Swine Flu: The New Startup Monetization Plan

Over the last few days, the TechCrunch tips box has been flooded with pitches from companies looking to capitalize on ‘Swine Flu’, the potentially pandemic disease that is currently freaking out a significant portion of Earth’s inhabitants. Now that everyone is stressing about it, what better time to make a buck, right?

First, there’s Flu Shirts, an online T-Shirt marketplace brought to you by some of the people behind Groopvine. The store has a variety of shirts mocking the current hysteria, emblazoned with taglines like “Maybe the Muslims were right about pigs” and “My dad went to Mexico and all he got me was swine flu”.

Then there’s Swine Fighter a Flash game from the guys who brought you HeyZap. Gameplay consists of clicking on diseased pigs to inject them with something and make them say, “Oink!” The game has done quite well, hitting the Digg front page and seeing over 150,000 game plays in only 24 hours. It also features a handful of guidelines from the CDC, though they’re so far below the fold I suspect very few people actually saw them.

And of course the spammers are taking advantage of the widespread alarm, sending out countless Emails with subjects like “US declares emergency as Mexican flu death toll rises” to entice unsuspecting readers.

Some of promotions currently being offered by companies are actually potentially useful, albeit opportunistic, like Phonevite’s decision to allow organizations to use its mass communication tools free of charge to broadcast emergency messages. There’s also ZocDoc the online booking site for doctors’ appointments, which has set up a dedicated hub for Swine Flu checkups being offered by doctors in the New York area. We’ve also gotten a variety of pitches from companies that have absolutely nothing to do with the disease, but are coming up with creative ways to explain how they’re helping.

Just on a personal note, I’ve always found jokes about potentially pandemic diseases to be more than a little disconcerting. People are dying. The WHO just bumped up the Swine Flu’s pandemic alert to its second highest level. I understand that many people like to laugh as a way to cope with their own mortality, and some of the media reactions are over the top, but some of this seems like grossly opportunistic capitalism. So, uh, keep rocking those T-shirts.