How Kinsta Helped DARTDrones Scale for the Shark Tank Effect

By , Updated: June 5, 2017

shark tank effect

One of the exciting things we get to do here at Kinsta is work with all sorts of new cutting edge companies. Recently we had the pleasure of working with DARTDrones, who provide hands-on expert drone training and Part 107 drone pilot certification across 40 different cities in the United States. Today we’ll dive into how we helped them prepare and scale their WooCommerce site for what some call the “Shark Tank Effect.” They were very successful and scored a deal with Mark Cuban for $300,000. The last thing you want to happen is to go live on national television, get a surge of traffic, and your website crashes! Thankfully this is our specialty here at Kinsta, due to our auto-scaling infrastructure and experience working with high-traffic and demanding sites.

The Shark Tank Effect

The “Shark Tank Effect” is very real and even a lot of companies that don’t score a deal with the sharks end up with an enormous amount of traffic and exposure, simply from being on the show. The SharkTankPodcast experts believe that an appearance on the show is worth $4 million to $5 million alone in marketing exposure. Many entrepreneurs have learned the hard way, such as Alpert who saw huge traffic spikes immediately upon airing, with more than 10,000 people suddenly in his app simultaneously. Or Xero Shoes who back in 2013 went on Shark Tank and their website crashed due to their server being overwhelmed.

“Like many Shark Tank companies, our website crashed, and we were up all weekend answering emails and phone calls. I was amazed that people would call at 3 a.m. and clearly be expecting us to be answering the phones (which we were).” – Lena Phoenix

So it is very important that before you go on Shark Tank, or any media outlet where you expect a surge of traffic, that you choose or migrate to a host that can handle the load. We also recommend striking up a conversation with your host to let them know. There are a lot of things that can be done in preparation to help ensure your success. And that is what we did here at Kinsta with DARTDrones.

A Couple Ways We Scaled DARTDrone’s WordPress Site

When it comes to high-traffic sites, our knowledgeable support engineers here at Kinsta look at each case on an individual basis. We are used to working with all sorts of setups, from WooCommerce solutions to news sites. Previously we have helped companies such as Swagway prepare for Cyber Monday in which they received over 90,000 unique visitors on a single day, with 160-350 active users on the site placing orders during any given second. Even WordPress sites with over 60,000+ concurrent visitors are not a problem for us!

Kevin McAloon, a Designer & Front-end Developer working with DARTDrones, reached out to us prior to Shark Tank. He chatted with our support engineers and we discussed their best options. Their site was then migrated by our team over to Kinsta’s servers. Here are a couple of specific things that we helped DARTDrones resolve after the migration to ensure 100% up-time and an enjoyable experience for their new customers:

1. Isolating dartdrones.com

First of all, this is how our infrastructure is setup to work from the very beginning. We use Linux containers (LXC), and LXD to orchestrate them, on top of Google Cloud Platform which enables us to completely isolate not just each account, but each separate WordPress site. This means dartdrones.com was completely isolated from all other activity on our infrastructure.

2. Scaling CPUs

Utilizing the Google Compute Engine, we actually let the site’s container scale to as many CPUs as needed when there’s a surge of traffic. This would ensure that DARTDrones would stay online.

3. Increasing PHP Workers

PHP workers execute the code on a WordPress site. Having additional PHP workers allow for multiple requests to execute simultaneously. To put it simply, the more PHP workers you have the better!

php worker wordpress

We have different plans here at Kinsta and we worked with Kevin to find the right one that would suit their needs based on current traffic and estimations for additional load due to Shark Tank. Our B1 plan includes 4 PHP workers all the way up to our Enterprise 4 plan which includes 16 PHP workers. We then also have custom solutions beyond that.

4. Troubleshooting High admin-ajax Usage

Many WordPress sites, even smaller ones have issues with heavy admin-ajax.php usage. This is also something that will commonly show up from plugins in website speed tests.  DARTDrone’s website also suffered from this problem, which we investigated before their appearance on Shark Tank. In our load testing, they received over 4,100 admin-ajax.php calls in a 24 hours period with under 2,000 unique visitors. That is not a great ratio of requests-to-visits. The big problem with this is that each ajax request loads the full WordPress back-end while circumventing all forms of caching.

high admin ajax usage
heavy admin-ajax.php usage on dartdrones.com

Upon further investigation we discovered that most of the requests were being made from the wp-admin referrer URL, which were being generated due to their admins updating the site in preparation for the show. If you are seeing heavy admin-ajax usage it is always important to investigate it, as this can easily bring a WordPress site down.

5. Dealing With WooCommerce Caching Issues

DARTDrones utilized WooCommerce for their eCommerce solution. Which is great, because Kinsta specializes in high-performance WooCommerce hosting and we troubleshoot it on a daily basis for clients. Immediately we saw that there were a lot of un-cacheable requests being made to /?wc-ajax=get_refreshed_fragments. This is common for WooCommerce as it utilizes it for part of the shopping cart functionality.

woocommerce

However, there are ways to improve this, such as to de-enqueue the script. You can even do this on a specific page, such as your most important page, the homepage. This of course doesn’t have to be done, but can improve speeds as these requests can’t be cached. You can see this issue on GitHub. A JavaScript alternative could then also be setup to work with the shopping cart.  Example:

add_action( 'wp_enqueue_scripts', 'dequeue_woocommerce_cart_fragments', 11); function dequeue_woocommerce_cart_fragments() { if (is_front_page()) wp_dequeue_script('wc-cart-fragments'); }

Since every site has Kinsta’s server-level caching, we also have other rules in place at Kinsta to ensure proper WooCommerce functionality. By default, we exclude known WooCommerce pages like /cart.* /my-account.* /checkout.* and so forth. Users also bypass the cache when the woocommerce_items_in_cart cookie is detected.

For additional caching requirements clients can also programmatically purge individual URLs using the kinsta-cache/purge_list filter. However, this should only be done by advanced users.

add_filter( 'kinsta-cache/purge_list', 'kc_add_custom_purge_urls' );
function kc_add_custom_purge_urls( $urls ) {
$urls[] = site_url() . 'a-custom-static-page-with-dynamic-content/';
return $urls;
}

Or it could be done via cURL by calling a URL with a prefix provided by Kinsta’s support engineers.

6. Using Server Resources Wisely

An issue we immediately saw after chatting with Kevin was their homepage was over 50 MB in size. The homepage is especially important in cases like these because almost all the traffic from a show like Shark Tank will funnel through the homepage first. So it is vital you plan accordingly to keep this page online.

dartdrones website

DARTDrones utilizes a streaming MP4 video which equates to a little over 90% of the size. Thankfully they were utilizing Cloudflare to serve this up.

large wordpress homepage

To help improve speeds for the show, Kevin actually wanted to load a static HTML page for the homepage, to negate any common WordPress slowdowns. This is actually very smart. We helped put the redirects in place so that it would actually redirect to /home.html to serve up the static page, but would still show as dartdrones.com on the front-end. Since they were already utilizing Cloudflare, we then recommended using page rules to fully cache the homepage, which would offload a bulk of the page views so that our servers could focus on the money-generating eCommerce transactions that require processing power. Performance is pretty critical to conversions, and what’s the goal of a traffic surge if not to generate business? So it makes sense to use server resources wisely.

A good web host should help you find a combination that works the best for you. We always recommend using a CDN, even if it means you save money by offloading bandwidth to someone else. We want you to succeed and have the best-performing WordPress site. All in all, we were able to reduce DARTDrone’s total page-load times by over 50% across their entire site!

And here is a little glimpse of what happens when you’re on Shark Tank. You can see below that data transfer and unique visits skyrocketed right around 8PM eastern time (shown in EU below). In the heavy 6 hour period after airing there was a total of 1,263,233 requests with 2 TB cached bandwidth used, and only 3 GB of un-cached bandwidth. This shows the importance of strategically looking at your site to ensure as many requests are cached as possible.

shark tank traffic analytics

After Shark Tank

As we mentioned, DARTDrones managed to land an investment of $300,000 with Mark Cuban. And since the filming of the show, they have been growing at a rapid pace! They wrote up a great summary on their blog on what happened after Shark Tank. In short, they have:

  • More than doubled their flight instructor count
  • Offer classes in 48 cities, which is double what they offered since Shark Tank filming
  • 5 new classes
  • Launch of a Drone consulting program
  • Bigger and growing team across departments

And besides their impressive growth, they have also seen an increase in online sales since airing.

Summary

These are just a couple ways we helped DARTDrones scale their WooCommerce site to ensure 100% uptime and a flawless experience for their customers during the “Shark Tank Effect.” Each WordPress site is different and we always love a new challenge! Hosting is an investment, and it is crucial that you stay online during your peak sales periods. If you are needing help to scale your WordPress site, contact us today to see how we can help. And if you’re into Drones, we highly recommend checking out DARTDrones.