Last Friday, September 21, marked the debut of one of the most widely-anticipated, anxiously-awaited technological breakthroughs of the year; one which was met with long line-ups of passionate fans.
Oh no, not the iPhone5.
The eight-day event was born less than a year ago in a gathering of some of our younger and hipper staff (thankfully, they let me in) in a stark meeting room at Montreal's Hyatt hotel. The goal was to re-launch a comedy-heavy event in Toronto following the failure of our previous festival there.
The finger-pointing for said fail can go off madly in all directions, but in essence, we were trying to put together a clone of the Montreal event, albeit much smaller, with lesser bang and ultimately lesser appeal. It was a recipe for disaster from the get-go.
Rather than repeat the mistake, the new mandate was to do something completely different and create the NEXT breed of Festival; one that takes advantage of the latest in technology and social media, one that appeals to the next generation of Festival-goers, one that has none of the markings of either of its partners, most notably the ubiquitous Just For Laughs green "Victor" character.
Thus the team changed everything. No hard tickets. Instead, 42* of the coolest people and things on the planet all accessible for a one-price pass that downloads to a smartphone (including, naturally, the iPhone5). This pass got fans a seat at one of four Louis CK shows at the Sony Centre (nobody bigger in comedy right now, TWO Emmy Awards, and to make the opportunity even more desirable, his only Canadian dates of the year), and four "credits" for any of the other 41 events. Fans then used these credits to reserve a spot at a show and once in attendance there, would "check in" to open up an additional credit to yet another show. In essence, the more you saw, the more you could see.
All this for $99.
Bold. Daring. And very, very different.
The end result launched last Friday to the type of social networking buzz never before seen at our company.
And unfortunately, it wasn't 100% positive to start.
Why? Well, the initial fan response was so overwhelming around venues on Friday night that the check-in and credit system was slow. Add to that the small-but-crucial hitch of having to enable GPS in one's mobile browser to check-in made for some tense opening hours and restrained outrage:
The team could've panicked, but didn't. One of the major benefits of an event built on the backbone of social media is the instantaneous, one-to-one and one-to-many reply time. Web and IT staffers from Montreal and Toronto were on standby with the people from TwistImage, the people who helped us develop the JFL42 technology from the get-go, and they jumped into action:
By the time the evening was over, the team had turned things around.
The euphoria was short-lived though; the next two days brought similar, and different, hiccups. But nonetheless, the team was upbeat, positive and cutting down problems as if they were playing a massive, real-time, multi-player war game.
Watching them in action taught me this week's most important lesson.
is Inherently Broken
No way around it.
No matter what your product, your business, your website, your service, your show, your TV network, your whatever, it needs to get off the ground at some point. These days, that "some point" is always sooner than later. Even the most strident of pre-launch tests cannot take into account the inexplicable variables that arise and bust things up when the real world gets it hands on your baby.
Face it: if you ain't broken, you ain't alive.
You can leave things in the lab or on the table and tinker with them until they're seemingly perfect, but the delay inevitably means that someone else will beat you to the punch. And it's easier to fix what's broken than to bury what's dead.
The world's great new stuff is never, ever truly "finished." It's always in a state of flux, of repair, of upgrading and adaptation.
Of course, our new event isn't perfect. But at least it IS.
So as I watch JFL42 over the rest of this week, I watch what can get fixed in real time...and ponder how to fix the bigger stuff when our post mortem comes.
And I do so with the pride that we did something great.
And something broken.
*Uh, why 42? Because that's the "Answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything" in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
P.S. It ain't just us! Looky-looky at this iPhone review.