Get lucky and Keep hoping are not strategies to grow your startup

I was given a book a few years ago by my ex CEO Warren Weiss that was titled “Hope is not a strategy“. Got a good reminder of the same when I read this post by Robert. Summary of his post is he prefers not to get PR folks not to get him to cover a company, instead get users of the product / service to tell him about why something is relevant.

We should all be so lucky. Of course he’s probably advocating you dont need Venture Capital for your startup also and everyone can be as wildly successful as HotOrNot – “just build the right product and users will come and make the rest of the magic happen”.

Shows a basic lack of understanding of the PR world, but he did say that’s the way “he” prefers to cover startups. PR creates awareness. Its difficult to measure, not easily accountable, but its “yet another” avenue to get your name out in front of potential customers and users in a “mass medium” way than doing it one customer at a time in the trenches.

He’s right about customers (or users) telling your story than either you or a PR person. That’s what good PR folks do – they help you create situations where your customers are telling the story to the press, reporters etc.

So what are issues? Why cant every startup be like the one he’s profiling?

1. Over 90% of customers (regardless of how passionate they are) are indifferent. Yes, you solved a problem. Yes they like your product, but they hate telling other people. There are lots of reasons why – they are shy, or they dont like talking about new products or they will tell everyone – AFTER they are sure it really, really works (which is a really long time) or the worst (in the enterprise side) – they view your product as a competitive advantage so they wont tell anyone else.

In reality if you look at the pyramid of customers, less than 1% of any customer (early adopter or otherwise) is so passionate about the problem your specific startup is trying to solve. They have to tell the story. If you find such customers, hang on to them for dear life. Realize you’ll make mistakes, since choosing the first few customers is an art. More on that in a later post.

2. Time: If you had to wait for your users to love the product, tell the world and then generate press, you’ve got to have either time, money or both on your side. Why? It just takes longer. User have to be given your product, it has to work, it has to give them tangible benefits (which is not easy in enterprise software quickly) in a short enough time frame for them to say good things about you. Dont think that’s the same for a consumer startup? Ask LinkedIn. It takes time to create value. You have to get more users (people that try it) so you can have a bigger base of users who are passionate about your company and your product to tell others.

3. The credibility factor: Its a lot easier if you are Max or Joel to have the street credibility of having created something of value before for the press and users to immediately cover something. Reality – most software startup entrepreneurs are “first time”. They dont have that credibility. I noticed on YCombinator yesterday another user posted a new site he had created that does say 40% of the same thing as another well known site does. The user was hardly known and a first timer. Reaction – none. Good PR folks I know bring their credibility and value to your startup. Even if you are unknown to the rest of the world.

4. The lack of a story: Its very important for startups to “tell a story”. Not a fake one, and not a fairy tale either. But a simple, coherent and compelling story. Most engineering entrepreneurs I know are not good at that. They would call eBay a 3 tier web technology that has implemented the Boyer-Moore matching algorithm. I exaggerate, but to make a point. Good PR folks help you create and then tell the story.

5. Creating opportunities. If you have a startup, you dont have a dozen people (especially if your product is just being released). You are either spending time building product or selling (either to customers or investors). Nurturing new users and customers is hard but a very required aspect of your business. PR folks help nurture them to be press ready. They also create opportunities for your customers to be in the press more for the benefit of the company than for the personal benefit of the customer. Its a subtle art and nuance, but very important.

Oh, and Robert, as you say “I’m tired of seeing crap after crap after crap. If someone pitches me
another social media aggregator I’m going to scream. Even when you
bring me stuff I check out reactions of real users who don’t have some
vested interest to see what they think

Stop getting pitched. Oh! I forgot that’s your new job right?

Disclaimer: I know Robert, like his writing and think he’s awesome. But I also think he’s wrong on this one.