But what made Airtime’s failure that much worse was, simply, the fact that Parker, and his co-founder Shawn Fanning, had launched the business with an inordinate amount of fanfare, inviting a who’s who of celebrities to its launch, and trumpeting Airtime, in typical entrepreneurial fashion, as the next big thing. When it ceased to live up to the hype, the subsequent ridicule lobbed in Airtime’s direction was merciless.
That’s why it’s no surprise that now, Fortune reports, Parker and Fanning have rebranded and relaunched the company as OkHello without so much as a peep. In fact, they haven’t even made it clear that OkHello, a mobile video chat app, is a relaunch of Airtime. (OkHello has not yet responded to my request for comment, but Fortune reports it has confirmed the news with sources).
This silent and stealthy approach, so far, seems to be working. According to Fortune, since it launched OkHello has been among the App Store’s top 100 social media apps almost constantly. Whether that’s because of this strategy, or simply because OkHello is a better product, there’s still a lesson to be learned in the tale of these two startups about the perils of overhyping your company.
The fact is, Schadenfreude is devilshly appealing (it’s true–our brains are wired that way). As much as the media and your customers might love you today, they’ll relish just as much in seeing you screw up. Sure, public relations is important for new companies, but it comes with its own challenges: it’s much easier to get off the ground, shift gears, and yes, even fail, away from the limelight.
Had Parker and Fanning exhibited a little less bravado and a little more humility in launching Airtime, openly acknowledging the challenges they could face early on, they might have received a bit more leeway for mistake-making in return. Now, at least, it seems they’ve learned the critical lesson that sometimes, the most dangerous part of the startup hype machine is believing it.