A perfect storm of digital snafus at the launch of the Hogwarts Running Club virtual race for Orlando

Our programming and customer service teams have had an exhausting and humbling 24 hours. They’ve been digging out of a perfect storm of digital snafus triggered by a 9,340 mile virtual race we’re powering for the Hogwarts Running Club.  

The starting placard for the Hogwarts Running Club's virtual race for the Trevor Project charity
The starting placard for the Hogwarts Running Club’s virtual race for the Trevor Project charity

In honor of Orlando, the HRC is raising money for The Trevor Project, which provides crisis and suicide intervention services to LGBTQ youth.

While this race was launched with a goal of raising $10k, the 800 racers have already raised more than $18k between registrations and additional donations, and the race has another two weeks to go.  The virtual race between the HRC’s four teams of 200 runners (one for each Hogwarts house) circles the US, starting and ending at the Pulse night club in Orlando. In less than 24 hours, the HRC runners have already logged nearly 3,000 miles.

While they’ve been running, we’ve been sweating. Racery has learned a huge amount that will help us prepare for future races. Here’s what we’ve learned so far…

  • Within minutes of the race’s launch, Paypal Paypal outagewent down. By the time Paypal came back up, we had a big backlog of frustrated racers eager to pay the entry fee of $15 and hop into the race. (Time to hurry up with our Stripe payment back-up plans!) 
  • Compounding the overload, our races normally have a two week registration period before the race formally starts and racers start logging miles. In this case, hundreds of people tried to both register and log miles in the course of a couple of hours. (We’ll think about a minimum registration period of 2 or 3 days before races start in the future.)
  • This race combined high simultaneous volumes of registrations AND donations, also a first for us.  Again, this isn’t all bad news, since $18k has already been raised in 24 hours — yee-haw! Thanks to this new high water mark, we’ve identified a couple of previously unseen bottle-necks in our code.
  • While all of our races are powered by mileage submitted on the honor system, HRC’s four houses initially required that racers ‘prove’ their mileage by posting a photo of their device’s screen to validate mileage submissions. (That rule has now been changed.) Currently, we only accept photos submitted by e-mail (a vestige of our days as an e-mail-only service.) Ironically a code upgrade enabling web and app  photo upload  was due to launch this week, but got pushed back by our sprint  to get the HRC race live.
  • Finally, this race pulled our customer service team in a new direction. Normally all service requests are funneled into our Zoho CRM,  where they’re systematically managed by time-tested processes and templates created by  ourstaff. Because HRC’s members all live and breathe within four separate closed ‘house’ groups on Facebook, our team decided early to dive into the thick of the four house pages and respond to racer questions within that environment. The team that supports racers had to work hard to make sure all questions got accurate answers and didn’t  fall through the cracks. The good news is that, as time has passed, many HRC members on FB were quick studies jumped in to share their own new-found knowledge. Thank you all!

The last thing we’ve learned: we love the Hogwarts Running Club. Though they swamped our servers — in their words, Racery got “HRC’d” — they’ve taught us a lot and are a fun group to work with. We’re very proud to help the HRC community raise money for The Trevor Project.

[Update 6/17/16: adding registration income and extra donations at the time of registration to the current $9,600 in outright donations, the net to The Trevor Project now exceeds $25k. Unlike other fundraising services, Racery is not earning anything on donor contributions – the charity gets 100% of donations! We’re paying the bills with a $3 cut of each $15 registration fee for this two week race.]