At the risk of sounding overly blunt, anyone who aims to ‘make’ any product go viral might as well set out to beat up the Atlantic Ocean with bare hands. That is frankly the kind of control you can expect to have over the outcome.
The Shinder dating app also conclusively proved that any product’s virality comes with its own Pandora’s Box of delicate consequences to manage. Few rollercoaster rides quite compare to the meteoric rise of a product’s notoriety on the back of instantaneous, ubiquitous visibility, but leveraging that sort of feverish chatter into long-term growth requires some mindful handling. Thinking outside the box will certainly set you and your ideas apart. From there, your trajectory depends on how deftly you either steer or absorb the path of the narrative your unpredictable popularity (or infamy) creates.
World, Meet Shinder
During the earlier 2010s, the world met Tinder. Younger millennials, in particular, fell instantly in love with how the simple-and-sweet app reduced dating to looking at an eye-catching prospective partner’s photo and swiping a fingertip either right (“Let’s do this!”) or left (“Yeah, no…”) to indicate interest in a rendezvous or lack thereof.
Of course, that is to say, the sexy casual hookup culture that sprang up around it fueled virality that caught fire faster than a defective hoverboard rolling around an airline baggage compartment with a Galaxy Note 7 duct-taped to it.
It was all well and good for most people to sift at breakneck paces through an ocean of available singles, but British entrepreneur, author, blogger, professional public speaker and serial inventor Shed Simove personally confronted this one awkward hangup about this wildly popular social powderkeg: he didn’t like competition. With tongue firmly set in cheek, it dawned on him to have a bit of fun while channeling some of Tinder’s heat beneath his own brand.
That’s how the world met Shinder, a Tinder-style dating app dedicated to giving the single-and-mingling set exactly what they wanted, no more and no less, as long as what they wanted could be succinctly described as ‘Shed Simove’. Thus, the app only allows anyone swiping to swipe on one profile only, Simove’s.
“I thought, if you can’t beat them, maybe create your own competition where you’re the only person in the competition, therefore, you will then by de facto win”, 45-year-old Simove told The Verge. “You will win! In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. I thought I would try to create my own pond, so that then I would naturally be the biggest fish”.
Keep in mind, this was the brainchild of a chap who once penned a book titled ‘What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex’ and filled it with 200 blank pages. Upon receiving a left swipe, users received the message, “You dodged a bullet. Shed is extremely high-maintenance”. Simove lovingly satirized what he wholeheartedly respects as a brilliant subversion of overly complicated online dating communities by stepping even further outside the box and placing the most extreme emphasis possible on quality over quantity. While remaining inexorably associated in function as much as name with a viral sensation, the inventive Englishman created something that still set itself apart as a quick, fun approach to romance that even the moment’s most blazingly hot dating app hadn’t considered.
Expect The Unexpected: Shinder Goes Viral
It was worth mentioning right off the bat and certainly bears repeating: for as much as you can improve your chances of something going ‘viral’, one does not merely force that phenomenon. It’s a matter of organically and spontaneously tapping into an audience’s common vein in just the right way at just the right time. The internet has evolved into a zone of cynical skepticism where marketers do well to tread lightly. Online denizens operate in their respective spheres with B.S. radar keenly sensitized to light up any attempt at trying far too hard to be universally loved. Attempting to deliberately shape virality will, more often than not, go over about as well as intentionally making a ‘bad’ movie.
The beauty of every viral juggernaut, from Nyan Cat to the charmingly quirky commercials for Dollar Shave Club and the Squatty Potty? They are what they are, and that’s all that they are. You cannot engineer that kind of infectious natural lovability.
That’s why Simove never saw Shinder’s surreal next chapter coming. People liked him. They really, really liked him, to the tune of over 150 requests and three actual dates. What started as a bit of a lark sent fellow unattached adults his way to see if he could build them a similarly quirky announcement of their availability. Not only had he built a ‘better’ mousetrap that sent the world flocking to his door, he actually had the help of some unexpected controversy.
You see, the originators of Tinder were none too happy to see Simove piggybacking off their brand. Whether it was objection to being perhaps lightly mocked or feeling he was taking advantage of their hard-earned innovation, he received a Notice of Threatened Opposition filed with the Intellectual Property Office when he attempted to trademark Shinder. To further drive home that he had perhaps not thought through the naming process thoroughly enough, lawyers representing the elevator firm Schindler formally requested that he agree not to dabble in the escalator or elevator market and create an awkward confusion between their two brands. All in all, neither confrontation left him with anything to regret; he had attained a degree of popular visibility that agitated a startup that had its own aura of viral buzz surrounding it, built upon it with an amusing crossover involving an entirely unrelated industry and ultimately drew the eyes of the BBC, The Verge and The (U.K.) Sun, among others, to peer a little deeper into his story.
Clearly, Simove had seized the kind of viral attention of which every entrepreneur dreams: captivating an audience with unmet needs by looking at the world through an askew lens and happening upon a bold way to serve them that his “competitor” couldn’t or wouldn’t explore. What started as an innocent experiment revealed an easy fondness among strangers for his glib, cheeky take on a slice of the human experience mined by art and commerce alike to tug heartstrings for centuries: courtship. He suddenly found himself with an adaptable framework of code that needed only a few cosmetic tweaks to help others like him fashion an uncommonly creative, memorable first impression.
Not only that, he had learned a few worthwhile lessons about riffing on the world and helping it laugh at itself.
What Did Shinder’s Viral Effect Teach Simove?
Opportunity knocks but not always where and when you might expect it. Simove would be lying if he said he anticipated the attention Shinder would grab. Sure, he hoped it would attract a following. Did a one-man dating pool strike him as an idea capable of spawning a product people would actually pay him to create for their own refashioned uses, though? Not exactly. Innovative, disruptive entrepreneurship demands an active imagination quick to process stores of knowledge and run through countless ideas rapidly to zero in on just one or a handful tailored to inventing success under a given circumstance.
There’s a reason little grows upon the beaten path. When Simove looked at the competition among romantic social networks of all stripes, he saw the same message: “There’s someone for everyone, so cast a wide net in our deep blue sea and experiment with as many fish as you can”. Instead, he opted for proclaiming, “I want someone who adores me for exactly everything I am. In fact, I don’t want to lower myself to competing with everyone who isn’t me”. The concept of Shinder endeared itself by once more personalizing the notion of how to make oneself shine apart from the herd. Tinder had an outstanding, easy user-friendliness going for it, but Shed wanted to engineer something that borrowed its proven overall concept and added an unheard-of, groundbreaking spin: a community of one.
Sometimes, getting on someone’s nerves means you’ve done something right. The brush with Schindler was a tad absurd, leaving Simove no curiosity as to how Vince McMahon must have felt when the World Wildlife Fund took him to court to argue that his professional wrestling juggernaut’s commonly referenced initials could easily create confusion between a carnival of sweaty spandex-clad men and an environmental activism organization. On the other hand, it didn’t surprise him in the least when Tinder’s founders stopped him from profiting unduly from their intellectual property by registering a trademark he knew danced too closely to their own.
That being said, concepts or creations sometimes go viral through traction in controversy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t positive turns to refine. You can capitalize on and learn from either positive or negative feedback. Nothing slays a startup quite like apathy, that realization that priceless, irrevocable money and time have been sunk into something nobody was even curious enough about to try just once. Your response determines your opportunities to leverage your fame (or infamy) that might have lasted merely the requisite 15 minutes into a longer game with more lucrative outcomes. It depends entirely on how you perceive your moment and how you can make your time in the spotlight better serve you.
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