Co-founder Peter Nixey just wrote up a riveting account of the recent launch of his startup clickpass for Vitamin. It’s a must-read. Plaxo was one of clickpass’s launch partners, so the story features a few cameos from yours truly.
It will be hard to forget waking up in an Austin hotel around 9am on the day of the launch, eyes blurry from a heavy night of partying (er, that is, “networking”), glancing over at the alarm clock, and then jolting out of bed with the cold shock of realization: “oh crap, clickpass is launching this morning and I haven’t pushed the code live on Plaxo yet!”. My roommate John McCrea was still sound asleep, but I knew I had to get my computer set up and get on the phone with Peter and Immad (the other clickpass co-founder) ASAP to work out the last few kinks and get the code deployed. Thank god for VPNs and cell phones! How did they do this in the old days? Oh wait, I guess they didn’t. 🙂
Another memorable moment came a few moments later when Ryan King, our VP of Engineering, called John (who had just woken up to the sound of me talking frantically with Immad; probably something like “well you’ll just have to work around it and set a config flag on your side!”) to ask him about breakfast. I suddenly realized that I’d only recently learned that clickpass was planning to launch this morning, and I’d never informed the rest of the Plaxo team that I was about to push this new code live. (Our release process is normally more disciplined, but luckily our team is very supportive of my frequent need to push code out-of-band to meet external press deadlines). So I motioned to John to give me the phone quickly, and told Ryan (somewhat meekly), “uh, oh yeah, just so you know, I’m about to patch a bunch of code so we can help this startup called clickpass launch. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to break anything, but I thought I should give you a heads up. Hope that’s ok.” Not my most professional moment, but it’s not the first time this has happened either, and I’ve never done *that* much damage before, so I think Ryan said something like “ok, just keep an eye on it please”. Hmm, does checking twitter obsessively count? Actually, in this crowd, that’s about as timely and accurate as checking our servers’ log files. 🙂 And of course, in the end, everything worked out fine.
I’d been talking off and on with the clickpass guys since fall of last year, when I kept hearing about “this cool YCombinator startup that’s doing a super-friendly OpenID UI” whom I “should really talk to”. Always eager to help advance technologies like OpenID, I was curious to see what they’d come up with. Their technology, UI, and partner integration matured a lot between that first demo and their launch day, but even at our first meeting I could tell, “these guys are serious, they’re thinking well about the issues, and they seem determined to get things done.” Just as important, “they seem open and eager to hear feedback, even when it’s critical, and they don’t mind iterating until they get it right.”
For any startup that wants to partner with established players–or for that matter, be successful in any event–these are vitally important qualities. It’s what finally got us in the position where I could feel good about integrating clickpass into Plaxo in time for the launch–we worked back and forth until we found a way to get a good user experience without having to significantly change our existing UI or backend. This included huddling around a table on the floor of the SXSW convention center with Peter, talking about flows and edge cases (pictured above), and many a skype session with Immad tracking down bugs and deployment issues. But it was all worth it–the launch was a huge success, and the partnership provided clear benefits to both parties, and more importantly, to our users.