It’s easy to mistake our own passion in our new startup. We’re so excited we think our mum, our spouse and even our friends might be as excited as we are as we enter the launch phase of our commercial baby. But the truth is that they don’t really care, and that it is really too much to expect anyone to care until what we’ve built starts creating some value and utility for others. This leaves us with a bit of a paradox:
How can we ever get anyone to care about our startup if they don’t know about it?
Clearly we need a way to hack the system to get our first flurries of attention and prove that we’ve got something of value. No easy task when we don’t have any existing brand awareness that company brand extensions get (think Google Glass) or we’re not already famous entrepreneurs with a few exits under our belt (think Elon Musk). Chances are we need to start at ground zero and invent a few hacks of our own.
The most obvious play to generate startup awareness is to go to the media – the non paid for variety. Which then leads us to the next hard reality – the media don’t care about our startup either. Even if they are ‘Startup’ based media outlets. No, what the media care about are their readers and viewers. In much the same way that our new startup will need to care about it’s customers / users. And there’s a bit of a clue in this as a starting point for generating media coverage. And here is the question we must ask ourselves:
How can we create value for the readership of the media?
Answering this question is the key to generating media coverage in the early phase of any startup.
In some ways, this is the reason why ‘media releases’ are a less effective form of marketing in the modern age – certainly for small companies with no market interest in what they are doing. They are, and should remain the domain of the large. A media release says, without actually saying it:
“If you report information in this release, you’ll be reporting the exact same information every other similar news outlet, or blog on this topic is reporting. So if you don’t want a point of difference, go ahead and report this.”
It’s an old world, one size fits all model. By definition it doesn’t fit what the media outlet would desire – unique information, exclusive information which enlightens its audience. It seems that the media release forgets what the media want – to serve their customers.
If we do approach media, it’s a far better approach in the early phases of our startup to go direct, and give unique angles and information to each separate media organization. And two of the things they like include –
“New news and How to”.
They need to educate their readers and enlighten them. While the coverage this gets a startup might not be ‘about what they actually do’, the first job is to let people know you actually exist. In the short term, a startup name being part of some coverage is enough. If the curiosity is great enough, if people liked what we shared, or what was reported then it’s a natural progression for people to check out what we do. And once they do that it’s in our hands – our startup needs to deliver it’s own value for information about it to spread.
There are two simple media hacks that exist in startup land and they always work if well executed.
1. Give away trade secrets:
Tell people what you did which was unique to gain momentum. Tell people how you got things done which provide them short cuts. Tell them your secret sauce, and what worked and what didn’t. Tell them what seem like the type of trade secrets you shouldn’t be giving away. Because the truth is, knowing is only part of it – being able to deliver it and do it is the really hard part. But this focus on the eco system gains respect and fans. It shows you care about the movement and not just what you are building. It allows you be part of something bigger than yourself. The simplest way to describe it is to imagine a media headline which goes something like this:
How company X used technique Y to deliver outcome Z.
Go through StartupSmart, Mashable, Business Insider, Techcrunch and any statup-ish business media concern and you’ll see this headline.
And media hack number two is.
2. Borrowed Interest
Probably the oldest trick in the media book, attaching your brand to things which already garner a significant amount of attention. Many startups do this organically by being part of a wider industry disruption. One of the players in an emerging sector. A new wearable piece of hardware. Or a new quantified self app. These tend to get covered because readers have interest in staying up to date with ‘the movement’ in a certain arena. A more indirect way is to create something which uses or attaches itself to something with growing popularity. For some weird reason the first Porn app for Google Glass comes to mind. This is clearly going to get quick and global media attention. Or startup ABC creates the first ever 3D printed XYZ. Both of these are classic media hacking.
If we happen to be in the hardware space with our startup it is genuinely much harder to do. Often hardware startups don’t have that viral loop which is so often built into digital based startups. Digital startups often have sharing dynamics built into them and so it is far easier to be shared with others – and very often the act of sharing itself creates more utility for the user who actually shared it. That being the fact, media for hardware startups could be argued as being even more important. But it is actually easy once you know the media hacking algorithm.
I’m part of a new startup which believe it or not actually makes and sells cars in Australia – Tomcar.com.au – While the legacy auto manufacturers are packing up and leaving town, we’re setting up shop and making a start. And there’s the first media angle we’ve used to garner some attention. Whenever a media organization runs a story on the end of the auto industry, we put our hand up and make them look in our direction. Once they ask ‘How the hell we manage to make cars and a profit’ ,We go into our spiel of how we are a technology company who so happen to make vehicles. That we focus on design and distribution of our cars, but we outsource the manufacturing – much like Apple do with their hardware. We tell them how Tomcar (company X) has used outsourcing & direct out of dealer network selling (technique Y) to deliver profitability (Outcome Z). We share with the media our process so that it enlightens others in the manufacturing space. We reference manufacturing 2.0 and the wider Maker Movement. Making us an exemplar organization in the post industrial era of the manufacturing economy in Australia. This has gained us coverage in everything from blog posts to national TV. Examples of media coverage we gained doing this are here, here and here.
We’ve also done this with Bitcoin. By becoming the first car company in the world to accept Bitcoin as payment for our vehicles we gained global coverage. Examples of coverage are here, here and here. Despite the fact that Tomcar is still to sell it’s first vehicle with the crypto-currency, it got us coverage, which we could then use to redirect the attention to our main game – An OK, now you know about us, check out our amazing cars… A classic bait and switch. And let me tell you it works wonders.
Oh, and did you see what I did here? Yes, I used trade secrets to get even more coverage for Tomcar – pretty tricky huh?