How to Avoid the Trough of Sorrow

What is the trough of sorrow?

The trough of sorrow, as coined by Paul Graham, is a low period often succeeding a relative spike.  It’s often referring to inbound traffic, but can be generalized as a depressing low after a euphoric high.  Let’s take a look at your typical trough of sorrow.

trough-of-sorrow

In this case, a startup sees a huge initial boost in traffic and interest due to the novelty of their idea; their links get shared on social media, TechCrunch [insert any tech publisher here] publishes an article about this novel idea, and they live on the front page of Hacker News for a couple days.  …Then interest wears off, and people talk about the next hot startup coming out of Silicon Valley, leaving your website to get covered in spider webs.  After all, there are about 137,000 startups founded everyday around the world [Moya Mason, 2017].

This kind of publicity is any startup’s dream, but it’s the harsh reality that follows that is often clouded due to optimistic expectations.  If you see this kind of spike on day 1, don’t go scaling up right away, likely the horizontal lows are following.    So how do we avoid it?  How do we sustain inbound traffic?

Avoiding the infamous trough

Let me preface this by saying, this isn’t a silver bullet.  It’s not going to work for everyone, and in some cases the ‘trough of sorrow’ is unavoidable, but it can help you mitigate the chances or at least make it less dramatic.

I’ll focus on two main strategies here – I’d recommend using both, but your call.

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Take it one step at a time

1. Stage your rollout

What do I mean by staging a rollout?  I’m not talking about your code, I’m saying try to get publicity spread out over the first couple weeks that you launch.

Start with constructive communities that can offer feedback such as Indie Hackers or Reddit (assuming you choose the correct subreddit).  Really take the feedback into account, and iterate on whatever it is that your posting (intro, landing page, blog post, etc.).

In a couple days, move on to communities that align with your or your company’s interest; this will likely be places like Hacker News or Barnacles.  This is a great place to drive traffic and test conversion rates.  BetaList and BetaPage are also good resources if you’re in a private beta.

Lastly, once everything is polished, start reaching out to publishers.  Put some effort into this phase, as publishers are often busy and the easier you make it for them to share your story, the more likely they will share it.  Don’t just send an email saying, “Hey I launched a new startup called Cloud Campaign.  We’re different because we do X, Y, Z…”.  Look at related posts by the publisher and draft up an article as if it were to be posted ‘as is’ on their site.

If you’re fortunate enough to get an article published about your startup, keep it alive.  Recycle it on social media, send it out in your weekly newsletter (more on this in a second), and post credibility links on your site.

1.5. Send updates

Assuming you built up an email list during the traffic spike, send updates to your subscribers, don’t just leave them in the dark.  This can be as simple as, we added these 5 new features this week, or see what’s new on the blog with a quick synopsis of each post.

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Chris Chen wrote an interesting article about his trip to China

2. Focus on content marketing

Just because your core idea has lost its novelty, doesn’t mean people aren’t interested in anything you have to say.  Content marketing can be related to your company’s product or it can be areas that you have particular interest in that would resonate with your customers (tech, startups, funding, etc.).

Some good examples from YC alums are Chris Chen, founder of Instapainting,’s blog post about assembly lines in China or Courtland Allen, founder of Indie Hacker,’s weekly newsletter promoting new interviews that were conducted the week prior.

By constantly producing new content, you can continue to drive traffic to your domain, which will 1. help avoid the trough of sorrow, and 2. improve your SEO ranking.

Tl;dr:

Spread your launch out over a week or two.  Continue to publish interesting content that is easily shared.

Speaking of the trough of sorrow, is this a post to try and avoid it?  Why yes, yes it is.

 

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