Platform Innovation // Blog

Remember Peach? Why Going Viral Doesn’t Guarantee Success

Remember Peach?

Almost exactly a year ago, the platform built by Vine co-founder Dom Hoffman launched. And pretty much overnight, it went viral.

Thanks in part to Hoffman’s pedigree, and the hype around messaging platforms like Slack, press outlets from Techcrunch to the New York Times and CBS ran stories on its launch. It trended on Twitter.

The app drew praise for its slick interface and a few cool-looking features, most notably a feature it called “magic words.”

Magic words allowed you to type in specific words as command that allowed you to access different types of content, like the ability to hand-draw a picture or upload a GIF, sort of like a slicker version of Slackbot in Slack.

Within a day, it made the top 10 on the App Store’s Social Networking category.

Peach App in App Store Rankings

Peach peaked at #9 in the App Store rankings for social networking

For most startups, this kind of press bump is a launch dream come true. But within a few days, press outlets were already declaring Peach “dead.” Today, the app trundles on, but with only a handful of users and little support from its creator, who has moved on to new projects.

Pretty as a Peach

Peach looked great, but beneath the surface, it had a big problem. It’s core transaction was a mess.

Content creation wasn’t easy or intuitive for many users – most of whom never used (or saw the point of) the much-hyped magic words feature. Most only discovered these magic words by accident.

As one postmortem on the platform put it, “It’s so busy. There’s all the magic words and stuff, and there’s so much going on that, when you’re new to it, you don’t realize that most people don’t use that stuff – when really it’s just like longform Twitter.”

Peach app magic words

Some of the much-hyped but little-used “magic words” on Peach

Rather than throwing the kitchen sink at users, Peach’s creators would have done better to listen to the advice of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg: “The trick isn’t adding stuff. It’s taking away.”

In other words, when it comes to the core transaction, keep it simple, stupid.

Many of Facebook’s early competitors were loaded with every feature their creators could think of. MySpace even went so far as to deliberately comb the Web for “cool” features it could copy and cram into its app.

Most notably, this strategy resulted in lawsuits from Xanga and HotorNot.com, both of which Myspace cloned features from.) Simplicity was a hallmark of Facebook’s early design and a big reason for its success.

Another problem with Peach was the difficulty of connecting to or finding content.

Peach had no centralized feed for users to view content created by their connections. And user profiles were by default private, meaning that connections with other users typically followed a double-opt-in friending model rather than a single-opt-in following model.

To put it another way, Peach never figured out what platform type it was. It ended up halfway between a social networking platform and a content platform – with a focus on content but without the right core transaction model for a content platform.

Without a clear identity, the platform just confused most of its users and gave them no reason to stick around, especially given how crowded the market is for both social networking and content platforms.

Why Going Viral Doesn’t Guarantee Success

With a week, the hype around Peach went away and, with it, so did its users.

Despite tens of thousands of downloads, not enough users stuck around for Peach to build a viable, lasting network.

While this kind of free user acquisition is the ideal scenario for most startups, Peach’s failure illustrates that going viral doesn’t always translate into building a successful business. (Just ask Yo.)

In fact, getting too many users too soon can be detrimental to a platform.

Peach didn’t have time to optimize its core transaction before it went viral. By the time it had viable user data to act on, it had already been declared dead. And once a user tries out and deletes an app, they aren’t coming back.

Peach app went viral then declined rapidly

Peach’s brief rise after going viral, and it’s subsequent sharp decline in the App Store rankings

Additionally, Peach never found a specific use case. It wasn’t clear what niche it was supposed to fill, other than having a few cool features, that wasn’t already filled by other social networking or content platforms.

Peach felt like it was trying to be a general purpose social network – but all social networks start with niche uses before they grow to a broader audience, whether its Facebook with colleges, LinkedIn with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, or Nextdoor with local communities.

Rather than pouring their resources into PR and trying to go viral, new platforms should focus on what really matters: providing value to your core users and optimizing the core transaction. Only once you have those two things right – the platform version of product/market fit – does it make sense to start turning on the growth spigot.

Additionally, viral success isn’t dependable or sustainable. As we explain when we work with our clients in paired growth hacking, finding more lasting and repeatable growth channels are a better use of time and resources for new platforms.

So don’t worry about going viral or getting lots of press. Start small, find your whale users and build from there.

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