VideoToOrder has Launched! What Happened This First Week in Startup

VideoToOrder.com Launch Startup

VideoToOrder.com has been open to the public in beta now for 7 days. The site launched at approximately 5pm on May 19, 2017 to very little fanfare but constant messages from users eager to get a jump on getting their freelancer profiles and video services up before others. It seems that our voice services brand ambassador (and voice over talent), Earl Hall, had been talking up our freelance video production services website for several weeks and had gotten a few of his social media followers worked up into a froth about jumping onto the newest platform that would potentially launch their freelance voice-over service businesses by connecting them with other freelancers who are working on video projects. As a result, the website has started off a bit heavy in the freelance voiceover services category.

This first week, VideoToOrder.com added 62 users who posted 37 video services, which was higher than I had expected. The majority of those services, 23 of them, were posted to the Narration and Voice-Over category and only six services were posted to video creation categories. I believe that these numbers will begin to shift towards video services as we get a further away from our beta launch and the number of new voice-over service providers begins to subside. Two featured job upgrades were purchased (though I only earned revenue for one of them – see below) and no services were purchased by buyers.

The week did not go without technical challenges, which has completely aggravated me with the web development company I have been using to build the site since last September. I’ve spent way over $25,000 and we’re six months into the build and it seems that I cannot get a simple contact form implemented on the site.

Here’s a rundown of the technical challenges we faced the first week we launched:

Within an hour after we removed the gated access and the website went live, the link to add new services at the top of the website disappeared. Of course I was almost immediately bombarded with emails and questions via social media about how one adds a new video service to the website. The problem was fixed pretty quickly by one of the developers on standby but I was dumbfounded by his explanation why this happened… he said he was finding elements of the websites menus in the frameworks trash file. I have no idea why that happened and I certainly know better than to go mucking around in the file system.

Worse yet, after about 4 or 5 hours (and a couple of hours after I sent out an email to a little over 100 people that asked to be notified when we launched) the website stopped sending out system emails, which created 2 MAJOR problems.

  1. The user registration system was not sending new users the email confirmation message required to sign up AND
  2. The contact form on the customer care page wasn’t working and users weren’t able to notify of the problems they were having registering.

Bloody hell, users were coming to the website and unable to do something as simple and essential as registering on the site and they were having a tough time letting anyone know about that. Looking at the system logs, I probably lost 8 to 10 users as a result. Who can blame them? I probably would have completely lost confidence in the website, too.

Of course, this all happened while the developers were off and the mail server was down for about 7 hours.

I sent a scathing email to the project manager about these failings. I was pretty pissed that the most basic but essential functions of the VTO website essentially broke down within hours of announcing that we were live and that they were not available to immediately address the issues. We all went into emergency mode and I eventually discovered a support ticket that our website’s host had sent through their customer service platform; it seems that they had moved our website to a new set of servers – this is what broke the VideoToOrder.com website and mail servers.

WHAT THE FUCK???

Why would you move the website to begin with and, more importantly, why would you send a MISSION CRITICAL message like that through a customer support system that did not also email me of the impending ticket?

Here’s the kicker: moving to the “upgraded server” also required me to change the nameservers with my URL’s registrar. If you’ve ever changed a domain’s nameservers you know that the website is also go to go down for at least a few hours while the the new nameservers are repopulating throughout the Internet and website is stable. Until then, users were going to have a really shitty experience because the website probably wasn’t going to work as intended.

Yep, I had a mostly broken website for most of the first 24 hours that VideoToOrder.com was live and I was embarrassed and pissed off.

I [mostly] apologized to the development team for blistering them over these issues. In truth, these problems were not entirely their fault. They claimed to have thoroughly tested the website before going live but I found a bunch of really basic layout and design issues that they should have caught if they focused on testing for essentially two solid weeks while I was away on a family vacation. I still have a shitty, overly complicated contact form that does;t even pass on the user’s email address to me despite the fact that the contact form asks for it.

Oh yeah, in the first 24 hours I also five dollars in lost revenue because the developer who moved the PayPal payment system out of the development environment and over to my business account forgot to take the cart system out of “testing” mode. Thankfully a client didn’t purchase a service while the payment system was still in the sand box or I would have personally been on the hook with a seller to insure their payment.

In truth, I’ve come to lose faith in them altogether for the primary reason that they have proven to me that they cannot pay attention to detail and lack focus; I told them exactly that the other day and their attitudes seem to have soured. All along they’ve assured me that they are focusing on the development of VideoToOrder 100% but I can see that they’re working on other projects through their Freelancer.com profile and just the other day, the project manager accidentally sent me a message through Skype, clearly intended for his colleague, about a few other website they have under development.

Right now, as I’m writing this blog post, the website has issues with the number of jobs that are displaying on service category pages and users are reporting that they cannot see their jobs on the website. This is vexing because this was not a problem just 2 days ago and, as these things go, the developers are not responsive today so it will be a couple of more days before the issue is fixed.

Honestly, this has been the biggest struggle of mine as a non-technical founder of a technically complicated ecommerce website. I’m pretty much at the mercy of the developers. Under normal circumstances I probably would have looked for a new development team a few months ago but these guys essentially built this massive amount of code completely modifying a canned microjob WordPress theme created by other developers. They know this website inside and out and better than anyone else. It was just easier to suffer through the pain of a thousand minor cuts while rather than bring development to a complete stop while a new development team took over and became familiar with the quirks and peculiarities of someone else’s code before moving forward toward launch.

It’s clearly time to get fresh eyes looking at the website, so I am search for another development team or an individual full stack developer. If you happen to know a talented developer that would be interested in getting in on as “Employee #2” and possibly “Co-founder” please pass VideoToOrder on to him or her. We should definitely talk.

After this initial spate of issues, things have mostly spotted out with the majority of the problems really shifting over to user experience; the most pressing issue was giving users the ability to edit their own jobs. The developers did hammer that out in a couple days and editing works pretty well. I also ran into a few instances where users wanted to change their username but the core WordPress functionality does’t permit changing usernames. Despite working with one user and telling her that the only fix was to simply delete her user account and start over (it would be very straight forward sine she hadn’t posted any services yet) I think that she got pissed off and abandoned the site.

I hate that a user got frustrated by something so simple but I also know that I cannot win them all.

Not to throw more mud at the developers but I did have a really good laugh at them yesterday after the project lead sent over an 11 page document (attached) outlining their suggestions for a comprehensive marketing strategy now that the website is live. It goes basically like this:

For promotion of website, main objectives would be:

  • Increasing the Brand awareness
  • Improving the social presence
  • New customer acquisition
  • Increasing overall visibility on web
  • Generating revenue for VideoToOrder.com

The first thing that struck me was, presumably, this was prepared by a different group with the development company who focuses on marketing. They pointed out several on page SEO issues – specifically that 4 links were broken and that CSS and code could be “minified” in order to improve load times. If the project lead saw that there were development issues like these that he was responsible for (and should have addressed during testing) why wouldn’t just take care of them rather than left them continue to be problems?

(I’m scratching my head over this one.)

I was able to fix 2 of the link issue on my own and the developers will have to fix the others when they get back.

The rest of the marketing analysis clearly discounted that VideoToOrder.com is newly hatched startup, not launched but just a week ago.

  • Some footer links were pointed to the same page. (It’s a work in progress and launching was way more important in the grand scheme of things.)
  • That the website wasn’t ranking very well for certain keywords and phrases. (The website’s only been live for 7 days and a few of the example search phrases, like “freelance video producer” are completely irrelevant. I mean, who types in “freelance video producer” into Google search? The keyword suggestion tool doesn’t even return a result because monthly search volume is either too low or non-existent.)
  • Low number of backlinks pointing to the site (Duh!!! New website. Haven’t been able to start marketing plan yet.)
  • Low Facebook page likes because we’re not posting enough to the page (Bwah??? A new post us uploaded to that page every 4 hours like clockwork and Facebook page likes is irrelevant at the moment because free user engagement sucks due to Facebook’s notorious shitty newsfeed algorithm.)
  • VideoToOrder’s Twitter following is terrible compared to PeoplePerHour.com’s account. (Facepalm. PeoplePerHour.com was launched in 2007, and Crunchable is reporting that the website has raised over $14 million in funding. They included The Video Collective Twitter account but failed to give me an attaboy for kicking their ass. 😉 )

Their big “aha!” suggestions?

  1. Include VideoToOrder’s LinkedIn company page link into the social icons in the footer, “as it is good to target professionals here.” [sic]
  2. Create a VideoToOrder Vimeo account (We barely have any content on our YouTube account yet.)
  3. Begin a PPC campaign because they determined that I wasn’t using pay per click advertising yet. (Did I mention that the webs his still brand new?)

The whole marketing strategy document is a bit ridiculous and misses the mark. Perhaps I’m just a little more cynical or critical simply because this comes from the same company that is causing me website development pains and now they are fishing for more money.

Building an online marketplace is ridiculously difficult; probably the hardest type of website to market because you have to market to, and attract two different types of users: Seller and Buyers. The dilemma is very much a “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” sort of issue. You cannot focus on buyers until you have enough sellers and a well-rounded mix of services posted, and you really run the risk of pissing off the “early adopter” sellers because there are few to no buyers yet. How long do I expect to keep them interested in VTO if they remain idle and aren’t making any money?

Needless to say, I have a well-defined and realistic marketing plan for marching forward. This is the part of business building I’m good at and I’ll hire specialists for some of the more technical aspects of my marketing plan (like PPC campaign optimization).

By the way, I really need to hire a freelance content specialist, too, to write content for the VideoToOrder.com blog and for guest blog outreach. I love writing about video marketing and various aspects of making money with video but I just don’t have the time to devote to it right now; my time and attention is better served elsewhere. Again, if you know of a talented freelance writer who can write very well on the topics of video marketing, freelancing in general and can cover industry news, please send them my way. I’d be eternally grateful.

Of note: Sadly, while writing this very lengthy post I’ve been notified that Twitter has denied my request for a verified badge today. Dammit. 🙁

Oh well. We’ll try again in several months. Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer and PeoplePerHour all have verified accounts but they’re all much further along and more noteworthy than VideoToOrder.com right now.

OK. So where do I go this next week?

Great question. Here are a few items I know that need to happen…

  • Get the basics of the website stable enough that we can stop development for a while and until I can find a development team or full stack technical co-founder. The money I have on retainer with the current devs essentially runs out on May 31st, so we’re close but there’s not a lot more that needs to happen before breaking off with them.
  • Get a press release written and distributed on the wire in reference to the VideoTOorder launch. This is really important and great for backlinks and industry / startup exposure.
  • Work on cross-linking between the category pages and the VideoToOrder.com blog and the Video Entrepreneur Magazine website.
  • Set up my filming studio and start live streaming across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
  • Shoot screencast videos while using the website and giving tips on how to best complete a user profile and best practices for setting up a service page. Get these videos integrated into their respective pages.
  • Reach out to freelancers on other marketplaces who are a good fit in important areas of the website where we are lacking sellers and services.
  • Reach out directly to registered users with these videos and giving them tips about how to market themselves and their freelance services on VideoToOrder.com
  • Find a freelance writer and get them cracking on more blog content.
  • Providing more training and responsibility to my personal assistant regarding building the VideoToOrder.com and Video Freelancer Twitter accounts.

What are my current long-range plans?

Find a source of seed funding or an angel investor and use that money to hire a badass technical co-founder and bring him or her to Cozumel, Mexico for at least 6 months.

There’s of course much more to say, but I have tickets to the premiere of the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie in about 30 minutes and the rest will have to wait. It’s been a long week for sure and next week will be VERY, very busy, too. I need some rest and family time.

With all of that said…

I REALLY would like to hear your comments, suggestion and thoughts on what happened this first week of VideoToOrder.com!

If you are a registered user, I’d very much like to hear your suggestions and impressions about the website and what I should be doing to best serve you and your success using OUR website.

About L. Scott Harrell

My primary interest is meeting the burgeoning demand for video content; specifically, custom video content creation across a sweeping range of needs and budgets.

Author: L. Scott Harrell

My primary interest is meeting the burgeoning demand for video content; specifically, custom video content creation across a sweeping range of needs and budgets.