Archive for September, 2009

Do-It-Yourself startup PR

September 23, 2009

Even with today’s social media channels such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc Press Releases remain a popular  form of communication.  PR for a startup is about establishing a new reputation and trying to get people talking about you and your product. However the press are a fickle bunch and tricky to deal with. Getting a mention in a press article or story can be very valuable and worth the effort trying.

Big megaphone

We launch our new website monitoring app to the world live on stage next week! I’ve discussed how to launch a web app before. As a bootstrapping startup we’ve needed to keep costs down. I wanted to get a PR freelancer in to help with the launch however cash is becoming increasingly tighter and so we’re running the PR ourselves.

The press are notoriously difficult to get hold of and engage with, however there is a small chance your message may get through. Doing the PR yourself has it positives. The founder’s know the product and are more passionate than anyone else.  Guy Kawasaki is positive about going it alone PR. Here’s a guide to developing and managing a startup Do-It-Yourself PR launch plan:

  1. Target audience – Be clear in your own mind who they are and be certain you know where they hang-out i.e. what sites they visit and which blogs, newspapers do they read.
  2. Key messages – Decide what they are. Some of this comes back to your marketing straplines and what the company/product stands for.
  3. Target press list – Who are you going to contact and what are their contact details. Find out what  excites and interests these journalists.
  4. Story – Develop a story that the press maybe interested in. It could be feel good, topical or a current trend. Above all the message needs to show how you are different from your competitors. Find good example press releases and learn how to write one. Here’s a useful article on writing press releases: ‘How to: write the perfect press release for journalists’.
  5. Press release – Draft up a press release based on the key messages. Also make sure you have a news and resource page on your website/blog including a range of screenshots and logo’s. Then send out your story.
  6. Pitch – Next get on the phone like crazy and pitch the hell out of your story to the press contacts. Entrepreneurial determination makes the difference here.
  7. Targets – Set some targets for your PR campaign. That way you keep focused and motivated.

Chris Lee, a PR freelancer for startups, has some further advice on managing your own PR.

Timing is also an extremely important factor. Everything including your message and press release needs to be prepared the week before your launch and press contact made during the launch week. Good luck. Your message may get through.. The press are tricky to deal with, however if you don’t try you never know. Remember “Who dares wins” 😉


What the heck is startup brand identity?

September 17, 2009

We’ve been thinking about startup branding for a while. I recently touched on branding when I posted ‘Do startups really need branding straplines?’ and concluded that top level marketing straplines embody the vision of the startup. This brings clarity of purpose, consistency of understanding and direction. It seems to me that ‘brand identity‘ is a vague and fluffy term.  However branding is not just for the big boys. It’s also great for startups. Brand identity helps brings credibility to a startups customer, investor and partner relationships.


It’s the Real Thing

Startup branding certainly isn’t anything like coca-cola with their big budget corporate brand personality. However  both big company and startup branding is about personality. Branding is very, very, very important for the big companies. It’s worth an awful lot to these giants. It is also really important for tiny little startups like our new web monitoring service. Branding sends out a consistent recurring and reliable message of what the company and product stands for. Customers love consistency. They want to know what they are going to get and they will be satisfied. This builds brand and product/service trust.

In a startup brand personality means the founder’s personalities. Like it or not its about  the founders character’s!  The startup is a reflection  the founders values, beliefs and the way they behave. Startups have the ability to be much more human and friendly than the big faceless corporations. This means startups can use their founders personalities to their advantage. They can be so much more human, personal and engaging.  This is particularly effective in the new world of social media. However startup founders need to have a clear message on what they stand for and who is their the target audience. The founders also have to live and breath the brand for it to be real.

Mindtouch Aaron tattooMy friend Aaron Fulkerson, the CEO of MindTouch, has taken branding
to the extreme by tattooing the company logo on his leg!!

Most business relationships, whether B2B or B2C, are based upon trust. Potential customers need to know that a supplier will deliver on their promises and they will be around in the future. The challenge for startups is  that branding and trust takes time to build up.  If the founder chops and changes  messages or brand personality too much this trust will not buildup. It takes patience and persistence on a single course to buildup branding identity. This is what makes it so valuable for both the big companies and startups alike.

“Running a start-up is like being punched in the face repeatedly”*

September 10, 2009

In my experience of working for a large global software manufacturer and now having my own software startup Paul Graham* is spot on. Paul said  Running a start-up is like being punched in the face repeatedly… but working for a large company is like being waterboarded.” (Waterboarding is a form of torture involving simulated drowning.)

I’ve found the bigger the company the more market power you have  but the less freedom you have as an individual. However having startup’s freedom means getting  rejected   (‘punched’) continually as you have virtually no market power. Get used to it and come out fighting because startup and small companies are more fun.


The ultimate punch in Matrix Revolutions, 2003

During my career I’ve worked for several small and medium companies and one of the world greatest ever tech corporations, Novell Inc. People generally open doors warmly when you’re from a large corporate enterprise but in the startup they often don’t even give you the time of day.

The Big Corporate Enterprise

When I joined Novell they were enjoying a temporary revival with Eric Smidt at the helm. Interestingly Eric is now the CEO of Google.  Even during Novell’s decline I always remember the feeling of power when I meet customers and partners. They all took you seriously. Even prospective customers, partners and ex-customers would welcome you in.  Novell and other corporate enterprise’s have huge amounts of market power.

Market Power

By market power I’m referring to a company’s credibility. Being creditable reduces the customers perceived risks and often increases trust. From my experience market power is derived from having several of the following:

  1. Customers Referable large company and well known household name customers.
  2. Partnerships – creditable partnerships with creditable leading companies.
  3. International service/product – Effective provision of services across the globe.
  4. Scalable service/product – The capacity to take on new large scale orders and customers without over-stretching.
  5. significant assets – Whether is be customer base, IP, financial or contractual assets.

As an employee working for a large enterprise you are riding on this power. Unfortunately decisions and change happens very, very  slowly and painfully within the corporate enterprise. The large companies often rely on the status quo. There is certainty in the corporate world for the company and the employee.

To get on in the large company you have to be a good corporate citizen . This means towing the line, keeping you head down and doing as your told even if you don’t believe in it. It can become torture for many. What makes all of this worthwhile is the pay and the perks. However there is more to life than money…

The Small to Medium Size Company

This size of company sits somewhere between the giant corporate company and the startup. They’re often in partnership with the big companies, reselling or distributing their goods or services. The effect of having referable customers and being involved with a large stable enterprise company brings credibility. This increases the smaller companies market power.  However they often still lack market power because they’re not making an embedded product or service product.

The good thing about working as an employee for smaller companies is that you get paid and the decision making progress is shorter and therefore quicker. This means as an individual you have more freedom than within the corporate environment. However as a small company you have to fight alot harder to survive. Interestingly some larger companies like Virgin Group, Ltd and WL Gore & Associates, Inc have successfully divided into small units  to act  and feel more like smaller companies.

The Startup

You love your startup like nobody else. You believe  your product is a world beater but unfortunately very few will agree.  As a startup you have no market power unless you have a track record of previous startups. Again and again you will get “punched in the face” by people all around: customer’s,  partners and investors. Graham says “everyone has a problem with your product” .

As a founder you have to draw strength from somewhere. Graham says “uncertainty” abounds, “as well as a persistent fear that a single bad decision could doom the whole enterprise” and “the gut-wrenching period when you realize that success isn’t going to come quickly or easily”.

Your strength may be your family/partner, friends or an inner driver of your vision of the future. Something has to drive you. And it has to drive you hard to gain market power. However a startup is something very special. Many only dream of having one. A startup brings the idea of freedom. The freedom to create and grow something of your own.

It’s very interesting to see people from all three types of companies sharing public discussions. Now I look back on my career the differences are amazing. The corporate citizens often lack passion, individuality and an inner drive. From all my years of experience I enjoy working for startup and small companies the most. They give you a sence of purpose, belonging and fun. Unfortunately the pay sucks in a startup but then money is not everything 😉

So-long Cancer Dude

September 4, 2009

It saddens me to bring the news that Jeffrey Walker aka Cancer Dude has lost his final battle against cancer. Jeffrey was my blogging inspiration and mentor. His RadioWalker blog images, humor and personal approach has greatly inspired my blog writing. In many ways he was my blogging Godfather.

Jeffrey Walker
Jeffrey jamming

Simon, my co-founder, and I met Jeffrey in June 2008 at The Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, USA. Even before then Jeffrey commented on my blog. Jeffrey warmly welcomed Simon and I to the Enterprise 2.0 community. In January 2009 when I started to loose the blogging faith and reflected on my first years blogging Jeffrey responded. He said “Be yourself. Let your personality through. Oh, and keep the images. And keep the faith, dude.”

Earlier this year when I heard Jeffrey’s cancer was back for the third time I wrote one of my favorite posts on fear, uncertainty and doubt. Within this post I refer to Jeffrey’s latest battle against cancer. Again, Jeffrey commented so nicely saying “Thanks for the kind thoughts. I really appreciate it. I am doing well.”

I did not know Jeffrey particularly well, however I consider him a friend. I found him a very kind, fun loving and passionate man. Jeffrey had a thirst for life and living. When I interviewed Jeffrey last year I saw a man who enjoyed every little experience and everything he saw. Life is so short. Jeffrey’s death is a reminder to us all on how brief our lives are and how we can live our lives. We can choose to live like Jeffrey with “zest and  passion” as his family said.

Jeffrey’s last words to me were “Live Strong”. It seems to me that Jeffrey burned so very brightly and its always better to burn brightly than fade away.

So-long Cancer Dude!!