I’m no journalist, but I do write about and promote startups nonstop through both the Founder Institute program, and our Founder Showcase event. Lately, it’s become clear to me that most startups make it incredibly hard for people to write about or promote them. They simply do not have the necessary information available on their websites, and many times I just give up.
I actually think more than two-thirds of startups are making it very hard for people to write about and promote their products. Are you one of them?
Let’s quickly analyze the situation.
To promote a company, in even the most rudimentary form;
- I need a simple description of who you are, and what you do;
- I need an understanding of where you fit in;
- I need access to your logo.
If this sounds incredibly simple, it’s because it is. But most of you are failing on at least two of these fronts. Let’s discuss in detail;
1. A simple description of who you are, and what you do.
In the classic (term used liberally) movie Kindergarten Cop, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a no-nonsense detective who has to rely on young children to find a criminal who he knows is one of their fathers. So, he asks them, "who is your daddy, and what does he do?" Well, with all the new startups popping up, we are all becoming pretty "no-nonsense" these days, and we want you to get straight to the point.
So, who is your company, and what do you do? Most of the time, this answer is omitted in favor of broad manifestos, fancy mission statements, or a never-ending stream of taglines. Sure it’s great that your goal is to "democratize access to X for all" - but many people are just looking for a simple definition of your company, especially in the early stages.
Bottom line: there needs to be one sentence on your site that I can copy and paste that concisely describes who you are, and what you do.
Those of you who follow the Founder Institute are probably familiar with Adeo’s “Madlibs for Startups” format that we preach widely. This a framework that forces you to describe your business very concisely for the purpose of pitching an early-stage startup. It works like this;
My company, __(insert name of company)__, is developing __(a defined offering)__ to help __(a defined audience)__ __(solve a problem)__ with __(secret sauce)__.
The above is a critical, even mandatory, excercise for defining your idea and pitch in the early stages, for potential investors, employees, partners, and more.
This same format can also be altered to help you create a simple, one-sentence description for the media, other businesses, and even customers like so;
__(insert name of company)__ is a __(defined offering)__ that lets __("you" or a defined audience)__ __(solve a problem)__ .
For example; "Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web."
Do these excercises, and do them well. If you don’t provide people with a one sentence description of your company, then they’ll come up with one for you. And, chances are, you won’t like it.
Some caveats to the above;
- I am not saying you should ditch your slogans, mission statements, etc. Your marketing message to your customers may be very different from the message to you convey to the media. All I am saying is that every startup needs this one sentence description, and it needs to be easy to find. In most cases, if you put it prominently on your About or Press page, that will do.
- Don’t take this as an invitation to create the world’s longest run-on sentence. Everyone thinks their startup does five cool things, with a brilliant roadmap that will soon produce ten more. Focus on one or two things, and allow us to be surprised by the others. As the saying goes, "say too much, and you say nothing at all."
- Be sure to watch Adeo's video here for guidelines on what a defined offering, a defined audience, a problem, and a secret sauce is, and how they should be conveyed. Better yet, check out TechCrunch's recent contest here and here where Robin Wauters and Adeo critique numerous one sentence pitches in the comments.
2. An understanding of where you fit in.
We humans are a prideful people. It may sound overly simplistic, but we do not like things that we do not understand.
Furthermore, we are creatures of habit; when we encounter something new, we immediately compare and frame it in relation to things we already understand in order to give it meaning. Something new is either similar, opposite, or different from something we already know, because that’s the easiest way to understand it. Hence, the countless “they are an X for Y” company descriptions you hear today.
So what does this overly simple analysis of human understanding equate to? Basically;
The fastest way to get someone to understand something new (i.e. your startup) is to clearly explain who you compete with, and how you are different or better.
This needs to be prominently explained on your site on the About and/ or Press pages.
In my experience, there are a few different ways most will react to this request;
1. “But my company is so unique that we don’t have any real ‘competitors’"
I’m not gonna lie, I have fallen victim to this fallacy myself. Countless times. When you are so enveloped in a company, chugging the proverbial 'kool-aid' every minute of every day, you start to get delusional. I like to call this the “blue ocean fallacy.” For example, if you have a photo sharing app that is so unique that it “sits between” Instagram and Path, then you are a victim. That’s not a blue ocean opportunity - it’s a dirty swamp.
Don't kid yourself into thinking you don't have any competitors. If reality television proves anything, it's that we like drama. Others will asign you a competitor, whether you like it or not.
Even worse, don’t try to circumvent the question by channeling your inner Michael Porter, naming “indirect competitors” or “substitutes.” Those concepts may have impressed your B-school professor, but they’ll look defensive to anybody trying to write about or promote your company.
2. "Why would I want to bring attention to other companies?”
This goes back to the old adage, “never name your competitor". I had a college professor who once told me that. I’m pretty sure he never used the internet.
This adage obviously does not apply today. Everything is out in the open, and marketing now produces just a tiny drop in a massive pool of messages somebody can hear about your company. If you are really worried that you naming your competitor will validate them and put them over the top, then you have larger problems my friend.
3. "Comparing our product to theirs shortchanges us"
It's very common to feel that you are shortchanging yourself by comparing yourself to others who don't do exactly what you do. Just remember - you are a startup, and there will be plenty of opportunity to grow your brand, vision, and scope.
4. "It's not our style to name our competition"
Listen, I am not telling you to declare war on your competitors in public. You absolutely shouldn’t name your competitors outright in your marketing if that’s not your style.
All I am saying is, make the playing field where you compete crystal clear. You may refer to your competitors as "others who X", so long as you make it painstakingly clear that you do "Y", and that "Y" is unique and better for reasons 1, 2 and 3.
In the end, if you can quickly explain yourself in a framework that already exists in people's minds, it will be easier for them to understand and regurgitate your message. As the new kid on the block, people will name you a competitor whether you supply one or not - so, you might as well frame that discussion before they do it for you.
3. Access to your logo.
This is the one that really gets under my skin because it is so incredibily simple, yet it is a very widespread problem.
I waste a lot of time trying to track down company logos, often resorting to my backup plan of doing a Google Image search. And, since many startup logos won’t come up in these searches, many times I even have to take a screenshot of a company’s homepage and crop down to the logo. I mean... really? Most people (i.e. a proper journalist) won’t go through the trouble.
The easiest way for someone to get your logo is to click and download it straight from your homepage. Duh. But, many of you don’t support this, either because the logo’s path is hidden in your CSS, the image contains more than the logo (i.e. an entire header image), the image contains less than the logo (i.e. one layer of the logo), or that section of your site is in flash (ugh..).
Make your logo simple to download. At the very least, have a downloadable logo available on an About or Press Page, and I’d recommend offering several different formats in both high-res (eps vector) and web (png) formats, with a transparent background. Some quality headshots of the founders and zoomed-in screenshots of your coolest features can’t hurt either.
So there you have it. These are three simple steps you can take in literally the next 30 minutes to make your startup more understandable, and easier to promote. If marketing and PR for startups is a marathon (which it is!), then this is the equivalent of putting on your running shoes.
So - lace up!
This post was written by Jonathan Greechan - Co-Founder at the Founder Institute, TheFunded.com, and Producer of the Founder Showcase. Follow him on Twitter at @jonnystartup.