Samplify: A Love Story

How my team entered a hacking battle royale with WhoSampled.com


I left for MHacks at 4:00AM on a Friday morning. I hadn’t slept the night before, as my roommate kicked me out for girl-time. Along with my designer Stephen Song and developer Chris Altonji, I aimed to build a unique and elegant music application. The app is best described by this informational video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rki5s02umGo

A musical friend of mine suggested the idea to me on Christmas. As you can see, the result was fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of bugs. However, given that we had 36-hours to build this app, I was proud of our creation. At 8:30AM we submitted the app to the Play Store, and by 10:00AM it was live and ready for download.

Posting your app on the Play Store is like sending your kid off to his or her first day of school. It’s exciting but scary at the same time. You can only hope that you will see success.

After presentations, I came to the conclusion that my child was the ugly duckling. On launch day we received less than 40 downloads and no awards from MHacks. Disappointed, we started on our 16-hour journey back to Atlanta.

After the seemingly endless bus ride and another 24-hours of sleep, I woke up Tuesday morning and re-evaluated our situation. I knew that the app had potential, I just had to find who would appreciate it. Stephen suggested reddit.

Never having reddited before, I was unsure what to write. After consulting a couple of my reddit-loving friends, I posted the project in /r/Music at 5:00PM on Tuesday. This my friends, as I soon discovered, is the golden hour.

By the end of the day, Samplify had earned its way to the front page of reddit. Thousands of people downloaded the app, and thousands more requested iOS editions. Emails and requests for interviews flooded in. 25 articles were written about us in 5 different countries. Even Universal Music Group wanted to know: “What’s next for Samplify?”

I woke up Wednesday morning with a lovely email from WhoSampled. All of my excitement from the night before vanished and crumbled to the floor in a puddle beneath my feet. WhoSampled disabled our access to their database, and was threatening us with legal action. They demanded that the app be taken down immediately.

Our child was threatened, and it was our job to protect it. They disabled our user-agent, but we quickly wrote a script that would generate nonexistent versions of Chrome to spoof their server. With the support of the hackathon community, we felt unstoppable.

This decision to fight back brought us into a battle royale with WhoSampled. As we fought to solve the challenges WhoSampled threw at us, for every 8 hours that Samplify was live, it was down for 16. We fought a constant war to keep our child alive.

Of course, we knew this would eventually to come to an end. On Saturday morning, we received a final cease and desist from the CEO of WhoSampled. If we kept the app online, they would formally file a lawsuit first thing Monday morning. We posted this letter on our homepage to break the bad news:

We’re sorry to announce that Samplify has closed its doors.
On January 14th we embarked on a 16-hour road trip to Detroit to start development. 36 sleepless hours later, we left with a product that we were proud of.
After a post on reddit, the app exploded in popularity. The influx of emails and overwhelming positive support was astounding. As undergraduate students, we never expected to make something that would be truly well received by the general public.
We wish this could have lasted forever, but costs were high and risks were higher. It’s only been a week, but its time to head home, lie on the couch, and watch “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” We plan on developing future apps, but Samplify will not be one of them.
Remember that you will always see the flaws in your work, but in the eyes of others your project may have some sort of value.
Best,
The Samplify Team

It was sad to see the project end, but I learned more about startups in that 5-day period than I have learned in my entire life. I discovered what is was to market an app, reach fame, and deal with customers. I experienced first-hand the legal troubles that a startup might face, and the constant war that comes with keeping your app alive. I learned how important it is to interact with customers and tend to their every need, and I learned that if you don’t take a break once in a while, your work will become your obsession and interfere in your personal life in ways you never imagined.

With that said, I’m glad the battle is over. I may have come out bruised, but I managed to stay alive and come out stronger.

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