Here at Tech in Asia, we get submissions from a lot of startups looking for coverage. Most of them never get it. Why? Well, one reason is that it would be impossible to cover everyone, but another reason I personally ignore many startup submissions is that they’re often chock-full of boring, meaningless buzzwords. And what’s worse, it seems startup founders often prefer to lead their pitches with these buzzwords. Snore.
If the first sentence of your startup description has “social” and “local” in it, I’m probably not even going to bother reading the next sentence. You might say that’s unfair — and it is — but we see so many startups offering social, local services that those words are practically meaningless to me. With your first sentence, you want to give me an idea of why your startup stands out from the pack, not tell me how it fits in with the thousands of other apps in your category. Sure, if your service is social and local, you can mention that eventually, but frankly, you probably don’t have to.
That’s because when I’m scanning for interesting startups, I really don’t care about what category of service they’re in. That comes later. First, I’m looking for a startup that seems unique, and I’m looking for a startup that’s solving an actual problem.
Let me give you an example: if you’re running a local e-commerce site in Indonesia that offers affordable locally-designed fashions to domestic web users, do not introduce your startup by saying “[Startup Name] is a local fashion e-commerce site based in Indonesia.” I’ve heard that many times before, and I almost fell asleep just typing that sentence. Instead, start by telling me about the problem you’re solving (maybe there’s no way for Indonesian fashion designers to market their designs to users around the country and you’re trying to encourage local indie designers) or tell me how your service stands out (maybe you’ve got a kick-ass mobile-only gamified shopping experience that’s actually fun).
Let’s take a look at a couple example sentences. You tell me which one of these makes you more interested in learning more about the startup:
- [Startup] is a new local fashion e-commerce platform in Indonesia, founded by [people you’ve probably never heard of].
- Finally, young Indonesian fashion designers have a fun way to sell their outfits to customers nationwide: [Startup].
The first sentence communicates more information, sure, but it’s mostly unnecessary information. Investors may like categories, but no one in the media needs you to tell them that your startup is “local” or “e-commerce.” If we’re interested in the startup, we’re going to figure those categories out on our own anyway. And while eventually I’m going to want to learn more about the founders of a startup, I don’t care about that until I’ve learned what you actually do, so there’s no need to mention it in the first sentence. Yet you would be amazed how many of the startup submissions we get look like sentence #1 and not sentence #2. If you’re looking for a simple rule, it’s this: Ditch the categories, ditch the buzzwords, and tell us what you do and why that’s special.
Another thing to consider is that in general, I’m more interested in how your product helps users than how it lines your wallet. This is the exact opposite of what investors care about, and while not every tech journalist feels the same way I do about this, plenty do. Know your audience. If you’re using the same pitch you make to investors when you talk to journalists, you need to rethink your approach. Don’t get me wrong; I love writing about startup success stories, and startups that are making money are very interesting to our readers. But given the choice, I’d rather write about a bootstrapping startup solving a real problem than write about a successful startup doing something boring that has been done before.
Don’t let that discourage you; even if your startup is doing something that has been done before, you can certainly get coverage. But you need to keep in mind that “Boring startup makes modest profit” is not an exciting headline. Even if you’re really just another e-commerce site, give us something exciting, new, or unique to work with, and give it to us right off the bat. If you bury your exciting specifics in the third paragraph, chances are I’m never going to see them, because I stopped reading after the first paragraph mentioned “social e-commerce” three times and I fell asleep.
And yes, this is all just one man’s opinion. Feel free to ignore it; perhaps I’m only speaking for myself and other more important tech writers don’t care about this sort of thing. How you proceed is up to you, but at the very least, I hope those of you that run startups will spend some time thinking about how you present your company to people who aren’t investors, and how those two different kinds of presentations differ.