How we restarted our company in two weeks during Y Combinator

Todd Goldberg |

 

When most companies rebrand themselves, redesign their product, and rollout major new features, it can take months; here’s how we did it in under two weeks during Y Combinator (YC).

Our backstory

We were four weeks into YC at the time under the name EXMO. We helped event organizers create mobile event apps, websites, and Twitter walls for their events. After talking to our users, advisors, and peers, we decided to become a one-stop shop for event organizers, which included offering ticketing and registration.

At the same time, we needed to change our name given that we couldn’t afford the domain EXMO.com (we originally owned getEXMO.com). Enter Eventjoy. With the new branding, addition of major features, and focus, we decided we were going to relaunch. Given the warp-speed pace of Y Combinator, we committed ourselves to launching as fast as possible (#2), in this case, that meant two weeks.

Coming up with a new name and defining our brand

Zach, a good friend of ours at another YC startup, helped us identify a new name with a .com that was both available and affordable. After tens of hours of research and tons of names crossed out, Zach found Eventjoy. It was an instant hit and we had to have it, but the .com was owned by a domain broker in South Korea. Within five minutes we emailed the broker asking for a price. A few hours later we had a price and quickly countered, which ultimately resulted in a low four-figure deal we accepted.

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Given that we couldn’t start on any new branding until the name was in our possession, we needed to wrap things up at lightspeed. To help with this, we offered a $150 bonus if the domain was in our possession within 24 hours. Ultimately, we were able to escrow him the money and we had the domain pointing to our nameservers all in less than a day. We’ve been told that it’s unheard of to purchase and receive a previously owned domain this quickly; it’s amazing what a little incentive can do!

Cool, so at this point we could call ourselves Eventjoy, but we didn’t have a logo. Consider it luck, but Zach happened to be a designer and was able to create the awesome logo we have now.

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In order to minimize the legal effort associated with the new name, we opted to keep the same corporate name (EXMO Inc.) and just use Eventjoy as a fictitious name. Here’s the fun part: We’re headquartered in Florida and according to chapter 50 of Florida Statues (#8), in order to use a fictitious name we had to announce our name change in an upcoming edition of a local newspaper. Yes, it’s exactly like it sounds.

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Designing the Eventjoy experience

At the same time we were acquiring the name, Todd, one of the Eventjoy co-founders, began the design for the new web product and necessary updates to our existing mobile apps.

On the web product, this involved defining the user experience from a blank slate and actually understanding how ticketing and registration (the new feature) fit into the product. Once the initial pixel-perfect template was crafted, Todd switched to wireframing for the 18 features/pages that needed to be implemented. This allowed us to move quicker by focusing on how the user interacted with each page rather than drafting up beautiful mockups.

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Mobile was easier and simply needed the new branding and some minor updates to existing functionality.

We wanted to make the new brand fun and exciting so we also rewrote all of the copy (web, mobile, and emails) to reflect that.

Developing the new platform

Karl, Eventjoy’s technical co-founder, was tasked with rewriting the whole web product, updating the mobile apps (iOS and Android), and fully transitioning everything from EXMO to Eventjoy. To say this project was a beast is an understatement.

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We not only had to redesign everything, but we had to understand the underlying mechanisms for ticketing/registration. This included implementing a seamless commerce experience for organizers and attendees, as well as designing a system that could temporarily reserve tickets, create unique tickets for each registered attendee, check attendees in during the event, and visualize event metrics on a unique dashboard. The last major addition to the new product was a large focus on social elements. We implemented the four major social networks so that attendees could connect them to their event profiles in order to discover and meet new people at the events they’re attending.

With a new name and new product, we also had to redesign our marketing site and transactional emails. Since we could only have Karl focus on product work, any non-critical development needed to be avoided. Todd designed the new marketing site in Photoshop and then outsourced its development to a service that turns designs into functional websites. The site was designed and coded within 96 hours. The mobile-optimized email template was purchased from a theme marketplace and was later tweaked to match our new branding.

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To hit our launch goal we had to design, develop, and test in an extremely lean way. To do this we did all three things in parallel. As quickly as Todd could design each component of the new site, Karl built it. As each component was finished, one of the interns, Kevin, was testing it both at a unit and system level. All bugs were logged in Asana and triaged so we could attack the most critical ones first.

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Lots of other things had to get done too

Beyond the critical work of getting the new product up and running, there were a ton of other things we had to tackle. Since most were relatively non-technical, Todd handled them. The list included:

  • New blog - We wanted to reboot our blog and since we didn’t have time to setup a WordPress instance, we used Tumblr. Similar to other areas of design outside of the product, we purchased a theme and then modified it to match our branding.

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  • Self help center – Given that the new platform had so many capabilities and added commerce, we rolled out a self help center and added about 25 articles before launch.

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  • Search engine optimization - Being relevant when people search for your product is critical and we didn’t want to lose the page relevance that we gained with EXMO. We ended up having to rework all of our page titles and descriptions, as well the need to redirect all EXMO pages to Eventjoy.
  • Analytics - We had to ensure we were tracking the right things through Google Analytics so that we knew how people were using the product and how people were discovering the site. This had to be implemented prior to launch, otherwise the data would have been lost.

Preparing our current users for the transition

We operated under the name EXMO for over a year and during that time we built up a userbase and goodwill for people who would be planning events in the future. We didn’t want to isolate our userbase or confuse people when they searched for EXMO so we needed a solid transition plan. Todd ended up developing a “launch playbook” that included pre-drafted emails, a launch blog post, and assets to update our social accounts. The emails were crafted for different portions of our userbase, such as one that targeted users who had credits on file (how we use to charge) and were offered to roll them over to Eventjoy service fee credits. The blog post focused on our transition and what we plan to do with Eventjoy. Lastly, all of our social accounts had to be updated with the new name and assets (we’re still waiting for Facebook to approve our request).

The big day 

On Tuesday, February 18th, we officially launched on TechCrunch. That week alone resulted in close to 400% growth over our best week ever. Since then, we’ve been getting a ton of great feedback and are prioritizing our next steps based on what our users are requesting.

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Recap

This was a monumental effort for us and it took quite a hefty toll on ourselves, both physically and mentally. We worked around the clock for two weeks straight; covering almost 24 hours of the day between the three of us. Not to mention that during all of this work to reboot the company/product, we still had to support our current users and aggressively find new ones to achieve our week over week growth targets. Here are some of the things we learned:

  • Launching early is key -  It was tough, but we ended up deferring a lot of things that we thought had to go into the product to have a successful launch. The end result? It let us launch faster and our new users provided feedback that has helped us plan our next steps.
  • Don’t be afraid to outsource non-critical items - Things like our blog design, email template, and marketing page were not as critical as providing a great product experience. Given our time constraints, we chose to outsource/purchase templates for these non-critical items.
  • You can never over-communicate – We jumped from one thing to the next and often did a lot of work in parallel. We couldn’t afford downtime so it was critical that we all constantly shared what we were working on, its status, and what was next in queue. Breaking things down into small work units also helped.
  • Remember to take a break - When you have that much work in front of you, it’s easy to work nonstop. We tried to take frequent, short walks or bike rides to get some air.