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I just left 200 fake parking tickets at YC Demo Day... (instagram.com)
125 points by pjsullivan3 on Aug 21, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments

Personally, I would be rather peeved to be advertised to in this way. I wouldn't find it clever or cute--I would just find it annoying. I would not end up with a good impression of the company, and I wouldn't want to do business with it.

One reason why I don't find it particularly clever, is that it's really not all that different from all the physical junk mail I receive that tries to visually mimic some sort of important government notice.

To me, this would work beautifully if the startup were actually involved in solving traffic or transportation problems. Ridejoy, for instance. If Ridejoy had pulled this stunt, it would have been very cute.

That said, I'll give the man his props. This is ingenuity. Perhaps it's misdirected, to an extent. Perhaps it'll backfire. But it's something different. It is clever, regardless of whether we find it enjoyable or annoying.

EDIT: Minor nitpick, but I wouldn't have made so many grammatical errors in the fake ticket. They're pretty glaring. Especially for a first impression.

I would find this pretty annoying personally. Not only that but this is how the pizza joint around the corner advertises(literally). Is that really the feel you want?

I think the key difference is that it's unexpected, given the context. Investors have just finished hearing a bunch of pitches, so they're primed to be receptive to clever "roadblocks" like this one -- whereas people who park next to a pizza joint are going to be annoyed when they find flyers stuck to their windshield wipers.

Funny, we considered flyering the entire auditorium during Startup School last year, but decided that was too annoying and ended up flyering just the bathrooms instead. No one got the fake grimlock references, sadly...

I got it, and I was thoroughly impressed.

Imagine you're an investor, and you drive to "YC demo day", and listen to 30 pitches of small startup companies, go out to your car, and see a flyer in your windshield pitching another startup company...

Are you really going to be pissed at that, or is that just one more pitch (that some on here think shows hustle)? Doubtful investors are going to be pissed at this, and ... so what if they are. A couple of hundred people just visited their web site, most of them with money to invest...

Like handing your CV outside a job fair instead of paying to go in. Those people are there for this very reason and won't be too upset by it. pg and team might be pissed however...

All I can imagine is the sinking feeling I get when I see a ticket on my car. I start fuming about the nice meal I might have eaten for that $50. Maybe if I were a VC, I'd be rolling in so much money that I'd never think twice about $50. On the other hand, I really don't have to worry about $50 either, and yet my stomach still sinks.

If I were a VC, my stomach might sink over the time I'd have to waste writing the check for the ticket and remembering where I put the stamps. Then when I noticed that it was just a "cute prank", I would resent whoever it was who was responsible for causing that sinking feeling.

Why would anyone want to associate their company with that?

It seems gimmicky, which could work, but then throw in the QR code and incorrect usage of "its" and it just seems unprofessional. If you're investing in the person and not the idea, this seems like a very bad first impression to make.

However, what's there to lose?

Why is the QR code unprofessional?

I think under the circumstances it may actually put a smile on peoples faces. They are probably already in a good mood and the right mindset for something like this.

This was a relatively common tactic in Chicago a few years ago, done by restaurants and a band if I remember correctly. Heading to your car on your way to work in the morning and finding a fake ticket that ended up being, as you say, junk mail, really made people angry. I am pretty sure the city got involved people were so mad.

It's a funny, well-executed idea, but issuing official-looking city documents with "City of Mountain View" as the header and all of your identifying information is a great way to get written up by the police department.

I would seriously caution people against making it a close copy (particularly of money) of an official document. Depending on the situation, there are state and federal statues backing up the local ones.

// sorry to be a killjoy

How close does that actually look to a real parking ticket? It doesn't even say the word "parking" on it or mention a fine $ amount.

This is just innovative guerrilla marketing.

It's littering.

yep, and some city's take using their name pretty poorly with the word "VIOLATION" pretty poorly.

Tell that to Steve Wozniak:


Woz is just giving people real money in an inventive format at below-face value, because he can.

The money he gives out is legal tender - $2 bills bought in sheets from the mint (they're his "local printer," you see). He just cuts them up and makes various unique forms of moneybook out of them, and he's OK with giving them out at below face value because the ensuing hilarity is worth it to him.

That's very different from making a fake document on official government letterhead or representing itself as a government document.

I think the word you're looking for is "statutes".

I think autocorrect felt otherwise :(

I really don't get the "word I typed is in the dictionary, but autocorrect thinks it found something better" use case.

"You have illegally been subjected to make..."

"Try the new app right now, its beautiful:"

As clever as it is, it would have been far more effective if you had checked your grammar before printing two hundred flyers.

Yup, I came here to note the "its" problem. I won't try the app or look any further, because anybody who can't be bothered to use proper grammar on a publicity stunt sure as hell isn't going to release a quality product.

That is not a just correlation. Someone who is creative enough to come up with something like this, probably has a creative app as well. It is nearly impossible to put out a product without any minor mistakes.

Attention to detail matters, especially when it comes to being trusted to run a business with someone else's money.

Regardless - I'd be quietly reprinting and replacing.

I don't consider this creative, personally. People have been littering my car with leaflets for many years. Every single time, I get annoyed and throw them away.

There's a huge gap in the complexity of getting your product perfect and not making grade-school level grammar errors on a 20 line 'parking ticket.'

That's pretty harsh. I understand that it's silly to not proofread very carefully when doing a stunt like this, but language mistakes aren't a sign of incompetence.

Language mistakes are not, but not having your document proofread before you illegally litter it all over a parking lot is.

Grammar mistakes are a sign of laziness, not incompetence. Both should be warning signs.

Right, by incompetence I was referring to the parent's comment towards the guy not being able to build a quality product because he left an apostrophe out of a word.

Just to make sure: you are being sarcastic, right?

Not really. Someone launches a hot-new-startup-you-just-have-to-see every 20 minutes. The time I have spare to devote to looking at new things is super limited, so, much like with that old adage that "first impressions count", I start to filter things based on what are, in many cases, trivialities.

In this case, though, I don't feel that it's entirely trivial. Quality is something that happens top to bottom, I believe. Think about Apple -- while I dislike a lot of things they do as far as the walled garden goes -- I feel that they have a quality experience through and through. Every step along the way -- visiting the store, buying a product, even the packaging is well done.

When you have 30 seconds to make an impression on the people that might make or break your future, "that startup that littered a bunch of cars with dead trees and didn't even get someone to proofread" is not the kind of impression I'd want to be making.

Because as humans we don't make mistakes, right? You probably mean well, but this is the kind of attitude that people are complaining about in the HN community right now. People being cynical and instead of giving positive criticism people (like yourself) are picking on a lot of peoples grammar. I understand grammar is important, but working in an industry that heavily relies on print I see far worse mistakes than this on a daily basis by big large corporate printing companies all of the time. It happens, relax man.

Edit and wow, down-voted for telling someone to ease up on the submitter because there is a grammar mistake in the fake ticket? What the heck is wrong with this place? The community appears to be in a lot worse shape than I thought.

While I can't speak for him, my take on the kind of lame grammar sniping that sw007 was referring to in the post that kicked off that shitstorm[0], is posters on HN using irrelevant, petty criticism to dismiss and shit on others' opinions and arguments, in informal discussions internal to the community.

The grammar mistakes that fabricode (the guy you're responding to) is criticizing are in user- and investor-facing advertising copy. If superficial presentation matters anywhere, it matters there. And I feel like since this was something so bold, and those flyers and this post are probably going to be the most attention this company is going to get unless it takes off, the stakes are even higher. While it was maybe (maybe) a little snarky, no other top-level comment has pointed these mistakes out, and I think such cosmetic topics are fair-game to discussing things like this. If it's not already there, that criticism is pretty close to constructive given the subject matter.


[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4396747

  "It happens, relax man."
Fabricode doesn't seem very upset about it? He's just pointing out an error, which could show negatively on the company. I know I would take them less seriously if I saw the mistake. It's healthy advice, double check your grammar before printing flyers, writing a blog post, etc.

It is positive criticism. It takes a matter of seconds to spot these errors. Lighten up.

The psychology of a car spam victim (flyer for a local garage band's performance, real parking ticket) is pretty funny to observe. When they pull it off their windshield, some will put it in their vehicle (to throw away later), some will toss it onto the ground (even if seem like they'd never litter any other time), and some will double-put it onto the adjacent vehicle (yes, even with real parking tickets).

I think you just left 118 pieces of litter (blowing off the parking lot into adjacent properties) at YC Demo Day. Hopefully you'll perform some sort of "green litter offset" trash pickup to mitigate the environmental impact. Perhaps that may be assigned to you if you're unlucky.

Still, some people actually do pay money for the fake v!@gra to keep spammers in business. The difference here is the other 99.99% of spam victims can't physically locate the spammer to clobber or harangue them.

A 6-months-later update to recount the results of this experiment would be a real service to entrepreneurs as either an inspirational or cautionary tale.

> to mitigate the environmental impact

Paper's biodegradable. This is just littering.

People (both on HN and potentially IRL) or going to get a little frustrated with you for doing something like this. It's a little self-confident (maybe even pushy), will be very controversial, and walks the thin line between awesome and illegal.

Which is exactly why I love it.

Heck, let people call the police, go to jail for a couple of days or pay a fine, make a big ruckus about it, and make sure your company gets mentioned in all sorts of PR. Well done all the way around.

I'm not sure how distributing flyers is perceived in California but I'd be really surprised if anyone ends up in jail for this.

At least it shows these hackers are willing to go out and some promote their ideas.

This is always relevant! I can't count the number of times I have shown this url to people discussing QR codes. And I am still waiting for the shiny day I find some creature "in the wild" conducting a QR code scan.

The "process flow" of someone scanning a QR code is longer than taking a photo, and the expectation is to reach a website.

I find QR codes useful for getting private keys for my server onto my phone, Google two-factor uses them for the same reason. I might be an edge case, but yeah.. :)

Short URL > QR

Are windshield flyers now called "fake parking tickets" in order to sound less like spam?

I've always wondered if there is a law you could invoke against someone messing with your vehicle like this.

Is it legal for a random person (not law/parking enforcement) to pick up the wiper and but whatever garbage they want under there?

Can I put my used McDonald's bag under someones wiper?

"California Vehicle Code 10852. No person shall either individually or in association with one or more other persons, willfully damage or tamper with any vehicle or break or remove any part of a vehicle without the consent of the owner."

This is an all-purpose section that, for example, makes it possible to arrest someone who is walking down the street trying the handles on car doors to see if they are unlocked - even if they don't find any that are unlocked. I guess it would probably apply if someone broke off a windshield wiper while putting a pamphlet there. If someone was sufficiently irate, it might even apply to a used McDonald's bag being put under someone's wiper.

So any pitch day attendees who didn't like this, you know what to do: while they didn't get caught in the act, pretty sure posting on HN will allow you to press charges as they've confessed to the crime. My recommendation: the judge should order the culprit to work 6 months at a non-social-media startup with a real business model.

The word 'tamper' can seriously be applied to checking if a door is locked and causing no change whatsoever? I hate legal speak.

Context matters. (See, for example, http://hollister.ca.gov/Site/html/gov/office/police/document... ).

Interpreting "Legal speak" is not like a compiler checking syntax. It's more like interpreting a project's specifications in a way that makes sense. Just as in any important job, judgement matters.

Yeah, context matters a lot. And right next to 'tamper' it has 'damage' and 'remove'. Tugging a handle should be equivalent to staring in the window. Very suspicious but not a violation of this particular statute.

Interesting. Thanks.

I just want to say something:


Yeah, I can go to tripl.com or whatever, also add your twitter/fb/G+ page otherwise you'll just look like some bozo stuck in Web 1.0 (contact by phone?!)

Do you not have a smartphone? They're a very common way to install apps. Heck, I sometimes scan QR codes right off my monitor.

I've been in continuous ownership of at least one smartphone since the iPhone 1. I have yet to scan a QR code "in the wild" (i.e., while not testing software that's QR-code related).

I'm willing to bet I can tap the install button for a given app faster than you can scan the equivalent QR code and hit install. The challenge is for iOS.

The workflow for scanning and actioning on a QR code is tediously slow. Unlock your phone. Page over a few times (because let's be honest, QR code scanner is not getting front-page placement on my home screen), open the app. Wait for it to initialize. Hold over QR code. Nope, closer/further. Ah there we go. Bam. Now tap on something to visit site. Wait for site to load. Oh wait, it's a redirect to the App Store. Wait for App Store to load...

Sweet God.

A sufficiently short and easy to spell URL can be entered much, much, much faster than all of the above. If it's app-related, a sufficiently short and easy to spell app name will convert me faster than a QR code any day of the week.

There are plenty of effective scanner apps are out there. The one I use snaps the image almost instantly and away you go. It's not something that I use much, but it works when I need it. And yes - why not have a visible url as well.

I'm an Android user, so I can't really comment on the iOS experience, but for me it's as literal as "hit barcode scanner, point camera at QR code". The app detects the QR code, decodes it, tells me what it found, and asks what I want to do with it. In the case of a URL, it pops open in my browser; in the case of an app URL, it opens in the Play store app, etc. It's very quick, easy, and painless.

I think you'll agree that short URLs and names are hard to come by, and will be more so over time. Plus, the push for short names is getting out of control. I'm sorry, but a name like xzb.ly is retarded, whereas GoodCompanyName.com isn't.

Most of the time when I hear about an app, I'm at my computer. So I type in the full URL to get to that link or go to the App Store's slow search. Half the time there's several search result, and I'm fighting with iPhone's spell checker if it's a cutesy name or have to remember the company's naming scheme. (For example, I searched for "Flight Track" instead of "FlightTrack" and received tons of incorrect results.)

Another good use: connecting the physical world with digital when it's not practical to set up a short URL (think a church having a silent auction, with in-depth descriptions listed on the website)

QR codes might be workable if the camera app automatically detected them.

We've found a user!

cheald - please prove it by documenting yourself using a QR code and submit to http://picturesofpeoplescanningqrcodes.tumblr.com/

Next up Sasquatch!

grin I just might have to do that. :D

Yes I do have a smartphone

No I will not install an app to install another app

Also, a QR code is opaque. What it will do? Open a page? Install what app? Compromise my cell phone with premium dialing sw?

QR codes contain nothing but text. Any barcode scanner app is going to ask what you want to do with what it found. It's not like pointing your phone in the wrong direction is going to give it malware.

Why? Both Google and Apple let you push apps to your phone from their respective application stores.

Sure, if the app is in its respective store. It's awfully handy to be able to grab a new ROM download, or an APK that isn't in the Play store by just grabbing my phone and waving it at my screen. Saves me the steps of having to copy and shorten the URL, then type it in on my phone.

The only regular use I ever have for QR codes is loading a long page url I'm looking at on my desktop to my phone. I keep a chrome plugin installed so I can click a button for a QR code. Beyond that, I'm not going to some random link encoded in a QR code.

If you use Chrome or Firefox, they have browser sync to their mobile apps now. You could also employ Instapaper or ReadItLater/Pocket and just click the bookmarklet.

Scanning a QR code sounds like it may take some time if you're in a rush.

I used to feel the same way, then I started using QR codes to pay for things with LevelUp. I still haven't scanned one myself, nor do I have any intention to ever do so, but I have had people scan my QR code. :)

You'll love this site: http://qrafti.com/

The joke is pretty good but it's unfortunate that the startup (Tripl - discover the world through your friends beautiful travel stories) has nothing to do with the ticket. Seems like it would work better for AngelList or some other company.

It's a novel idea that can sometimes have a great effect. This sort of marketing trick has been used too many times to count. I remember a few years ago there being an ideas festival in my city and someone came up with the idea of using fake looking city issued traffic infringements like yourself that resembled authentic tickets pretty closely that said something like, "A $250 fine for not doing what do you want in life" or something along those lines.

What happened next however is the organisers behind the campaign were slapped with a littering charge, warned that it's actually highly illegal to impersonate a traffic fine even if you put a disclaimer on the fake infringement ticket. I don't recall what else they were fined for besides the littering charge, but I am pretty sure it cost them a small fortune combined with the other charges.

Be careful, this kind of gimmick could cost you dearly. City councils love a good opportunity to extort money out of people.

Went to the website. It looks pretty enough but maybe you should show screenshots of what it actually does, since it's completely ambiguous unless you click on the tiny "Learn More" button at the top.

Oh man, this is either going end very well or very badly - there is no middle ground.

I received an email from a company that I did business with that said "urgent: [...]" as the title.

The email was a sale information message.

I complained to them immediately and haven't done any business with them since. Indeed this sort of dishonesty gets me to avoid as much as possible any support for a company. The message was not urgent in the least.

An antisocial attempt to con people in to paying more attention to your company: Hate is a word I seldom use but it seems valid here.

Presumably next up you'll be doing something like standing up in movie theatres shouting "fire!" so that people will exit past your friend holding an advertising board ...

wow this promotional idea combines all the fun of physical spam with the temporary terror of possibly going to jail. I understand their next promotion will involve donning ski masks and breaking in to your apartment while you shower. good work.

I probably wouldn't respond this way, but: if I see you touching my car, my personal property, and you're not wearing a law enforcement uniform, it would be well within my right to respond as if you're stealing or vandalizing my car. I can't speak to SF, but in many areas, when the police respond to the physical altercation, they'd be asking me if I want to press charges.

As annoying as it can be to come out and find someone has placed a flyer on my car, I very, very, seriously, highly doubt that I would NOT be charged for assault if I was to beat them up for it. But I'm willing to look at evidence in the contrary.

This is the next Obama-Os. It might be unappreciated by some, but you definitely just got looked at by some investors.

No, this is the next Obama-O's http://hungerboard.com/

I must admit -- it's an ingenious way to pitch your company.

Selling your product by putting flyers on people's cars: yes, totally original.

No, the fake parking ticket part. I've never seen anyone do that, so it qualifies as "original".

I think it works because the joke is clear by the second line. Any further and I bet people would be pretty pissed.

I had a friend do something similar to another friend just as a prank. Everything about the "ticket" looked official except for small print at the very bottom, which gave it away. They actually bought a disposable camera, took photos of the parked car (it wasn't illegally parked), and went to develop the photos before the joke was revealed.

Praise from me for the naughty tactic regardless of execution. If you're note sure if you did the right thing then find some consolation in the fourth point on this page: http://paulgraham.com/founders.html

Let us know how it goes.

the thing i hate about windshield fliers is that there rarely is a trashcan nearby. Thus, being respectful of the wonderful bay area we live in, i end up folding it up and putting in my backseat or cup holder. It stays there for weeks until i go through the annoying stage of picking up all the miscellaneous stuff laying around in my car.

I like this idea because it's polarizing. All risky ideas are, and I think you can get at least one person behind you (appreciating that ballsiness), even at the risk of alienating everyone else. If that's all you need, go for it!

[Update] Ha! Apparently it's tripl.com and not tript.com.

If you checkout his site at tript.com it's either poorly designed or people are already spamming his site under the 'Latest Travel Advice' section.

It's tripl.com, not tript.com

Huge difference in UI!

This would be pretty brilliant, if it didn't amount to characterizing the people you're trying to reach as stupid and/or bamboozled into wasting their time.

So many grammar errors...

superb hack. any leads?

would be great if you could follow up with any interesting stories that came out of this.

tl;dr for the flyer text:

"We weren't good enough to get into YC, but want to piggyback off of pitch day. Please please please visit our site! kthxbai"

Congratulations! You're an asshole!

Interesting idea, and I hope it works out for you!

Sadly, it's almost certainly against municipal code.

All it takes is one jerk to make a smart street team effort go bad by complaining to the police or mayor.

How is someone being a 'jerk' for reporting someone for littering and impersonating the police?

Well, placing papers on cars is legal in most cities, and is not littering unless the recipient (or weather) places it on the ground after it's been placed on the car.

All one has to do is discard it. To go the extra mile to trudge down to the police station or Mayor's office and make a stink about it appearing to be a ticket would indeed make the person a vindictive jerk.

Now, as an aside, the mindset of one who sees a "ticket" on their car from a distance is probably not conducive to a positive response to the pitch.

The fact that the poster here clearly calculated the weight of his actions versus the impact of the preceding event the on the attendee was what I thought was interesting.

It's a calculated risk, and one or two pings of interest is clearly worth the possible fine.

Again, in my opinion.

I don't know that 'impersonating' would really be a good description here. The rest of the 'ticket' makes things pretty clear that it is not an official communique of the city's.

Who didn't immediately go to tripl.com?

Haha pretty creative. You should scale this up to the entire city of Mountain View!


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