Lessons learned from the chaotic launch of OptiLink

It’s hard to explain the stress of that time, but as I write this account, I can feel it all over again. I knew that what I had found would revolutionize SEO, but to profit from it, I had to be first!

But I had no idea how much time I had. Was someone a week away from releasing the same tool? Was someone about finished with a training course or ebook exposing the secret? There was no way to know and caution would only make the matter worse.

I coded at a breakneck pace, but that was only half of it – and the easy half at that! I had to verify that what Google wrote was true and that I could create actionable advice from my software. Plus, I didn’t have a website, a cart, an affiliate system, or even a merchant account. Truly, I did not sleep well for almost 6 months.

And remember, this was “the old days.” I coded webpages in the Linux text editor. I built my (primitive) shopping cart in Perl. I built an entire affiliate tracking and reporting system from scratch, also in Perl, in about 48 hours because that was faster than testing the commercial packages. Oh, and gosh, maybe I should have a sales letter?

As I got the code to work and proved what it could do, Michael and I got more excited – and I got even more scared: what if I was even just one day late? Michael was mailing his newsletter every other Thursday, so we decided to announce OptiLink on May 22, 2002.

That was an agressive schedule. I did not even get my merchant account approved until the morning of May 21st! It took me a couple hours to setup Authorize.net and then Michael ran a test order – which failed!

Yes, I was naive. I had all the recommended fraud settings in place, which blocked ordering even from Canada. Unbelievable. In fact, in the first 48 hours after launch, I removed every single anti-fraud setting, one-by-one, as customers from around the world tried to purchase.

By early Thursday morning, well, actually I guess you’d call 2 am part of Wednesday night, affiliate tracking through Michael’s link was tested, the download page working, and the OptiLink installer (one more thing!) was finally working as well.

2 PM Pacific. Michael asked “are you ready?” I lied… I said yes! 🙂 He hit send. My world changed.

As I said, this was the old days. I’d didn’t know Jeff Walker and PLF back then, so there was no “pre-launch sequence”. Michael simply wrote an article along with his blessing and a link. That was it. No warm up, no videos, no sequence even. But it worked.

Now, we did not “melt the server”, that silly expression was not invented yet, but early sales proved beyond any doubt that we really had something. I got drunk and bedded down for some much needed sleep while orders poured in overnight.

I learned a lot from this. Here are two tidbits you might need someday as well.

Turns out, my fears were unfounded. Not only was I first to market, I was the only one that even noticed the secret of OptiLink hidden in plain view. I did not really need to race against the clock. The only competition for OptiLink would occur more than 2 years later from a customer that simply copied both the tool and the sales message.

Lesson: Innovations happen when a unique combination of person, place, and time come together. In 2002, I was a rarity: a programmer, turned marketer, trying to do SEO. That’s no longer rare, but in your niche, there is likely – right now – some undeveloped innovation that just needs the same fresh viewpoint that I broght to SEO in 2002. You could be that person.

I was moving so fast, that I didn’t even try to “prioritize” or “plan” – I just worked. It all had to get done so it almost didn’t matter what I worked on or in what order. Yes, it was chaos but I build a million dollar business in six months from scratch.

Lesson: Fast really is the new big. Just create value. Organizing your work is not value. Only work can create value. Sure, if you’re building a rocket, you need some process, but almost everyone I know is too concerned with planning and process and not fast enough at just getting shit done. I did not plan OptiLink, I just did it.

And chaos will continue. The launch of OptiLink was not the end of that. Success breeds a kind of chaos of it’s own and that continued all summer long, starting with…

a phone call from Google.


I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

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