PayFast has launched its annual Black Friday and Cyber Monday live spending tracker, with the dashboard showing that someone has already spent over R100…
South Africa’s latest 24-hour news channel, ANN7, has provided a lot of ammunition for the internet the last couple of weeks. Its launch was nothing short of disastrous with teleprompter and anchor malfunctions aplenty, rendering the brand the laughing-stock of the greater internet community. Its attempt at damage control didn’t help and has further weakened any chance it had at redemption. With the intention at a good-natured article, I think there is plenty for startups to learn from this back-firing launch of a young brand (read: company). Let’s take a look at what we can learn “on ANN7 tonight”.
There’s no such thing as the perfect launch…
…but it can’t be a complete f-up. You’ll hear a lot of advocates that say it’s important to be first to market, rather than perfect your product/service and miss the boat. But there is a
fine line between being first to market and screwing up your launch holistically. This is especially true if you have played the media game well and have a lot of hype around what it is you are offering. ANN7, for example, had high-profile South African ties which gave it a level of exposure most new projects might not have garnered. Good for the channel, it leveraged those connections with the Gupta family and President Zuma’s son to get people to take notice before it even launched. As you drive into Cape Town, for instance, a giant billboard greets you with the lead image of this article… but it’s all for nothing once you fail that first impression.
Preparation and keeping it simple
Similarly, you need to test your product or practice your service to gauge functionality, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. It’s that old holy grail — the minimum viable product (MVP). While I’m an advocate that not every startup suits or needs a MVP, ANN7 certainly could have used some feedback from a smaller group before going live with the entire channel. Rather do something simple, and well, than take on too much too early. Google didn’t start out with its social network Google+, Gmail, Google Reader etc. All it was at the start was a simple search engine, and a good one at that. In the same light, ANN7 should not have started a 24-hour channel before knowing it could pull off at least one segment without a hitch. Start simple, and expand from there. Tying in to this is investor pressure. You don’t want it so early on (incubator and accelerator startups aside) and I would suggest bootstrapping until you reach that MVP. As news anchor Chantal Rutter Dros confirmed on Twitter, ANN7 launched without being fully prepared because of contractual obligations (read: investor pressure).
@standoff2 we had no choice. We were under contractual obligation.
— Chantal Rutter Dros (@ChantalRutter) August 22, 2013
This is a biggie. First impressions matter. Can you unsee those awkward glances or the misreads on ANN7’s early broadcasts? Every point of contact a potential customer/client has with your brand can help or hurt your company. Consider that ANN7 is compared more with a comedy channel, undermining the very image it was trying to cultivate as a cutting-edge newsbroadcaster in Africa. ANN7 cannot undo that now because that first impression, and its reputation, is no longer in its control thanks to the nature of the internet. You, as a company, want to control the way your image is perceived and interacted with as much as possible, particularly in the early days when reputation is all you have. Micromanage that, seriously. The internet is an unforgiving critic and once unleashed it is untameable. ANN7’s attempt at damage control is futile, and actually further hurts its reputation. Don’t let it get to that point.
The right team, and the importance of teamwork
There is a disconnect on ANN7. For example between the person working the teleprompter and the anchor, and even between the co-anchors themselves. You want to get the best team you can get, clearly ANN7’s presenters are not the best available in South Africa — the Daily Maverick has it on good authority that they are actually mostly models. Stronger teamwork and communication though, could have alleviated their inexperience and seen them operate at a somewhat more professional level. Not only that, but you want the best people in the right positions. In a startup, roles are often amalgamated because its more likely than not made up of a small team, but allowing people to play to their strengths will get you better results on all fronts.
Failure. Own it or quit.
ANN7 should not have tried to take down its bloopers from YouTube. By not accepting its faults and failure it is further tarnishing not only the brand, but those tied to it. As an entrepreneur who is perhaps launching your first startup you need to consider your personal brand. That is the brand that will transcend that first company, and the brand that will get you more (or less) business than any other. If you fail, learn from it and own it, perhaps even work it into your future pitches, you’ll be surprised at the respect you might get. Trying to hide and cover up a failure can only aggravate the situation, especially in the early aftermath. You are not defined by failure, but how you react to it.