Blogging into Bankruptcy

I think I would like Paul Purdue. As executive of the startup company iFulfill, he decided to blog about family life and his company. But the blog really became popular only when the company started to unravel.

At one point a frustrated Purdue asked his marketing consultant, a blogger named B.L. Ochman, president of, how to attract readers. She recalls relaying a tip that long ago had been given to her: “Do something controversial.”

Purdue, it turned out, was well on his way to doing just that. Even before he began building his blog, his company was falling apart. The installation in February of a new wireless inventory system led to widespread confusion and missed orders. As chaos mounted, morale sank among iFulfill’s 38 employees. Customers defected. Debt soared.

Purdue, who had financed the startup on personal credit cards, saw the balance on his cards top $150,000. The company owed even more to shipping giant UPS (UPS ). Attempts to refinance fell through. So on the morning of July 25, the 43-year-old Purdue shuttered the seven-year-old “I went to work at about 5 a.m.,” he says, “and started firing people as they came in.”

And wouldn’t you know it? That’s when his blog took off. As bloggers spread the word about the drama at, Purdue’s blog at last began to generate buzz — though hardly the kind he had envisioned. No, it became an online exhibit of a company’s demise, in real time. As Purdue explained why he was shutting the doors, customers weighed in with comments, many of them expressing fury. Competing shippers in the fulfillment industry popped up on the blog, offering their services.

But at least Purdue kept his perspective:

But already, his thoughts are drifting from iFulfill. For three days, while merchants were hiring trucks and hauling off their goods, he was on a Cub Scout trip with his son. Now he is preparing to file for personal bankruptcy. He says that when the warehouses are empty, he’ll stop blogging — at least until he has some new stories to share.

An ex-customer thinks he knows what went wrong:

Not all of his customers were amused. David Foy, president of Adox Fotowerke of Calgary, Alta., says that when he saw the blog go up, he worried. “Paul was turning into a philosopher,” he says. “It was about his ego.” Foy, who was already seeing performance glitches at iFulfill, began shifting shipments to a competitor in Idaho.


  1. Blogging consultant Ochman is now under attack for the bad, irresponsible, and unethical advice she sold to stupid Paul Purdue (to allow scathing criticism of his company to appear on his company blog) — while refusing to allow any criticism of herself on her own blog – !! Hypocrisy incarnate. See:

  2. Ochman defends her “create controversy” advice:

    Controversy “A dispute, especially a public one, between sides holding opposing views.”

    Advising a blogger to create controversy simply suggests that they involve in debate over issues that would be of interest to readers; that they challenge the opinions of others. Controversy doesn’t have to be nasty, hostile, or immoral. It is lively, and it often makes for good reading. It’s the old “dog bites man” dictum that traditional journalists and bloggers alike use in evaulating the interest level that readers may have in what they write. The best stories and blog posts tell something the reader didn’t know in a way that makes him/her care about it.

    I’m trying to imagine an example of controversy that would have been both interesting to Purdue’s readers and beneficial for his company. I can think of at least two reasons why that good kind of controversy is unlikely.

    1. iFulfill is a shipping company, not a fashion design studio or a Hollywood movie star. Whereas we might look for Abercrombie & Fitch or Tom Cruise to be outlandish, we generally expect our shipping companies to display the staid manner of an airline pilot. I want to know that my packages will arrive safely and on time, not that they will have an exciting ride.
    2. iFulfill is a small, growing company. Microsoft can take heat through its blogs without fear of losing its customer base, but iFulfill needed to maintain existing customers, find new ones, and bring in investment. In the shipping industry, I would expect controversy to work against those goals.

    What about transparency? I guess the lesson is that it has limits. At the least there should be some way to verify the complaints, to distinguish legitimate ones from cranks. Ochman seems to be aware of this, at least on her own blog:

    I don’t run comments on my blog unless there is a name AND a valid email address. This type of intense negativity and nastiness always comes from people who have reason to hide.

    Yet according to BusinessWeek, she gave Purdue different advice:

    One angry customer replied: “Well, having actual support from your suppliers would help.” The customer, who left a nameless e-mail address, detailed an 11-day “nightmare” trying to track down shipments at iFulfill. This led to “pissed-off customers and a megasized headache…. I apologize in advance,” the customer added, “for messing up your Weblog, but I don’t know what else to do but post here.”

    Purdue asked Ochman if he should publish such scathing comments on the blog. Her steadfast advice: Be transparent. She argued that readers and customers would trust him more once they saw that he didn’t censor his blog. What’s more, blogs with lively comments drew more readers. Purdue not only published the critique, he also mentioned it in his blog and linked to it, so that readers would see it.

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