In my previous entrepreneur series posts, I covered developing the idea, the name, and doing field research. Now you’re on the path to launching…and you want to come out guns blazing. Let’s run through some of the do’s and dont’s and get you on your way to your first TC article.
The pic above is a photo used in one the articles covering the launch of my current startup. Its a reminder for me of what a pain in the &$$! getting PR can be if you don’t have the connections or the right “kind” of startup. If you are a Silicon Valley insider with social media connections to your buds like Adam Ostrow @ mashable or MG @ TechCrunch…well, then this post probably isn’t for you. But for the rest of us, PR requires a long-term strategy that needs to honed…read on for some basic tips to hacking your way into a bit of PR for your launch.
Plan in Advance. Now I know most of you are probably saying to yourselves: “no shit sherlock”…but hey, when you’re busy these things can creep up on ya! I made the almost hilarious mistake of waiting until 1am the night before the day of our launch to start emailing PR folks. For some unknown reason, I totally underestimated how busy bloggers and press folks actually are…do not make this mistake.
If PR folks are just hearing about your launch a few hours before everyone else is…it’s too late. Its all about “the scoop” with bloggers and the press. That’s really the only currency you have to offer as an unknown startup…that is unless you already have a serious track-record. My suggestion…start creating your PR list about 10 days in advance and start emailing folks about 5-7 days before your launch.
Build your own Momentum. Imagine…you have launched nothing other than a LaunchRock launch page, but you’ve been designing and building your startup for months. When you reach out for a cold email to any blogger, the first thing they will do is google you. What will they find?
Obviously, you will have your blog up. But, what type of content will be there? Will you be perceived as an expert in your space? Will you give your startup a personality that resonates with your potential customers and partners? It sounds obvious, but for those of you not in YC, TechStars, and the rest…you need to start somewhere. Start early.
Bloggers write about lines not dots. I’m borrowing this phrase from a post I read by Mark Suster that said the same thing about how VC’s invest. They invest in people that they have a series of encounters with them so they can plot several markers to make a determination to say ‘yes’ to investing in an entrepreneur. Bloggers are much the same. A cold email is not all that cold if the blogger has had quick convos with you on twitter or in the comments sections of their articles.
You can’t follow everyone, but pick a few favorites and make sure you follow them on twitter and read their articles consistently. That way, when an email comes in from you…your name may actually stick in the back of their mind somewhere.
Get some heavy hitters in your corner. Now, for the most part, this entire article series is aimed at very early entrepreneurs that are just getting started…so I’m assuming you’re not well-connected in Silicon Valley yet. But…regardless, you need to line up some “heavy-hitters” to back you up on the day of your launch. And by “heavy-hitters”…I don’t mean Darryl Isaacs…I mean, anyone in the tech industry that has connections to VC’s, startup CEO’s, bloggers, etc…and has some serious klout.
Again, its all about building relationships. Reach out to anyone that you admire in your space and ask them to have coffee. You’d be surprised how many will say yes…people have big hearts in the startup world and they know what goes around comes around. So, get out there are mingle…and if they believe in what you’re doing and they ask how they can help…this is fairly easy way.
Give something away. If all else fails and you missed steps #1-4 above, then do what I did…give something away. We built an e-commerce startup, so we reached out to niche bloggers (not TC et al) and offered them a handful of promo products to give to their customers as a giveaway. Its not quite the same as getting a “real” review, but hey…at least you’re getting some press.
If you don’t have a product to giveaway, then buy an iPad or something and give that away. Look at it as an investment…a way to get your foot in the door. Once you’ve worked with those bloggers/publishers once…hopefully the next time you have a scoop, you do it the right way and they write about you for real.
In Silicon Valley, everyone will tell you that ideas are a dime a dozen. And for the most part, this is very true…without the proper hard work, sweat, tears, and red bull…the vast majority of ideas get booted to the mythical “idea deadpool”.
However, it should also be noted that its a significant mistake for talented entrepreneurs/engineers to waste their time going down the wrong path — to go “heads-down” and build a complete prototype and then realize there is no market for it. Ask any solo engineer entrepreneur…very rarely does the adage “build it, and they will come” ever hold up.
Here are what I believe are 5 keys to solid ideation:
#1 - Practice early and often.
Continuously brainstorm ideas. Write them down. Compare and contrast them. Think it all way through from…from value proposition to the customer to the market size to the business model. Be practical.
#2 - Stick to what you know.
If you’re outside the Internet industry….you might want to focus on developing a company that rectifies a broken process in your industry instead of trying to create the next Google. Not saying you can’t create a web startup, just that you should focus on your unique aspects - whether it be your location, current industry, or hobbies - but just make sure that you have a leg up over your competition. Otherwise, you’ll spend 10x the effort your competitors will given they probably are experts in that arena.
#3 - Keep it Simple Coming up with elaborate ideas that take months or even years to develop at costs of anything more than 5 figures isn’t really going to do you any good. Anyone can dream up a supernatural product that is awesome…but you gotta be realistic. My litmus test is, can a prototype version be built in less than 6 months with less than $10,000? (Many would say 3 months and $5000 nowadays.) If so, keep moving…otherwise, be prepared for a long, expensive slog without much knowledge of what happens on other side.
#4 - Find a Partner
I can’t stress this one enough. Everyone wants to go it alone. It’s a mistake…ask any solo entrepreneur. Building a company is hard…building one by yourself is even harder. Partners help flush out bad ideas, are a great sounding boards, and provide motivation to keep going when you’re ready to quit alone.
#5 - Validate the Value Prop
All ideas must be vetted before committing any resources. Once you’ve developed the next Facebook, Zynga, or GroupOn in your mind…go out and talk to those folks who would be your initial customers and ask them if they would value your proposed service. Either way, you’ll probably be very surprised with what you hear.