Serial Entrepreneur Advises Scrappy Startup Founders to Be in Constant Listening Mode

by Michelle McIntyre

free man on ledge photo from Canva

“Entrepreneurs are cool. I frickin’ love working with them,” said David Saxby, a Los Gatos, Calif., serial entrepreneur who advises startups in the internet of things (IoT) space. He has dabbled in investing and has started seven-plus tech companies himself, most winners, others not so much. He is also an IBM vet, like me.

He was today’s speaker at the Bootstrappers Breakfast Meetup today at a coffee shop in Sunnyvale, CA.

dave Saxby formal

Even though my startup consulting firm is three years old, the key takeaway to me was listen closely at the beginning. Listen to what the market needs are. This will help you get customers.

(He’s right. Let’s face it. Customers are God.)

Here are his eight questions.

1) Is the timing right? Is there a need now for your offering? Timing is everything. He added that when he started a voice recognition company in 1982, the timing was definitely off.

2) You need to have something special. What is it? Knowledge, expertise or both?

3) Who are your customers? This is where things get real. Talk to as many people as you can. Be in constant listening mode.

4) Why did you start a company? What drove you? One attendee said maybe the best motivation is not hating your boss. That comment resulted in a few chuckles from the founders there.

5) How will you let your customers know who you are and what you do? This especially applies to technical founders. Then, when there is interest, what do I do with it?

The group’s organizer SKMurphy Founder Sean Murphy added some gentle sarcasm when he said, the real problem is, how do you handle the huge influx of customers after your product launch? He added the disclaimer that actually most launches meet dead silence.

6) How big and profitable will this company become? Have some objectives and attach them to your “to do’s.” Think about the market size. What are the characteristics of the businesses financials?

7) What other talent do you need to make things happen? The big problem in the Silicon Valley is attracting software people.

8) Think about money. How will you fund your new business? For example, why bootstrap over other choices? Have you been saving up for 20 years?

For more information about Bootstrappers Breakfast visit Meetup.com.

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Michelle McIntyre is an award winning Silicon Valley PR consultant and blogger. @FromMichelle

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Premium Business Advice from the Founder of Buzzfeed

By Michelle McIntyre

Earlier this week I heard a talk by Jonah Peretti, CEO and founder of entertainment and news website Buzzfeed, which has 200 million unique visitors monthly.

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To put this in perspective, Business Insider, which is no slouch, has 15.9 million and Time.com has 8.9 million.

A graduate of MIT Media Lab, Peretti lives in Brooklyn, NY, and was interviewed on stage by investor Chris Dixon at a Commonwealth Club INFORUM meeting in San Francisco, Calif.

As if he didn’t already have enough cool things to put on his LinkedIn profile, Peretti also co-founded Huffington Post.

Buzzfeed is known for its list format stories like The 40 Greatest Dog GIFs of All Time and quizzes like “Which 90s Toy Are You?” Its staff of 800 includes serious journalists who cover a variety of news from global terrorist threats to politics.

Because its stories are regularly shared millions of times, founder Jonah Peretti is fast becoming known as the master of virality.

Although Buzzfeed is sometimes criticized by more traditional people for its “fluffy” journalism (no pun intended), the business model works.

Here are some of Jonah Peretti’s more interesting comments and pieces of advice from the event in the areas of content marketing and entrepreneurship.

1. We optimize for content shares at Buzzfeed. You won’t click on a story to find out it is a trick. Another site might imply in the headline that two celebrities are dating, but when you click through to the story, you find out it’s not true.

2. We don’t look down on the business and advertising side of things. While the groups here are independent, they also respect one another.

3. When it comes to creating ads, we embrace innovation.

4. Regarding the popularity of video, he joked, “We are headed back to a preliterate society where soon no one will use words.”

5. Sometimes you have to be indifferent to business to serve the consumer.

6. When determining what content to run, we ask, will it change lives? Will it change laws? On a human level, we ask, does this have meaning?

7. One of the hardest and most important things is to build a great team. Startups need people with shared values and who also want to go after something big.

8. How do I attract talent? I let people do their best work and be more productive than they would be somewhere else.

9. Set up small groups of people each with a lot of autonomy. Let them build things inside of a company.

Jonah Peretti was asked what he thought of the Buzzfeed parodies, for example on Click-hole. “If it’s a parody and funny, I love it. At Buzzfeed we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

[The photo of Jonah Peretti on stage in San Francisco, Calif., was taken by Michelle McIntyre.]

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15 Premium Tips to get Media Coverage in 2015

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By Michelle McIntyre

The reason it’s hard for your start-up to get media coverage is because of noise.

Take the app market. As of June 2014, there were 1.2 million apps in iTunes.

Imagine if just a quarter of them contacted a reporter on the same day as you. That’s several hundred thousand companies!

In fact, your email to Alyson Shontell of Business Insider about your new app feature is probably sitting unopened next to 299 others just like it in her inbox that she received that day.

So in order to get some attention, you need to intelligently contact the media.

Here are 15 timely tips to help your start-up get journalists’ attention in 2015. They come from my experiences with Bloomberg, Business Insider, Buzzfeed, KQED, Mashable, TechCrunch, San Francisco Chronicle, Thomson-Reuters, Wired, Wall Street Journal and others.

1. MAKE YOUR KEY POINT FIRST.

In a note to a reporter, don’t bury the lead. When you land a media interview, say your main point first. Don’t plan to show a 45-page presentation.

2. KEEP IT SHORT.

A reporter receives 100 to 300 e-mailed pitches a day. Their voice mail boxes fill up fast. A short email might get read fully. To add detail, include a link. My Stanford media relations instructor and former San Francisco Chronicle Writer Marshall Wilson said a sentence should be no longer than 27 words. Key messages should take no longer than nine seconds to say.

3. READ THEIR STORIES FIRST.

Before Pam Edstrom attended her first media event with Bill Gates back when both their companies were just getting started, she read all of the industry magazines first. She then had intelligent talks with the journalists there. She is co-founder of public relations firm Waggener Edstrom.

4. PITCH THE COMPETITION.

KQED’s Peter Jon Shuler spoke in my Stanford post-graduate media relations class. He said he’s not likely to cover a story twice. Don’t call him and say, “I see you covered topic x. My company is a fit for that.” Instead pitch someone who hasn’t done the story yet, like a reporter at a competitive outlet.

5. OFFER SOMETHING SPECIAL BUT NOT TO EVERYONE.

TechCrunch takes contributed stories but they won’t run something unless it offers a unique viewpoint.

6. BOUNCE BACK AFTER FAILURE.

Great media relations folks don’t let rejection get them down. The timing could be off. It might take a year of relationship-building to land a shopping app in Good Housekeeping, for example, as was the case with one of my clients.

7. CONTACT THE RIGHT REPORTER.

If your story relates to new B2B social marketing software, contact the Huffington Post social business writer not the Elite Daily political blogger. Check Twitter profiles for updated job details. Some change jobs a lot.

8. PRETEND YOU’RE TALKING TO YOUR GRANDMA.

Skip the jargon like “mission critical” and just say what it is or does. If it’s a storage device that stores 500 movies just say that. Pretend you’re talking to your grandmother.

9. GO PLACES.

To increase your chances of meeting journalists, go out and get noticed. Give a talk at an industry conference or at a Meetup. Travel to a city where reporters are based. I set up a meeting with Issie Lapowsky of Wired and a Silicon-Valley based client recently and a cool story resulted.

10. TELL A COMPLETE STORY.

Compelling stories have a beginning, middle, end and hero. Include one when you are talking to a reporter. Overcome the fact that company founders do not like to highlight client problems. The story surrounding Sony’s movie “The Interview” features a big problem.

11. TELL A STORY THAT TUGS AT THE HEART STRINGS.

An app client tested a new nearby deals app feature before issuing an announcement. The story highlighted in communications was about a mom struggling to makes ends meet who was able to afford Christmas presents for her kids. It got attention. Another client’s story was about how he had three open heart surgeries by age 19. Staying healthy was the inspiration for co-founding his fitness app company while still in school.

12. ANNOUNCE NEWS BUT MAKE IT TIMELY.

Your campaign needs to fit in with what’s happening in the world. Right now it seems to be Sony movie “The Interview,” holiday shopping or New Year’s resolutions. A week ago it was Bill Cosby. Soon it will be losing weight, fitness, Super Bowl 2015 and Valentine’s Day. In August it will be back to school.

13. USE THE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE.

Snapchat, the “disappearing message” app got a life time worth of publicity by rejecting Facebook’s acquisition offer of $3 billion+. This was a surprise just due to the sheer amount. After that, everyone knew who they were. Reporters love to be surprised.

14. MAKE IT VISUAL.

Always have a photo of the founder, app screen shots and other graphics handy. Infographics and videos are popular. For social media posts, use a free graphics tool like Canva. Hire a news-smart photographer like Silicon Valley’s Mark Hundley or Paul Sakuma for your PR photography.

15. WRITE IT YOURSELF.

Some outlets like Buzzfeed, TechCrunch, and Wired accept contributed material. My blog is syndicated on a popular website. If your article is good, it will be promoted to home page. Venture Capital Firm General Catalyst Partners is known to be awesome at getting its own material published. It’s because the vice president of marketing communicates like a journalist.

In any case, if you try these tips and are still having a hard time, hire someone with media experience to help. [Photo credit: Newspapers and glasses photo was purchased through Canva.]

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10 Premium Tips to Kick-start Your New Business

By Michelle McIntyre

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October marks the two year anniversary of my public relations consulting business. Since I left my corporate job and started working for myself, I have produced results for 10 clients. They have included consumer and B2B software app start-ups, engineering services and clean tech firms and the third largest technology company in the world.

If you are thinking of starting your own consulting business, here are tips. These are things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Set a goal and make it realistic! You’ll need a few months to set up a website, figure out your finances, and develop your brand. Don’t plan on getting a customer during that time. I achieved my goal of acquiring my first customer less than a month after I launched my website. In fact I got two customers during that time.

2. Legally define it early. For example, is it going to be an LLC, single member LLC, or S-Corp? An LLC allows you to own your company name and generally protects your private property from being taken should someone sue your business and you lose. Read up on the definitions and consult a lawyer before finalizing the plan.
Be aware that in California, LLC’s have an annual $800 fee-tax on top of regular taxes.

3. Figure out your formal business name. If it’s an LLC, you can choose to add “,LLC” or just “LLC.” If you choose to freelance consult without forming an LLC or S-Corp, etc., be ready to put your social security number on W-9s that you need to fill out for some clients. I have an LLC and just put my EIN number on forms, instead of my social security number.

Unfortunately different lawyers and tax experts may give you conflicting advice on this topic.

The best thing to do is call the IRS or your state tax board directly for information.

4. Order business cards and have a nice head shot taken early on. People ask for cards as soon as you tell them you’re starting a business. Your professional head shot is for social media sites like LinkedIn. You must be on LinkedIn. Wear business attire in the picture or people may not take you seriously. Make sure the same professional photo is used across all social networks for consistency.

5. Set up a website and get social! People will not take you seriously without a website and social media presence. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ are all the main places to be. Pinterest and Instagram are important in some markets, for example, if you are selling clothes, Pinterest is important.

Pick a couple of social networks to focus on at first but put a profile on all of them.

6. Network a lot. Meet-ups work well and are usually cost-effective. Join for free through Meetup.com. When you are not helping clients, you are networking. Meeting new people face to face to get business works! A popular one is Idea-to-IPO in the Silicon Valley.

7. Have a positive attitude always. Meet regularly with people who support what you are doing. Note some people may never support your plans. That’s okay.

8. Define exactly what you will do in your business and stick to it. If you keep adding services or changing the definition of your value-add, you may confuse prospective clients. When they are confused, they will not hire you.

9. Be a LinkedIn stud. Speak at an event and list it on your profile. Get several quality references and make sure they are on your profile. You are not on LinkedIn? You better get on it today then. Everyone in business is on that social network. Also make sure you have references in your line of business.

People will research you online before hiring you for a service so strategic references are gold.

10. Consult with mentors as much as possible. In addition to pointing out mistakes and boosting your morale, mentors can bring new business by referring you to others.

Good luck!
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Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC PR, director of marketing communications for SV-IABC, and on the executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA. Follow her on Twitter at @FromMichelle. [Photo credit: iStockphoto.com]

8 Notorious Mistakes Made in Naming Start-ups

By Michelle McIntyre

Naming start-ups can be fun. When I advise clients on name ideas, I just let them know what sounds good and what makes sense based on their target market and growth plans.

However, the biggest mistake they make is naming for the present and not for their business climate many years down the line.

Here’s an example. International Business Machines (also known as IBM) has a name that lends itself to global expansion. It’s more than 100 years old and top investors like Warren Buffet like it. (It’s public knowledge that he owns a lot of stock.)

The name isn’t as exciting as Uber but it makes sense and the acronym is nice.
I love the name Uber. It’s short, cool, easy to say and easy to spell.

After using it recently I’m a huge fan of the private room-or-house-for-rent service Airbnb. But when I tell people to download the Airbnb app to look for their own dream getaway cabin or bargain business trip room, I have to explain how to spell it five or six times before they get it. By the way, you can also rent a houseboat, yurt, hammock or tree house through the service.

Naming a company after its headquarters city may not sound great when it expands globally, especially if that name is hard for someone elsewhere to spell or say.

Or what if the city has a negative connotation somewhere? Suppose I named a store Moscow Chocolates but I wanted to sell them online to the U.S. President? That may not work at this moment.

In any case, whether you are planning to sell software apps or chocolate bars, it’s good to put some careful thought into your new company’s name.

Here are eight of the biggest mistakes start-ups make when choosing a name.

1. NOT SECURING OWNERSHIP. It costs both time and money to take ownership of the new name. Make sure you take care of this early on or you might be sorry later. That doesn’t mean you have to shell out $80,000 to a naming firm although some of them do a great job. A 2013 Mashable article recommends checking your company name here first: http://namechk.com/

2. STEALING SOMEONE ELSE’S. This mostly applies to companies in the same market. If two companies have similar names but sell completely different things, it typically is not a problem. Did you know the game Angry Birds is being sued because there allegedly was already a stuffed animal company named “Angry Birds” in Europe formed years before the popular app came out? Granted the video game came before the “new” Angry Birds stuffed animals came out but if they are both plush toys, it’s definitely a conflict.

3. MAKING IT HARD TO SAY. Do you want people to muck it up when they introduce the speaker from your company at an awards ceremony? Of course not!

4. MAKING IT HARD TO SPELL. This is especially true in the age of social networking when everyone posts news stories and tidbits so quickly. If you are start-up CEO speaking at a trade show and you want people to tweet your awesome quotes and attribute them to you and your company, then make its name clear and easy to spell. When I’m live tweeting at a SVForum event, I get frustrated when I have to leave out a speaker’s company name because it takes too long to look it up.

5. THERE’S CONFUSION BETWEEN THE COMPANY NAME AND THE PRODUCT. The company Facebook is called Facebook but then the company has an app called Facebook and another one called Instagram. Thinking back, maybe Mark Zuckerberg should have made the company name different than the app to avoid confusion. As widely popular as Facebook and Instagram are, “Facebook’s Instagram” still doesn’t roll off the tongue. Same goes for Google’s YouTube. When I think of Google, I think of Google search. Google’s YouTube sounds awkward to me still.

6. IT MEANS SOMETHING AWFUL TO ANOTHER CULTURE. Again, plan for global growth! Most experienced business people know the number or word four is unlucky in several Asian countries. It’s because it sounds like the word death in some East Asian languages. There are a few of these zingers out there. Here’s a great Mental Floss article about this topic: http://mentalfloss.com/article/31168/11-product-names-mean-unfortunate-things-other-languages

7. NOT THINKING ABOUT INTERNET SEARCH ENGINES. Make your company name easy to find when people are searching for that topic. “Quality Dog and Cat Grooming” will likely come up first when people search for that service.

8. MAKING IT EASY TO LOOK SILLY. This story “50 of the Worst Business Names” at http://bestonlinemba.net/50-of-the-worst-business-names has some hilarious but sad examples of naming gone wrong. No offense to the person who owns Hooker’s Funeral Home but don’t they know what the word means? Is this a place for ladies and gents of the evening to be put to rest? Or is Hooker a highly respected family name? Probably the latter.

In any case, tell your name to a few different people before solidifying it. If at least three of them tell you it’s awful, believe them.

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Michelle McIntyre is the president of MMC PR, on the executive team of TEDxSanJoseCA and director of marketing communications of the Silicon Valley International Association of Business Communicators. Follow her on Twitter at @FromMichelle.

Guy Kawasaki says Entrepreneurs Make these Top 10 Mistakes

ImageGuy Kawasaki spoke at The Startup Conference this week. (Photo credit: Guy Kawasaki)

By Michelle McIntyre

Investor, TED Speaker, startup expert, former Apple evangelist and author of nine books, Guy Kawasaki gave a talk called “The Top 10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make” at The Startup Conference in Redwood City, Calif., Wednesday. He is currently chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool.

Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

As a PR and business strategy consultant to many startups, nothing he said shocked or amazed me but his side comments and answers to audience were very funny. He has always had a way of giving business advice in an entertaining and highly digestible fashion.

Here is his list of 10 top entrepreneur mistakes:

Mistake 1 Multiply big numbers by one percent to calculate market size.

Solution: Entrepreneurs should calculate from the bottom up and have realistic expectations.

Mistake 2 Scale too fast.

Solution: “Eat what you kill.”

Mistake 3 Form partnerships, or just focus too much on them.

Solution: Focus on sales. Kawasaki says, “Sales ‘fixes’ everything!”

Mistake 4 Focus on the pitch.

Solution: Focus on the prototype. Code writing software is more important than Microsoft PowerPoint.

Mistake 5 Use too many slides.

Solution: Use the 10-20-30 rule. It is 10 slides or less, 20 minutes in length and no smaller than 30 point type. I agree with this. In fact, I tell clients no more than six slides.

Mistake 6 Make serial progress.

Solution: make “parallel progress.” Startups need to multitask and be flexible instead of deciding that everything must be done in an exact order.

Mistake 7 Try to retain control. It’s a mistake to think that if you own 51% of the company, you can call all of the shots. Most decisions voted on in the board room are decided ahead of time.

Solution: Instead of focusing on how much of pie you have, focus on “making a bigger pie.”

Mistake 8 Use patents for defensibility.

Solution: Use success. He cautioned against mentioning patents more than once in a pitch.

Mistake 9 Hire in your own image.

Solution: Hire to complement. If you are a male founder, look for a female to round out the management team. Diversity is good for business.

Mistake 10 Befriend your investors.

Solution: Simply exceed expectations.

ImageEnchantment is one of nine books by Guy Kawasaki. (Photo credit: Guy Kawasaki)

My key takeaway was that early stage startups need to make their top two priorities developing a quality product and building the user base. Nothing else is as important.

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Michelle McIntyre, @FromMichelle, is a PR consultant for tech startups, an IBM vet, on the executive team for TEDxSanJoseCA and director with Silicon Valley International Association of Business Communicators.