The teams in the 2014 HTRLaunchPad are past the halfway point and we’re seeing exceptional progress as evidenced by the refinement of their business models and their stories. What typically started as ideas expressed vaguely has coalesced into specific solutions to targeted problems with a marketable audience. There are a few struggling with the end game but we think they will be seeing things come together before the demo days here in Rochester and in NYC.
So it’s time to start thinking about publicity– getting the word out about the teams. PR is something that can be done with a small budget accelerated by some hard work and creativity. The LaunchPad process helps get that going as each team works towards their goal of talking to 120-150 people about their concept. We’ve had some local news coverage for the program as a whole but it’s now time to be thinking about using the media to tell each company’s story.
Fortunately the FounderDating blog has an excellent post, written by an entrepreneur, on early stage PR for startups:
This is comprehensive and I’m urging our teams to study it and begin developing their pitch, their story, their relationships with bloggers in their field and all the other pieces that go into a compelling story for the media. It’s an important part of their customer discovery process and each bit of coverage increases the value of their startup, often in significant ways.
[slideshare id=27461612&sc=no]On September 27th, the HTRLaunchPad Team hosted a post-Launchpad session, the first of a monthly series. All of the 2013 teams were invited and we had a great turnout. In addition we had the current TEN (The Entrepreneur’s Network) class joining us. Three guest speakers were heard, the teams shared a quick overview of their progress since the Demo Days in June and we heard in depth from All Access Menus regarding their progress. We’ll be covering these and future events here on the HTRLaunchPad blog. We’re going to start with Gary Fishman, Managing Director at Anreder & Company in New York City who offered a concise case for building a PR reputation as you do you customer discovery and develop your business model.
Customer discovery and the other steps you take as you go through the LaunchPad process constitute an intense learning process. You’re going out into the field and acquiring expertise until you’re at the point where you have (or don’t have) enough to start a business. It is a concentrated form of research and in the end all of our teams were immersed in their business sector and on their way to becoming experts. While this is essential to success it has a corollary benefit: Expertise is a leverage-able asset that can get you attention from the press, industry media, at conferences and across the many channels that PR pros use to promote companies. Not a minor thing when you’re trying to make a mark with your startup.
When people consider you an expert and come to you for insights, you bypass the skepticism that greets promotional marketing like advertising and selling. Your word is considered of high enough value that it gets featured in places where customers go to get help making buying decisions. So building a reputation as experts should be an integral part of your business model, one you build as you do your discovery and utilize after you launch.
A big part of the discovery process are those insights you learn when you get out of the building and talk to real people about your startup idea. These insights have value to the general business sector you are targeting. As you gather them, start thinking about how you can share them in relevant places. Here are some suggestions:
Send a progress email to the customers and supporters you have reached out to and include insights you think would be useful to them
Use those same insights as blog posts on your web site
Offer to write guest blog posts for industry influencer blogs and media sites
Post links to them on relevant social media sites
Write a white paper, case-study style covering how you applied an insight to your business model. Distribute to the same lists.
Essentially you’re using the same content in a variety of places to start the process of being recognized as an expert. You don’t have to do this while you’re pre-launch. Save up the insights and the media ideas you have and use them after you go public with your product or service. If you’re bootstrapping you can do this through the network you’ve developed. If you’re funded consider using a PR professional to polish them and get them where they will be seen.
The goal? To begin being seen as an asset to your industry or sector. The results? Invites to appear at conferences, on panels and as an interviewee in targeted media. These credible appearances stamp you and your company as legitimate and established even if you are early stage, making those first sales and partnerships a lot easier– and more lucrative.
Our Roc Control Innovations team posted a blog post about their search for an elevator speech. I’ve done some coaching in the comments (which were in moderation as I write this, but should be live soon). Here’s why this is important. Getting your value proposition down to one sentence means you are very close to discovering your business model. I took their speech and refined it down to a sentence and then added a few variations for when they are talking to non-railroad people (in the comment chain).
So you get something like this:
“We offer railroad operators reliable, cloud-based switch and crossing gate status reporting at a fraction of the cost of existing systems.”
Now if your audience are not railroad people you might want to add a note about safety issues:
“This is a safety issue. Unknown switch positioning and stuck crossing gates are a leading cause of railway accidents.”
The audience will get it.
I would like to see every team phrase your value proposition, on your canvas, as an elevator speech. This one defines the audience/market (railroad operators), the problem (switch and crossing gate status), the solution (cloud-based reporting), and the value/return on investment (fraction of the cost of existing systems, implied safety improvements).
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs
As expected, we have some teams who are actively using their blog to tell the world about their progress and others who are not making progress with their blog. I have a pretty good understanding of why this is the case and I’m going to spend a few minutes discussing why blogging is important, and how to make it easier.
First, the LaunchPad program is about networking. If your team did nothing but make the required customer contacts over the 12 week program you’d be pretty far ahead of the average startup. Contacting strangers and asking for their input on your idea/hypothesis is hard. But blogging your progress can make it a lot easier because it gives you something to point people to that helps them understand who you are, what you’re doing and why they might care. It also helps your team formulate this message. And it helps potential mentors, advisors and connectors find you and help you out.
The other primary goal of your blog is to establish expertise. Show that you know your market and subject area.
So, what do you write about? Remember, a post doesn’t have to be long or complicated. It might be an anecdote, some thing you learned, etc. Here’s some ideas:
Team bios. Not formal, just an introduction to each team member (with a picture!), their background, skills and interests, even if they are not directly related to your startup. Why? Because shared interests are a way of making connections. Are you a runner, a sailor, an amateur woodworker? Tell us because someone might read that and be into the same stuff- and that might be enough of a connection to get them to talk to you. Don’t forget school connections!
How you got your idea. There’s a story in there somewhere. Tell it.
Who you talked to today and what you learned.
Things you’ve got wrong, and what you learned.
Things you got right, and what you…
A problem you can’t figure out
Some blogs on your subject (do some research and share links. Then reach out to those bloggers for help) and news stories relevant to your market.
Pictures and screenshots
Example of use cases/war stories
Thought Leader pieces. What are the latest developments in your area? Offer up some insightful information and always include links.
Anything funny you learned along the way
The idea is to keep up an informal dialog with the world around your startup including other teams, mentors, teaching team and anyone else out there. If you don’t have a world, blogging will help you create and nurture one. That what we’re doing here on this blog!
The Roc Innovations Team has a bit different charter than the other teams in the HTRLaunchPad. They are a skunkworks team formed out of RailComm, a successful local railway signaling tech company. The team has set up in a space in the HTR Lennox Center and are working full-time, using LaunchPad methodology, to open a new market and adapt their SaaS control technology to the needs of that market. And their blog reflects their commitment to the process. It’s a great way to understand their progress!