This promising start-up was supposed to kill business cards. A series of bad decisions killed the company instead.
The world learned by email around midnight Eastern Time last night that Hashable will be shutting down July 25. The service aimed to connect people painlessly, help users remember where they made new contacts, and share those contacts with their friends. "We simply couldn't make Hashable good enough / we know we can build a world-class mobile ad system / back to area of expertise" tweeted Michael Yavonditte, Hashable's CEO, late last night.
But Hashable didn't have to die.
I don't know the inside story of the service's finances, but I am a Hashable user, or at least I tried to be one. I first heard of it from someone whose cool-new-product smarts I really trust, so I created an account about a year ago with a fair amount of interest. Getting me to sign up for one more thing in the first place is a hurdle--I signed up for Pinterest only last week, for instance. But Hashable seemed to have a lot of appeal. Here's what went wrong for me:
1. It was too complicated.
Through time immemorial and conference after conference, I and others like me have been seeking an alternative to the annoying, inefficient, and tree-killing business card. Hashable certainly had the potential to be that. You meet someone. You want that person to be able to contact you. You enter his or her email address or @name into your mobile device and--voila!--Hashable sends along your contact info and asks your contact for his or hers. Two business cards eliminated. Hooray!
If I had properly understood this as a primary function of Hashable, and its primary value to me, I probably would have become a regular Hashable user, and it might even have spread through the large network of writers I'm part of. Instead, signing up for Hashable involved a lot of figuring out whom I should be connecting with--the video explaining the service is almost three minutes long, and every moment is filled with how to do something different. Sorry to say it, but we live in an age in which if it takes more than two minutes of video to explain a service to people who aren't sure they need it in the first place, you'll lose them.
2. It was too intrusive.
My first trip through Hashable involved setting up my "inner circle"--folks who would be automatically notified of my encounters. I pondered this one for a long time. Not that I care if people know whom I meet, but did I want my friends and colleagues to be pestered with a message each time I met someone new? I am very shy about using services that send out messages on my behalf without asking me first. (I decided to keep Spotify only when I discovered you can bypass that feature.)
I pondered for a long time whether there were really any people in my life who would want to be alerted every time I met someone new. And then I bogged down and defaulted to my usual stance with new and untried social media: OK, I have an account. If, later on, it turns out to be something useful or important, I'll come back to it. I never did.
3. It tried to build its own ecosystem.
Hashable wanted to create yet another enclosed world in which professionals could connect with one another. We already have LinkedIn, which does that pretty well. It doesn't have Hashable's mobile contact-exchanging feature, although come to think of it, it would be pretty awesome if it did. (Are you listening, LinkedIn?)
Getting busy professionals, even ones like me for whom social connections have very direct value, to spend time checking and commenting on yet another social network is a challenge--one that even the mighty Google hasn't managed to overcome.
Researching this piece, I just learned that in December, Hashable launched a new address book that combined users' existing address books in a single place. That, along with its ability to replace business cards, would likely have brought me back to Hashable. Inexplicably, the service didn't send out an email letting users know about the change.
4. Its name was misleading.
This morning, I mentioned to my husband that I was going to write a piece about the demise of Hashable. "Oh, that's that hashtag aggregator, right?" he said. Who can blame him? I'm a big believer in names that tell you what a service does. (Netflix = good. Qwikster = bad.) Hashable is a catchy and easily remembered name, but unfortunately it seems to refer to a completely different feature on a completely different service.
When Yavonditte tweeted "back to area of expertise," he meant it. He was formerly CEO of Quigo, an online ad network sold to AOL for $363 million. Mobile advertising is certainly an area that could use new ideas and new development. It'll be fascinating to see what he comes up with.