I launched Gittip.com 16 days ago. It saw really strong initial uptake, then it got side-swiped by a botched acquisition. Herewith, a cautionary tale.
Update: I had a phone conversation with Sean Harper, co-founder of FeeFighters, which is summarized in this Hacker News comment.
Update 2: Here is a general response from Sean.
I don’t remember where I first ran across Samurai exactly. It is (was) a credit-card processing product from a start-up called FeeFighters. I was drawn in by their well-designed marketing site, which carried through into the management UI and the API. Good first impression. There were one or two rough edges signing up for their service, but all in all it was smooth. And what hiccups there were were more than compensated for by their excellent customer service. Multiple team members were available in a Campfire chatroom, at all hours. I ended up getting acquainted with two in particular, Sean Harper, the CEO, and Sheel Mohnot, in charge of business development. I live in Pittsburgh, where Sheel went to school, and they’re in Chicago, where I went to school, so we connected easily.
My first project using Samurai was the Minimum Viable App. Literally all it did was allow people to give me money via credit card. I made my first online dollar through the site. My second project was IHasAMoney.com, a personal finance website for geeks—Mint.com sans the evil; $2.99 a month. As of this writing that site is still up, though it’s stalled because there really is no good way to aggregate financial data apart from what Mint does, namely, storing cleartext passwords and screenscraping your bank:
Plan C (more like plan N, really): Gittip! Tips for GitHub, but so much more. Recurring micro-payment gifts, crowd-sourced genius grants for the rest of us. Sweet, okay. Samurai! Well, it turns out that in the seven months since I became a customer, FeeFighters was acquired by GroupOn. The horse says, predictably, that “[t]he FeeFighters marketplace, our Samurai gateway and the FeeFighters and Samurai brands are continuing as before.” Hacker News is doubtful.
Unfortunately, the doubters were right, in my experience.
Gittip operates on a weekly schedule. We pull money in via credit card every Friday and distribute gifts averaging about 50¢ amongst the members of the Gittip community. In week one we moved $25. In week two we were supposed to move $55, more than double the first week. But Samurai failed. Over half of the credit cards we attempted to bill failed with the message: “undefined method `’ for false:FalseClass,” which smells to me a lot more like a Samurai issue than a genuine credit card failure. We moved $4.
So I reached out. Naturally, I went first to the Campfire chatroom where I had first gotten to know Sean and the team. Turns out it’s now password-protected. Okay, let’s try the phone number, +1-855-FIGHTER (344-4837). Go ahead and call it. See if you get a recording, “You have reached a non-working number,” like I do. This was the point at which I discovered via Google that they had been acquired.
I started looking at other vendors. I’d heard good things about both Stripe and Braintree, and quickly ended up in conversations with both. My Braintree sales rep (also in Chicago) offered that GroupOn had let the FeeFighters support team go, and had only kept Sean and one dev. That’s from a competitor, and I’d take it with a grain of salt, except that all the support channels have, in fact, been shut down. It turns out that I sent three emails to firstname.lastname@example.org, which funnels into a ZenDesk, starting on May 15. The first one ends with, “P.S. No more campfire?” All are status “new” and unassigned.
I reached out on Twitter. I tweeted @FeeFighters five times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). No response yet. I asked Sean to help me migrate my data. No response yet. I invited Sheel to shed some light. No response yet. I emailed Sheel per his Hacker News profile. No response yet.
In the mean time, of course, my first remotely successful venture in 10 years of trying is in danger of getting squished right out of the gate. More importantly, I’m on the hook for 25 people’s credit card data stored PCI-compliantly away inside a dying system. Gah!
So I migrated to Stripe. I still may implement Braintree as a back-up, but there I’m blocked on trying to migrate my merchant account over from Samurai. Stripe doesn’t even give me the option of bringing my own merchant account. I also learned about Dwolla in all of this, and I’m really interested in it. But Stripe was the lowest-hanging fruit.
Unfortunately, I felt that I had to redact all of the credit card information that I had stored with Samurai on behalf of Gittip’s users. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable leaving your data inside a dying system, and without support from FeeFighters, now GroupOn, I couldn’t migrate that data out. This means that Gittip is currently down to one credit card on file, mine, and I’m here trying to salvage the momentum of the first two weeks, during which Gittip had 5,900 unique visitors, 515 sign-ups, 25 credit cards entered, and some amazing community involvement.
That said, I should have taken it more seriously when on May 15 I started noticing that FeeFighters was missing in action. I’m sorry for ignoring the warning signs and entrusting your data to a struggling vendor. If you still believe in Gittip and would like to help it bounce back, you can re-enter your credit card details here.