tc-trough-of-sorrow

Andrew Chen wrote about The Techcrunch Trough of Sorrow and we have some new ideas about this.

The Techcrunch Trough of Sorrow shows that when startups launch and get covered on a major news outlet, the traffic peaks BUT the novelty wears off.

Founders deal with issues like team morale and growth. And, the bad news is that some startups may close up shop.

Here’s how The Techcrunch Trough of Sorrow works.

 

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They can run out of runway or feel like their startup isn’t working the way that they expected it to, and just give up.

Whichever way you look at it, nobody wants to get stuck in the trough of sorrow and commit startup suicide.


Sam Altman on Startup Suicide:

Sam Altman released a free eBook called ‘Playbook.’ It’s given to every YC alumni and is now available to the general public.

According to Altman: “Competitors are a startup ghost story. First-time founders think they are what kill 99% of startups. But 99% of startups die from suicide, not murder. Worry instead about all of your internal problems. If you fail, it will likely be because you failed to make a great product and or failed to make a great company.”

Mainly Altman is highlighting that founders kill startups, not competitors. And, I think this is more likely to occur in the Techcrunch-trough-of-sorrow-phase.

Startups can lose the most important thing they have, ‘self-belief’ – and quit too early. Here’s a link to download Sam Altman’s eBook for free.


Should Startups Quit?

Seth Godin has an alternative opinion. “Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt-until they commit to beating the right Dip for the right reasons. Losers, on the other hand, fall into two basic traps. Either they fail to stick out the Dip-they get to the moment of truth and then give up or they never even find the right Dip to conquer.”

On the other hand, sometimes startups should quit, but they don’t.

(Special thanks to Claudine Woo from Chew On This Storytelling for pointing this out)


Can the Techcrunch Trough of Sorrow be Avoided?

After doing a lot of thinking, I’ve come up with some things that startups can do to prevent the Techcrunch trough of sorrow.

One: Build a community around your product. Ryan Hoover used Linkydink to create his MVP for Product Hunt and grew his community to 2000 users in 20 days after its public launch by doing things that don’t scale.

Two: Create useful content on your blog. Mint spent 8-9 months creating valuable content on their blog before they launched and grew their subscriber base to 30,000 active. The Mint blog wasn’t a solo effort; the whole team chipped in and shared the workload.

Three: Guest post on blogs with similar audiences to your users. Leo Widrich from Buffer contributed 150 posts for nine months, doing wonders for web traffic, new subscribers, and branding. Through guest blogging, Buffer acquired around 100,000 new users.

Four: Target little blogs first, and then work your way up to the top. Most startups try to get featured on a major publication first, which is why the web traffic often spikes and crashes. By starting targeting small publications first instead, startups can slowly build up their web traffic and exposure. This could open up pathways to larger blogs later.

However, there’s one major limitation to this.

Will Egan from Code The Future points out that you cannot scale a crappy product. You need ‘product market fit!’ 


An alternative to The Techcrunch Trough of Sorrow:

Startups should look at creative ways as mentioned above to build up web traffic, mentions, and brand awareness and build this up before targeting big publications.

Get coverage on main publications once you have a product that users love. Instead of spiking and dipping, it might do this instead:

An Alternative to The Techcrunch Trough of Sorrow

Stage 1:  A startup is blogging, building a community, getting small press mentions, doing things that don’t scale, guest posting before targeting large media outlets etc.

Stage 2: Gets featured in a major publication, and there’s a traffic spike.

Stage 3: The traffic falls and doesn’t hit the trough as this startup had a pre-existing growing user base that was established before they got a major press mention.

Stage 4: The startup grows at a similar rate to before the massive traffic spike. This momentum builds from that major news mention.

Stage 5: If startups have a Minimum Lovable Product (MLP) like Product Hunt or Slack, and get featured everywhere for a period – a startup may enter a spike-dip-grow loop that nudges growth in a repeat cycle, looking something like this.

Techcrunch Trough of Sorrow: Alternative Spike Dip Grow Loop


Key Points to Consider:

    • If startups can grow their web traffic by doing things like community building, blogging and targeting small blogs before reaching out to large publications – it might help them to avoid the Techcrunch trough of sorrow.
    • Competition doesn’t kill startups, founders do. If a startup ‘does’ enter the Techcrunch trough of sorrow sometimes, founders quit when they shouldn’t; and sometimes they should quit, but don’t as Seth Godin points out.
    • Some startups may enter a Spike-dip-grow loop if they continue to get repeat features in the main publications over a consistent period. Good examples of this are Product Hunt and Slack.

 


 

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  • Paul Towers

    I love this quote from Sam Altman…. “Competitors are a startup ghost story. First-time founders think they are what kill 99% of startups. But 99% of startups die from suicide, not murder.”

    Thanks also for the link to the YC eBook. The key message from all this for me is to focus on what you are doing, and get customers to love you/your product.

    • You’re welcome Paul! Sam’s book is awesome. I’ve re-read it a bunch of times. I think there are two really interesting situations, on one hand, some startups give up way too early (and it could be just after they hit the Techcrunch trough of sorrow) – and on the other hand, other startups don’t quit early enough.

      Getting users to love your product, seems like smart advice (and it is) – but actually doing this in practice is pretty hard. There needs to be some kind of “Playbook” just for this alone … I might interview people about ‘how they got users to love their products’ and write about this later.