We at Change Communications love nothing more than working with startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses. These risk-takers are fearless, exciting and visionary, and we’re proud to consider ourselves a startup PR firm that specializes in startups. Based on our experience, we’ve put together a few tips for anyone thinking of growing a startup or small business. Go forth and conquer!
Reach out to mentors who will provide you value, not just connections. There are plenty of mentors out there who aren’t names you’d see splashed all over TechCrunch but who can give you the same guidance and more attention than busier, flashier mentors. Don’t just seek out all-stars but look for business leaders who genuinely believe in your business and will do more for you than get you an invite to the latest party.
Your most important priority is your Product. Your product is your #1. Nothing else matters. Yes, marketing is important, and there are a lot of products out there that have had their uselessness overshadowed by smart, creative marketing and PR. But all of that smart, creative marketing and PR will yield you ZERO results if your product sucks and your customers, and the media, will figure that out quickly.
Don’t be afraid to do it better. You don’t always have to be first-to-market (in fact, it can sometimes hurt you). If you’ve seen a company that has a product/service that you like but you have a million issues with it and think you have a better idea, do it.That being said, do NOT be a leech and copycat that steals ideas. There’s a big difference between creating a brand new web browser with features no one has seen before because Firefox, Chrome and IE aren’t doing it for you, and blatantly ripping off an existing idea. If you do that, you’re dishonest not only to your brand but to yourself. We don’t care how much money you’ll make, you won’t sleep well at night and everyone will know you’re a fraud and thief.
It’s all about the talent. If you’re the founder(s), don’t let your ego hang you up. Hire people more talented than you, who have skills you don’t. And give them what they need to stay motivated. We’ve witnessed lots of boardroom blowups that stemmed from pure ego and relationships go haywire simply because someone wasn’t happy with someone else’s title. Keep a healthy, talented team, shine the spotlight on them and nurture good people.
Pivot early. This is the most critical part for startups. At a point in your growth, you’ll find yourself at a crossroads. Either you’re about to get really big or your business is faltering and you need to start fixing what’s not working. We’ve worked with a few startups who have smartly pivoted and were willing to embrace the change. There are many startups who have done so and reaped the benefits. Fab.com is the most recognizable example of an excellent reset. We’re not saying that these shifts always work — we all know that for every Fab.com, there are hundreds of startups who pivoted and failed. So it’s a strenuous, agonizing decision that shouldn’t be treated lightly but it’s one to always consider. You also can’t pivot every single time something goes awry with your business. It’s almost a one-and-done move, for most.
Don’t party like it’s 1999. For the love of Michael Arrington, stop blowing your funding on unnecessarily expensive office space and meaningless parties that do nothing but stroke your ego and prove to attendees that you can’t do the robot. You’ll be stunned at how quickly you can blow through that $2m seed funding and how difficult it will be to secure more funding once VCs and investors discover how lavish you are. Spend that money on hiring talent, improving your product/service and, when the time’s right, hiring PR/marketing help. Which brings us to our next point.
Don’t get PR too early. Now, we’ll be the first to go on and on about the importance of PR. We truly believe in its value and we’ve seen first-hand how much it has helped companies, especially startups. If you’re a startup seeking PR, you’re smart! Good decision. However, be careful not to secure PR too early. Some companies like to get PR input on whether they can “sell” the product during the development stage, and while that’s important, it detracts from your product development. Focus on the best product you can make and then find the right PR firm (oh, HAI!) or professional who believes in it, too.
Surround yourself with skeptics. Don’t surround yourself with yes-men and people who tell you how brilliant you and your product are. Surround yourself with people willing to be the devil’s advocate and who question your tactics. It will help you immeasurably.
Don’t be evil. Can we add this one? It’s really important and perhaps has become a bit of a punchline now. But seriously, don’t be evil.