Dharmesh Shah


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Startup PR Tip: To Get Press, Don't Pitch Your Product

By Dharmesh Shah on May 16, 2013

Entrepreneurs that are looking to get attention from bloggers and journalists will often pitch their businesses themselves or though a PR agency.

It's sad that most of those pitches fall flat and are likely to be completely ignored. A waste of time and money for everyone.product pitch small

For example, here’s a pitch from a PR professional. I’ve changed it slightly to avoid embarrassing anyone:

“I’m working with a wonderful new business… The owners grew up together and decided to go into business… it’s a story I’m sure your readers will care a lot about!”

Uh, no. It's unlikely that people are going to care about this story.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure the entrepreneurs are great people, but many entrepreneurs can tell a tale of struggle and euphoria and heartbreak and someday, against all odds, turning their dreams into reality and making their business a success. While occasionally readers might be inspired or motivated, for the most part we’re just not that interested in other people’s stories. Unless those stories are particularly remarkable we're more apt to just keep living our own dreams and writing our own stories. So, the things we're interested in is not other people's stories, but information that helps us write our own.

So what should you do if you’re trying to spread the word about new products and services, landing new customers, bringing investors onboard… all the stuff you hire PR agencies to do for you or, more likely, try to do on your own?

If you’re looking for press, forget the formulaic, cookbook approach to crafting a winning media pitch. That approach may result in coverage in a few outlets… but not the ones you really want.

Quick rule of thumb: Any media outlet that will do a story based on a crappy pitch is a media outlet that will get you crappy exposure.

Let’s pretend you’re thinking about pitching me an article idea for OnStartups.com (which has a modestly sized, but awesome audience).  You can apply the following to any media outlet or blog, though.

Here’s what to do and not to do:

Don’t tell me your story is unique.

No offense, but it really isn’t. There are thousands of Ramen noodle stories. There are thousands of 3 am “Eureka!” stories. There are thousands of maxed-out credit cards, relatives won’t return your calls, last-minute financing savior stories.

Your story is deservedly fascinating to you because you lived it (just as my story is fascinating to me), but to the average reader your story sounds a lot like every other entrepreneur’s story. Claiming your story is unique creates an expectation that, if not met, negatively impacts the rest of your pitch.

And if your story truly is unique, I’ll know. You won’t have to tell me.

Don’t tell me how much a little publicity will help you.

Never waste time by explaining how this could be a win-win relationship or, worse, by claiming you want to share your wisdom because you simply want to help others.

I know you want publicity, and I know why. I get it. I've been there. We’re cool.

Know what I’ve done recently.

It’s easy to think, “Hey, he recently wrote about choosing a co-founder, so I should pitch a story about how I help people find co-founders”

Um, probably not. If just wrote about co-founders. I’m probably good for a little bit on that topic. Never assume one article indicates an abiding fascination with a particular topic.

But do feel free to pitch if you aren’t a member of the choir I just preached to. Different points of view catch my attention; same thing, different day does not.

Know my interests.

You certainly don’t need to know I enjoy late-night walks on the beach. (Hey, who doesn’t?) But skim a few posts and you’ll know I have a soft spot for company culture, startup funding and startup marketing

So if you really want to get my attention, don’t use the tried-but-in-no-way-true “mention you really enjoyed something recent the writer wrote” approach.

Instead put your effort into finding an angle that may appeal to my interests. If you can’t be bothered to do that you’ll never get the publicity you want.

Forget a profile piece.

Straight profile pieces that tell the story of a business are boring. (At least I think so, which is why I don't post those)

The best articles let readers learn from your experience, your mistakes, and your knowledge. Always focus on benefiting readers: When you do, your company gets to bask in the reflected PR glow.

So,readers don’t want to know what you do; they want to know what you know. If you started a company, share five things you learned about landing financing. If you developed a product, share four mistakes you made early on. If you entered a new market, share three strategies you used to steal market share from competitors.

And while you may think the “5 steps to” or “4 ways to” approach is overdone, keep in mind readers love them… and even if I decide not to frame the story that way, developing mental bullet points ahead of time is a great way to organize your information (which helps me) and ensure you have great talking points (which definitely helps you.)

Realize that the more you feel you need to say… the less you really have to say.

Some people think bloggers are lazy and look for stories that write themselves. I can’t argue with the lazy part, but I really don’t want to read a 1,000-word pitch with a comprehensive overview of the topic and a list of semi-relevant statistics. The best products can be described in a few sentences, and so can the best pitches:

So now let’s get specific. Pretend you’re crafting your pitch:

Remember: forget what you want.

Many people think, “Wow, it would be awesome if OnStartups.com ran a story about our new product—think of the exposure! So many VCs would read it! We're looking for funding!"

Maybe so, but unless you focus on how readers can benefit from the story (learning about your new product isn’t a benefit to readers), that’s not going to happen.

Then, think about what I want.

I want to inform and occasionally – hopefully – entertain readers; the more you can help me accomplish that goal, the more interested I am in what you have to say.

Then craft your pitch with publicity as a secondary goal.

In the example above, the PR pro didn’t offer readers anything. His only focus was on getting publicity to benefit his clients.

Flip it around and focus solely on how you can benefit readers. When you do, your company will benefit by extension.

For example, if you want to spread the word about:

· New products or services: Share four lessons learned during the product development process; describe three ways you listened to customers and determined how to better meet their needs; explain the steps involved in manufacturing products overseas, especially including what you did wrong.

· Landing a major customer: Describe how you changed your sales process to allow you to compete with heavy hitters in your industry; share three stories about major sales that got away and what you learned from failing to reel them in; detail the steps you took to quickly ramp up capacity while ensuring current customers needs were still met.

· Bringing in key investors: Explain how you helped investors embrace your vision for the company; describe four key provisions that create the foundation for a solid partnership agreement; share the stories of three pitches to VCs that went horribly wrong and how those experiences helped you shape a winning pitch.

Sound like a lot of work? It is, but it’s worth it. When you offer to help people solve problems and learn from your mistakes, bloggers and writers will be a lot more interested.

More importantly, readers will be more interested in the news you want to share because first you helped them—and that gives them a great reason to be interested in your business.

Topics: marketing PR
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The Pitch Deck We Used To Raise $500,000 For Our Startup

By Dharmesh Shah on May 8, 2013

buffer-seed-round-deck.003One of the big no-no’s we’ve learnt about early on in Silicon Valley is to publicly share the pitchdeck you’ve used to raise money. At least, not before you’ve been acquired or failed or in any other way been removed from stage. That’s a real shame, we thought. Sharing the actual slidedeck we used (and one, that’s not 10 years old) is by far one of the most useful things for others to learn from. In fact, both Joel and I have privately shared the deck with fledging founders to help them with their fundraising. On top of that, our case study is hopefully uniquely insightful for lots of people. Here is why:
  • Half a million is not a crazy amount: It’s therefore hopefully an example that helps the widest range of founders trying to raise money.
  • Both Joel and myself are first-timers: We couldn’t just throw big names onto a slideshow and ride with it. We had to test and change the flow and deck a lot.

Ratio thinking

One of the most important elements, that we had to learn during our fundraising process was the concept of “Ratio thinking”. Jim Rohn, the famous motivational speaker, probably explained it best:
“If you do something often enough, you’ll get a ratio of results. Anyone can create this ratio.”
It sounded simple enough as a concept to us, but man, this was one of the toughest things to learn. Here is how Joel described it in a recent article on ratio thinking:
“The law of averages really comes into play with raising investment. Overall, we probably attempted to get in contact with somewhere around 200 investors. Of those, we perhaps had meetings with about 50. In the end, we closed a $450k seed round from 18 investors. Perhaps the most important part of our success in closing that round was that Leo and I would sit down in coffee shops together and encourage each other to keep pushing forward, to send that next email asking for an intro or a meeting. In many ways, the law of averages is the perfect argument that persistence is a crucial trait of a founder.”
I believe that this is in fact one of the most valuable things to know up front. It requires a huge volume of work and meetings.

How to read this deck: It builds up to one key slide – Traction

If you go through the deck, you will quickly realize that the one key slide was the traction slide. We quickly realized that as first time founders, this was probably our only way to raise any money: By focusing everything on the traction slide. Here is how Joel describes this in his article on raising money as a first-time founder:
“So my advice for first time founders who want to raise funding is almost always to put that thought aside until you have good traction. Instead, focus completely on traction. Focus on product/market fit. When you have good traction, it becomes much easier to raise funding.”
 

Avoid confusion: Our second most important slide – competition

Another thing we quickly realized when raising money was this. Although investors were very interested in talking to us, especially because of our early traction, talks then stalled. Why? The social media space seems very crowded. From the outside, it looks like there are dozens and dozens of apps all doing the same thing. On the inside, you however quickly realize that there really aren’t that many options.

The question was almost always timed at the exact moment in each meeting: “So, aren’t there lots of other apps doing the same?” And we explained to them about the TweetDecks and Seesmics and that Buffer is different and so forth. That never worked. So after lots of meetings, we realized that the competition question (in our case) created the most friction and eventually left people too confused and not interested any more. We took some time aside and made this slide as easy to understand as possible and explain Buffers positioning without creating all the friction: buffer-seed-round-deck.011 

The slidedeck

Without any further explanation, here it is:

A note on transparency

With Buffer, our goal is to take our ideas of transparency for our company to a whole new level. That’s why it was very important for us to make this slide deck public. This slide deck is far from perfect. As previously mentioned, it probably falls into the average category. But it was what at the end of the day helped us raise the funds to turn Buffer into the company it is today. So it’s hopefully a real-world case study that clearly shows what is important and what might not be so helpful for investors to know about. We want to continue publishing our ideas and thoughts about topics that get rarely talked about. Joel and I will be around to answer any further questions you might have on our fundraising process. Please post anything you have in mind in the comments below.

This is a guest post by Leo Widrich (@leowid), co-founder of Buffer.  Note: I'm an angel investor in Buffer and my company HubSpot has a little bit of overlap in functionality in our Social Inbox product.


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