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29 February 2024

Top start-ups to look out for in 2008

By Rachel McArthur



Every year a new generation of web-savvy individuals make it big in the online world thanks to original ideas that prove to be hugely successful and profitable.

Just look at YouTube’s Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, who came up with the idea for a video website at a dinner party in 2004.

In 2006 they negotiated the website’s sale to Google for approximately $1.7 billion (Dh6.2bn). Not bad for two years of work.

Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of arguably one of the biggest social networking sites, Facebook, is estimated to have made $100 million (Dh367m) in revenue in the past year.

However, not everyone is waiting to become successful with their projects before they start to make money these days. Many are now offering investors the opportunity to fund a project before it gets acquired, known as “pre-IPO” investing.

This pre-IPO investing method involves buying a stake in a brand new website before the company makes its initial public offering of securities, and many of these attract investors by promising an opportunity to make high returns.

Successful websites that are likely to be acquired are usually those that manage to obtain a large amount of funding during the pre-IPO phase.

So what are the websites to look out for this year? Could we be hearing about the new Google sometime soon?

Emirates Business brings you a guide to some of the new websites that are certain to show huge potential this year.

Science & biotechnology
23ANDME (www.23andme.com)

Founders: Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki

Funding so far: $12 million (Dh44m) from Genentech, Google and New Enterprise Associates

Employees: 30

Referring to the fact 23 pairs of chromosomes make up each individual’s genome, 23andMe is a personal genetics company dedicated to helping individuals understand their own genetic information through DNA analysis technologies and web-based interactive tools. 

Established in 2006, the company’s “Personal Genome Service” enables individuals to gain deeper insights into their ancestry and inherited traits for the price of $999 (Dh3,669). All you have to do is log on, read through the online consent form and purchase the service (currently only available in the United States).

Within a few days, the website promises that you will receive a sample collection kit in the mail, with straightforward instructions on how to provide a sample. 

Once you return the sample, laboratory personnel will extract DNA from cells in your saliva, and when ready, you will have access to navigational tools on the website that enable you to explore your genome and discover a whole new world of you.

Mobile Technology
ADMOB (www.admob.com)

Founder: Omar Hamoui

Funding so far: Undisclosed sum from Sequoia Capital; $15 million (Dh55m) from Accel Partners

Employees: 30

Selected as a technology pioneer by the World Economic Forum, AdMob is the world’s largest mobile advertising marketplace, beating Google’s advertising network. Founded in 2006, the website allows advertisers to reach their customers on the web and publishers to increase the value of their sites. Moreover, AdMob offers both advertisers and publishers the ability to target and personalise advertising to their customers in more than 160 countries.

The website has already served more than 13 billion ad impressions to mobile phone users, and companies such as MTV, Disney, Coca Cola, and Xbox360 have already signed on to the service.

And it looks like there is no slowing down for Hamoui and the company any time soon. As more consumers purchase web-enabled mobile phones and with the increase in new gadgets such as the Blackberry and iPhone, the prospects for mobile advertising can only move forward.

AdMob was recently nominated for the Crunchie Award for Best Mobile Start-up.

Social networking

SPOCK (www.spock.com)

Founders: Jaideep Singh and Jay Bhatti

Funding so far: $8 million (Dh29.3m) from Clearstone Venture Partners and Opus Capital

Employees: 25

Forget networking sites. If you want to find that long lost friend (or simply want to check up on that potential new employee), then Spock is your website. The website, which was founded in 2006, is the leading people search application.

All you have to do is sign up, and then you can build your network to find where everyone you know is on the internet. Every time you search, Spock will personalise your results to include information that is relevant to your network. You can enhance your search even further by establishing a trust relationship with people in your network, allowing you to search each other’s networks for relevant people. What is even better is you can also modify information that Spock finds about you on the internet.

The website works by organising web content about people into easily understood search results, by using information from biography pages, social networks, news sites and blogs. Spock has been receiving increasing media attention, and was selected as Best of Show at the recent Web 2.0 conference.

IT & telecommunications

Founder: Martin Varsavsky

Funding so far: $35 million (Dh128.5m) from Skype, Google, Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Excite, Digital Garage, and BT

Employees: 90

Fon has become the world’s largest Wi-Fi community despite being in the business only for two years

It enables users to synchronise their home Wi-Fi hotspots so that if you have paid for a broadband connection at home, you can enjoy instant access to all the other hotspots on the Fon network.

All you have to do is sign up, and the website offers you free software to download to your computer, this will then open up your Wi-Fi routers, allowing password-protected access for others. Most recently, the United Kingdom’s British Telecom (BT) joined forces with Fon to create BT Fon, giving access to BT’s three million customers.

Third-party applications

SLIDE (www.slide.com)

Founder: Max Levchin

Funding so far: $20 million (Dh73.6m) from BlueRun Ventures, The Founder’s Fund, Khosla Ventures, and Mayfield Fund

Employees: 60

Launched in 2005, Slide is the largest personal media network in the world, reaching more than 134 million distinctive global viewers each month.

The website helps people express themselves and tell stories through personalised photos and videos created on Slide.com and viewed anywhere on the web or desktop.

Slide widgets, such as slideshows, guestbooks, and other applications are immensely popular on top social networking websites, such as MySpace, Bebo and Hi5.

More importantly, Slide is also the leading application developer on Facebook with more than 63 million applications installed, including “SuperPoke” and “Top Friends”, the most active application by more than four times that of any other third-party developer.
Levchin is also no stranger to the online big league. Before Slide he was the co-founder of PayPal, which he sold to eBay for more than $1.5 billion (Dh5.5bn) in 2002 at the age of 26.
The next big thing
POWERSET (www.powerset.com)

Founders: Steve Newcomb, Barney Pell and Lorenzo Thione

Funding so far: $12.5 million (Dh46m) from Foundation Capital and The Founder’s Fund

Employees: 70

One website that looks more than ready to take on Google in the future comes in the form of Powerset.

Founded in 2006 and currently under development, Powerset is in the process of building a massive transformative consumer search engine based on natural language processing.

This means that ultimately it aims to produce search results that are even more on the mark that its rival – and potentially more valuable to advertisers in the long run.

While Google’s search engine matches words within search queries with text in web pages, Powerset aims to analyse the actual meaning of words and phrases that it indexes on the web.

It then will analyse the linguistic meaning of the query and find the best matches between the two, theoretically, at least, producing more meaningful results.

This is definitely the big one to look out for this year.