Location-based advertising service Chalkboard has closed its doors after the Singapore-based firm shut down its service this week, with its founders admitting that the company’s progress hadn’t been in line with its ambitions.
Founded by Saumil Nanavati and Bernard Leong (who is involved in the This Week in Asia podcast), Chalkboard was very much a trailblaizer and had become one of the region’s best known startups, so its closure has certainly come as a surprise.
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Even as it was wound down, there were options open to the team — including VC interest — but the founders have walked away because they didn’t think they could reach their lofty goal of becoming the leading location-based ad service.
“Essentially it was the right time for us to fold our cards since we our progress was not meeting our ambition-being able to dominate the market,” Nanavati said today, before revealing that the company isn’t conducting its “post-mortem” just yet.
The company, which was named after the special boards in coffee shops and small restaurants, began targeting small businesses, offering the chance to get noticed by Internet users in their immediate vicinity. The firm had found difficulties monetising the small tail, despite success stories and plenty of interest, Nanavati told me earlier this year.
Asia’s small business owners are often family-run and that, Nanavati says, can make ‘digitizing’ them difficult. Although many were able to see the benefit, the cost of acquisition and relative low spend, meant Chalkboard pivoted to target larger retailers, such as Carrefour, which became a customer in Singapore.
Despite initial progress in Southeast Asia, the US quickly became its largest market, to the point that Nanavati spent 300 days residing Stateside, Tech In Asia’s Willis Wee says.
Earlier this year, Nanavati retold me a story about an experience that saw him pitch Chalkboard to legendary entrepreneur Reid Hoffman. Essentially, the LinkedIn founder was critical of the business, saying it was unable to tap into the potential of social networks.
That criticism was something that the Chalkboard took on board, without being downhearted, and used to strengthen their product with a greater alignment with Facebook and other sites.
The company’s closure is much the same. We’re sure to see Nanavati and Leong jump back in the startup saddle soon — assuming that they’re haven’t already — more knowledgeable and experienced for their time with Chalkboard.