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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

July 17, 2009 at 10:13 AM

Ex-Microsoft manager’s Web startup, Sampa, shutting down

A year after receiving $1 million from angel investors, Redmond Web startup Sampa is shutting itself down.

Sampa was a social networking/photo and web hosting site aimed at extended families.

When the current version of Sampa launched in 2007, it joined a crowd of free hosting and social networking services that hoped to profit from what seemed to some like an unlimited river of Web advertising.

Founder Marcelo Calbucci had been thinking about the company since 2001, according to a reflective blog entry he posted this morning that’s a valuable primer for anyone thinking about doing a Web startup nowadays.

More recently the site added premium subscription options and received funding from local investors, including Voyager Capital’s Geoff Entress. Traffic hadn’t been great and Calbucci, a former Microsoft development manager, was increasingly focused on his tech news site Seattle 2.0.

Users reported problems with the site a few days ago, including an inability to reach the company. Calbucci said at the time it was a technical glitch but news about the company would come Thursday or Friday.

The landing page today is replaced with a message saying that Sampa will close Aug. 17. People with sites hosted at Sampa can still export their site by signing in and using an “export” button, according to the message. It also offered this explanation:

Like many startups, we tried to change the world but didn’t succeed. We tried to make it easy for people to share personal stories and pictures with friends and family, and although the product worked and we amassed tens of thousands of happy customers we weren’t able to pay the bills to keep the service running.

In Calbucci’s followup blog post, he said the company faced up to its challenges starting in September when its chief executive, Paul Gross, laid it out:

In September 2008, before the collapse of the banks in the US, Paul and I had a meeting where he laid out the sad reality: Sampa was not viable as is. That was probably the worst moment for me in Sampa’s history. He just told me we didn’t have a business (more on that on a separate blog post). We failed to achieve the traction necessary to have enough revenue to continue growing or to raise a second round of financing. It was hard on me. Sampa as a business was a failure because no matter how much we tried, it could not generate a profit at its current format.

So, we spent about 6 months pursuing partnerships with larger business that could bring either a large number of customers or a new business model, and preferably both. We found several candidates and several were very interested in what we had. One by one these potential partners started to fall off our whiteboard, because they decided to built in-house, or they acquired a similar solution to Sampa, or because they weren’t ready to do the deal.

On Friday, June 1st, 2009, our last chance was gone. The partner with the highest value to Sampa decided they are not ready to do anything on this space yet and this was the final blow to Sampa’s existence. We’ll be shutting down our servers for good in August (which will give our customers many weeks to export their content) and liquidating the corporation. That’s the end of the Sampa story.

Comments | More in | Topics: sampa, startrups, Startups


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