Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

These Five Apps Were Victims of the South by Southwest Curse

Remember Beluga and Highlight? No?

South by Southwest is a sort of geek prom, where each year an app is crowned queen. The event in Austin, Texas, which helped launch Twitter and put Airbnb on the map, has also been known to give “false signals,” as venture capitalist Jeremy Liew put it.

After so many flops, techies are starting to wonder whether there might be a SXSW curse. Several apps that captured conference goers’ attention at the show in years past have since seen their businesses undergo trouble or disappear completely.

As SXSW 2016 kicks off Friday, here’s a look back at past breakout apps that have lost their cool:

Foursquare

In 2009 and 2010, Foursquare was an essential tool for socializing at SXSW. The app, which allows users to score points for “checking in” at restaurants and shops, was for a time one of New York’s hottest startups. But manually checking in got repetitive, and location sharing became a common feature of messaging apps. Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley, a SXSW mainstay, stepped down as chief executive officer in January after the company raised funding at a lower valuation than in the previous round.

Gowalla

Foursquare’s main competitor was Gowalla. SXSW 2010 was the main battleground between these two apps, but Gowalla had even less staying power. Facebook acquired the startup in 2011 and shut it down the next year.

Beluga

This messaging app has a similar story. It played second fiddle to GroupMe at SXSW 2011. Facebook acquired Beluga and shut it down soon after. The silver lining: It laid the groundwork for some of the features in Facebook Messenger.

Highlight

The breakout star of SXSW 2012, this buzzy app automatically notified users when friends were nearby. But Highlight failed to gain traction after the festival. The team behind it has since turned their focus to a new photo-sharing app called Shorts.

Meerkat

Last year the tech world gave its heart to this live-streaming video app. Greylock Partners and other venture capitalists plowed $14 million into the company, while celebrities such as Jimmy Fallon and Madonna gave it a try. Then Twitter bought a rival startup, Periscope, and launched it into stardom. Re/code reports that Meerkat developers plan to ditch the live-streaming app and create a video social network instead.

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