Geni Overwhelmed With Early Popularity

Rumors of the new startup by former PayPal COO David Sacks to be called Geni started a couple of weeks ago. A few days later, on January 16, Geni launched. It allows people to create quick and beautiful family trees, got a flood of early attention and started to spread virally at a blistering pace. One commenter said “this site could be greater than facebook.” Hyperbole? Yes. But that kind of early enthusiasm is worth, literally, millions.

But all of the early attention has led to some very unhappy customers.

I wrote a post a year ago called Don’t Blow Your Beta where I shared some of the pitfalls that startups often fall into when launching their products. The advice I included was simple: make a great first impression, think about your Firefox and Mac strategies (and have one), don’t ask for too much personal information, etc.

Geni did all of those things right. But it created whole new categories of things to do wrong. They ignored the fact that not everyone is English-speaking, heterosexual and comes from a 1950’s era unbroken American-style family. They won’t let email addresses go once they have them. Other issues. They failed to anticipate early traffic levels and the site went down repeatedly. And, worst of all, a lot of data that people painstakingly entered into Geni just disappeared. Deleted. (Correction: See update below) All those early adopters, pissed off.

Geni has been diligent about fixing bugs over time and communicating with users on its blog, which is the best way of handling this stuff. But the biggest issue, the deleted data, is being ignored completely so far.

I still think this will be a wildly successful product. It’s a strong enough offering to overcome even the deleted data issue. But other new startups should take note, and add this to their list of “don’t do.”

Update & Correction:
I spoke to David Sacks, who says that the only some uploaded pictures were deleted, and that no other family tree information was lost. My own data, which appeared to be lost, is still there. The issue I was having was around cookies – the site previously allowed auto login via a browser cookie. That was removed (it was actually a bug David tells me), and so I was being taken back to the sign up page when I went to the site. So apart from people who’ve had photos deleted, the people who are reporting deleted data are, therefore, most likely running into this same issue.