Sonar Sinks Under the Waves: Blog Post by CEO Brett Martin Says Why

Brett Martin sent an e-mail Tuesday night that declared the end of his startup, Sonar, the New York-based developer of a social networking mobile app that introduced its users to people of interest nearby. The app shared information users opted to reveal about themselves, and though it raised almost $2 million from undisclosed investors, the once-promising startup lost buoyancy.

Like others in its niche, Sonar sought to leverage location-based technology to show its users who else is in their surroundings. Bringing social networking into the real world has proved difficult for Sonar’s rivals as well: Pearascope, a New York-based competitor, quietly shut down sometime in June, according to its CrunchBase profile.

As far as what did not work for Sonar, Martin declined an interview, but he spoke his mind via a blog post. In the post, he talked largely of time, energy, and money wasted on strategies that did not elevate the company. For example, Martin wrote that Sonar worked to integrate with LinkedIn at the request of folks who claimed they wanted to use the app to find other professionals in the real world. However, after stitching LinkedIn into the app—which already supported Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare—Sonar saw no net boost from its efforts.

Discussions with big brands and agencies, Martin wrote, also did little to move the needle for Sonar. Rather than opening doors to reach customers of the brands, the companies actually wanted to be in on the ground floor with Sonar’s audience in case the app was a hit, he wrote.

Even efforts to salvage some of Sonar’s work proved unsuccessful. In 2012, with the startup’s prospects dwindling, Sonar’s controlling investors wanted to connect its assets to a big player—in the daily deals sector. Halting work on the app, the Sonar team expanded to retool its technology to suit the daily deals company, which almost went bankrupt in the meltdown of that market.

Some startups still see viability in the market for location-based connections. Dating apps such as Tinder and Swoon point singles to potential matches in the vicinity. It is still early to know how their prospects may play out as Sonar vanishes into the stormy waters that have claimed many other startups.

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