Hatchlings takes its troubles with Google to the web
Hatchlings CEO Brad Dwyer published a blog post today detailing its history with Google.
"After trying to go through the 'proper channels' for almost a year now it's time to share this story of how Google screwed over our startup with the world," Brad Dwyer, the company's co-founder and CEO, wrote.
In April 2011, Dwyer wrote, Hatchlings received an automated email from Google that said its AdSense account "poses a risk of generating invalid activity." As a result, its account was disabled and its outstanding balance and Google's share of the revenue was refunded to advertisers. This refund, according to Dwyer's calculations, was in the range of $40,000.
In response to a press inquiry, Google declined to comment on the situation, but its representative, Andrea Faville, pointed to the email quoted above and Google AdSense's support page providing answers to questions about a disabled account due to invalid activity.
Answers as to why the account was disabled, however, never came to Hatchlings – Google's policy states it's "unable to provide (its) publishers with any information about their account activity." To collect the revenue, Hatchlings filed two appeals, both of which were rejected. Emails and phone calls to their AdSense account manager have gone unreturned, as well.
This led Hatchlings to today, the blog post that shares its Google AdSense story along with a startup lesson learned from the experience (we'll get to that below).
By mid-afternoon, the post made it to the front page of Hacker News, a social news aggregation site, and sparked a lively discussion, part of which is trying to uncover why Hatchingling's account was disabled. One guess is concerns raised by Google over a personal site of Dwyer's in 2009. The site was guitarhero-4.com (link to 2009 archive).
Dwyer explains in the Hacker News comments: "The site referenced was a small content site I made to drive Amazon referrals for Guitar Hero 4 pre-orders. It was SEO'd and at the top of the search results for 'Guitar Hero 4' at the time so it generated quite a bit in affiliate revenue but almost nothing in terms of Adsense."
Though Dwyer wrote on Hatchlings blog today that he immediately took down the site "since Hatchlings is much more important," and that he later received an email from a Google account manager that Hatchlings' "AdSense account remains in good standing."
As of 4:56 p.m. today – after Hacker News and Business Insider exposure – Dwyer still doesn't have a clear answer to his situation.
"No word from Google yet," Dwyer wrote in an email reply today, "but I've heard through the grapevine that they are looking into it and are going to reach out shortly. It's just a shame that this is what it took to get a response.
"From what I've read we are not the only one this has happened to. It's really not fair for people who don't have the large platform to speak from that we do. Being at the top of Hacker News has helped amplify that voice a lot as well."
Dwyer concluded his blog post with a lesson learned:
The moral of the story is to be careful when planning your business that one "partner" company can’t pull the rug out from under you. While this is a story about Google it could very well have been another large "partner." Who does your business hinge on? A lot of startups accept the implied risks of building on “platforms” or having big, faceless "partners" form an integral part of their business foundation without a second thought.
We were very fortunate to have a diversified revenue stream with paying users to support us and help us remain a viable business even after losing a large chunk of advertising revenue (and we thank our users from the bottom of our heart for that) but others wouldn’t have been so lucky.
For more on this Hatchlings story, follow these links and stay tuned to Silicon Prairie News for updates.
- Hatchlings blog post: "Don’t Be Evil: How Google Screwed a Startup"
- Hacker News post: "Don’t Be Evil: How Google Screwed a Startup (hatchlings.com)"
- Business Insider: "How Google Allegedly Screwed This Tiny Iowa Startup Out Of $40,000"