Shark Tank Experience: Testing So You Can Ride the Wave Instead of Drown

By Peter Bernstein December 13, 2013

Here in the U.S., there is a long-running cable TV show called “What Not to Wear.” It is exactly what it sounds like, i.e., two fashionistas help some unsuspecting person at the strong suggestion of family and friends, get a clothing makeover.  The short-running reality event that has been the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) website HealthCare.Gov, could have created its own reality TV show called, “What Not to Do.”   The reason I bring this up is because of the incredibly popular show Shark Tank, which offers an example of what to do when your company is anticipating a spike in traffic on your website and a test of its transactional capabilities.

Now that I have your attention here is the reveal.

For our loyal readers, you are aware of web-centric translations start-up VerbalizeIt. In the past year we have written about the company and its co-founder - college friends CEO Ryan Frankel and COO Kunal Sarda. In fact, check out the items on their winning StartupCamp7 at TMC’s ITEXPO event last year, leveraging crowdsourcing to grow their business, and literally translating their Shark Tank experience (they walked away from a deal struck on the show BTW) into success.

However, as much as we admire Ryan and Kunal for their idea and business savvy, it is actually what they did in anticipation of the Shark Tank bump to get their website ready for the big wave of traffic that would head their way, that is the topic of the day.

VerbalizeIt was able to ride the wave rather than drown in it as documented in a just released case study by cloud-testing company SOASTA.  There is more than one lesson to be learned here.

Making the Website Tsunami-Proof

For those not familiar, VerbalizeIt has a platform that is a three-step process designed to totally disrupt the traditional translation agency model of calling for a translator and then experiencing hurry up and wait - because of paper handling and translator availability challenges.  In seconds, customers can sign up for the service, specify their translation needs and instantly kick off translation of audio, video or text. Files to be translated are then routed to translators around the world, who complete the work and return it to the customer within hours.  In fact, it is this incredible ease of use and responsiveness that caught the attention of the ITEXPO audience and the sharks on TV.

What the case study highlights is the need to performance test the website before, and the need for speed to have it done fast and accurately.  Hint! Hint! 

“The producers told us that we should expect 6 to 8 million people to watch the show and then come to our website,” said Sarda. “We needed to make the most of the opportunity but felt unsure that our website could sustain that kind of onslaught, especially since we had just launched a new technology platform.” The company’s new platform was fully self-service, allowing its customers to access its complete suite of translation offerings through the web, mobile and API.” 

SOASTA was able to load test the platform to 10 million users in under a week.  As the case study describes, the first test addressed basic challenges of scaling the platform. This included issues such as the mainframe not loading and signup API slowdown at high volumes. Image hosting turned out to be a problem and the website slowed at high numbers of simultaneous users. Subsequent tests addressed secondary conversion. Issues were addressed to fix the problem so the company could take translation requests from mobile, web and also an API. Plus, Verbalizelt’s customers were able to get to their dashboards without any delay and start translating.

In short, the platform had flaws and was fixed in time to perform flawlessly. In fact, since the airing of the show, which delivered the expected hits from inquiring minds, the VerbalizeIt website has gone from 250 unique visitors per day to 30,000 and the number of translators has shot up to 10,000 worldwide.

As noted at the top, this is about being prepared. VerbalizeIt had the foresight to take the advice of the Shark Tank producers and take nothing for granted in terms of getting their site ready, and SOASTA to its credit, was able to accommodate the need to do the performance testing and working with a the company on solutions to the problems found in a very short period of time. 

Given the volumes highlighted in the case study, it certainly does make one wonder what those responsible for were thinking, but does not answer the questions, putting back office and insurance company interactions and record error problems aside, as to why it is taking so long to fix the problems.  That list of issues SOASTA addressed looks more than vaguely familiar.  

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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