Surviving an Instant Success

When your business is met with sudden, massive demand, you risk being undone by your own achievements.
Co-founder, Gentlemint
June 28, 2012

When I tell people that we had millions of visitors on our website with tens of thousands of people signing up for accounts, they become interested. I usually lose them when I tell them that it all happened over a couple of days, and on a site built in 12 hours as an experiment.

Some background: Earlier this year I wrote an article for OPEN Forum on how a “hack day" can benefit businesses, large and small. Our hack day project was an exercise in finishing; it forced us to build a website in an insanely short timeframe. Despite all the wonderful benefits of trying a hack day, there's one little thing that my co-founder Brian and I overlooked: instant success.

All the experience I've had building successful websites (and businesses) has taught me two things:

  • spend a lot of time building the site

  • work really, really hard to gain any sort of traction

With Gentlemint, the opposite happened. We built the "guts" of the site in 12 hours, iterated in our spare time for about a month, and then suddenly we had a massive groundswell of traffic and press. (It'd be easier to list the major online publications that haven't written about Gentlemint.)

Why the site became so popular so quickly is outside the scope of this article, but what happened in the days, weeks and months after our success is something all entrepreneurs can learn from.

Managing Instant Success

Here's my one sentence summary on how to manage a PR bonanza: minimize the response so that you can continue to improve the product.

When Gentlemint's whirlwind press tour blew into town, Brian and I had no time left to do anything constructive on the site. We spent days and weeks dealing with the issues described below because we had no system in place beforehand. (In our defense, we had no idea we'd be successful so quickly, if at all.)

If you can plan ahead and make some decisions early about how to handle a PR storm should one arrive, you'll be in a much better position to take advantage of the one that actually does.

Tame the E-mail

The first, most unexpected part of the traffic surge was the amount of e-mail. We had a single contact e-mail address, and anything and everything went through that address. Support requests, ideas from new members, suggestions, press inquiries and everything else all flew into that one mailbox.

I'm sure there were some great opportunities we missed based solely on the fact that we had no coherent system for dealing with the deluge.

Make sure you at least have a rudimentary system in place for managing different types of e-mail you receive and how you'll follow up on their various demands.

Stop the Press

After doing countless phone, email and even a local TV interview (never again), we learned by trial and error some best practices for dealing with reporters.

Interviews are crucial, but they can consume big chunks of time. (I think the average phone interview was probably 30-40 minutes.) Would we do all interviews? Only the "best"? We had to figure this out quickly, as even the briefest interviews consumed 15-30 minutes of our time.

Decide early on if you're going to do phone interviews, e-mail or TV, and how much time you'll set aside for each. My recommendation: just stick to e-mail.

Don't Venture Too Far

I'll keep this short. If venture capitalists pitch you early on, they're probably not firms you want to deal with.

Brian and I struggled over whether or not to chase venture capital and ultimately decided against it. But, like everything else we had to figure out, time spent dealing with the decision was time not spent working on and improving Gentlemint.

Cut Corners Must Be Mended Later

The best part about a hack day is that you have to cut corners—or even leave large things out of the product—to get everything finished. This is great for finishing, but terrible when tens of thousands of people are visiting your site hourly.

Just know that any corner cut during the hack day will have to be fixed later on. At the very least, keep a running list of issues to backfill.

Tune Out the Critics

You have to be mentally prepared and ready if success comes knocking at your door. If you aren't, the critics will eat you alive. There are always going to be people who love or hate what you do. Take each group's comments and suggestions with a grain of salt.

When someone slams your product, cool off before responding. More often than not, though, it's best to not respond at all.

Glen Stansberry writes at LifeDev. He is also the co-founder of Gentlemint, a collection of manly links. You can find more of Glen's business insights on Wise Bread, the leading personal finance community dedicated to helping people get the most out of their money.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Co-founder, Gentlemint