Did Google kill Kiko?

Bloggers and pundits are engaging in a game of "CSI: Web 2.0" as they try to pinpoint who did in online-calendar startup Kiko.com.

Kiko.com -- including the Web site, the software, and the domain name -- went up for sale on eBay last week. One prospective buyer, who has no public buying or selling history on the popular auction site, has made a bid thus far for $49,999.00.

Whatever the future holds for Kiko, some people are taking this opportunity to point an accusing finger at Google, saying the release of Google Calendar was the fatal blow for Kiko. Take this article from the Guardian Unlimited, which invokes the phrase "Google creep":

"It only takes Google to experiment in a particular online area to kill off fledgling businesses. That appears to be what happened to Kiko. Google launched a test version of its Google Calendar application in April, and that seems to have rung the death knell for Kiko."

Google is becoming an increasingly common and easy target for these types of accusations. The company certainly is shifting more than a couple of technology landscapes as it dabbles not only in search innovation but also Web-based applications, news aggregation, and other projects not necessarily ending with -ation, such as its shiny new free wireless network in Menlo Park, Calif.

But did Google unfairly catch Kiko off-guard with the release of Calendar and pummel the upstart into submission with its hefty muscles? Not quite, if you agree with Richard White, who was a member of the Kiko team.

White shares his own perspectives as to what happened to Kiko, and opines quite explicitly that the company's demise was more due to self-inflicted wounds.

Among them, White writes, the Kiko team didn't stay sufficiently focused:

"We were on track to release the new version of Kiko in the middle of January, when we *lost focus* and starting working on something totally different altogether. This was obviously a suicidal move in hindsight as it cost us 2 months: Kiko 2.0 launched on March 15th instead of January 15th/ During that time two important things happened:

1. 30Boxes came out of nowhere and launched on Feb 14. Thus becoming the new internet calendar darling.

2. Screenshots of Google calendar were leaked and posted all over the Internet."

Additionally, White writes that the company released Kiko 1.0 too early while it still suffered a poor UI, souring some users' first impression. Moreover, he says the team attempted to cram too many features into Kiko 2.0, which resulted in a delayed launch.

I applaud White for his mature and honest perspective of what happened to Kiko and his restraint in not simply blaming Google. The company is a formidable beast, and thus an easy scapegoat: It has the brains and the dollars to crank out innovative products, combined with the enviable agility to do so relatively quickly.

But that doesn't mean that startups should just call it quits for fear that whatever they do, Google -- or Microsoft, or IBM, or any other tech giant for that matter -- will do it faster and better. We saw plenty of promising ventures keel over and die during the Web 1.0 boom, like WebVan and pets.com, but others, like Amazon.com and Salesforce.com (founded in 1999), not only survived, but thrived.

Now we're in the Web 2.0 era, and as hardware and software, as well as the needs of business and users, evolve, the potential for innovative and successful business endeavors expands exponentially.

Yes, the promising Kikos of the world might not survive, but inevitably, another young company will grow up to become the next seemingly unbeatable Googliath. But then a new onslaught of eager Davids will emerge, wielding slings the likes of which we've never seen.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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