The idea that David Karp, who I've work closely for eight years over two startups, is arrogant and doesn't care about the community, is completely off base. And anyone who knows David will agree. He's a exceptional guy and huge talent.
"Go away" was reactionary, and there was probably a better way to message, but David was defending our team who are working incredibly hard to rectify the performance issues/challenges.
And we as a company are taking extraordinary measures to rectify them. We care immensely.
Mr. England - calling out the age of an employee, help me understand why that was necessary and honorable? Seriously.
Lastly, our Creative Community team focusing on Fashion Week is clearly a very different group then our Engineering/Ops team focusing on performance and infrastructure.
Assuming that is true, your comment deserves more attention. It changes the situation significantly.
Its about implementing strategy for that.
"And this right here folks is why a startup is so extraordinarily stressful, why PR agencies exist, and why a squeaky wheel gets the grease." - Ramanujan http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2151989
William's email was meant to make people feel bad. Look at the first sentence: "I am writing this email to you to express my recent disappointment with Tumblr". Instead of feeling bad, David got irritated. Thats the second best choice (don't let people make you feel bad for building gnarly web infrastructure, ya know?).
The best choice would be to ignore the email and let someone without emotional attachment handle it. Sometimes, though, you can't fight the urge to slap down the Wah-wahs.
The original article, by the way, is just trying to paint David Karp as an arrogant, unlikeable person. There are mounds of unreferenced personal attacks in there.
You know if you had treated him with respect and actually discussed the problems with him and apologized and just simply said youre working on it and sorry for the problems. Youd probably have a happy customer for life. Instead you have people that have nothing to do with the situation making it much much much worse then it could have been. Not a very good business move frankly. I mean they teach this stuff in entrepreneurship 101.
Honestly, there is no reason for David Karp to be frontline on these types of communications. If David has something to say about issues, or feedback the company is getting, y'all have a place to do it...Tumblr. Not a personal email.
That is why you have a Community staff. And that staff should feel the pain of the user...even if they're persistent or "annoying" to you. Remember, this guy would not be contacting you if he didn't care.
Getting people to care about your service should not be treated as an annoyance, it is a milestone, and a success.
With one remark, that was wiped away. I'm sure David has way more important things to focus on, like keeping Tumblr up and running.
I would also like to point out that after I sent the email I tried to have a discussion with David directly but unfortunately he ignored my emails.
Maybe you had different experiences with him, but now most people who have read about him just think he's some 24-year-old punk trying to be Steve Jobs. That's just how this stuff works.
Startup, LLC and HugeCorp, Inc. alike can't afford bad PR like this. It was an incredibly stupid move on David's part and he should patch this up as quickly as possible.
"We can afford it" is a terrible response to bad PR. He needs to act quickly and make this right. Apologize. Give the guy a free account or something. Everything is (mostly) better.
I'm convinced that half of a PR person's work is convincing others to get over themselves.
The thing is : you usersy might be wrong,or might be right ; but the point is more that users are your even more than your whole business, giving them a good experience is your ultimate goal ; not just selling them a microblogging app.
In my opinion, comparison to steve jobs / apple here are extremely irrelevant ; yes, steve jobs might have earned the right to be obnoxious to bad clients, but the point is that apple as a company doesn't.
For one thing, its because their marketing goes hand in hand with their excellent customer service that this company is successful. Not because one compensate for the other. Its really a shame that somebody can treat its user base like that.
Actually, shareholders would probably be ecstatic.
If Tumblr makes USV huge returns, they can raise a new fund (not like they would struggle right now..) but most funds require "new investments" so why would Spolsky profit other than being a nice guy?
People often confuse being curt like this with being effective. Often it's just some guy who had a bad day, is an insufferable asshole or some combo of the above. Customer service and 1 on 1 s with users should never be handled by people like that, though.
They'll only move on once the service is no longer seen as cool, and the early adopters have - at a modest estimate - absolutely nothing at all to do with this.
It's not like people are either nice or mean. Everyone is a combination of both.
Hitler loved his dog yada yada
However, the quoted email definitely was.
(So I guess spolsky referred mostly to that one, not just the article around it.)
Not only can they not be trusted to run the service, but they act unprofessional when you complain. Customers complain, get over it. Learn to deal with it constructively.
David's response is not constructive and William's feedback is very valuable. Period.
I'm a Tumblr user and will keep using it for the very reason that the service is simply growing too fast for them to keep up at the moment, but in the end I believe it will stabilize.
That being said, a response like that is just utter crap. (Sidenote: so far, I have seen a copy/paste of the entire message (?) that was supposably sent to Tumblr, but only excerpts of the reply that was received)
Replying in a normal manner to someone that sends a normal e-mail is not something that is left to be done for PR teams and customer service departments.
It really is not that hard. We all say stuff that comes out wrong and there is no need to blow it out of proportion. Seeing that is has already done that, it would probably be a good display of character to set things straight, even if there seems to be nothing to gain from it.
As far as the article is concerned: I believe it could have been written a lot better. Catchphrases like "Could David Karp be the downfall of Tumblr?" are inappropriate and belong in gossip-magazines. The number of claims and experiences on which this article is based (or at least, references) is too low to make it believable and the tone of the article ("Tumblr has been ignoring complaints routinely for the past year whilst Karp apparently indulges in the money he gains from funding") does not really stand out as objective to me.
Nobody gives a care if David is the coolest thing on his/your block. There is not one valid reason to tell a customer to "Please go away". You should just take the bullet, apologize for not meeting their expectation and maybe offer your point of view. If the customer is being rude, you have the right to not answer.
Further, I doubt very much that bad PR like this affects Tumblr. 1) The vast majority of Tumblr users will never hear about this, 2) The ones that do will probably decide whether to continue using the service based on whether or not Tumblr actually solves their downtime problems on an ongoing basis.
Seriously, it is not as if the guy insulted them.
However, this customer was complaining about the core business, not some diversion. Even if he was diverting, there are far more appropriate ways to say good-bye.
It sounds to me like David heard once "don't keep customers who aren't profitable" but never internalized what that really means.
Regardless, the guy is a CEO. He better be able to deal with it. I sincerely hope that this comment doesn't make me sound too insensitive, just a little bit. But his problem is a good one to have, and I would love to have it.
The answer to this problem is never to tell people to "go away." The job is challenging, as you know. You work your ass off, for years. Finally you get something out there, and if you're lucky, people love it.
That's where the modesty has to kick in. Big time.
When you're even a little bit successful, you learn that customers are not bar chums who you punch in the shoulder and laugh when they say something that offends you. You adopt an unusually elevated posture. "Yes, I see what you mean. I probably could have handled that better."
I know you're good at this Joel, so don't hold your friend to a lower standard.
Do you really need a PR/CS team to ensure people get a nice reply? Shouldn't that just be something that a /very nice guy/ would accomplish naturally?
Putting that aside this persons response was unprofessional to say the least. He needs to publicly apologize to all of his users and start hiring people who can fix the site. To tell people to fuck off is immature and absolutely ridiculous. Especially when you have so much VC money at your disposal. When Twitter first got funding they spend alot of it on engineering. They went from being on just a few servers which was one of the reasons it was down all of the time. To hundreds of servers to deal with the load. It seems like this guy now thinks he can keep the money to himself and not spend anything expect on pr. Reminds of Friendster actually.
Are you saying that since millions of customers are getting a free service ("five MILLION visitors every single day, almost none of whom pay a dime.") and so should expect a lower level of service ?
it clearly shows the frustration on Karp's part and that he is not able to handle the pressures.
Think about it: that post (and the comments by robyn_b below, an account which was registered 20 minutes ago) goes out of its way to SEO-ify for keywords related to the founder, his company's name, and related variables.
This is the risk you run with every single customer service interaction -- that the guy on the other side won't just be content to take his ball and go home if you can't meet his demands, but will try to foment a mass movement against you to put you out of business.
Good service is unfortunately not a panacea for this problem. Suppose that 99.9% of your customers are satisfied, but you have millions. Then you've got thousands of disgruntled people out there, and bad news travels fastest.
The lesson, ultimately, is that you simply can't respond in a human way to someone attacking your baby. You need call centers and roboscripts and a first layer of customer service, such that if a customer decides to attack you on the internet, a manager can jump in, offer concessions, and make it all better.
Doing it any other way means that you run the risk of a candid response becoming a capital crime.
Something about the tone set off my metal detectors, as did the comments by robyn_b here, which reminded me of the way people on 4chan work someone's name into a sentence to make sure that it's the number one hit on Google.
Sure enough, looking into this a little more, it actually isn't as surprising. From your site:
PostDesk is looking for fresh new talent in the UK,
Europe, the USA and Canada. We require web developers who
are proficient in PHP and MySQL - and ideally those who
have worked with CMS systems, bulletin board style
software or social networking software....In short, the
start-up will be based around news, discussion and
It might as well be a hit piece as plain sloppy, speculative writing - if Karp had a nickel for every (unanswered) question mark in that article, he'd secure himself another $40 million.
> If this is William, what relationship do you have with PostDesk? It seems peculiar to take an exchange like this and forward it to a total unknown rather than one of the larger sites. I'm not saying I don't believe this happened, but I'm rather skeptical by nature.
> I'm a friend of the owner.
If there is a conflict of interest that should stop you from writing a story in the first place, you don't write the story.
If you are affiliated in some way with one side in a story, you write a disclaimer, so people don't jump to conclusions when they discover the relationship after reading the piece. Case in point.
Disclaimers/disclosures are as much about journalistic objectivity as PR on the writer's/s' behalf.
They need to get off their high horses and fix the problems NOW! If they dont people will simply stop using their service. Especially if that service develops a reputation as having an asshole for a ceo. Especially at the startup stage.
Sadly it seems in this country that arrogance and egomania are being mistaken for talent. When tech founders are assholes people laud them instead of putting them in their place. Its really annoying and i see it here all of the time on HN.
Is that so? How many people will stop using Tumblr based on the outcome of this controversy? How many permanently stopped using Twitter during (what I call) The Blaine Transition?
Especially if that service develops a reputation as having an asshole for a ceo.
Oh, this is good. Name one time this has happened in the entire history of business. I have a feeling you're indulging in pointed opinions to make the case that site quality affects retention and conversion. OK, but that's not a newsflash. What makes Tumblr different, such that they need to "fix the problems NOW!"? I'm sure they're not just sitting back drinking lattes while they watch the support queue grow.
Taking your tone, one might read between the lines to interpret your attitude as just competitive sour grapes between Clojure and Scala. How fair is that?
You can still 'jump in' and try to 'make it all better' as a solo founder or a larger startup without call centers and 'roboscripts.' The updates to the linked article show that this didn't occur in the short-term here, despite the publicity.
Of course, if lots of your customers are behaving abusively, you've got bigger problems, either with the service you provide, or with the customers you've chosen to serve.
Thank you. It looks like Postdesk started a public controversy while leaving out two critical pieces of information:
1) William's actual e-mail, which expresses his disappointment in a reasonably polite fashion. Normally, this sort of e-mail should merit a polite response and a refund.
2) The allegation that William send the email to the entire engineering team (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2152203). This changes the context of Karp's remarks significantly, because it means that Karp had to weigh two things: The feelings of a disappointed customer, and the morale of his already-stressed engineers.
In this case, I actually sympathize a bit with Karp. He needs to take care of his customers, but he also needs to take care of his people. That puts his remark "...we have no interest in customers that will go out of their way to discourage our entire team..." in a rather different light. That's not an easy situation to resolve well.
I wish that Postdesk had provided more facts (and less editorial comment) in the original article.
Also im sorry but i dont care how stressed out you are. As a ceo you have a responsibility to treat your customers with respect. Especially since what the customer was asking was so simply and basic and straightforward. Its not like the emailer sent a nasty mean email calling everybody names and asking them why the service isnt working in harsh ways and being disrespectful.
He sent a very polite email to the people working there. Theres absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. Its part of doing business and doing customer service.
The response frankly was absolutely ridiculous. At the very least the response could have been more polite and simply said we apologize and are working on it.
So the people who understand Tumblr's systems are almost certainly working nights and weekends and going slowly insane. And there's no relief for them: If Tumblr hires more staff, their current engineers will still have to deal with all the crises and train the new people.
It's the CEO's job to deal with disappointed and angry customers. But it's also the CEO's job to deal with programmers who are working 70 hour weeks and who are just about ready to snap and move to a commune. Startups can be full of bad craziness.
In a perfect world, customers would talk to the CEO and the customer support team, and not try to directly contact the engineering team. That's not to say that Tumblr handled this especially well. But again, it's not an easy situation.
That part makes a HUGE difference in the framing of David Karp's.
Edit: I spoke too soon; either I missed it as I read the comments or my comment was re-enabled.
Something about that response tells me this wasn't the first email sent by this user.
I know I probably feel differently when I'm on the other side of this fence, but as the saying goes, you have to earn respect.
Edit: I was about to start a personal blog on Tumblr, and I will not be now due to this article.
Surely you've said or done things in your adult life that were sort of juvenile. You've surely regretted some of them afterwards.
I know I'd have chose to not use your products if you'd told someone to go away when I was making a platform decision to use them or not. (Your writings positively influenced buying decisions for city desk, when it was set up against competing products at the time that were functionally quite similar).
Especially for someone at 24, expending effort to exude maturity opens doors for your company, and helps to defuse criticism of youthful inability (as has plagued Mark Zuckerberg over and over).
But that's all it comes across as.
All the reasons you give for excusing Karp could also be used to excuse the "whiner" who sent the email. Does he not have his business to run? Is he not under pressure?
Now there are upteen startups that have dealt with 100 times the traffic that tumblr is dealing with. And many of them without 40 million dollars in fudning. Plus theres something called the cloud.
Its becoming obvious that egomania is becoming epidemic int eh world of tech startups. Which is just sad.
Also while the emailer was asking about scaling problems which have been going on for far too long at tumblr from what ive read, the issue here isnt with that its with the ridiculous response that the ceo sent.
If you're a cloud app user, you can't even complain loudly. If you are enemies with your host, they can just decide to kick you off. Even if they resolve it, you'll always have a bad feeling knowing that the person running your infrastructure doesn't "like you".
Software you could buy, once you have it, you own it. Nobody can kick you off.
People are comparing this to a Jobs response? No way, this is a Tony Hayward territory (and by that, I'm not comparing the oil spill to tumblr's downtime!!)
These are the kinds of statements that should only carry weight when you have a personal relationship. A relationship with a company/website/app is no more or less than the sum of your interactions with them. I have a "good" relationship with Apple and Amex. A "bad" one with AT&T etc., based on transactions, not personal relations.
The unusual aspect is that the CEO was involved in customer service. It looks like a case of kicking the dog. That happens when people (nice or not) are under extreme pressure. What's up?
I hope you don't judge yourself so harshly, blog author. And put your byline on the site more prominently.
Or maybe it just shows that he's 24 years old and isn't communicating with the benefit of a public relations team watching his every move.
I have engaged in many email interactions with the Tumblr staff and outside of a few questionable missives, encountered nothing but gracious and welcoming responses. Unlike other cloud services like Google, which is merely interfacing with a Python script HTTP request.
That said, Tumblr is straining to keep pace with growth, and the service is sporting cracks and leaks that it do not appear to be getting resolved…
* …the well known cited issues about availability, service outages are still experienced on a daily basis, even if it is just for a few moments. Confounding that the Dashboard might be available but accessing your site page via browser URL generates an error. Or when publishing from the queue, an error is generated even though the article is published -- it just is not removed from the queue, so you have manually delete it from the queue after publishing (reckon there is no DB transaction on the set of CRUD operations).
* …regarding the queue, it is a great feature if it is functional, but since last fall, it is not really functional. It sort of works now, mostly as a holding bucket for me -- I realize in the eyes of Tumblr Support, it works, outside of some outages (which have been measured in days length, not hours), but it is just not reliable enough to depend on. Also, in the wake of the refresh, the UI was badly butchered -- relying on AJAX drag and drop that makes it impossible to move items to the top or bottom of queue, plus some other befuddling choices that make me question whether the developers making the modifications ever actually use this feature.
* …the rich text editor continues to deteriorate (you have the option of editing in rich text, raw html or markdown), there is a glitch now that if you click on the "Edit HTML source" button, it just "hangs" on a blank window. But even when working, it inserts all sorts of extraneous HTML entities and spans. Have switched back to the Markdown editor, but it's an incomplete implementation.
* …the schizophrenic UI nature of accessing Tumblrs via the dashboard or the site pages -- there are sets of operations that you can do on the dashboard (reply) that cannot be performed from the site page.
* …the API access (for creating/updating/dashboard requests) is insecure and really has not been enhanced or upgraded in years.
* …there is a Mac app (no Windows or Linux) to export your Tumblr, but it has failed to export every time I've attempted.
Going to stop there, as I don't wish to bang on Tumblr -- I know they're working hard to address the performance issues. I just hope that it is not a rabbit v. tortoise race.
Looks like the downtime isn't slowing them down much.
My biggest problems with Tumblr's outage is this: It would be nice if their "sorry, we're down" page gave some indication that it is Tumblr that is having trouble with their service.
At the moment, if Tumblr goes down, visitors would have no idea that the "we" in "we're having issues" is not us, but in fact Tumblr.
And what really bites about it is that people understand if you have an outage when trying to serve up millions of pages. But when you have a company blog that has only small traffic, people don't have the same understanding. If your company blog is down, you just look an incompetent who has configured his server badly. And that irks me to no end.
Really? I'm sure if any of us received $40 million in VC funding for our startup, we'd work our butts off too.
What people don't understand is that Tumblr technologically is pretty simple; sure they'll have the requisite growing pains, but it's more important that they maintain a high-quality culture. That's why I don't question Tumblr paying twenty fashion bloggers to go to New York fashion week. Technical issues wouldn't exist without Tumblr's vibrant, active community. They'd just be another blogging site.
Don't you love it when bloggers use their magic publish button to settle petty personal issues? Awesome. Thanks for wasting 15 minutes of my day.
You then had your friend PR whore on the internet, without mentioning at first that you wrote, "I would move to a different service, but with no export feature [...]".
If a customer is that unhappy, you should leave. And tell your friends that run crap startups to see if the shoe fits a little differently when one of their customers digs up the email addresses of all their engineers to whinge at.
And as the response says, there are plenty of other sites that will import Tumblr blogs without a hitch.
Please go away so Tumblr can spend more time/resources fixing problems for the rest of us.
No, even writing my own, have encountered errors on selected pages where the service simply "errored out" once it reached a certain page.
What other sites?
I have tried Posterous and it failed to import.
Sorry, there needs to be a one-click solution where you request an export (and even if you have to be emailed when it is completed) and a file is generated with your content to download to your computer, be it XML, JSON, or in static HTML.
I'm sure you'll receive a database dump shortly.
I totally second the founder's missive and this is mine.
Seriously, you probably know how Twitter helps saving lives and is so much better than traditional news and whatnot. Well, during the riots in Thailand last year it was down a good 20% for reading and a good 50% for posting. Do you think anybody cares in Twitter? Ever tried to mail them?
As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.
Which reminds me of a customer who's asked us to scrap real-time stock data from a free source using demo accounts and then complained because there were downtimes. My answer? Call Reuters and get a quotation.
EDIT: I'd like to state that I always encouraged that customer to get an appropriate account with an appropriate license. This was a 'do it or drop the project' matter (and I wish we had firmer positions in such cases).
I've used Tumblr for years. I remember when they launched. I remember when they raised their first round of funding.
I honestly believe that Tumblr has simply grown too fast to scale their operations in a manner that Tumblr is happy with. I think that Tumblr is similar to MySpace in that they constantly think about scaling their service, rather than customer acquisition (ala Posterous.)
These guys are good guys, and are simply caught off guard. Lets not pick on them for making mistakes.
They run a web company - like many of us - hell, if I had 1% of Tumblrs success I'd be arrogant as hell and Tumblr are not.
They are human. David Karp is probably one of the most underrated web entrepreneurs around right now, picking his brains is equal to picking Facebook or Etsy in terms of consumer entrepreneurial advice, IMHO.
Or maybe the guy was having a bad day, having to deal with an absurd surge in traffic for months that they have yet to deal with.
Have things really been that bad to leave their platform?
Posterous has choked every time I've attempted a Tumblr to Posterous import. From outright failure (which could be simply that Tumblr API was inaccessible) to even upon "success" notification, seeing that it only brought in ~300 posts from a total of 20K posts. Perhaps 20K posts is too burdensome a task, but ~300 is a paltry amount.