It’s Friday night, 1 am. I’m lying in bed scrolling twitter. Reading the usual shit. Getting my dopamine fix. “The Backstreet boys are back with a brand new sound”. Yeah, whatever. I read another headline. Then another. “There’s a dating site for straight Trump supporters”. The mob’s getting angry. As you’d imagine the media are loving it. It’s the perfect fodder to pump to the masses.
But forget Donald Trump. There's something here. Free audience. Free attention. Embrace the controversy. Elon Musk sold flamethrowers and made a million. Supreme sold bricks and made a million. You’ve got to think like the little kid who hasn’t had his imagination beaten out of him. Companies splash thousands on “growth hacking” goon squads but having one mind like Bart Simpson on your team is more valuable.
I jump out of bed and start writing down ideas. Dating is a good starting spot. It’s funny and simple. Now I just need something controversial. Brexit Dating, Harry Potter Dating, Kanye West Dating. Yes Kanye West, I’m a fan. I know the audience. How about — KanyeWestDating.com. Doesn't pop. Maybe Yeezy.Dating. Bingo! Add to Basket.
I wake up late the next morning and cook some eggs. I want to start building the dating site, but let’s be realistic. The chances are no-one will use it and I’ll end up spending 3 months locked in my bedroom, deprived of sunlight, going insane.
So, instead, I open up Instagram, change my username from @harrydry to @yeezydating, delete my old posts and upload a picture with the caption “Yeezy.Dating — Coming this March”. Bamn. We’re cooking.
Then I make a simple “Coming Soon” landing page with an email box. I add the line “Taylor Swift fans are banned from this website 🐍”. It’s purely a platonic gesture but it gives the media a headline to have some fun with.
Next I post on the Kanye West subreddit. To my surprise the post gets 200 upvotes within the first hour. This gives me ammo to fire at bloggers with. I’m no longer just “some guy” trying to shill his dating app. Reddit is my proof that this is a movement. I’ve got the backing of the people.
Time to build my blogger hit list. I don’t really know what I’m doing so I start googling. 10 minutes later I come across this website called Buzzstream Discovery.
Turns out I’ve hit the jackpot. Buzzstream is amazing. You enter a search term and it spits back the names of all the bloggers who have written stories about that search term. So I enter “Kanye West”, filter “within the last 30 days” and Buzzstream gives me a list of all 440 bloggers who have written stories about Kanye West over the last month. These bloggers are my perfect audience. It’s their job to pump out, simple, funny, digestible stories about Kanye West and I’m about to spoon feed them a classic.
Getting the names is only half the battle though. I’ve also got to get email addresses. I find this website called Hunter.io where you type the name of any company and it tells you the correct email format which that company uses. Four hours later 220 emails are locked away in an excel doc.
I type up the following message:
wack on my headphones, and play through Kanye’s whole discography, whilst I send email after email after email after email after email. Go to sleep, wake up, and then I'm back commuting into London for a day's work.
My phone rings during a meeting. I turn it to silent. It rings again. I turn it off. As soon as I get out of the meeting I check the database. 9,100 email address’. Surely this can't be real. I click refresh. Now 9,109. My mind freezes. I type Kanye's name into google and Yeezy Dating is everywhere. I check analytics. 250 people online. 65 unread emails. Then lunch break is over and I’m being called back in for another meeting.
It’s 10pm when I arrive back from work. The press momentum is still rolling on. It feels good to know that my big plan worked. 25 news anchors coast to coast are discussing my imaginery dating site and I’m just in my bedroom, in my pyjamas with an old Macbook pro making the whole thing up as I go along. I start a big Yeezy Dating group chat, and invite everyone from my email list.
7:40 am the next day and I get a text from my pal saying, “Tune into BBC Radio 1. They’re talking about Yeezy Dating right now and they want to speak to you”. Guess where I am? On a two hour train from Portsmouth to London for another day of meetings. I try and dial into Radio 1 but there’s no signal. I’m cooped up on this train carriage and I’m stressing out. The database has over 13,000 emails now. I’ve told the media the dating site is “Coming This March”, its now 17th March and I haven’t written a line of code. And to top it all off, I’ve got no idea how to make a dating site.
I get back that evening, call my boss and tell him that I’m going to be out of action for a few months. He asks why. So I tell him I'll be making a dating site for Kanye West fans. He bursts out laughing, wishes me luck and that’s that. I'm a free man.
It’s time to build a dating site. First things first I scout other dating sites looking for something I can copy. The whole Tinder / Bumble swiping thing is too complex. I find a Jewish Dating site called J Date which looks promising. All user profiles are displaying on one long infinite scroll page. A few months earlier I did Wes Bos’ “Learn Node” course where he does a similar thing with restaurants. I start merging J Date with some lessons from Wes’ course and I'm up and running.
At this point, there isn’t much to tell you. There’s no secret ingredient. Just long days laying bricks. 10 months ago I hadn’t written a line of code before and it was too hard. One week into Yeezy Dating it’s still too hard. Webpack is a mess and I don’t know how to save geoJSON data. Boo-hoo. Nobody cares. I don't care. Figure it out. Everyone else figured it out.
I write I AM HARRY DRY on a sheet of paper, buy some Blu Tack and pin it to my wall. Every time I get stuck I look up at the words and snarl. It’s Street Fighter II. I’m coding like Diego Costa plays football. No technique. No Barcelona academy. Rampaging from obstacle to obstacle.
Problem after Problem. Forum after forum. I'm becoming the most hated man on Stack Overflow. And I'm loving every second of it.
I wake up one fine spring morning and it’s all done. I’m a couple of weeks late, but that’s ok. I fix the final bug from the lab at 3 pm and post on Instagram to build some hype.
Then I cycle to town and walk into Vodafone. I tell the store manager I’m “just browsing” whilst I test the site on all their different devices. iPhone’s are zooming in on my input fields and it’s looking wierd. Damn. I pitch up in Starbucks next door, grab a croissant, and start googling. Turns out my font size needs to be 16px on iOS to the stop auto zoom. I head back into Vodafone, “more browsing” I tell the store manager, and the problems solved. Happy Days.
The Yeezy Dating group chat still has a buzz about it. Several hundred messages a day. They’re like my army of ultra fans. My plan is to launch with them first to test the site works. I’m back at home, dotting i's crossing t’s. Suddenly I have 10 mentions in Telegram. The ultras have found the site and have started making profiles.
10 profiles are up. Now 20. Now 30. Shit. It’s happening. Beautiful profile photos appearing up on my screen. Real people are on the site. Real people are matching each other. Real people are messaging. It’s working. And I made all of this! Hahaha. Look at me go. I post on Instagram saying that Yeezy.Dating is open for business. Suddenly 200 people flood to the site.
Now, legend says that the fisherman on shore only sees a tsunami a couple of seconds before it hits.
Capow! Left, right, center, profile images start disappearing. 5 pictures vanishing every second. I refresh the page, images disappearing everywhere. Time slows down. I can’t think straight. 3 minutes later the site is stripped bare. 350 profiles. No images. I load up Heroku. 6,700 critical errors. Dad potters in from the kitchen to see how the big launch is going. Not great I tell him.
I woke up Steve Jobs. I'm ending the day Steve Harvey. The site's properly crashed now. I’m trying to put out fires everywhere but nothing’s working. I can’t do this anymore. I apologise to my followers on Instagram, I apologise to the ultras on Telegram, and I fall into bed.
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Next day I wake up and do nothing. Eat some cereal. Watch some Peep Show. I’m still at a low ebb. I manage to write a post on the Indie Hackers forum explaining the site crashing and what went wrong with the images.
Quite remarkably developers start giving me their email address, offering me help. I’m blown away by their generosity. Within 24 hours there are five pro developers from Crowdform Digital Agency digging through my code. Several changes later they give it the all clear. “Good luck”, their lead dev texts me from Singapore.
A few days later Yeezy.Dating launches again. The feeling is different this time. The first time it felt like the biggest thing in my universe. This time around I’ve got perspective. There a bigger things in life. If it crashes, it crashes.
Testing with the ultras goes well so I start emailing my big list. 1,500 users join within 10 hours. 2,500 within 24 hours. Then 4,200. But growth is slowing. My intuition is telling me that the parties going to end soon. Where’s the next 4,000 coming from?
There’s no marketing budget, no development team, it’s just me. Replying to all the emails, fixing all the bugs, trying to keep the momentum up and I’m tired. We need an app. I’m not an app developer. We need ten thousand users for dating to work. I don't know how to get ten thousand more users. The novelty is starting to wear off. I’m thinking 5 moves ahead and I can see cheque mate on the horizon.
There’s only one way out the water tank. I've got to get Kanye West involved.
So I’m back in the lab. Emailing away. Managers, ex-managers, stylists, PR relations, anyone who has ever worked for YEEZY on Linkedin. But nothing. No replies. I can’t get through.
I ask my Dad for advice. “You’ve got to think on a bigger scale son”, he tells me. So now I’m thinking what if I make a video, or a mixtape, or a magazine or a painting, or I rent a plane and fly a banner. Then it hits me. I’m going to rent Billboards. YEEZY is opening offices in Calabasas, New York, London, Wyoming. Four locations. Four billboards.
Ten minutes later I’m on the phone with Billboard companies. Quizzing them. What’s your pricing like? What type of Billboard would you recommend? How quickly can we do this? What’s the shortest time each Billboard can stay up for? And in my head, the billboards are already in the sky.
But, the next day, I wake up with cold feet. Two halves of my mind in deep discussion:
So I draft my Dad onto the campaign team and it starts to come together. He’s in his element. We take over my brother's bedroom and set up basecamp. Dad buys three alarm clocks, sets one to New York time, one to LA time and one to Wyoming time. “You’ve got to know your timezone, son,” he tells me.
The sun goes down once more and now it's the day of the Billboards. I'm working like an Octopus, organising photographers, drafting emails, teeing up interviews and everything starts coming together. London. New York. Wyoming. All confirmed. There’s less than an hour to go, and suddenly WACK. 8:11 pm an email drops into my inbox from Lamar, the Billboard provider, and my head spins like I’ve walked onto Tyson Fury's right hand.
Lamar's supposed to be covering both New York and Wyoming. Without them, I’m left with just one Billboard in London and that’s not enough. I’m calling this whole thing off. The game’s up. It’s over. I’m safe again. Life’s comfortable. No billboards. No problems.
I walk downstairs to show Dad the email. He looks up at me, smiles like it’s nothing, and says “Don’t worry. We’ll find a way”. And maybe that’s why you need a team because in that moment I wanted an excuse to give up but the old man wasn’t blinking so we fought on.
Phone calls start flying everywhere. On one phone I’m hammering the account manager. On the other Dad’s posing as a BBC journalist, throwing jab after jab at their legal department, “The kid spent two days clearing this with intellectual property lawyers”, “We’ve got a camera crew waiting outside Times Square as we speak”.
It’s 9 pm now. A wonderful soul called Candice is waiting in the New York rain eyes glued to the Billboard ready to take the photo, but she isn’t going to wait all day.
Suddenly Dad’s beckoning me over. If we change, “Kanye West” for “Mr. West” the legal department will approve it. My gut tells me it’s good enough. I export the new text and send to the account manager in Times Square. 5 minutes later the Billboards are live. Candice takes the photo. It appears in my inbox. And I take a deep breath.
Soon after, the Wyoming and London Billboard’s go up. I start attaching the photos to the drafts we prepped, sending out our emails, hoping to get lucky again.
A couple of stories start breaking, journalists start requesting interviews and back down into the depths of the Maelström we descend. The phone rings and rings and it could be anyone on the line. I’m wished luck, sold insurance, thrown onto live radio, taunted by youths, offered jobs, reunited with old school friends.
I check twitter. Kanye's name is trending. My heart jumps. Surely not. Have I made it? I click. My heart sinks. “Kanye West has just said 400 years of slavery sounds like a choice”. And from there on in I’m dead in the water. A tadpole in a shark tank. The media is at Kanye saturation. Journalists have bigger fish to fry and my little story is left on the shelf.
Ok, one last try. I track down Yeezy Headquarters on Google Maps, find the phone number of some offices nearby and start dialing. I start telling this receptionist about the dating site, about the Billboards, and I can’t believe it but she’s actually listening to me.
And that's that. Now I can go to bed, wake up the next day and get on with my life.
* * *
A few weeks pass and, lo and behold, an email from A****** drops into my inbox.
And a few hours I get sent a screenshot from Kanye's office chat.
I can't help but smile. After all my efforts emailing journalists, practicing for radio interviews, writing press releases, retouching images, all it took was a simple phone call to the company whose office was next door.
And that’s how we got to now. It’s 9:52 pm, Thursday 24th May. In ten minutes time, I’ll be on the phone with the CFO of Kanye West’s Billion Dollar company.
I remember sitting round with my uni housemates last year talking about what the future would hold for all of us. They were all saying, “I’m applying for a finance job” or “I’ll do a masters ”, stuff like that. And it came to me and I said, “I’m going to travel to Nazareth, learn to code, come back to England, finish my book, learn about business and start my own stuff.”
They were used to my spiel now and started groaning, “None of this shit's going to happen Dry. The real world’s going to chop you up and spit you out. You're going to be stuck in the rat race, clocking in, clocking off, packed onto the tube, just like all of us.”
I smiled. “Tell me that again”. So they did. “Reality is going to grind you down. You’re going to be clock watching, Monday to Friday. There’s nothing you can do about it. And you know it.”
“Tell me that that one more time”, I said. So they did. And I smiled even more.
I’m not saying I’ve done anything yet cause I haven’t. But at least I've stuck to my word. I've tried and given it a go.
Thanks for making it all the way to the bottom. If you enjoyed it, it would really mean a lot if you retweeted the tweet below. I spent a while putting this together, so it would be nice if a few people read it:
🔥 Finally finished The Kanye Story!— Harry Dry (@harrydry)March 29, 2019
It's a story about how I went from lying in bed with no ideas to negotiating with the biggest superstar on planet earth. Take a look 👉🏻https://t.co/7v6vPX55eM
I also have an email newsletter where I write about startups, marketing, the simulation and my man Tyson Fury.
And finally, if you're into marketing I run a site called Marketing Examples where I write about everything I know :)
Thanks again and peace out.