How Google hurt our startup launch with a mistaken phishing warning

Thanks Google for ruining our startup launch!

You spend years building up an online business, working hard to provide a service that gives paying customers great value.

After a while, your company starts attracting corporate clients who need a bit more than what is available on your traditional offering. And, despite limited resources, you have no choice but to expand the service to enterprise level customers.

But this means a lot of work, and it takes months to properly plan, design and implement the new changes. It's infuriating that Google can mistakenly ruin this.

Developing the new site

Because the enterprise version operates on a flat monthly rate, instead of on a subscription basis, a decision is made to operate it as a separate site, on its own domain.

The service is essentially the same, but a lot of under-the-hood customizations are needed to bring greater flexibility to the system, and manage the new flat rate payment structure.

After the development is done, a new domain is purchased, along with an SSL certificate to secure logins and customer accounts.

Once the system has been operating successfully and bug free for a week, the launch is initiated.

Launching the startup

The launch phase is carried out in four separate stages:

  1. Notify existing business clients who have put themselves on a waiting list
  2. Notify other people who have expressed interest in a flat rate service
  3. Place notifications on the existing site where appropriate (i.e. on the pricing page)
  4. Announce the new enterprise service via email (this is the big one)

Steps one to three were carried out over the course of a day or two, and focused on relatively minor things (in terms of the numbers of people exposed to the announcement).

Why was step 4 so important?

Well, for a start, the email went out to over 4500 existing customers, some of whom are CEOs of pretty large companies, some are celebrities, many are small business owners - all of them are really important and valuable clients.

Perfectly timed with our grand announcement, Google decides that our new domain is an infected phishing site, and greets the hundreds of people (the market share percent of the customers using Chrome) arriving to take a look with this:

Google Chrome erroneous phishing warning

So well timed was this warning that minutes before the announcement email was sent out, this warning was not in place. It was only because a kind customer took the time to notify us that we were even aware this had happened.

Of course, no other browser displayed this warning because this is a false positive. Testing the site on Google's safe browsing tool didn't show any problems with the site:

Google safebrowsing

Great Google, thanks a lot. You can't find anything wrong with the site, but you're happy to tell the world that this is a phishing site.

Now, Google's answer to this might be that they would rather err on the side of caution. But, for goodness sake, with all their technical might, can't they determine that this site is served from a different domain but from the same server, with the same registered domain owner?

They would rather ruin a hugely important small business launch than actually check if it makes sense for the new domain to be there.

Or, if they are convinced something is wrong, why not notify the webmaster before they decide to tell the world the site is an infected phishing trap (when it bloody isn't). If another company had the power to take a big launch of your business and use it to tell everyone that you were a criminal enterprise, how would you feel?

Do you think Google has something to answer for in this case, or do you think they are justified in damaging the reputation of small businesses regardless of whether they get it right or wrong - in the interests of safety?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

University business startup competitions. Pic by tableatny

Starting a business can be a daunting task - often made all the more difficult by a small advertising/marketing budget and an insufficient network of contacts to help get things off the ground.

It's a good thing then that there is always one fantastic, free strategy to generate some high-quality buzz and exposure for your startup that will not only put your idea in front of plenty of the "right" people, but also, potentially, lead to some much-needed funds, influential connections, and media coverage.

I'm talking about university business competitions.

Small business ideas by students. Pib by Melissa Petrie

Universities and colleges across the U.S. are brimming with new business ideas from student entrepreneurs that can be a fantastic source of inspiration for every aspiring entrepreneur, from school right the way through to retirees looking to start their own business.

We want to shine a light on the creativity and innovation being demonstrated at universities across the nation by students with a passion for entrepreneurship and sharing new ideas.

The best part?

Free beginner guides for entrepreneurs. Pic by James Jordan.

It’s hard work trying to find the time to develop a new business idea, create a business plan, build a website, create content, marketing, promotions, networking, investments, and everything else that has to get done.

Top ideas from university entrepreneurs

Encouraging younger people to become involved in entrepreneurship by holding business idea competitions is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to innovate our way out of the current financial doldrums the world finds itself in.

The creativity and energy exhibited by the students who enter the top business idea competitions from around the U.S. have shown the rest of us just how easy they can make it look when it comes to generating a new idea, putting together a plan, and pitching it to the world like pros.

Gap in the market startups. Photo by Robert S. Donovan

Being an entrepreneur is one of the best vocations in the world because it encourages you to view everything as an opportunity for innovation. And, once you have an idea, you have to challenge it. Break it down. Make it better. Throw it away. Start again. Fail. Fail. Fail. Until you succeed.

Whatever you can imagine, you can do. Provided you have the drive and determination to see it through.