Last week, J-Squared met up with Brian Williams of Viget Labs to discuss 9 conflicting tips for start-ups. Two of Brian’s discussion points were eerily relevant to our situation at J-Squared, namely ‘make mistakes’ and ‘scale it later.’ When J-Squared launched the Sticky Note application on Facebook, scaling was not a top priority. It should have been.
Since launch, we’ve experienced several scaling problems, some of which we haven’t been able to solve quickly enough to maintain our desired growth and follow the momentum of our users. Still, Brian also mentioned how mistakes can turn into benefits if handled gracefully. He told us the story of flickr, and how they turned a technical malfunction into a success story by creatively interacting with customers. They essentially created a contest while their site was down, and received tons of positive feedback for it (and lots of submissions!).
We took this lesson to heart. Here’s our story, which was obviously a trick we pulled directly from Mr. Williams and Flickr:
As we were unable to scale effectively, our site performance suffered. We witnessed frustration spreading rampantly through our user base, and decided we had to take down the site to fix the problem. We felt torn because we were gaining users – but it had to be done. Instead of settling for the normal Facebook error message however, we thought we could lighten the mood a bit with a little creativity.
So we created a contest. People love contests. Instead of a red error message, users got a quick apology and an announcement that we would be adding a new color to our library of sticky notes. People could provide their suggestions, and the most popular color would be published when the site was reinstated. Within a few hours we had hundreds of responses. The frustrated comments from our review board were replaced by positive comments from excited consumers offering their ideas to our cause. Not only did we change the perspective for our users, we also got extremely valuable and tangible feedback.