iYomu was a social network designed for adults, that launched in August 2007 with a splashy $1 million competition. Less than a year later, the company has closed its doors. Turns out adults didn't want a separate social network after all, or at least not iYomu's one. In this post we explore why this New Zealand startup failed. It wasn't just because of a lack of US funds, the lame excuse given by one of its co-founders. Execution was poor and there were design issues.

In an email to iYomu members this week, co-founder David Wolf-Rooney wrote:

"For almost one year iYomu seemed to make the world a smaller place where 100 000 people came together and found a common space where grown-ups could meet, greet, debate and share interests. Yet it is not only people who rule the world, but money does too. We tried, we thrived and then we died."

In my initial review of iYomu in August 07, I was reasonably positive about the site. I'd met the founders at a local cafe and they seemed like smart, passionate people who wanted to bring the social networking revolution to a relatively under-served market - adults.

The site was restricted to those over 18. The idea was to provide a place for older people to stay in touch with family and friends, as well as store and share media. Initial networks within the site included ones for working mums, property investors, golf courses and book clubs.

I still don't necessarily think this was a bad concept. Although it is certainly very hard to execute, because the Internet and social networking online are not native to the older demographic. However, it's true that older people have different needs online - and those aren't necessarily being met by MySpace or Facebook.

But in the end, iYomu didn't meet those needs any better than Facebook. The failure of the site was due to poor execution on a number of fronts:

1) The design was predominantly in Flash, which isn't ideal for a social networking site. I say that in hindsight, because I too fell for the relative beauty of the design (compared to MySpace) and didn't consider how practical it was. Turns out not very. Note though that a number of RWW commenters were quick to point out the flaws of using Flash in a social network site.

There were other issues with the design other than the Flash. For example Laurel Papworth wrote:

"There was no group function - if you post up that you want "blueberry muffin recipes" in the cooking group, you get email from say 20 people with different recipes. But they don't see who responded, or contribute to making the recipe better. If that explanation is confusing think of it as this way - a many-to-one, not many-to-many conversation."

2) To get started on the site, you had to complete a personality test and a long profile process. I did point this out as a concern in my August 07 review. Even older people have a relatively short attention span online :-)

3) That led to the next problem: there was little incentive to return. I think I logged in a couple of times after signing up in August, but I haven't returned this year. (maybe I just don't want to admit that I might be old)

4) Did the $1 Million challenge backfire? I initially thought it was a great promotional tool back in August. However many people didn't and ultimately, the contest was managed very poorly. Chris Keall of NZ PC World wrote that "iYomu's win $US1 million puzzle competition came over like a piece of spam (an impression not helped by a mysterious, extended process of determining the winner. Apparently some guy in Malaysia eventually pocketed the cash. For some reason, iYomu choose not to promote the handover, or document it in any way, to the annoyance of members on its message boards)."

There were many attempts at gaming the competition. Some of the leaders of the contest were kicked out in December. And then when it came time to announce the winner in February 2008, the Malaysian $1 million winner was removed form the site and their identity was never revealed. Some people in the site's forums even accused the competition of being rigged. The IT Brief website notes that iYomu eventually "made a settlement with the winner that both parties agreed on."

5) It just didn't scale, even with the $1m challenge. At the end there were 100,000 members, according to David Wolf-Rooney's email. Most of them probably weren't regular visitors to the site.

6) Yes, money problems... but with a twist. Apparently it was a geography problem. IT Brief quoted Wolf-Rooney as saying: "We tried to compete with sites in the US, but without access to the sort of funding they have, it was just impossible. We needed millions to really promote and expand the site, money we just didn't have."

I'm sorry, but that's BS. I'm a firm believer that international companies can compete with those in the US in the Web space. And if you need to go to the US to get funding, well then do it. Plenty of kiwi and aussie startups have made the trek to Silicon Valley when they want to raise funds and network. Some even open offices there. There's absolutely nothing in your way if you want to raise money in the web 2.0 world, no matter where you're from. But you have to prove that the site is worth investing in, and that's probably why iYomu couldn't get funding.

Conclusion

An unfortunate end to what was, I thought, not such a bad concept. Probably iYomu in the end didn't have enough to differentiate it. As Ben Kepes wrote in his blog today, "iYomu failed because it was a me-too offering with no real degree of differentiation."

I still think the older demographic is a good target for a niche social networking site. And as a RWW commenter pointed out back in August, there are others aiming for it: e.g. Eons, myboomerplace.com, boomj, elderwisdomcircle.org, family sharing sites like MyFamily, and Geni.

I hasten to add though that this is a very hard target market. ReadWriteWeb's resident Baby Boomer, Bernard Lunn, wrote a great post entitled: Why Eons, a MySpace for Old People, Failed. Bernard claimed that "the idea of targeting by age is just not smart marketing." Instead you should target by content, he wrote. With both Eons and iYomu now having failed, it's difficult to argue with that logic.

In the final analysis though, iYomu didn't get off the ground not because it targeted old people - but because it executed poorly. It had crucial design flaws, little to entice people to return regularly, a PR campaign that in the end backfired, and the site just didn't scale to enough people quickly enough.

Back to LinkedIn I guess. What did you think of iYomu?

Old people pic by Ward