The Mis-management of Tech Startups
With more and more tech startups literally popping up all over the web everyone and their dog is ready to get in the game and they are. The problem is many of the programmers and idea guys that start internet startups have little or no management skills. With so many choices of sites to visit out there you can’t afford to make a bad impression on your early adopters because they will simply move on to the next great site or worse they will share why your site is a waste of time. Many times the people who start up a little site do it in their spare time as a little project. This creates problems because to the public it is a business and they expect it to be ran like one professionally. People spend thier time visiting your new site and they expect you to treat them professionally. As someone who is an early adopter I try many new sites and find that many of them are either not thought out well or they are just mis-managing a good thing. An example of this became obvious when I recently tried out a new site called Inbound.org over the weekend. This was a classic case of launch failure. Here is what happened.
A friend of mine who owns many sites told me to check out Inbound.org . It is a site where you submit articles and vote on articles. The voting moves the articles up in the reader list. My friend shared the link to Inbound.org with me so I went to check it out and signed up. I saw an article he had submitted on SEO so I read it and gave it my upvote and posted the link on my Twitter to let people check out the site and vote on the article. The article had 6 votes so far and I put it to 7. I left the site thinking, OK I had seen this type of site before it was just another article submission site and I would maybe check back to look into it another time. This is where everything fell apart.
Later I went back to see if my friends article had gotten anymore votes and I couldn’t find the article. I couldn’t figure out where it went so I went about my day and logged into Twitter. I saw a mention from @RandFishkin the CEO of Inbound.org that said to a friend of mine who voted and me that our behaviour fit under “uncool”. At first I didn’t know what he was talking about, I didn’t know him so I scrolled up and he posted another post saying, “FYI my article was flagged due to suspicious voting behaviour.” I put two and two together and was scratching my head. Really, getting 4-5 votes gets you banned for suspicious behaviour? That didn’t make sense but I blew it off.
Here is what I had more of a problem with, and where mis-management happened by Rand Fishkin the CEO of Inbound.org . I was a new user who signed up and shared the site and 4-5 more people signed up as a result. His response was to publicly accuse me and the people I shared Inbound.org with of being uncool and suspicious behaviour. Now, he has about 50,000 followers on his side and I have a network of people who have many more than that. Using your personal Twitter account to broadcast vague derogatory statements about people who are trying to use your site is an example of complete unprofessionalism and mis-management.
I was a bit shocked and embarrassed for my friends whose names were included in the mention. I quickly went back to the site to see the guidelines, had I broken some rules by sending out one tweet? The guidlines on Inbound.org consisted of about 6 sentences that said basically, be cool don’t submit crap. FYI guidelines shouldn’t sound like a college kid came up with them while sipping a slurpee. There was nothing in there about not Tweeting or promoting an article whether it was yours or someone else’s. Here is an excerpt from the very short guidelines of what not to do, “Not being cool? Submitting crap? Manipulating the voting?”. So I wondered was that one tweet manipulating the voting? Was I gaming the system by pressing the tweet button once? hmm. So I was going to blow it off. I left a notice on the forum saying number one that it wasn’t my article as he had tweeted, I never met the author they posted from a site my friend owns. I said if you are going to ban someone you might at least figure out if it is their article, and you really shouldn’t ban people trying your site for voting once and tweeting once when the concept of the site is to vote and share content. Also don’t ban people for breaking rules you haven’t made on your site yet. The CEO was in the forum asking, should we allow this or that. Meanwhile he had threatened multiple people from his personal Twitter account that he was going to ban them. Not a good idea to do to early adopters trying to use your new site. Plus maybe figure out the rules before launching it especially if you are going to agressively enforce them.
The final straw – So I am still playing it cool and made some suggestions on the forum, the first is get real guidelines up before you enforce imaginary rules. Second, I said when you launch you want people to try your site, that is not the time to worry about the few people who might vote too many times. If enough people don’t like the site your votes will mean nothing to the 10 people there. Never publically humiliate your new users who are trying to use your site. They are your lifeblood especially social media people because they don’t just use it, they tell all the other people if they should or shouldn’t waste their time with your new site. I didn’t know this Rand guy, I knew he was well known in SEO but didn’t know him personally, but as a businessman and manager I saw this as a PR train-wreck for him and a mis-management of this launch. I was trying to make it right until I saw his response to my friend who asked him why his article was removed and that he didn’t know what was going on, what should he do. Here is Rand’s response.”Wasn’t what I’d classify as “the best of the best” stuff anyway, so I wouldn’t worry about it.”
My mouth almost dropped to the floor. Are you telling me that you just posted mentioning this guy to his followers, that his article was crap so don’t worry about why it isn’t on your site that he is trying to use and promote. Are you kidding me? So now you know why I had to post this. I felt so bad for my friend who has mutiple SEO businesses that this arrogant and unprofessional CEO of Inbound.org just ignored his question asking what happened and how he could fix it and told him his article was garbage anyway. If he keeps publicly treating his early adopters this way I can tell you right now how his business is going to do. It is the story of social media, when people don’t give a crap about their customers/users/followers then it is only a matter of time before they realize it and stop supporting you. I don’t care how many followers you have, if you forget where you came from you are on your way back. People who know me know I am a supporter and encourager of people and social media. I was blown away with this interaction with Inbound.org and @RandFishkin . I asked him to contact me privately and that I was offended by his actions and he hasn’t responded. As a person who tests new sites and tools related to social media and SEO, I can tell you I would not support a site that treats the people trying to support it this way. There are thousands of sites out there and that is just bad business strategy. This highlights the need for professionalism and management in the world of Tech Startups. Sorry Inbound.org you do not get my vote.