). They’re much more comfortable with hardcore tech, life sciences, etc. So it means that the higher-risk consumer propositions that could turn into something big can get sidelined (or just not done in the first place), hence why there’s isn’t as much consumer internet innovation coming out of the UK as there could be.

    So this feels like it’s a reflection of where we’re at with the investor ecosystem here. I’m confident that the situation’s getting better, but in the near-term I think we’ll see more of these stuations. And maybe us UK start-ups just aren’t yet that good at sourcing funding, so room for improvement all round.

    Hope this exposure gets the i-Together team the coverage that will help to flush out some additional funding, so that they can push these things forward.

  • http://www.brainbakery.com Jof

    Thanks for your support Mike, Chris, and everyone in the community who’s sent their best wishes and support… Especially the Blog Friends community who’ve been awesome!

  • http://biztwozero.com David Terrar

    This is a great shame. I was one of the early users/testers of Buzzspotr, and I agree it’s definitely got potential – particularly with the steady increase I’m seeing in twitter usage. A smart investor with some modest seed funding ought to search out Luke, Joff and Benjie in short order.

  • http://www.weaverluke.com Luke Razzell

    Thanks, Mike, for a thoughtful post and for your support in general. You make the UK tech scene a better place.

    The only thing I would add is that we did have a quite exciting business model, we felt, of charging blogging influencers and would-be blogging influencers for stats on the effectiveness of their posts across specific demographics and also for “boosting” the reach of their posts into view of readers who they otherwise wouldn’t reach. However, we needed decent funding to rearchitect the Blog Friends platform outside Facebook, and in a modular and API-based manner, and then to build the extra feature sets needed for monetisation.

    Finally, I just had a very interesting conversation with some guys who are at the heart of the online ad industry about the monetisation potential of Buzzspotr as a white label service. The game’s not up for i-together just yet. ;)

  • Mike Butcher

    @Luke Razzell – With respect Luke – and I’d say this to your face btw – from where I’m standing the business model you outlined for Blogfriends failed to be communicated properly, at least to the press. It sounds interesting, but… well, it’s a little late now. Good luck for the future, however.

  • http://www.manojranaweeram.com Manoj Ranaweera

    Sorry to see another startup heading the wrong way. We have demonstrated with http://www.edocr.com what could be achieved for under £500, so I do not really understand why funding would ever kill a startup. It will only kill if the founders believe it is dead (obviously based on information available to them). But if founders cannot make it work, have they explored the possibility of handing over to someone else who could make it work? Whilst I subscribed to the service, I was never going to be a real user, as I was not aware what pain it resolved. Communication is key as MikeB pointed out. We at edocr is learning this fast. People are even having problems with the word “document”. So from now on edocr is about pdfs – I hate the sound of the word, but that may be the only way to get it across. So here is the compromise (sorry to hijack this story at this early hours):

    edocr is:

    YouTube for business pdfs
    iTune for business pdfs –
    Amazon for business pdfs –
    Google Search for business pdfs – (perhaps a bad analogy)
    Speed Dating for business pdfs – picked this up from someone at webmission08 kick of at HSBC (who said this)…

    Drop me a line if you got any more suggestions!

  • http://www.weaverluke.com Luke Razzell


    You’re quite right that we didn’t focus on communicating our revenue model while building Blog Friends. This was a deliberate policy: we knew that revenues were a relatively long way out for us, and we didn’t want to set the wrong expectations amongst our community (including our investors).

    However, the very fact that we required a good deal of runway before being able to focus properly on monetisation was clearly a big challenge for us, and a risky aspect of our strategy—though I’m sure you’d be the first to agree that it is one faced by the vast majority of C2C web-based startups. Had we hit our growth targets of 100k users by the end of 2007 (5x the 20k we actually reached by that point), we were confident we could have raised the startup round that would have given us the runway and confidence to trumpet our business model to the hills.

    We have learned a huge amount from our Blog Friends experience, and we have our users (and our critics!) to thank for that in large part. We are now seeking to build upon that learning, and upon our budding Buzzspotr location-based messaging platform, to refocus the i-together business plan around new—and more familiar and quickly realisable—revenue models.


    I’m not 100% sure what you mean by “I do not really understand why funding would ever kill a startup” means, but I think you are saying that a *lack* of funding doesn’t kill a startup. If so, I struggle to follow your logic… We all need money to live and pay the business’s bills, and it is notoriously difficult to focus properly on contracting work and build a startup—without outsourcing, at least—at the same time. And it was not realistic for us to outsource Blog Friends’ development as it was so original and complex from technical and usability points of view.

    You’re quite right about the importance of communicating the pain that a service resolves, and we always strived to do that with Blog Friends—to let people know that it was a great way to find really interesting blog posts by others and (optionally) to connect with an interested readership for your own blog posts. However, we clearly could have done a better job of communicating those benefits if they weren’t clear to you, a user. I’m sorry we didn’t make our value proposition crystal clear for you.

    It’s amazing that you are bootstrapping for under £500—congratulations, and the best of luck with edocr.com!

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