Fly Or Die (Crunchies Edition): GroupMe, Uber, Square

In this week’s episode of Fly or Die, the show where CrunchGear editor John Biggs and I attempt to predict the survival chances of hot new products, we did a special Crunchies edition. Each of the companies we feature—GroupMe, Uber, and Square—was nominated for a Crunchie award. At some point in the show, a founder of one of the three companies comes on to respond to our verdicts (we don’t know who it is until he shows up, which is part of the fun).

You can watch the entire 20-minutes show above, which starts with GroupMe, or skip directly to the segments about Uber or Square.

GroupMe is one of the new group texting apps that have popped up this year (see also Beluga and Fast Society). Group texting is nothing new, but the combination of smart phones in everybody’s pockets (which make it easier to set up ad hoc texting groups) and a reaction against the public nature of other messaging systems like Twitter or Facebook, is making group texting increasingly popular. GroupMe, which was born at a TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon last year, does a decent job of helping you create groups on the fly from your phone’s address book. The app only sets up the group, and then all the messaging happens through SMS, which is fine, but I just wish that you could use the app as well to see all the messages and reply, and even to archive messages. SMS is ubiquitous (you don’t need a fancy iPhone or Android to use it), but it can also be expensive if you are not on the right plan.

One of the most fascinating companies we are tracking right now is Uber, which helps you get a car in San Francisco through an app on your iPhone. I was able to use it on during my trip, and once the app located me in cab-less downtown San Francisco, a car came within two minutes, and I could see where it was on a map as it was getting closer.

Uber has nailed the back-end dispatch problem with its fleet of participating drivers, but the app itself needs some work. I mistakenly entered my email when I was registering (which is not hard to do on an iPhone), and then couldn’t start over again because Uber associated my phone number, and thus my account, with the wrong email. This is a problem the company is aware of and fixing. Once I got that squared away, though, the app thought I was in Kansas for some reason and I had to manually move the pin over to San Francisco to get started. Getting the front-end right is key if Uber wants to capture more customers. The bigger challenge, however, remains the resistance of the entrenched taxi industry in different cities which will fight Uber tooth and nail as it tries it expand. I want Uber to fly, but I argue the other side in this episode.

Finally, Square is putting a cash register in everyone’s pocket by transforming iPhones into credit-card swipers. Small businesses and even individuals can now take credit card payments, and they get sophisticated analytics on the back-end. There are a lot of companies going after this space, including Intuit and other larger financial institutions. Can Square survive the onslaught by being more nimble?

Tell us what products you’d like to see covered in future episodes.