“WTF is going on?!” is the text my co-founder, Mike, received Thursday morning around 8:45am. In true Murphy’s Law fashion, I had just sat down at your typical Blue Chip Brand Conference Room Table for a ten-hour marathon meeting, the last box to check before leaving my former marketing agency for good in search of startup glory. Glancing at my Mac, I noticed a few too many email notifications for new sign-ups to MusicBox, a concept we’d been testing for a month or so now.
Neither of us had done anything the previous night to drive irregular amounts of traffic to our site. Even more odd, all these new users were coming in within seconds of each other, and all before 9am. “Probably a bot”, we both noted. As the conference room filled with CMOs and VPs and ad execs, I opened our Google Analytics page and…HOLY SHIT…3,000 hits this morning. Scroll down a bit and….yep, someone on Lifehacker wrote a piece on us, unbeknownst to us!
That kicked off an immense swirling of all sorts of emotions over the next fifteen hours: excitement, fear, validation, relief, anxiety, raging insecurity. You know, the usual. But first, the panic: we had issues with our embedded Mailchimp sign-up form, which decided to tell hundreds of potential users that their email addresses had already been used to sign up, even when it was the first time trying for all of them. MOTHERFUCKER. Luckily, a chunk of those awesome music fans used our site’s contact form to let us know.
I spent the entire meeting doing what I swore I’d never do in my career — ignored every person talking in the room so I could respond in record time to every single email we received. #worthit
Fast forward a few days and Mike and I have 6,000 (and growing) new friends, 6,000 reasons to keep pushing forward, 6,000 signs to squash the doubt (at least momentarily), and 6,000 motivations to solidify and optimize the MusicBox process. We are no startup pros; we’re just fumbling and bumbling through this thing as best we can because we believe in our idea. With that said, here are a bunch of things we learned and realized during this ridiculous experience.
- The lean startup method is something we both believe in and follow when it makes sense. When we decided to chase MusicBox as a pivot from a previous music venture, we threw up a website in the matter of a few hours, spent $5 on a logo, decided upon key messaging, and asked for sign-ups. We ended up with about 250 users and that worked well for us. We’ve been manually matching up user music tastes with our inventory of independent artists and sending free tunes out via email, customized to each recipient (or segment, when similar preferences are apparent). Well that doesn’t scale to 6,000, let me tell you. And not virtually overnight. Should we have built a detailed algorithm and system from Day One? No, that would’ve been irresponsible. But it never hurts to ask yourself what you’d do if you experience a similar growth spurt in the blink of an eye.
- No matter how intuitive you believe your onboarding process is, you’re probably missing something. I thought we had it on lockdown, but boy was I wrong. First, a surprising number of visitors to the site filled in the “Contact Us” form instead of the actual sign-up form, thinking they had just joined MusicBox. Additionally, many new users expected to receive music immediately after hitting “Submit”, and even more wondered at which point they are supposed to fill out genre preferences. This is where good customer development effort pays off in droves. I was astounded by the quantity of folks who proactively alerted us to the issues in our messaging flow then dealt with my nagging questions, and in mostly positive ways.
- Normally, a sign-up tech glitch like we had would be disastrous. But our one saving grace was what most startups have over the Big Dogs — agility and personal attention. I responded to every single person who had problems signing up within a few minutes, and saw the frustration and anger turn to gratitude and, quite frankly, surprise. Given the current state of customer service, there is monumental opportunity to impact your users and your brand reputation by genuinely giving a shit. It ain’t rocket science, folks.
- People are friggin’ awesome. From the thousands of new sign-ups, to the media folks connecting with us, to the social shares, every moment of that day was kick-ass. What stuck out the most was the uninitiated support we received from peers we hardly knew. Pats on the back from r/startups meant more to me than I ever expected. An IT company owner, upon hearing about the Mailchimp issue, went out of his way to email me about it and test it on our site, to work towards a solution. Another startup guy I know only from online forums private messaged me a CSS tip to improve our site without me asking. And in maybe our best moment, a transgender user told us “you made my day, you rock!” because we consciously offered more than just “Male” and “Female” on our sign-up form.
- It was mostly a day to bask in our glorious state of validation, but I often felt the fear and anxiety creep in. “We’re not ready for this. We’re going to disappoint a bunch of people with high expectations. I look fat in this shirt.” As a marketing guy, most of my career has been about carefully crafting words and images in carefully selected environments with carefully predictable outcomes. Letting go like this was not in the plans. But it’s necessary, otherwise you don’t get to enjoy the great moments in between the struggles and uphill battles.
Mike and I are beyond stoked to be in this position to share killer independent music with courageous headphone jockies, and we’re working to level up on our systems as best we can. If you want to join us, you can sign up here (oh Dear God please work), tweet us here, or email me here.