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The Flophouse: The 15 Most Significant Venture-Backed Duds

Better Place has company in the realm of high profile, big-money failures.

  • <p>Inside the <em>Better Place</em> car</p>
  • <p>Six-figure electric sports car for the man-who-has everything<br />
crowd</p>
  • <p>Broadband cowboy building "triple play" cable-internet-phone before it was cool.</p>
  • <p>Next-generation solar-panel technology for large rooftops</p>

<p>Fun Fact: Tubes from the solar panels were used in a large art installation, leading Republicans to mock Solyndra, which also lost $528 million in federal loans, as the most expensive art project ever."</p>
  • <p>Selling groceries online, and delivering them within a half hour of when you want them</p>
  • <p>Fun Fact: As recently as 2012, VPG was building its MV-1 minivan, Shown Above, (which could run on either traditional fuel or natural gas) at a faster rate than Tesla.</p>
  • <p>Ambitious mission to create one Internet router to rule them all and make Web traffic more efficient</p>
  • <p>Entertainment-oriented cell phone service for dudes, Amp’d Mobile was the “official wireless sponsor” of the Snoop Youth Football League, the Pop Warner–like group Snoop Lion set up so he could coach his sons.</p>
  • <p>A four-door electric car for the U.S. masses</p>
  • <p>Next-generation solar panel technology</p>
  • <p>Advanced lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicles and the grid</p>
  • <p>Internet-powered instant gratification of urban essentials</p>
  • <p>1990s fashion retailer when buying a book online was avant-garde</p>
  • <p>Virtual currency for the dotcom era when people were afraid to use credit cards online, Whoopi Goldberg lost some of her credibility as the face of Flooz in an expensive and silly ad campaign.</p>
  • <p><strong>Fun Fact:</strong> Its sock-puppet mascot is its enduring legacy, and advances in logistics mean that Amazon-owned Wag.com can now deliver 30-pound bags of dog food with free shipping and actually thrive.</p>
  • 01 /15

    Inside the Better Place car

  • 02 /15 | FISKER AUTOMOTIVE

    Six-figure electric sports car for the man-who-has everything
    crowd

  • 03 /15 | Western Integrated Networks

    Broadband cowboy building "triple play" cable-internet-phone before it was cool.

  • 04 /15 | Solyndra

    Next-generation solar-panel technology for large rooftops

    Fun Fact: Tubes from the solar panels were used in a large art installation, leading Republicans to mock Solyndra, which also lost $528 million in federal loans, as the most expensive art project ever."

  • 05 /15 | WEBVAN

    Selling groceries online, and delivering them within a half hour of when you want them

  • 06 /15 | Vehicle Production Group

    Fun Fact: As recently as 2012, VPG was building its MV-1 minivan, Shown Above, (which could run on either traditional fuel or natural gas) at a faster rate than Tesla.

  • 07 /15 | Caspian Networks

    Ambitious mission to create one Internet router to rule them all and make Web traffic more efficient

  • 08 /15 | AMP’D MOBILE

    Entertainment-oriented cell phone service for dudes, Amp’d Mobile was the “official wireless sponsor” of the Snoop Youth Football League, the Pop Warner–like group Snoop Lion set up so he could coach his sons.

  • 09 /15 | CODA AUTOMOTIVE

    A four-door electric car for the U.S. masses

  • 10 /15 | ABOUND SOLAR

    Next-generation solar panel technology

  • 11 /15 | A123 SYSTEMS

    Advanced lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicles and the grid

  • 12 /15 | KOZMO.COM

    Internet-powered instant gratification of urban essentials

  • 13 /15 | BOO.COM

    1990s fashion retailer when buying a book online was avant-garde

  • 14 /15 | FLOOZ

    Virtual currency for the dotcom era when people were afraid to use credit cards online, Whoopi Goldberg lost some of her credibility as the face of Flooz in an expensive and silly ad campaign.

  • 15 /15 | Pets.com

    Fun Fact: Its sock-puppet mascot is its enduring legacy, and advances in logistics mean that Amazon-owned Wag.com can now deliver 30-pound bags of dog food with free shipping and actually thrive.

What they share: mismanagement, yes, but also they're all overfunded ideas trying to cash in on an industry bubble. Plus, starting a car company is not for the faint of heart!

Fisker Automotive

Six-figure electric sports car for the man-who-has-everything crowd.
Venture Capital Raised: $1.03B
Cause of Death: Its $107,000 Karma suffered two recalls and made the notoriously temperamental Jaguar look like a Volvo. Consumer Reports: "We've had cars in the past that have been troublesome, but never anything like this."
Fun Fact: Chinese auto-parts giant Wanxiang won Fisker out of bankruptcy for $149 million. The plan: Put V-8 engines in the sleek car bodies and sell as traditional sports cars.


Better Place

End oil by selling drivers on an electric car they buy like cellphone service
Venture Capital Raised: $900M
Cause of Death: A geopolitical ideology—mission: protect Israel from its oil-producing neighbors—that spent money like a highly profitable enterprise software company before it even had a product.
Fun Fact: Honestly too many to count. Read the feature.


Western Integrated Networks

Broadband cowboy building "triple play" cable-internet-phone before it was cool.
Venture Capital Raised: $889M
Cause of Death: One word: Overbuilding. The company didn’t have deep enough pockets for a capital-intensive business.
Fun Fact: WINfirst's first (and only) project, in Sacramento, California, was eventually completed by SureWest (now Consolidated Communications), which still serves digital TV, Internet, and voice services over WINfirst's fiber-optic cable.


Solyndra

Next-generation solar-panel technology for large rooftops.
Venture Capital Raised: $708M
Cause of Death: Chinese government–backed companies undercut prices just as demand for solar in Europe slipped.
Fun Fact: Tubes from the solar panels were used in a large art installation, leading Republicans to mock Solyndra, which also lost $528 million in federal loans, as the most expensive art project ever.


Webvan

Selling groceries online, and delivering them within a half-hour of when you want them.
Venture Capital Raised: $400M
Cause of Death: Expanded too quickly, spending its VC money—plus $375 million raised in an IPO—on pricey warehouses and delivery trucks before it had a solid base of customers.
Fun Fact: Amazon hired four ex-Webvan execs to help it get its same-day grocery service right.


Vehicle Production Group

The only car ever built from scratch to be wheelchair-accessible
Venture Capital Raised: $400M
Cause of Death: A classic cash crunch: VPG had orders but no money to produce the cars to fulfill them.
Fun Fact: As recently as 2012, VPG was building its MV-1 minivan (which could run on either traditional fuel or natural gas) at a faster rate than Tesla.


Caspian Networks

Ambitious mission to create one Internet router to rule them all and make Web traffic more efficient
Venture Capital Raised: $400M
Cause of Death: A revolving door of CEOs—and business plans—chasing hot networking trends but it never really had a finished commercial product.
Fun Fact: Founded by true Internet pioneer Lawrence Roberts.


Amp'd Mobile

Entertainment-oriented cell phone service for dudes.
Venture Capital Raised: $374M
Cause of Death: Targeted customers who were the wireless equivalent of subprime borrowers who ended up stiffing the company. Also, Apple debuted the iPhone a little more than a year after Amp'd launched, rendering it moot.
Fun Fact: Amp'd Mobile was the "official wireless sponsor" of the Snoop Youth Football League, the Pop Warner–like group Snoop Lion set up so he could coach his sons.


Coda Automotive

A four-door electric car for the U.S. masses.
Venture Capital Raised: $334M
Cause of Death: Only 100 people wanted a boxy electric car that cost the same as a Chrysler 300.
Fun Fact: Coda boasted a roster of A-list backers, including former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson, former Clinton chief of staff Mack McLarty, and former BP CEO Lord John Browne.


Abound Solar

Next-generation solar-panel technology.
Venture Capital Raised: $300M
Cause of Death: Like Solyndra, a victim of stiff Chinese competition and slackening demand as everybody piled on to solar.
Fun Fact: Only spent $68 million of its $400 million in federal loan guarantees, but its legacy lives on in a costly cleanup of the carcinogenic remains of its product.


A123 Systems

Advanced lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicles and the grid.
Venture Capital Raised: $250M
Cause of Death: Its untested technology found one big backer, the problem-ridden Fisker.
Fun Fact: Burned through an additional $132 million in government loans, leading it to be purchased on the cheap by Wanxiang Group, Fisker's new owner.


Kozmo.com

Internet-powered instant gratification of urban essentials.
Venture Capital Raised: $250M
Cause of Death: Backed by the likes of Howard Schultz and Amazon, the company for too long did not charge for delivery, no matter how small the order. Funny how that proved deadly.


boo.com

1990s fashion retailer when buying a book online was avant-garde.
Venture Capital Raised: $135M
Cause of Death: A bleeding-edge website presaged the future with its virtual sales assistant, multiple clothing views, and international support. If only there had been broadband, the site might not have been such a hot mess.
Fun Fact: In the U.K., Boo.com is synonymous with dotcom excess, the Brits' version of Pets.com.


Flooz

Virtual currency for the dotcom era when people were afraid to use credit cards online.
Venture Capital Raised: $50M
Cause of Death: No one used the bitcoin forerunner much—except for some Russian criminals who used stolen credit cards to buy $300,000 in Flooz and spend it at retailers like J.Crew.
Fun Fact:Whoopi Goldberg lost some of her credibility as the face of Flooz in an expensive and silly ad campaign.


Pets.com

Selling pet supplies online—and all the bombast of the 1999-2000 dot-com era
Venture Capital Raised: $50M
Cause of Death: Rumored to have sold all its items at a loss but that didn't stop it from going public. Two-hundred sixty-eight days later, it declared bankruptcy.
Fun Fact: Its sock-puppet mascot is its enduring legacy, and advances in logistics mean that Amazon-owned Wag.com can now deliver 30-pound bags of dog food with free shipping and actually thrive.


Related Articles

The Flophouse: The 15 Most Significant Venture-backed Duds

A version of this article appeared in the May 2014 issue of Fast Company magazine.

Slideshow Credits: 02 / Image: Oleksiy Maksymenko, Alamy; 03 / Image: Flickr user Mark Turnauckas; 04 / Image: Jeff Chiu, AP Images; 05 / Image: Tim Boyle/Getty Images; 06 / Image courtesy of Vehicle Production Group; 07 / Image: Flickr user Andrew Morrell; 08 / Image: Peter Pakvis/Hollandse Hoogte/Redux; 09 / Image courtesy of CODA Automative; 10 / Image: Flickr user h080; 11 / Paul Sancya/AP Images; 12 / Image: Anthony P./Reuters; 14 / Image: Harry Pluviose/Retna; 15 / Photo by Chris Hondros, Getty Images;

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