It’s not uncommon for a tech startup with much potential and praise to be gobbled up by a larger corporation — only for it to be neglected and left to wither on the vine (it’s why there’s been so much emphasis lately on allowing acquired startups to remain autonomous, a la Instagram/Facebook and Tumblr/Yahoo). Yahoo in particular is often accused of letting much-beloved communities die from neglect (See: Flickr and Delicious). Occasionally, a startup founder who’s heartbroken at the sight of a once-thriving community falling by the wayside, will attempt to raise capital and buy the company back from its corporate behemoth. But something interesting happened to Andy Baio recently: Yahoo offered to give him his startup, Upcoming.org, back for basically nothing.
Now, there are some caveats here: Technically he had to pay a “nominal fee” and Yahoo just gave him the domain and Trademarked name, not the underlying code. But it’s enough for him to, with the help of Kickstarter, build the site from scratch:
Baio says Upcoming will never look like a “$100 million VC-backed startup,” in part because he promises in his campaign that he won’t sell the service again. The goal is to build Upcoming into something independent and self sustaining, with a “long, slow growth curve.” In other words, the anti-Oculus. In the wake of the Oculus controversy, the effort puts a new shine on Kickstarter, though others have used the crowdfunding site in somewhat similar ways. Video game company Harmonix is trying to kickstart a remake its 2003 PlayStation 2 game Amplitude, and famously, the site helped launch a Veronica Mars movie after the television series was cancelled.
Under his agreement with Yahoo, Baio gets the Upcoming name and web address, but none of the code. That’s fine, he says. The current codebase was built on Yahoo’s infrastructure, and the original Upcoming was built in a different era. These days, Upcoming can leverage powerful online services available elsewhere on the web. Baio plans to use Foursquare’s programming interface to retrieve venue names and locations; OpenStreetMap for mapping; and Twitter for authentication. And given that it’s 2014, he’s even considering a mobile app, if he can find the right help.