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Wahooly’s Launch Gives Startups a Lesson in How Not to Launch a Startup

Wahooly, the startup that wants to give users a piece of equity in other startups by having them provide feedback to them, was supposed to come out of its private alpha test last week and launch its wider beta. Launch it did, but sadly, the launch went so badly, with new users being unable to sign in, for example, that the Wahooly team decided to scrap its launch completely and freeze activity on the site until the team has fixed all the errors those first users found. The reason for all of this: Wahooly tried to meet a pre-determined launch date and opened up the beta, even though there were clearly still far too many issues that it needed to iron out.

Here is a short chronology of the launch:[list]

  • January 26th: Wahooly announced its official launch date as January 31st. Here is the most unfortunate line from the email the service sent out to its beta tester wait list: "What can you expect on launch day? What you’re about to experience is something that’s never been done before."
  • February 2nd: Wahooly sends out invitations to its beta testers.
    From the email: "As with any beta, the feature set is limited." It was indeed limited, as most new users simply weren't even able to sign up.
  • February 2nd (later in the day): Wahooly sends out the following email: "This is a follow up from Wahooly to address your concerns regarding the signup process.  We unfortunately had a significant outage which prevented 6000 of our users from signing into their dashboard.  The issue has now been resolved.  Thanks for being patient.  Please go to this link (http://wahooly.com/index/launch) to reset or create your new password.  If you have not already done this, you will not be able to login to your dashboard until you do so."
    For most people, the service still doesn't work.[/list]

In a mea-culpa email Wahooly sent out on February 4th then, Wahooly announced that it was basically scrapping its launch for the time being. For a company that launched with this much hype and a list of 25,000 prospective beta testers, that's definitely a very unusual decision. Wahooly did the right thing and owned up to its mistake quickly, but it remains to be seen if the company can still repair the damage to its reputation.

Still, the lesson for startups here is pretty clear: don't set a launch date you can't reach and don't launch a product that doesn't work. Those seem like simple rules to follow, but given the high-pressure world of startup life these days, they are apparently all too easy to forget.

Me Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa

Here is the full email from Wahooly (which oddly enough doesn't have a blog):

You're not happy, and neither are we.

In an effort to meet a pre-determined launch date, we brought you a site that didn't live up to your (and our) expectations. In hindsight, we recognize that the best approach would have been to postpone the launch in order to deliver a fully functional site with fewer issues. While we can't take our decision back, we can make the right decision moving forward.

Therefore, we've decided to freeze activity on the site while we fix the errors that you've discovered and implement the improvements you've suggested. When we return, we will bring you a site that will be fully functional and hopefully provides you with an experience that exceeds your expectations.

This was a tough decision, and one that we've considered at great length. If we don't make these changes now, we risk hurting our partners and you, our supporters.

While we're in this maintenance period, we will remain active within the community. We'll provide you with frequent updates on our status, along with more information about the start-ups you'll be able to join. Currently those companies include TweetTV, ValuValu and Cull TV. RAVN will be included upon our return. If you've already joined one of these current start-ups, it will remain in your portfolio.

When the site returns, we'll be allowing people to return in a staggered fashion so we can test all the features before the official re-release.

You have spoken and we have listened. You deserve better, and that's what we're going to deliver.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Cheers,
Dana, Connor, Tony & Peter (Team Wahooly)

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