Tackle Box: an attempt at virality

As someone that enjoys building products, I write down and sketch product ideas in my notebook a couple of times a month or even a week. I try to remain aware of the problems my friends, colleagues, or I run into in the hopes of solving them. I write down all of my ideas even if they’re horrible; you never know what will spark inspiration down the road. I’m also kind of a huge fan of Catfish: The TV Show. While binging Season 5 recently, I realized Catfishers run into a lot of ‘problems’. Since they have to steal selfies from other people, they can’t choose the details of what’s going on in the picture. Also, because the selfies are stolen, they can easily be reverse image searched and their true origin can quickly be discovered.

The solution? Create a paid service that allows the catfisher to request original and untraceable selfies on-demand from a collection of models. Now, I believe helping solve this problem would truly be evil, but I’ve been looking for a fake project to make it go viral. A couple of years ago, my good buddy Shaun and I found viral success with our very real project, Washboard, which was reported on by some big names including GQ, Gawker, Business Insider, Vox, Time, Pando, and plenty more. What I learned from this is that comical and polarizing ideas make for easy news articles on the web. With this in mind, I created a landing page for this fake project which I called Tackle Box. This article will focus on how I built and stealthily marketed this website over the course of just a few days for around $30 bucks.

Building the landing page

I admit I’m at an advantage, as I’ve doing web development for about 15 years. But, with a very affordable web template and some basic HTML skills, anyone can handle this. I started off with a $9-dollar responsive template. I turned to Iconfinder to find a simple logo for $1.50. I then swapped out the main image with a $5 high-res stock image of a twentysomething taking a selfie. No backend code was needed for this, because all the tweaks I did to the core theme were simply HTML/CSS and a little JavaScript. Once I had my landing page tweaked, I went to Namecheap and signed up for 1 year of shared hosting with an SSL certificate, WhoisGuard, and domain name all for just $10.


Anonymously marketing on the cheap

About two hours later, we have a decent looking responsive single-page website online. Now, how do we get eyeballs on it? For Washboard, Product Hunt did wonders for us. We also got much traction on Reddit, Twitter, and Hacker News. I started on Twitter because building an active stream of content there would make it appear like a real product. I contacted folks talking about Catfish: The TV Show using search.twitter.com and engaged with them. I tried submitting the URL to Hacker News at first with little success. I also cold emailed about 20 tech blogs, which provided zero ROI. I then took the time to build up the Reddit karma needed to submit it to the business subreddit and although I can submit products to Product Hunt, to keep my identity a secret, I paid someone on Fiverr $5 to submit it on my behalf.

Product Hunt fell flat with only 5 upvotes. My Reddit business post quickly fell off the page but before it did, it caught the eye of someone that submitted it to the OkCupid subreddit. Tackle Box was on the front page of /r/OkCupid for 24+ hours. This subreddit is rather active, often having 300–500 active online readers. In total, this brought about 765 unique users and 915 page views to Tackle Box. I even received 3 requests to be a Tackle Box model.

If this were a real product I was passionate about, I would have kept going. I believe the tagline was a bit confusing so I would have A/B tested more, continued to engage on Twitter, and pushed more self-promotion. Since /r/OkCupid succeeded, I would have looked into similar subreddits such as /r/Tinder.

Was this a success? Did we learn anything?

Absolutely! This experiment helped disprove the validity of the overall idea. I knew Tackle Box was a ridiculous idea when I (fake) launched it. However, out of everyone that visited, no one clicked the sign up buttons or subscribed to the newsletter. We also learned that anyone could get traction on a new website very inexpensively without even tapping into their personal network. So, if you’re looking to launch a website or app soon and don’t have an elite Silicon Valley social circle, don’t worry! I was able to get nearly 800 people to look at my awful idea in less than a week!