Do you remember Hot or Not? I know I do. It didn’t keep my attention after the first 15 or 20 minutes of use but the thing went gangbusters without my page clicks.
But what’s really neat is how James describes the process of how the company continued to evolve so that it could not only survive but thrive. Regardless of where you sit with the service it did a number of things right and there are opportunities for us all to learn from what they did right.
- Pivot #1: Name Change – When “Am I Hot or Not” went viral, shock-jock Howard Stern plugged the site’s URL on his show incorrectly leaving off the “Or Not.” Over 100 imitators came out of the woodwork using twists on the company’s name trying to cash in on Hong’s concept. Hong quickly jumped into PR mode and did every interview he could get to push the Hot or Not brand. By dropping the “Am I” portion of their title, they could have easily lost all the branding work they had done, but Hot or Not prevailed with around 1.8 million page views daily in the weeks that followed.
- Pivot #2: Stash Server – James and Jim were still running low on funds but now running high on the need for bandwidth to run the site. Their solution? They went cloak and dagger and stashed the server under co-founder Jim’s desk at Berkeley, hiding it under a pile of books.
- Pivot #3: Beg for Server – Once Berkeley caught onto their antics and gave them the boot, they had to go out and beg for some help. As a startup, it never hurts to ask for something for free until you get your feet off the ground. Hong did just that, contacting RackSpace Hosting, who — to his amazement — were actually willing to let Hot or Not scale their servers and go big!
- Pivot #4: Introduce Ads – Armed with a powerful network, it was time to make money from their loyal and growing following of users. The next logical step for Hong was to partner up with advertisers, but it wasn’t an easy match. Up against the racy nature of the site, which was also crucial to its success, Hot or Not had to go out on a limb and pivot again…
- Pivot #5: Remove Porn – In order to monetize, Hong needed an interface where they could easily remove any pornographic images uploaded by members of the site. James sheepishly offered his newly retired parents the task. To his surprise, they accepted. Ah, the importance of early adopters, even if they are Mom and Dad. Ultimately, they were able to enlist members of the site to work as moderators and make Hot or Not PG, so it would be palatable to advertisers.
- Pivot #6: Dating Service – The most crucial pivot for Hot or Not was to take advantage of what was hidden in plain sight: It was connecting members to each other like wildfire. The founders eventually realized that their revenue stream should come from the love connections their platform was facilitating.