Our Mistake (An Apology)

August 10th, 2018

When you start something new, it's always a leap into the unknown.

Whether you're starting a new church, new ministry, or a new business, you take a risk.

Risk-taking requires a fierce dependence on God and a constant asking for wisdom to make the right decisions.

Many times, your decisions lead to big wins and exciting growth. In times like these, you thank the Lord for His gracious guidance.

Other times, your decisions prove to be unwise. You move too quickly. You miss red flags. You lose the trust of others. In times like these, you admit your mistakes and grow in humility and dependence on the Spirit.

Starting Accelerate has been both incredibly exciting and incredibly challenging. With no business experience, we moved forward in faith, determined to learn quickly. And we did. We quickly learned what worked and what didn't. We learned from the thrilling positive responses we received from users and we learned from our embarrassing mistakes.

This letter is our response to our most recent mistakes: Our unrealistic goals, our poor communication and our lack of transparency with you, our users.

Why It All Started

In July of 2017, we made our hobby website into an official digital media company knowing only: We loved God, we loved books, our book website was growing, and we needed funds to keep it online – or we would shut everything down by year-end.

Accelerate – a Netflix of book summaries, as we called it— was what we settled on as we spent months brainstorming ways to keep the site running.

However, we soon sensed God had bigger plans for Accelerate than we did. We began receiving emails from all over the world in response to our idea –from church planters struggling to train volunteers; from students who couldn't afford many books; from pastors looking for resources for sermon prep.

Inspired, we began dreaming of ways to quickly build Accelerate, evidenced by the sea of our doodle-filled notebooks. One of us stepped down from full-time ministry to devote time to this.

In May of 2018, we eagerly began initial fundraising by offering a limited number of lifetime memberships for purchase. We were overwhelmed by how quickly readers jumped on this deal. Encouraged, we ended our fundraiser and immediately got started.

Little did we know, we would soon be suffering the consequences of two mistakes:

We grossly underestimated both the time and the cost it would take to build & launch Accelerate.

Idealistic Budgets & Optimistic Deadlines

To lower expenses, we attempted to initially do most of the book summary work ourselves.

We already had writers for book briefs, so the following remained: Editing, Illustrating, Designing, typesetting, audio recording, animating, and basic website coding to make it look decent online. No sweat. *Chuckles nervously*

After our writers' stipends, we used the remaining funds on 1) web development and 2) marketing (yes, the word also induced in us an unexplainable gagging reflex). Despite wanting to spend it all on web development, we worried that without new subscribers, we couldn't afford our expenses in the coming months.

Next, we made some optimistic estimates on how long everything would take and then earnestly made our optimistic announcement to the world:

  • June 2nd for BETA version.
  • July 14th for official launch.

With the deadlines scrawled on a whiteboard, we got to work. We began coding a website prototype, searching for a web developer, working on the first 16 book summaries, and began our marketing campaign.

Fading Optimism

We launched the BETA on June 2nd, but there wasn't much to celebrate. Users were greeted with a barely functional website and a single, unedited book brief draft to give an idea of our direction. We weren't especially proud of our product – in fact, we couldn't even get ourselves to share it with our friends. But we hoped the BETA period would provide us the feedback for any needed changes before an official launch.

June was a blur of consecutive, sleepless nights, sporadic meals, and unhealthy amounts of Red Bull. We juggled everything from business research, writing/editing, customer support, surveying, graphic design, promotion, product testing, and more. Our red, baggy eyes began to scare people at church. However, as July 14th approached, it was becoming increasingly clear that we wouldn't be ready.

We nervously sent an update to all members, sheepishly explaining the need to push back our launch date to August 1st. All of you were exceedingly gracious and we were encouraged by your patience.

However, our optimism soon began to fade. Everything seemed to go wrong. Book summaries took much longer than estimated. Friends who offered to help backed out. Our first developer didn't deliver on what he promised and refused to refund costs. And our marketing seemed fruitless, which likely meant we'd soon be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Preparing for Takeoff

A week before launch, we were in a bad spot.

We were still spending hours daily researching & working on marketing to try to hit a goal of 250 subscribers – a number we hoped would be enough for next month's expenses.

However, our focus on marketing came at the expense of the book briefs.

Though all the book briefs were written and edited, we were still creating the illustrations … and we hadn't even started the audio MP3s or PDFs. Needless to say, we severely underestimated the time needed to create quality book briefs.

To make matters worse, the new developer we found sent us an email that made our stomachs drop.

"Hey! I honestly can't figure out what your previous dev guy was trying to do so it looks like I'll have to start a website from scratch. Sorry guys. A completely new site with the minimum features you requested will likely cost another $5000 and take my team at least until the first week of September for the first phase."

What more could go wrong? We were stuck. This presented us with four issues.

  • How could we possibly tell our users about a delay, again?
  • The book briefs were formatted specifically for the website we planned to launch.
  • Without funding from Aug. subscriptions, we couldn't afford another new website.
  • We couldn't afford to hire a team we realized we desperately needed.

After prayerful discussion, we felt the only way to keep Accelerate afloat would be from August subscription revenue (and some of our personal savings). Thus, we ultimately decided to keep our August 1st launch.

This was another mistake.

This meant we had less than one week to re-upload all book briefs to the current BETA website prototype (ew), finish designing the PDFs and recording the MP3s.

With a naiveté that we mistook for healthy ambition, we worked day and night to finish everything by August 1st.

Spoiler: We didn't.

A Failed Launch

On August 1st, as the sun began to rise, brightening the room in which we had spent the last 72 hours furiously working on our computers, we sent out a launch update to apologize for what we knew would be very underwhelming.

In the update, we drafted a quick new timeline for the new releases, promising completed book briefs by August 4th and new book briefs for August shortly after.

We should've known the work could take longer than that. Partly it was still our idealism. But, truth be told, it was mainly because we lacked the courage or wisdom to be completely transparent with our progress.

However, what we did next was even more foolish.

From August 1st to August 11th, we completely went off the grid. We stopped updating. Our emails piled up as those who tried reaching out did so to no avail.

Party, we lacked the emotional bandwidth to provide customer support as we worked endlessly on the book briefs. However, deeper reflection reveals that we were simply too terrified and ashamed to face you, our users without a finished product.

While we managed to accomplish of work this past week and a half, we realized it wasn't worth the loss of your trust in us. Through wise pastoral counsel, we saw that our irresponsible actions were a consequence of our lack of transparency.

Despite your patience towards us, we have been unprofessional and unloving. We write this letter to formally apologize for our unacceptable behavior. Moving forward, we commit to being fully transparent with you.

To this end, we've taken the following steps:

  • We've committed to prioritize our users first and quality book briefs second, before even considering promoting Accelerate. We will never mix that order up again.
  • We are finalizing the process of securing funding from a gracious investor to more realistically cover costs and fund a much-needed team.
  • We will begin hiring editors, typesetters, illustrators starting next week to ensure that our book briefs are released on time.
  • We have already hired an awesome community support manager, Ciara. She's spent the past few days learning the ropes and will be responding to all your emails (pray for her).
  • We will create a page displaying more tenable product release deadlines made available online to all for accountability.

Where We Are and Moving Forward

Here is the current status of our book briefs: After major revisions, we have added InsightGraphics and re-uploaded all book briefs available in the library. Additionally, we have 8 newly designed, printable and downloadable PDFs available (here's the PDF for Tim Keller's Preaching. You can see the rest in the library. We'd love your feedback!) Finally, we have finished one audio brief, and are currently editing it.

Accelerate Timeline:

Accounting for the time we will need to restructure our budget with a new business manager & accountant, and the time to hire & train a full team, here is a more realistic timeline:

  • 8 / 13:
    • Accelerate Timeline Page Published Online
    • Aug Brief #2: Habits of Grace by David Mathis (Infographics & PDF)
  • 8 / 15:
    • Aug Brief #3: In His Image by Jen Wilkin (Infographics & PDF)
  • 8 / 17:
    • Aug Brief #4: Jesus Among Secular Gods by Ravi Zacharias (Infographics & PDF)
  • 8 / 20:
    • Aug Brief #5: Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung (Infographics & PDF)
  • 8 / 22:
    • Aug Brief #6: Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney (Infographics & PDF)
  • 8 / 24:
    • Aug Brief #8: Reset by David Murray (Infographics & PDF)
  • 9 / 1:
    • All Audio MP3 for July Book Briefs Online
    • Sept. Brief #1: You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith (Infographics & PDF)
  • 9 / 4:
    • Sept. Brief #2: The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield (Infographics & PDF)
  • 9 / 7:
    • New Accelerate Website Released

Full timeline will be made available online.

Conclusion

There is simply no way to justify the poor handling of our launch. Our irresponsible lack of communication has caused frustration and broken the trust of many.

We sincerely apologize and ask for your forgiveness. We write this to publicly commit to learning from our mistakes; we write with a new commitment to radical transparency; we write with a commitment to love God by loving our neighbor and doing so by always prioritizing our beloved users before anything else.

However, we know that words are cheap, and trust must be earned. Therefore, we've decided to offer a refund of August's $9.99 subscription charge as our way of saying we're truly sorry. To request a refund, please email us at [email protected]

If you have any further questions or comments, send us an email and we will reply as soon as possible.

In His Service,

The TCB Accelerate Team