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Deflated Expectations

Cleaning out my office, I came across the October 2006 issue of Business 2.0, a magazine that’s been out of print since late 2007. As I prepared to toss it, the cover story grabbed my attention: The Next Disrupters: They’re gunning for Google. And Skype. And Citibank, Ford, Oracle and AT&T. Meet 11 companies whose breakthroughs will change everything.”
Wow! These must be killer companies! So who are they and how did they change everything? A look at a few:

  • NetVibes—a widget dashboard that was supposed to make Yahoo! and others obsolete. It was sold in 2012. Truthfully, the name sounds vaguely familiar.
  • Eestor—“a ceramic power source for electric cars that could blow away the combustion engine.” Really? It’s not technically a battery, but could charge in five minutes and provide enough energy to drive 500 miles on about $9 worth of electricity. There have been repeated delays and no public demonstration of the technology. Disrupt what?
  • Coghead—a software tool that lets anyone actually create their own apps so they don’t have to wait for their IT department to do it. Sounds like the founders never had a real job. SAP did buy the company in 2009 and then took the public-facing platform offline.
  • Applied Location—a satellite-based system for toll collection, traffic congestion management and pay-as-you-drive insurance. It was supposed to disrupt E-ZPass (which I’ve actually heard of) among others. The company went into receivership in 2012, and others took over the assets.
  • Bluelithium—serving highly targeted ads on the web by monitoring everybody’s clickstream. The founder was quoted in the article as saying that “Google is a one-trick pony when it comes to Web ads. They’ve miserably failed in the last year with display ads because they look at the world through text advertising.” So this firm was going to disrupt Google! Well, almost: Yahoo! acquired them in 2007 for $300 million and it’s now known as Yahoo! Advertising. In the meantime, Google isn’t feeling the pain.
  • Jajah—Free phone calls over the web with no downloads, headsets or adapters. Meant to disrupt telecoms, VoIP and Skype. It shuttered in January 2014.
  • Nanolife Sciences—more precise cancer treatment that’s less destructive to healthy tissue. Meant to disrupt conventional treatments like radiation and chemotherapy. How’s that working out?

There was only one true bright spot in Business 2.0’s selections: Salesforce.com. In October 2006, Salesforce.com had 25,000 customers and more than 500,000 individual subscribers, and CEO Marc Benioff predicted he would replace traditional database companies like Oracle and SAP.

Now, Salesforce.com is part of the S&P 500, ranked by Forbes as the most innovative company in America in 2012 and as No. 19 in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2013.

Let’s face it: Technology is shifting. Remember when Nokia and Motorola dominated cellular phones? How about Blackberry? Today’s hot device or software idea could be tomorrow’s BetaMax VCR.

It’s fun to look back eight years and see what the predictions were for the next tech revolution. Maybe you have your own stories or experiences to share. Please do.

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