My website blunder cost me $1 million — here’s how your startup can avoid it


After months of hard work leading a total transformation of my business website, and what I also hoped would be a transformation in conversions and sales, it was in February 2017 that I sat down in front of my laptop and realized that somewhere we had made a big mistake.

The previous company that I co-founded with Amit Bareket, SaferVPN, had recently brought the whole team together and invested a significant amount of money to create our new website. This was intentionally in the wake of the App Store approval, but more specifically Apple’s approval of more unique security features for our company.

In the end, it wouldn’t matter that much if our product was superior. A sales transformation has happened, exactly as I hoped, but not in the way I imagined …

The high opportunity cost of $ 1 million in lost sales and ignored leads was the result of our efforts, and it was also a slow and painful lesson in preparation and organization that we quickly and repeatedly have. implemented since.

Although we stumbled initially, once we got back on our feet, we were justified by an increase in organic traffic that would not have been possible before. But for a few fleeting moments, as I stared at that laptop screen nearly four years ago and struggled to understand why progress had slowed to a trickle, it seemed our haste and ambition might have been. cost us everything.

The million dollar mistake could have been more costly, but it could also have been avoided. Here’s how to see it coming, when it comes to you.

Accelerate towards success

After three years of construction, SaferVPN was well positioned for success in the fall of 2016. When the product – specially designed to protect users from online identity theft and public exposure to the Internet began to steal tablets from the App Store – we knew we were on the right track for explosive growth. But to meet the demand we were generating, a new website was the top priority.

The whole strategy for this project revolved around targeting new keywords on Google that were important to the advancement of our business. We have hired new employees. We uploaded new resources. And we also made changes to the website stack, which was created by pure code.

At the same time, we were designing and writing 120 new pages for the website, forcing us to delegate extra time for maintenance, development and updating.

The race for new customers was advancing at a breakneck pace, and we were confident that we could convert interested audiences with a new site designed entirely from scratch.

In just one day, our team replaced all 120 web pages and our brilliant site was live and ready to convert. The CTAs were compelling, the funnels were airtight, and the product was ready to ship.

We avoided the messy, protracted transitions founders hate and seemed on the way to success. I could never have foreseen the situation I would be in a few months later.

A quick calculation

There was nothing wrong with the site initially, and everything seemed to be going well, but the clues started to pile up. Our conversions were progressing slower than expected, and issues with the pricing page led us to believe that some potential customers might be falling under our radar.

Once Amit and I had the opportunity to assess our position and do a preliminary audit, it became clear that the launch of the new site was not orchestrated to the level required, with issues such as elements missing from the pricing page and bugs with some browsers. untested resulting in loss of conversions and revenue.

Our biggest mistake, quite simply, was that we didn’t understand that the quality of the buying process was not ensured from all angles at the first stage.

The technical problem was that the site didn’t perform the same on all operating systems and browsers, and because we neglected simple checks, only 20% of traffic went through the funnel as expected.

Another error we discovered concerns our infrastructure. When we launched SaferVPN we wanted to do it quickly, and a PHP stack was the fastest way with a legacy system.

We didn’t want to put the website on a CMS or some other cutting edge technology because we had to give up some control, which we weren’t ready to do at the time. Now that we look back, this urge to exercise full control over the entire spectrum of the company’s resources was a huge mistake.

Even though we sought out proprietary and in-house solutions several years later with great success, in these early stages we were essentially relying on an untested foundation that could not support agility, efficiency, or maintenance. easy.

Before the launch of the new site, we had an average of 80 to 100 new customers per day. It turned out to be unsustainable after our poor launch, and the resumption and eclipse of our initial conversion benchmarks took longer than we thought we could stay in business.

Eight long brutal months of repairing pages, process and trust to achieve the over 400% organic growth we can now claim.

An obituary not quite

To regain that traction and get out of the crater we created after our massive site hit Google like a digital asteroid, we had to go to an extreme effort to implement processes that should have been there months ago, like proper quality control, deliberate and careful installation. new website pages, and the implementation of a CMS. And oneAll of this had to be done at the same time as everything we had to deal with on normal working days.

Fortunately, we can say that we survived this time when our sales funnel was literally decimated, paid off our tech debt, and came out stronger than ever.

This year, we launched our own in-house CMS, which allowed my current company, Perimeter 81, to speed up page delivery, reduce the load on the development team, and give the marketing team new impressive abilities to directly drive success.

We have also hired a QA team and we don’t launch any page without the proper QA review. This allowed us to turn around our initial mistake and resulted in the success of larger, large-scale projects.

By their nature, startups are able to scale quickly. However, that doesn’t mean they should always. It can be tempting to race for income quickly. We’ve learned that when you want to build something great, you have to start with a good plan – a plan that you review and continually adjust as it comes to life.

The lesson learned for the founders is something that seems obvious at first glance, but can be difficult to avoid in practice. Do things incrementally, build from an organized place, and know that every interaction and intention in your product has the capacity to make or break the customer experience, from website to platform, from payments to UTMs.

The advice to be the first in the App Store or to test your product “live” in the market is true to some extent, but the clichés lack practicality, and we’ve learned it the hard way.

Published March 16, 2021 – 09:38 UTC


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