When launching a new service, one of the biggest challenges businesses face is the cold start problem. This refers to the difficulty of getting people to discover and start using a new service when it first becomes available. Without a large user base, it can be difficult to generate the critical mass of users needed to make a service successful.
One of the growth hacking techniques is the Slashdot effect. This technique, also known as the “Slashdotting,” is a phenomenon that occurs when a website or online resource receives a large amount of traffic in a short period of time as a result of being featured on the popular technology news website, Slashdot. This sudden surge in traffic can cause a website’s servers to crash or become unavailable, resulting in lost page views, lost sales, and damage to a website’s reputation.
Back in 2017, we were thrilled to have our website, mdbootstrap.com, listed on popular sites for developers such as Hacker News. We were expecting a great boost in traffic and were excited for the opportunity to showcase our services to a wider audience. However, what we experienced was something quite different.
As soon as the listing went live, we received a massive surge of traffic to our website. It was a dream come true, but it quickly turned into a nightmare. Our servers were overwhelmed and crashed within minutes of the listing going live. We were left scrambling to get our website back up and running, but the damage had been done. We lost a lot of potential customers and our reputation took a hit.
Apparently we weren’t first to learn that lesson hard way:
- In 2008, a small online retailer called CD Universe was featured on Slashdot, which resulted in a massive spike in traffic to the site. However, the sudden influx of visitors caused the site to crash, and CD Universe’s servers were unable to handle the load. This resulted in lost sales and damaged the company’s reputation.
- In 2009, a small blog called Techcrunch was featured on Slashdot, resulting in a massive spike in traffic. However, the site’s servers were unable to handle the load, and the site went down for several hours. This resulted in lost page views and damaged the site’s reputation.
- In 2010, a small website called Gawker was featured on Slashdot, resulting in a massive spike in traffic. However, the site’s servers were unable to handle the load, and the site went down for several hours. This resulted in lost page views and damaged the site’s reputation.
We learned our lesson and immediately took steps to upgrade our servers and prepare for the next time we were listed on a popular website. A few weeks later we were listed again but now we were fully prepared. Thanks to changes we did in our servers (we don’t use anything like AWS, we built our own auto scaling solution for 20% of AWS price) we managed traffic that was 7x bigger than our last “record” before handling thousands of visitors.
This time we made it! Great cooperation of IT and Marketing resulted in thousands of new visitors from, as we thought, our target group. In our business model, traffic is highly correlated with sales. More traffic = more sales = great success. Right?
Thanks to very detailed conversion tracking by our marketing team (everything relies on data) we can track exactly what works and what’s not. It turned out that this huge traffic of thousands of users generated… 7 orders and 16 newsletter subscription.
Today, after few years and dozens of spikes like that we understood why it didn’t work for us:
- although we though the audience was targeted (IT) it turned out that even “programmers” is to broad group
- our tool is dedicated to certain technologies, it doesn’t work for others. It’s like offer a dental chair to a cardiologist. Theoretically both are doctors
- Our servers were ready but our sales pitch not – link posted on HackerNews was pointing to our product page which focuses on technical details. In a future launched we learned to add customized message to people entering for the first time to explain what it is actually about
- We didn’t prepare alternate paths. Not all visitors will buy from you but they can play different role. In our case many users use free version but since they love it, they refer MDB to theirs’ friend who may buy it. Others like our newsletter or youtube channel.
- For those who thought of buying we could have prepares special discount (“15% off For Hacker News readers only”)
Overall this wasn’t obvious success or failure. We didn’t achieve what we expected (spike in sales) but there were many good outcomes like increased brand recognition which pay backs in a long term. This whole situation also helped us rebuild our infrastructure.
Do we still use it? Yes. Occasionally we do a launches on Product Hunt and Hacker News but with different approach and assumptions in mind. We use it more as a brand awareness tool rather than boost in sales.
But please don’t get me wrong. I think this hack can still work well, there are many success stories, i.e.:
- In 2000, the open-source operating system Linux became widely known among the tech community after being featured on Slashdot. This led to a significant increase in the number of people who began using and contributing to the development of the operating system.
- In 2002, a small website called Digg.com was featured on Slashdot, resulting in an influx of traffic that helped establish the site as a popular destination for discovering and sharing new content.
- In 2006, the launch of the video-sharing site YouTube was covered by Slashdot, which helped to generate a large amount of early traffic and interest in the site.
The key is to understand mechanics. I personally feel that this hack is great if you offer more generic product where audience is broad. And even if you don’t want to use this hack on purpose – it’s better to be ready because you never know when someone else might list you on Slashdot without your knowledge 🙂
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Co-Founder @ MDBootstrap.com / Forbes 30 under 30 / EO'er
For years I've been working as an IT Consultant in countries like Netherlands, Belgium, Poland or India developing enterprise class systems for the biggest companies within domain.
Since 2016 I'm co-founder of MDBotstrap.com - world class UI Framework used by NASA, Amazon, Nike, Airbus, Samsung, Apple and many other Fortune 500 Companies.All author posts