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Marissa Mayer’s startup just rolled out apps for group photo sharing and event planning, and the internet isn’t sure what to think

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When Marissa Mayer co-founded a startup six years ago in Palo Alto, Ca., expectations were sky high for the former Yahoo CEO and early Google employee. When that startup, Sunshine, revealed that its first app centered around subscription software for contact management, people wondered if something more ambitious might be around the corner. Today, after Sunshine released two equally mundane features – event organizing and photo sharing – internet commenters were decidedly mystified.

I was also baffled last week, when Mayer walked me through Sunshine’s new offerings. Though there are AI components to all that Sunshine offers, it’s hard to understand how Sunshine’s new photo app enhances photo sharing as it exists today, and the same could be said of its new events app, which looks very much like something that was designed 20 years ago and, like other apps, encourages users to share photos tied to events organized on the platform. (The photos are hosted on Shine’s servers and “available indefinitely,” said Mayer, adding that users can share albums and send invites easily through text, iMessage, email and other communication and sharing platforms.)

It’s tempting to dismiss the 15-person outfit as out of touch. But Mayer may be onto something with Sunshine, and that’s nostalgia. While most Silicon Valley startups focus on the newest new thing, America is getting older, as the U.S. Census Bureau declared last year. Mayer says Sunshine is tackling problems for people “of all ages,” but targeting a slightly older demographic that gravitates toward the familiar and away from overly complicated products would be a smart move. Older Americans now account for a record share of spending. They have the time to socialize and take pictures. Sunshine’s interface is even steeped in the same purple hue that was long associated with Yahoo, which she famously led for five years beginning in 2012.

Asked if the design choice was intentional, Mayer seemed surprised for a moment, calling it “purely coincidental.”

Mayer sees the need for something simpler, certainly. “There are a lot of companies that focus on that bleeding and leading edge of AI,” she said. “But we think there’s a lot of things that can be done with AI that just help with everyday problems, things that we all experience every day, and are often overlooked.”

She mentioned, for example, that before launching events and photo sharing, that Sunshine  rolled out a birthday app as “kind of an adjacent area to addresses and contacts.”

She declined to discuss customer numbers, but the move is reminiscent an app run by entrepreneurs Michael and Xochi Birch called BirthdayAlarm.com. The birthday reminder and e-card site is not exactly design forward, but with more than 50 million registered members at one point, it has made the couple — who earlier sold a social media company to AOL for $850 million in cash — many millions more dollars.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mayer is friends with Birch and says she was “definitely influenced by Michael. He talked about the fact that [BirthdayAlarm] was a very simple app and got a lot of traction early on.”

Sunshine seemingly didn’t see that kind of traction from its contacts management offering. But perhaps the “fundamentally broken” act of free-for-now photo sharing and event planning will change the game for Sunshine, which raised a $20 million round in 2020 but is largely self-funded, per Mayer.

Either way, Mayer has other tricks up her sleeve, including, eventually, video sharing. “We always knew we’d be a portfolio company,” she said last week. “The core thesis has always been to take the mundane and make it magical.”

The team “thought about naming it Mundane AI,” she continued. “I sometimes think that might have been a better name.”

Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Yahoo.





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