[Startup Learnings] Why going viral is bad for YOU!

Written by Stefan on 6/8/2022

Hey Mate 👋,

I want to talk about going viral...

But not in the way you usually hear about it.

It feels like the dream of everybody that's just starting out is to go viral...

Because supposedly it's such a good thing.

From my experience, it's not.

Let me tell you why (TL;DR)

1. It made our servers explode 💥
2. It made us prioritize the wrong things
3. It attracts the wrong crowd

Let's dig a bit deeper below 👇


Back in 2016-2017, I was the CTO for a dating app called Hater, "the dating app that matches you based on what you hate".

We "got" launched on Product Hunt a week before we wanted to because someone saw a sticker we randomly placed in Brooklyn.

We didn't have time to load test the application, and it showed in the next two weeks.

Pure chaos ensued, we hit a million downloads within a couple of days and had a bunch of problems keeping the service running.

Here's a TechCrunch Article for proof 😳

Why is it bad?

Let me go into a bit more detail about why I think it's much better to grow your business sustainably, taking a normal course from early adopters to mainstream users.

It made our servers explode 💥

Going from 0 to 1 million users in a week is no joke. At times a segment would air on national TV, and we would hit 10k concurrent users, mostly hitting the same API routes as they all came in more or less at the same time.

We also hit limits I didn't know existed, with the AWS Load Balancer and other things.

They need you to warm them up and can't scale superfast real quick.

Our AWS account had 0 history, so they didn't think anything was going bonkers any time soon, I get it.

It made us prioritize the wrong things

We did 2 things that cost us a lot of precious time:

  • Listened to feedback from the wrong people
  • Tried to just keep the service running instead of improving

Neither of those helped us move the product in a direction where it was actually the best of what it could have been.

People had a lot of feedback but most of them churned even if they think the app is great.

It's just a lot harder to filter through all the noise if you have a lot of users from the start.

It attracts the wrong crowd

A common startup credo is to launch before you are ready, well we weren't.

That might be ok if you get on early adopters that pay more attention to the potential value of your solution than where it is right now.

But we attracted mainstream users who are used to apps of the quality of Instagram and any other app they use on a day-to-day basis.

And those have been polished for a long time.

Needless to say that we got a lot of hate (coincidence 🤔) from people when the servers went down, or they encountered a bug.

They just have 0 chill 😱

And as a response, they churn.

The problem is, it's hard to understand that churn, hard to follow up with these users because they're not very likely to respond, etc., so you're missing out on a lot of learnings you want to have in the early days.


In the end, it was a valuable learning experience and paved my path to other things.

Going viral can also be a beautiful thing but only if it's built on top of a solid foundation, it can happen later down the line but shouldn't be your initial goal.

But I also learned that while "going viral" is cool, it's not a sustainable way to build a company.

Things that go viral often fizzle out just as fast as they appeared, and our app was one of those.

What I'm up to now

I started transitioning from consumer mobile to SaaS like 2 years ago and am now bootstrapping niche products with my friends at Niche Mates.

I'm trying to apply the learnings that I made over the last 10 years in VC-backed startups to launching and growing sustainable businesses.

I'm also picking up marketing, sales, and more product stuff as we speak to become a more holistic entrepreneur.

If you want to hear more of my useless rambling, feel free to follow me on Twitter

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