Berlin Startups: Heyyo, seriously?

After about five years in tech, it’s sometimes hard to not become cyncial about and/or overly critical of some very early stage projects that seem rather… not so “promising”. These days, I manage to have a somewhat positive attitude towards most new things, even if they seem somewhat (s)crappy on first and second look. Lots of great companies started out that way, after all, and things looked significantly better for them after a significant pivot etc.. Sometimes you just have to also criticize quality though. (I very much like to criticise questionable business practices and unethical or “illegal” business models of startups – although maybe not quite as much as Daniel Brückner – and think it’s a good thing to do that frequently, but that’s another story.) Maybe it will actually help and get the startup to make a succesful pivot? Ideally before the bubble bursts

When I first heard of Heyyo, I was not sure if I should think that this is Berlin’s Vooza now, or just a side-project of Dr. Frankenstein – but it’s not. To be clear, I would very much welcome it if there was something like a “Berlin Startup-Vooza”. There’s lots of jokes to be made about startups, especially here, and they are not made quite often enough. Anyways, it’s quite obviously not that. These people are serious.

So, why would it be “good” to call it a Frankenstein side-project? First of all, because it would be great if it actually was just a side-project. Unfortunately, for the people involved, I think it is supposed to actually be a real startup. (They even participated in Startup Safary, to recruit.) One can only hope that they work on or think of other products (soon!), that should become their focus. For now, it’s Frankenstein’s startup’s product: A strange mixture of Periscope/Meerkat and TapTalk or Snapchat, with some elements of the original B2C product of Tout* thrown in . You have spontaneous live video calls, with a group of friends. And to, make it less useful, the calls are intended to be limited to 30 seconds!²

If you now have only one (dirty) idea left in your mind, for possible usage, think again: The Heyyo terms specify that they do not want that on their platform. Might be just to limit their own liability though, who knows. However, even “dirty users” probably do not like a 30 sec limit…

Literally worse than Amen

Amen was ridiculed a lot, increasingly when it became clear that it was struggling to grow much and quite a lot when it failed. The difference, however, is that behind the, arguably somewhat trivial, social media product of Amen was a very ambitious idea of building an interest graph. Something you would these days describe with the buzzword “big data”. One of the reasons why it failed was simply that the data never got quite big enough, as the userbase stayed too small.

The big idea behind heyyo? Doesn’t seem to exist, really. Not in terms of monetization, or otherwise. Just social video calls, with a group of friends. That’s it. People on Product Hunt were not very critical of it, but that does not say much at all. Other People (outside of this special kind of echo chamber) already question if there is enough people that want to send out or watch Periscope (or Meerkat) live streams on their phones, after the vanity effect wears off. While there is undoubtedly a bright future for video calls on mobile, I do not see why people would use a dedicated app, for a very specific kind of call. What problem are you solving? The “problem” of “I want to see a couple of my friends on my phone right now, but just for a short moment, not for too long, because that would be really annoying”?!? Sounds more than a bit “niché”. “Artificial” or “made-up” probably fits it better.

Since the development of the product seems to have been outsourced to an agency, I am also not that optimistic about what comes from them in terms of other products in the future. Maybe Oisin Zimmermann, the CEO, has some really deep pockets, from his former career as banker? Would hope so, for them…

* Tout is (or was?) a rather obscure startup, which started out as a 15-second-video social network startup. I only heard about them because Shaq invested in them. They since seem to have pivoted to a B2B video company.

² Based on the discussions on Product Hunt, it seems like there’s an option to extend a call by another 30 seconds.