No one ever called a limit on the number pivots a company can do, right? So here’s the latest at a company we’ve been watching for a while now. RAVN, an event planning and sharing app that itself was the product of a pivot from the developers behind “experiences marketplace” Skyara, has sent a letter out to its users telling them that the app is getting shut down at the end of this month. In RAVN’s place, the founders are starting up yet another business — their third — also loosely based around events but with a decidedly more commercial bent: a design flash sales site called Touch of Modern.
“After two years of building a new marketplace for experiences, we have decided that it is time to close down RAVN. The website and mobile app will completely stop working by the end of the month,” the RAVN team wrote in the note to users.
“We’ve had a great time helping people discover unique events and experiences they wouldn’t have found anywhere else. And we thank you for being a part of that experience.”
There is no word on how many users RAVN has picked up since its launch in November 2011, but the three founders behind the projects — Jonathan Wu, Dennis Liu and Steven Ou — clearly have the ear and eye of the investment community behind them. Skyara received seed funding from i/o Ventures of an undisclosed amount; and then when the RAVN pivot happened, that picked up some seed money, too, this time from HillsVen Capital — again, for an undisclosed amount.
When RAVN launched, it had amassed a database of 13,000 events, with the idea that users of the app could find and book events near a specific location, share that event with friends, get access to exclusive events, and keep all of that together in a planner — a little like Time Out meeting Gogobot or Tripbirds or one of the many other social travel/event apps out there.
What RAVN might have lacked was a commercial enough element to transform the app into a viable business. That seems to effectively be what they are getting in spades with their newest effort. Touch Of Modern, they say, will be starting its first flash sale at the end of this month. Users of the RAVN app are being offered a $5 credit towards those sales — although there is no indication of whether that represents a typical price for an item or a small discount.
We have contacted RAVN and Touch of Modern to try to get more information about both — what hapened with RAVN, and why the move to flash design sales, and what happens to the team and past funding. We’ll update this post as we learn more.
Update: One of the founders, Jonathan Wu, has gotten in touch with some more detail. He notes that RAVN was active for eight months and the founders decided to close up shop for both the website and iPhone app for several reasons, and they are likely to be familiar ones to others in startup-land: “The website and app were hard to scale, local discovery isn’t social or viral enough to perpetuate organic growth, and we weren’t making enough money to pay for advertising costs,” he wrote to me in an email. “We executed several iterations, but in the end, getting the traction required to grow RAVN into a big business proved to be more difficult than we had originally anticipated.”
He also notes that RAVN faced the same challenges that others such as Plancast have seen in the event discovery space; and his words confirm some of what I wrote above: “Without sustained organic or viral growth and without a solid monetization strategy, scaling is very hard in this space. We’ve toyed with the idea of offering local deals, but this still would not cure the challenges inherent with local discovery.”
He continues: “The problem with local is that it’s very hard to reach critical mass.” He notes that Yelp solved it by focusing on one city at a time and leap-frogging across multiple cities once they had traction. But he also notes that with the area significantly ore crowded with similar offerings, this is significantly harder to do.
“Many of us here believe there is still room for RAVN or another events discovery app to win the market. But they would have to solve the scaling and growth problems that we couldn’t,” he concluded. He also added that they will be raising another round of funding shortly for Touch Of Modern.