I’ve had one experience in my professional career which crystallized what I love most about startups and what can be possible. It’s the underdog victories.
Klout is (erm, was) “the standard for influence”, meaning Klout measures how “influential” any given person is on social media. For example, Barrack Obama and Justin Bieber were the quintessential 100’s. Me, Jay Taylor, peaked out around a 55.
The ranking is an indicator of what kind of engagement someone gets when they broadcast a message.
I was one of the first engineers to join Klout, and during my tenure one of my biggest responsibilities was building and operating the Klout Perks platform. Perks facilitated connections between brands and Influencers (aka people who use social media). This happened by offering people free “perks”. The Perks platform was the system which matched eligible influencers with perks that could be anything from special event access to flights, coffee, soap, or clothes. A perk could be almost anything.
During the summer of 2011 I’d been working for months on building out and preparing the next version of the Perks platform (learning Scala as I went). Then one day our main sales guy, Garth, approached me and asked:
“Hey Jay, so I’ve been talking to Spotify. What’d you think if I said we can land a deal for Klout be their exclusive launch partner for all of North America? The only way people will be able to get Spotify on launch day will be through us.”
“Yeah right Garth, are you serious?” I exclaimed.
“No man, I’m serious. They’re ready do it, it’s real.”
I was a little stunned.
“Really? Well.. cool.”
He continued on,
“The only catch is.. their launch is happening next Thursday.”
This was on a Monday or Tuesday. There were less than 10 days, very little time until the platform would need to be completely functional and deployed to production.
/* Slightly terrifying / horrifying side-note: This was before I believed in unit-tests. Scary! */
I thought for a bit.
“We’re in the middle of a rewrite of the platform still. But I think we’re going to have to find a way to make it happen!”
And that was that. We were committed to make it happen. With only 9 or 10 days at most before it would be time.
The lead designer and I teamed up and worked an insane amount over those next few days to scramble and get everything in order.
When the big day came, I woke up at 3:30am and drove up to San Francisco to double check and triple check our systems. At the last moment, my manager had decided to move the database onto AWS. The VPE was unhappy about this. I wasn’t phased. I knew my manager was good, I believed in him. This is all going to work. I kept repeating this in my head, over and over, until I believed it.
As the seconds ticked down I remember feeling so anxious, and then we flipped the switch. Almost immediately, the new registrations and Perk redemptions started flooding in. There was a concurrency bug in my SQL query for allocating the perks. Yikes! I was a tactical operator, and fortunately got it fixed quickly. As the minutes turned into hours and the day unfolded, things were smooth for Perks. By 2 or 3pm the entire inventory of codes for Premium Spotify were gone! I was exhausted.
I’m quite certain that had to have been the biggest registration day that Klout ever saw. If I recall, we captured ~450K new users in the first 12-hours, and the spike in registrations lasted for days!
Being able to have that big of an impact and under that kind of pressure to perform and make something that really works in the real world is a high unlike anything else. And that’s why startups can be pure magic.