SiliconFilter

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

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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)



11:53 am


Google Music Launches: Purchase Songs from Android Market, Share on Google+, Music Locker Remains Free

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Google today unveiled its long-awaited music store at an even in Los Angeles today. Google Music is now available to all users in the U.S. without a need to get an invite. According to Google, millions of songs will now be available for purchase in the Android Market. Users will also be able to upload up to 20,000 songs to Google Music and store them in the cloud for free. Partners include EMI, Universal and Sony, as well as numerous smaller labels. In total, the store currently feature 8 million tracks but will soon have about 13 million in its library as Google adds more tracks.

Google launched a limited beta of its music services at its annual developer conference Google IO earlier this year. There was no music-matching, similar to what Apple is doing with iTunes Match, though, and no music store, as Google wasn’t able to secure licenses from the major music industry players. Because of this, users had to upload their own songs to the service, which could often take hours or days for large music libraries.

google_music_store

google_music_in_androidAt Google IO, the company’s executives stressed that they had really wanted to open the service with support from the music industry, Google found their demands “unreasonable and unsustainable.” Clearly, the relationship between Google and the labels has changed now.

Indeed, Google managed to get a number of exclusives from the Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Busta Ryhmes and others.

As Jamie Rosenberg, Google’s director of digital content for Android noted during the event, consumers now expect that their music services are connected to the cloud and available on all devices instantly. 

On Google Music, all songs will be encoded at 320kbps. Users can buy songs from their Android devices and from the web. The music store required Android 2.2 or higher. The new versions of the Google Music app will be available in the next few days.

T-Mobile users will get carrier billing for music purchases in the near future.

Sharing

google_music_sharingGoogle is also putting a strong emphasis on sharing songs. Users can tell their friends that they have bought a song on Google+, but more importantly, your friends will also get one free stream of the song or album as well.

An Artist Hub for Independent Musicians

Google is also working with independent musicians and will make it easier for them to set up their own shops on Google Music. They will be able to create an artist page for a one-time $25 fee, upload their own songs and set their own prices.



9:56 pm


Google Wallet Goes Live, But You Probably Won’t Be Able to Use It Yet

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As rumored, Google just announced that it is officially launching its cell phone-based mobile payment solution Google Wallet today. After introducing the service in May and launching a limited trial at the time, Google today launched it nationwide, in partnership with Citi, MasterCard, Sprint and First Data. For now, however, you won’t be able to just swipe your phone past one of the many compatible PayPass payment terminals unless you use Google’s flagship Nexus S phone on Sprint’s network. Given these limitations, today’s “launch” is really more of an expanded field trial than anything else.

MasterCard and Sprint Only

For now, restricting Google Wallet to one credit card company, phone and carrier means that most of us won’t be able to use it anytime soon. Google hopes that American Express, Visa and Discover will also come on board soon. These three companies made their near-field communication (NFC) specifications available today. These, says Google, “could enable their cards to be added to future versions of Google Wallet.” It’s not clear if these companies are really interested in partnering with Google though (Google says it’s “working” with them in its headline, but the actual announcement isn’t very clear about this point).

Do Mainstream Users Care?

As I have argued in the past, I’m not sure the market in the U.S. is really ready for NFC-enabled payment solutions yet. Those PayPass terminals Google is using, after all, are mostly sitting unused today, as consumers and card issuers haven’t even adopted NFC-enabled credit cards yet. For most users, paying by phone is also more of a hassle than just swiping a credit card.

I’m still standing by my conclusion from back in May: “Using an NFC-enabled electronic wallet simply doesn’t offer enough benefits right now, isn’t significantly more convenient than just using a credit card and depends on phones that aren’t available yet (and that can easily run out of battery).”

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8:46 pm


It’s Official: Spotify is Coming to the U.S.

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Spotify, Europe’s streaming music darling, just announced that it is finally ready to launch in the United States. The company, which currently offers a free and paid streaming music service in a select number of countries in Europe, has long been working on a U.S. launch, but until now, it didn’t have the necessary deals with the U.S. music industry in place. Judging from today’s announcement, those deals are now in place.

You can sign up for an invite here.

As of now, though, Spotify hasn’t announced when it plans to launch yet, or what its pricing structure will look like. According to some of the rumors, one of the reasons why it took Spotify a long time to secure deals with the U.S. music labels was those organizations reluctance to let Spotify stream their music for free. In Europe, Spotify allows its users to stream a limited amount of songs for free every month. After that, users have to pay.

What made Spotify stand out among its early competitors was its ability to stream music on demand and for free. There are also numerous social elements to the service, including the ability to subscribe to other users’ playlists. Whether the U.S. version will have the same feature set, remains to be seen.

Given that Spotify is late to the party in the U.S., where services like Rdio and MOG have already managed to capture at least some of the early adopter market, it remains to be seen how well the company will do here. None of these, however, have quite the same ease of use that Spotify can offer.

This is a breaking story. We will update it as we learn more.

spotify_coming_us

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4:46 pm


Did Color Botch Its Launch by Launching at the Wrong Time & in the Wrong Place?

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Color, the new photo sharing app from the brains behind the online music service Lala, launched last night. There are some ingenious algorithms behind the app, and while I wrote a rather scathing review of it last night, I think the app’s reception – which quickly turned from hype to backlash within a few hours – could have been very different if it had launched at a different time and in a different place.

Color was made for events, so why didn’t it launch at one (or at least earlier in the day)?

As The Next Web’s Martin Bryant rightly points out, the “natural home” for Colors is events. The app only makes sense when there are other people around you. So why wasn’t the app launched at SXSW? As an event, SXSW was almost made to launch an app like this (and where it could have easily blown all the group messaging apps out of the water this year)? At GigaOm, Matthew Ingram comes to virtually the same conclusion and wonders why “an app based on something so real-time and social seems almost perfectly matched to that kind of social environment.”

color_reactionsAlso, why was the app launched on a weekday night? If it’s meant to to be used in groups, launching it while people are most likely sitting at home just means its potential users won’t get the point of the app and move on. Most apps are never opened more than once, so unless you can immediately grasp someone’s attention, you’ve lost them. Launching on a Friday morning or early afternoon, so that people are excited to try out when they go out at night would have made more sense. That way, they would have gone out, told people about the app and could have had the experience the app was designed to deliver.

It also doesn’t help that there are no help menus that explain the app and that the only indication of what it actually does is the opening screen which tells you to “take photos together” – not exactly a phrase that highlights the point of the app. The service’s homepage on the Web also does little to explain its functionality (“Simultaneously use multiple iPhones and Androids to capture photos, videos, and conversations into a group album. There’s no attaching, uploading, or friending to do. “).

Also: Why make VC funding a part of the story?

Most people in this world couldn’t care less about how much funding an app got, but by announcing their massive $41 million funding round, the story suddenly almost became more about why it would take this much money to develop this app. Given that kind of money, any app is going to disappoint.



9:05 am


Calacanis to Challenge TechCrunch: "The World Really Wants Deeper Stuff Right Now"

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According to the Guardian, serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis plans to launch a new tech blog in early 2011. With this project, Calacanis plans to challenge TechCrunch, the influential Silicon Valley-based blog run by his old nemesis Mike Arrington. According to the report, Calacanis plans to hire a small number of editors. These writers will have the freedom to do in-depth research and will only have to file one story per week.

While Calacanis says that these stories will go out over email and won’t run on a dedicated blog, chances are that he will do both in the long run in order to profit from the valuable ad sales for the email newsletter and the online ad sales that are keeping the current generation of tech blogs afloat. Calacanis will also host a new startup conference early next year that will challenge TechCrunch’s highly successful Disrupt conference.

“The Tech Blogging Scene is in a Race to the Bottom”

In his interview with the Guardian, Calacanis claims that he is not trying to challenge the existing tech blogs on their own field, but that he is “going for something that doesn’t exist in the market – not a blogger writing the story in two hours. The world really wants deeper stuff right now.” He also notes that “the tech blogging scene is in a race to the bottom and is dragging mainstream media down with it.”

Those are fighting words. Blogs like TechCrunch and others have made their name by rushing stories to their readers as fast as possible – sometimes at the expense of depth and analysis. Indeed, the reality of tech blogging is that very few authors actually have the time to spend two hours on a story. Breaking news stories often take less than 15 minutes before they appear on TechCrunch, the Next Web or ReadWriteWeb. Clearly, there is an audience for these stories, but Calacanis is betting that the market also wants more depth, knowledge and thoroughness (a mix we strive for over on ReadWriteWeb).

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the marketplace. Starting a new tech publication is not easy, given how many players there already are today. With his successful e-mail list and high name recognition, Calacanis clearly has an advantage over smaller editorial startups and his best work has always been in developing editorial concepts. Even Calacanis’s biggest detractors have to admit that he has created a number of successful startups in the past and should not be underestimated, especially now that his motivation is to challenge his old arch-nemesis Arrington. We have not seen a lots of newcomers on the tech blogging scene in the last two years (let alone in the tech mailing list scene), but if anybody has a chance to make a difference in this business it is likely Calacanis.

Image Credit: Joi Ito



10:51 am