Flipboard: A startup's first bad day or success?

Flipboard's team

I’m seeing lots of tweets saying I caused Flipboard to have a bad first day. Why? Because its servers were overwhelmed and it wasn’t letting new users sign up properly and even existing users, like me, were having trouble getting to the service and getting utility out of it.

Is that my fault? Yes and no. If I were the only one hyping it and if the product didn’t resonate after I hyped it they would have only gotten a few hundred visits. The problem is that Flipboard is the real deal. If you can get in and get it to work it’s a revolutionary product and hundreds, if not thousands, of people on Twitter and blogs said so. The reviews still are coming in and they almost all are positive. That I didn’t do, even if I was the first to tell the Internet about it.

What’s funny is I just hit the Twitter fail whale three times. Twitter is a company that has been around for three years and continues to have scalability and reliability problems yet we all keep using Twitter. It has gotten so commonplace that we sort of accept it, too, even in discussions with venture capitalists who helped fund Twitter, like the conversation I witnessed yesterday with Fred Wilson. He said Twitter was never built right to start with.

I see on iTunes that Flipboard is getting some bad reviews because of this reliability issue. Is it fair to judge a startup badly based on 24 hours of extraordinary growth? Yeah, a little. They could have been better prepared — I sent them plenty of notes telling them they were the best startup I’ve seen so far this year and I kept telling them about reactions of influencers — all which matched my observations.

In fact, when I showed it to famous actor Ashton Kutcher he was so excited about the product (said it was “a revolution in publishing”) he turned to me and begged to be introduced to the company. “I want to invest in this,” he told me. A week later he was, indeed, an investor.

The former head of MTV had the same reaction this weekend.

So they had some warning that their first day would be incredible and see an much larger amount of hype than they would otherwise see.

What’s my failing? I tried to get them to use Rackspace for hosting their service. I failed, they are using another cloud provider. I failed so badly that I couldn’t even convince them to change providers a few months ago when their provider was down when I visited them to get an early look at this company. I think I must take some sales lessons and get retrained. Sigh. But even with Rackspace’s help would we have been able to keep them up? I would like to think so. After all, Rackspace hosted YouTube for its first few years of life and has helped many startups scale.

But this is a world we’ve never seen. Things get faster, bigger, than any time in human history.

The number of people who’ve worked at companies that have seen this kind of growth — all in 24 hours — are almost non-existent. Even experienced entrepreneurs, like Flipboard’s CEO, who started TellMe, which sold to Microsoft for $800 million, have never seen this kind of growth.

I remember back to 1996. ICQ that year released November 1 to 40 people. It took six weeks to get to 65,000 users. I bet Flipboard got close to that in just their first day (I don’t know their numbers, but, heck, a few weeks back I had a VIDEO watched by half a million people in a week, so I bet Flipboard is seeing those kinds of numbers based on the hypestorm that I see continuing around this company).

It is a new world and this new world is bumpy.

Anyway, just my way of saying to cut a team of 10 people who’ve done something extraordinary some slack. No one else has launched a company to this kind of hype, er, adoption, and stayed up as well as Flipboard has. At least none that I know of. Do you know of someone who has had a better first day?

Onward for all of us. Flipboard is working hard (its developers are on Twitter and I can see them responding to customers as to what they are doing to get and stay up) and I’m back on the street looking around the tech industry for the next hot startup.

Got one? Email me. scobleizer@gmail.com

Update. I just added a photo of Flipboard’s team to this post. Left to right (forefront folks):
co-founder, Evan Doll
engineer, Troy Brant
engineer, Charles Ying
engineer, Gene Tsai
co-founder, Mike McCue

UPDATE 2: PC Magazine has an interview with Flipboard’s founders, asking for patience.