Yesterday we followed the unfortunate tale of Sqoot‘s ill-chosen wording on a web flyer for their API Jam. The company stood accused of sexism in front of the internet, it’s not an easy trial, even if it was in the wrong.
Some felt that Sqoot was handed a raw deal to lose sponsors, others felt that the initial apology was not sincere enough.
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Sqoot’s a very young and very small firm. Though they have been around a little while, in their current iteration as the daily deals API, they’ve only been running for 6 months. Weathering a firestorm on the internet is no mean feat, so I asked Mo Yehia of Sqoot for an update.
How were the last 24 hours for Sqoot? “Could be better,” he says. I’ll bet.
The company was planning an API Jam in Boston and it was their listed information for the event that drew the ire of the web. At the time we chatted Mo said that the API Jam would most likely not go ahead. “We’re going to regroup, really learn from this and it will be postponed until a later date.
“Our biggest challenge was, we were a new entrant into the tech community and no one knew that we existed, despite having an awesome product,” says Yehia. “We were trying to change that and this was our first attempt.”
Unfortunately that attempt cost them some of their sponsorship deals and meant that the wider public took on a one-dimensional view of the company. For those who didn’t explore further than the headlines, Sqoot creates a deal API to help publishers and developers engage and monetise their users with local deals. “Companies like Groupon and Living Social are growing fast,” says Yehia. “A lot of people are looking to offer deals to their readers and we have an easy way to do that.”
The product in fact does look easy to use and comes with a fresh interface. The company itself was founded at DreamIt Ventures, a startup incubator based in Philadelphia & NYC.
So how do you handle the pressure as a small team who messed up? “The backlash that we received, as tough as it was to deal with, it was deserved. We’re pretty emotional about this and deeply sorry. We’re going to learn from this and we’re going to be better and we hope others learn from this as well,” says Yehia.
Managing an outbreak in real-time
The response was at least swift. “We could have done better. This is a small startup with less than four people. We trip and fall a lot. When we caught what was going on, we immediately apologised individually to people on Twitter and posted the temporary apology. By the end of the day, we put a more formal apology up, opened up comments and wanted to facilitate an open discussion. We hope we are doing the right thing. We also asked for advice from mentors, people who know us and people in PR. This is an incredible learning experience for us.”
I think Yehia has a point. There’s a ton of startups emerging every day, some being managed by young and inexperienced people who will make mistakes and learn from them. So what would Yehia recommend to the next startup who does a similar thing?
“The first thing is – if you need advice on how to put out a fire, I don’t think you should turn to Sqoot. We realised we messed up. It was revelatory and we learned from it. It’s about what you did but it’s also about how you get up.”
It is about how you get up. The internet will have forgotten in a few weeks and Sqoot will return to the work it does for a living. The mistake was a bad one for reputation, but without knowing how to respond online, it could have been very much worse.
I wonder if much larger companies would be able to turn around so quickly to respond to a public outcry?