Introducing Your High-Tech Startup: An Irreverent Guide

10/1/10

You shape the view that others hold of your company via either one-to-one interactions or one-to-many interactions. Of course, the one-to-one interactions in business meetings and social settings are the most potent, because you have both quantity and quality of attention. But this doesn’t scale well. Another reason that personal one-to-one contact is so effective is that you can adjust your message based on real-time feedback from your ‘audience.’ If only that were the case for one-to-many communication! But maybe it can be. Hold that thought.

Network Theory

So, it’s obvious that newspaper, magazine and electronic media stories have the one-to-many benefit of touching lots of people, but the message and impact are highly attenuated because the contact is brief and attention is extremely fragmented by the clutter of competing stories and ads. There is nothing as exciting as scoring a great story in a prestigious outlet with wide circulation, but the real impact of a media program is the network effect that comes from multiple positive impressions bumping and rattling around in the environment. These collectively create a picture of your company in the minds of the key audience.

The second, third, and even higher-order effects are where the impact really lies. Imagine a VC reading a long positive story in her daily Dow Jones VentureWire e-mail newsletter ($6,000/year) nine months after your public launch. While the reporter’s story is initially triggered by your press release about a partnering deal, the length of the story and his extra effort to write it were driven by dozens of impressions that have already reached him. These include one article about you that he has seen and filed away from the New York Times, and two from local business press that he follows. Several round-up stories about your industry mention your company as a player. As he is preparing his story from your press release, his Google search turns up ten links to three industry-specific conferences where you’ve presented; one even includes a flattering photo of you at the podium. Search also turns up news stories he has missed, mostly snippets about your company in the trade magazines, a nice mention in Xconomy, but importantly, some of the company’s scientific publications in quality journals. A dozen bloggers have mentioned your company, mostly in a favorable light. His story is better, and the repetition he has experienced helps him get the kernel of your message right. He calls a couple of industry analysts about your thesis, and they, too, have been touched by your message frequently enough to offer neutral to positive comments. The VC reader is also consuming this story in light of a half dozen touches you have accomplished without ever having met her. These range from the first three minutes of your first conference presentation (before she left to take a phone call) to the NYT story she quickly scanned. Or imagine how helpful it is to your internal champion at a large corporate partner when he hears a story about your company in front of his boss at a cocktail party and someone else chimes in with another bit of news about your company.

The positive network effect grows out of repetition, consistency, and trust. Getting attention requires something else: news. More on that in a moment.

Audience

So let’s consider who is participating in this network you want to shape, starting with your key audiences. Most leaders would quickly identify prospective investors, customers and employees as the targets of interest.

It’s tempting to think of players such as your PR firm, reporters, editors, and other gatekeepers as simply a means to the end of reaching key audiences. But it’s appropriate to think more broadly about influence. You have to win over the gatekeepers as well. Also, don’t simply think of your current employees, vendors, and customers as a means to an end; they are also a key audience. In other words, … Next Page »

Leighton Read is a venture partner and a former managing member at Alloy Ventures in Palo Alto, CA, and a serial entrepreneur currently working on Seriosity, Inc. Follow @

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  • Dan Eramian

    Wise words from a classy guy.

  • Steve Weiss

    Leighton’s comments are spot on target, and provide a great roadmap for entrepreneurs looking to boost their company’s visibility.

    I’ve used a similar approach in helping build several cleantech firms, including Serious Materials. We’re in the early stages of raising the profile of Genomatica, the emerging leader in sustainable, bio-produced chemicals.

    The good news is that his approach works and can deliver high value. It takes real focus and energy to do it right.

    Kudos…