Jacques Mattheij

Technology, Coding and Business

When your userbase gets away from you, make something people want, indeed

This posting really should be labeled ‘turning around the titanic’, part #2, but I feel the current title about actually covers the payload better.

Since July 10th I’ve been working hard at reviving camarades.com, and since September 1st I have a partner in business, a young Englishman named Charles who is a pleasure to work with and whose skills in using modern tools far outweigh mine.

In that time we have accomplished 9% compound growth monthly, rebuilt the entire website from the ground up and added lots of new features. So far so good, the site looks nothing like it used to from a user-interface perspective and the only technical thing that we still carry around from the days before are the database and some management tools.

I’ve been running websites since the first year the web existed. For the longest time I was living under the illusion that enough people out there have a view that shares enough with mine that I could ‘make something people want’, the mantra that is being repeated by the start-up community as though it is gospel.

The pre-requisite for that is that you can get in to your users heads and that you can figure out what makes them tick to the point that you can identify a need, the proceed to fulfill that need.

I actually thought I was pretty good at this.

Boy was I ever wrong.

For the last month or so camarades.com was running a ‘clean site’ policy in order to make the site more amendable to a mainstream audience. My reasoning was that even though the amount of effort that would go in to that would be enormous it would pay off in the revenues and those revenues could be plowed back in to hiring people to enforce the policy. A simple case of jump-starting it, to become self-sustaining in short order.

To my surprise, the opposite happened. Sales dried up, Traffic dropped like a stone. And that with only 5% of the cams labeling themselves as adult.

It turns out that that 5% of the cams coincides with 60% of the traffic and close to 80% of the sales!

I always knew that this was a part of the reason people were buying in but in my wildest dreams I had not estimated the percentages to be that high.

For a week or so I considered the consequences of what I’d done, and I realized the conclusion is a simple one: my ‘view’ of the way the site should look is a non-viable one. We do not have millions of dollars of investor money to burn through while looking for a business model, and our ‘runway’ for experiments is probably less than a month.

If the clean site policy was un-enforceable (and this would mean have people to monitor the site 24x7) that meant I’d have to literally reverse it, because I can’t see inconsistency as something that you can ‘sell’ to users, that’s worse than no policy at all.

An interesting consequence of all this is that I realize I do not have enough in common with the user base of the website to continue to feel confident charting a path for the future and I’ve decided to turn the running of the site over to Charles and a long time user of the site named Jan.

Charles will run the technical portion of it, Jan will run the end-user related aspects. I’ll concentrate on ‘behind the scenes’ stuff such as finances, advertising sales and some back-end coding.

It’s the weirdest thing, to come to the conclusion that ‘what people want’ is viable only when it is ‘not what you want’ and I’m still having a hard time getting my head wrapped around all this.

Below the graph of the cams online, one of the KPIs that determines the health of the site. The red arrow indicates the point where the ‘clean site’ policy was abolished.

It took less than a minute for traffic to spring back to its former levels and for the word to go around that we were no longer banning people for ‘indecent behavior’, and we didn’t even tell anyone, just stopped doing it and unbanned users that had been banned in the last month.

Go figure.