Failure Friday: Andrew Cross on Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

July 12, 2013

11:00 am

In the startup world, failure is cause for celebration.  This is true for three reasons.

  1. Although not the preferred outcome, failure is a byproduct of risk taking.  Taking risks is the only path to success.
  2. Celebrating failure reduces the attached stigma.  Many fail to take action out of a fear of how it will reflect on them.
  3. Failure is synonymous with experience.  As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

That’s why, each Friday, we bring you a new story of an entrepreneur’s “failure”.  Failure Friday is about helping you avoid common startup mistakes, it’s about squashing the stigma, and it’s about peering inside the minds of entrepreneurs who’ve achieved success because of their failures.

This week’s failure comes from Andrew Cross, founder of Tripzaar.

Failure Friday: Biting off more than you can chew and curing with customer service

A couple years ago, when I was working on my first startup, GooseChase, we landed a partnership with the BlackBerry blog CrackBerry to run a massive scavenger hunt for their community. We’d only run a couple hunts at this point and our BlackBerry app (don’t laugh, it was a couple years ago) had only been available for a few weeks, so landing a partnership like this was huge, but also very risky.

Before now, the most concurrent users we’d had was about 10. Now we were going to be tossing thousands of participants into the app at once. Easily a recipe for disaster. Regardless, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up, so we went with it.

Sure enough, within minutes of the contest launching, the comments section on the announcement post started filling up with error reports & complaints.

For example:

“the app wont let me upload a pic (10:11am)”

“it seems that i am getting an exception every time i take a pic (10:25am)”

“Whenever I try to register I keep getting network failure…..(10:34am)”

Additionally, we’d created the bulk of the missions to have you take a picture with/of a BlackBerry. The part we forgot – you had to take the picture with your BlackBerry. We’d created a catch-22 unless you had a second BlackBerry. Sure enough, people clued into this oversight and let us know.

“I don’t think the people at GooseChase have thought this through. How can you take a photo with a BlackBerry with the Blackberry in the photo? Only possible if you have another one or working with someone else. Stupid. (2:45pm)”

The bugs were so bad that it took us a couple days and countless patches/hot-fixes before we got the app functioning properly for the majority of the participants. Even then, the extra volume kept killing our servers, grinding the game to halt. Not exactly a classy first-showing.

The only thing we did right was personally responding to everyone who posted, giving them our personal phone numbers & email addresses. It wasn’t a pre-meditated customer service strategy, but we were so embarrassed by our failure that we felt we owed it to the participants to make it right.

And it made all the difference. People who were ripping us up in the comments became our advocates. Even though the app was still shaky, being able to talk directly to our team made them want to support us.

“Wow. Already got my pictures sent to me with a personal message, not from a robot.  Well done Goose Chase. Class act all the way with a great, fun experience to boot.”

That lesson – real, personal customer service trumps all – has stuck with me ever since. So much so, the 1-888 number on my current startup’s site, Tripzaar, redirects directly to my iPhone.

Providing real, personal, empathic customer service not only diffuses a bad situation, but often reverses it into a highly positive experience. And having people walk away from an experience with your company with a warm, fuzzy feeling is the best outcome you can hope for.

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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