Warning: The article contains some strong language in certain parts of the articles.
I urge you to read the whole article if you want to protect your brand in the future and avoid making a recent early stage startup mistake I made
Internet and social media have been a blessing in our life. It has helped us to connect with our family, friends, and colleagues from around the world.
It has made parents meet their lost child and vice versa. It has connected friends who once upon a time used to study together in school.
Not only that, but it has also helped many success stories originate in the world thanks to the world of the Internet. Flipkart, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Snap, TikTok (I know you are surprised I mentioned them) just to name a few of them.
These successes have resulted in millions of job opportunities which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.
Dark Side of Entrepreneurship for Early Stage Startups
There is a dirty and dark side to this Internet that’s unspoken about.
Many entrepreneurs and early stage startups are suffering from this dark side of the internet which is online cyberbullying and extortion.
I recently posted my query at Young Entrepreneurship Council about my incident to learn more about how to tackle such a situation. However, to my surprised, Patrick Ambron, the founder of Brand Yourself, one of the top reputation management companies in the United States, said, it’s too common.
I had read many stories, but never in a million world thought I will have to go through one ever in my life.
Every once in a while you will hear stories on the internet that one got scammed. Sadly, we are too quick to pass our judgments as we are too lazy to hear the second side of the story.
Imagine me telling the world on the internet, you owe me “XXX dollars” without any proof or fake made up stories.
If you try to defend, you will look like an idiot especially when you are an established brand or received an incredible transaction.
aka. it’s easy to claim that the whole world is a scammer, right, huh? So if you are reading this, you are already a scammer. (too harsh?)
Did it hit you hard and did you utter the word WTF in your mind? Yes, that’s exactly what happened to me.
But wait before we dive in, why will someone do something like this?
Greed..and money. Simple.
Back Story about my incident with Asshole #1
This is my story of a recent incident of a guy who has been stalking me for months, created a well-crafted plan for months and executed the plan to perfection.
The guy is a failed affiliate of one of our strongest competitors in the same space and was suffering from growth issues because apart from spamming in his community, he didn’t do anything else.
Overall, barely got any attention from people.
His engagements were low, no one really cared about what he said until one day he decided that he will try to become a Robin Hood, and steal from the riches..but wait, we are a startup? What’s the catch? (Let’s call him Asshole #1)
The catch here is that he started messaging our customers, built fake stories by creaking fake shit, created multiple fake accounts, fake testimonials, and built out a well-crafted story (I will come to the part of the story talking about my mistakes as well which will help you learn a lot, please continue reading).
Now, usually, his videos will get 10-25 views (Yes, he was that incredible of a marketer slash affiliate).
However, all of a sudden he started getting hundreds and thousands of views by bashing me and my brand.
Gained a whole bunch of new audiences, and started spamming the heck out of our customers, users and curious people with his affiliate links from our competitor.
Now, I will be honest, I have never seen a funnel-like this in my life. Because I have never seen such a parasite in my life who can go up to a crazy extent to make money.
Let’s go back a few months back, and talk about how it all started with Asshole #2
A few months back, I had to let go of an ex-employee in the company.
Sadly, the guy tried extorting me (Company) for the money due to his greed and the overloaded expenses he had. I am pretty sure he had debt because of his lifestyle, living, nature of alcoholism. (Yup, he called me many times drunk with a beer in his hand).
You will be surprised when you are growing, the number of people you will get associated with to extort you will be surprising.
In my journey of 13 years, I have seen many such douchebags but the last two surpassed my expectations.
After the guy was out of the company, he waited for two months to register a new company, cooked up a story, cried in front of people, played victim to gain sympathy and once he got the sympathy, he directed those people into the website asking them to opt-in. (Ridiculous, isn’t it?)
However, people don’t realize that when you build a foundation of the company by bashing others, it will eventually fall down.
(This post is not to gain anyone’s sympathy, but a story that will teach how to dodge such assholes in your life, avoid making the same mistakes as I did).
Asshole #1 went live on video, cried, cursed, and spoke with a made-up story that got him hundreds of users. (He was running short of money and he needed attention for his new startup, so desperate measure needed desperate attention, and desperate attention leads to desperate action).
Now here comes the link-up.
Asshole #2 thought, why can’t I do the same as Asshole #1?
Asshole #2 wanted to make money, and found this as a goldmine of an idea why? Because sympathy is free in the world and talking crap especially when you live in another country with a free world internet is easy.
Asshole #2 did exactly the same.
Now before I talk further about Asshole #2;
Here are some of the mistakes that I made during my current journey:
The ex-employee had zero online presence, and I did not run a background check. The person barely had a couple of his pictures in his account, other than that, nothing else.
Next time if you are hiring anyone, if the person doesn’t have a good social media presence, avoid hiring that person.
Not every friendship can be turned into a business opportunity. Be careful next time when you are working with a friend.
Be careful with whom you are working with as your affiliate. I will dive deeper into this because this is where we made the biggest mistake.
Back when we released our latest version of our platform in June 2019, we built our open affiliate system. That means, if you register with us, you will have your affiliation account ready to go.
There are a few fundamental problems with this:
- You are attracting scammers (People who will purchase, and then process a refund, in a hope to keep the code.
- Self-Referrals: People will create another account, make a referral to their primary and make a purchase. If you deny such sales, the people with terrible intentions will threaten you to go public.
- You will deal with fraud affiliates, you will refer, later ask their users to process a refund and then extort you for that refunded money which is not even qualified.
Hence, it’s very important to vet out the affiliates whom you want to work with, sign a legal document using platforms like Hello Sign, DocuSign, etc.
Now, if you are a big company, most likely it won’t affect or impact you. However, if you are a small company, they will take advantage of you, and shit you out.
That’s exactly what Asshole #2 did. Made self-referrals, followed by fraud referrals and now started extorting us for money for those fraud sales that never qualified as sales.
We tried our best to provide all the details to Asshole #2 and told him that we have made payouts for genuine sales but we won’t pay anything anymore that are not qualified. That’s when Asshole #2 went on the savage mode like Asshole #1.
Started threatening us for money in the name of spreading negative campaign. Not only that, he started pushing them with our competitors’ links.
Our fault? We had an open system, which we thought in a good way will be a win-win for everyone.
However, it wasn’t.
After 45 days (to date), the guy stalks my profile every day, creates fake stories, contacts our customers, shares the fake stories and pushes his own affiliate link from our competitor’s website to them.
I thought a lot about whether I should be writing this article or not but then realized, I think the world needs to know about such incidents, and one has to protect their own startup (baby).
There will be various people on your journey whom you will meet. Some good, some bad and some assholes. Try to identify such assholes sooner because they will become the biggest parasite of your success.
My recommendation to everyone who has read this story, if you have any of such cyberbullying case, don’t be afraid or scared of such Assholes. Speak out. Your dreams are in your hands.
Don’t ever get bullied by anyone. Especially not online. Stand strong to your grounds and morale.
The whole world is not a scammer, but some dirty people make it look like everyone is.
Your business is in your own hand, don’t get extorted by anyone for money. When you are growing, you will see many people coming after you for FREE money. Stay strong, and speak up.