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Ask HN: How to get major bloggers write about my bootstrapped startup?
80 points by paraschopra on May 16, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 43 comments
Hey guys, my startup http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/ (A/B testing tool) is just out of beta and we launched paid plans early this week. To announce that we have launched, I had mailed a personalized pitch to Mashable, RWW, TechCrunch, LifeHacker. But no one replied!

I know they must be getting 100s of pitches daily but I think our story is as good as other startups that they cover. We are bootstrapped, had 1200 beta users and now in the first week have actual paying users (with very close to being profitable). Users think our tool beats Google's tool by a huge margin (http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/testimonials.php) and it is actually very helpful to small businesses and marketers (in beta, we have user case studies where sales and conversions got increased by 20-90%). So, what's wrong with the pitch? Based on what I read, I even mailed link to this 2 minute short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YYNebfuvLc

I realize that getting covered on a major blog doesn't ensure startup success, but it is still a great way to announce to the world that you are open for business. So, what is the best way to get major bloggers write about my startup?

Are bloggers not writing about us because we are bootstrapped, based out of India and non-YC (or associated with a similar program)? Is there anything wrong with my approach?

(Disclaimer: My last startup (now sold) has been mentioned multiple times on all of the blogs you mentioned. I even turned down a full profile on TC because I thought we couldn't scale.. I'm still kicking myself over this ;-))

You need to focus. The e-mail you posted here is well written, but too generic to make an impact nowadays. You need to tailor your story to fit the sources you're most interested in. You will not get coverage on even three of the sites you mention, since they're all keen to get exclusives, so don't bother with the mass mails. Foster some relationships.

Look at the blogs you're targeting. Really look. Your e-mail provides no story - it asks me to come up with one and try to fit you in to it. This distinction is important, especially for Mashable, RWW, and LifeHacker. Go through their stories and look for patterns. On RWW you'll see a mix of "news" about well established companies and "how to" type stuff often featuring smaller companies (like yours). Mashable is very list and "soft" news oriented (note posts about Justin Bieber, dating, and "happiness." LifeHacker is very "how to" based.

Your story is basically "news" but it's not a "story." You need to seed the bloggers who are looking for stories (like the above three) with stories, not release news.

(I could write a lot about this but I've been up ages and need to get a few hours sleep before going to the in-laws.. I hope you can sympathize.. :-) Any questions, ask away and I'll be back later.)

Thanks. Yes, I do have a question. I think I have no clue what a "story" email looks like. Well, I thought the one I wrote was a story but you tell it looks like "news" :)

Do you have any examples or references of "story" that I can learn from?

PS: Yes, I know about exclusives. Therefore, I didn't do a mass-mail. I mailed one, waited, mailed another, waited. But still no reply.

I believe what he means is make tailor your "story" to their style.

Maybe by changing your subject line to fit their typical "story" type. Like using LifeHacker as an example: "How my software improves conversions by 35% - overnight." - just something a tad bit sensational.

Also, you might want to consider doing "favors" for the bloggers, like giving them a free account & personal assistance in setting up some a/b tests for things like their events or contests, etc.

Also, you can try to reach them more personally (but they usually don't like that) - if you have a particular persons email, give that a try or twitter if they're following you, dm them or even a call, if you have skype credit. I believe Jason Kincaid from techcrunch is jkincaid here on HN, that's a starting point.

Lastly, you might want to approach blogs with smaller audiences, that are targeted, like smashingmagazine.com or appvita.com - something that 90% tech people read.

Good luck, I hope this was helpful.

One thing I remembered from the Mint.com case - they were selling to the news not themselves directly but their by-product. What do I mean by that? In your case you can analyse your customer cases and find some interesting common patterns like "using word Love in the tag line usually gives 50% better results etc etc". Or "compelling tag line can not exceed 5 words - our research proved etc etc"

You have plenty of data to play with and I'm sure there are extremely interesting points you can make.

You might try approaching this from the other side--what kind of stories do you like to read? Do they entertain, enlighten, instruct, etc.?

I haven't worked directly with any of the people you mentioned, but with a background in PR I'll give you some general info.

They're not dealing with 100s of pitches per day, they're dealing with 1000s. (That may or may not be completely accurate, but it's true in spirit.) And these publications are not there to serve the world of tech, they're there to serve the relatively small ecosystem of people that they're a part of. Most of the stories they publish will come to them via established channels (a particularly capable PR person, a friend, a fellow journalist).

For the most part, I would say your pitch isn't really even considered. It's not considered because it's not part of a small group of pitches that have to be considered (because of previous ties). To put it another way, there's already enough on the table and ignoring you isn't a political risk.

So, what you're asking for is almost impossible. But so is starting a startup and finding customers, so you're getting used to it.

My advice:

1. Figure out if you really, really need coverage. Ask yourself if it's worth the energy (most of which will be wasted). If you are finding paying customers, personally I would focus all of my attention on that. In my market and because of my previous work, we can get published more or less when we decide to. But we don't. We focus on product and customers (we're currently stealth-mode on something).

2. If it truly is strategically imperative (and not just an ego milestone) you need to track down individual humans at each of the publications and get them on the phone, whatever that takes. Don't be afraid to start at the top.

3. When you get someone on the phone be short, professional and polite. You're not calling to establish how mind blowing/game changing your product is. You're calling to make an impression as someone that needs to be watched. Have a less than 30 second pitch worked out (and practiced).

Good luck.

Thanks for your advice! Yes, I was guessing that, just like with VCs, pitches to major bloggers must come from a known reference to be even considers. Random emails to tips@insert-blog-name-here.com probably doesn't even get read by them?

I think there are two things at play here:

1. Your product is not easy to understand or write about in a consumer-facing blog. Mashable and LH are probably not your target audience. You want big blogs about web development, analytics, SEO, PPC and that kind of thing to write about you. Don't just go for the obvious big names, but go for the big names that your target market reads. Pop quiz: name the two most famous bloggers in A/B testing world.

I think that's your main mistake.

2. There is a difference between quick news posts vs analysis posts. Your pitch email (as per another thread) is just the wrong way to target blogs with very different strategies. Mashable likes to be the first with any big breaking news. RWW is the more thoughtful of the bunch in that they take their time to think about the big picture. TC is very interested in deals: raising funding, getting bought out, etc. Your email needs to target each blog properly. In short, each want something different because they've built a following that expects that.

So my question to you: what did your email offer each blog to get them interested?

In addition to point #1, I think one of the great things you'll gain by following Peldi's technique (which you absolutely should be doing -- not just Paras, everybody) is the social proof you need to work your way up the ladder.

For example, Avinash Kaushik wrote the book on web analytics. Literally. Twice. I've talked to him -- he's quite a personable guy, and I think it is likely he gets less email than TechCrunch. Write him a personal pitch tailored directly at one of his main interests, such as how to present A/B testing tools in such a way that non-engineers can actually comprehend them. It just so happens that your tool is the answer to his prayers, which is pretty freaking convenient now wouldn't you say. (Less conveniently, he works for the competitor you're busy crushing, so the rest of this is a harmless hypothetical.)

He has 4,500 people subscribed to his blog in Google Reader. That is now 4,500 people to whom you are not just some random guy in India, but rather, the guy who comes with a recommendation from a trusted topical expert.

Then you quote that recommendation in your pitch emails, preferably to people you know read him. Hint: who links to him frequently? Ah, I see he is the go-to guy for SEOMoz when they need an analytics expert. So you write them an email, pitching yourself as a tool for SEOs which has been introduced by their go-to guy for analytics. (You might also mention that folks in their market space already love you. I know you have SEO clients because I referred them to you. Ask them for a quotable recommendation, then quote the snappiest one you get in your pitch email.)

And now maybe you have a recommendation from SEOMoz. Now you widen the net -- who trusts them?

Thanks Patrick! As you suggest, specifically, regarding Avinash I had mailed him long back. He replied that VWO is very cool and I like how easy it is, but since I work for Google there may be a conflict of interest. Perfectly understandable.

Though there are lots of other bloggers in web analytics, SEO and online marketing industry. I have made a list (from Alltop and Technorati) and plan to start writing to them soon. Your strategy is interesting. I am using it already, pitching people using your and others' reviews.

Great points! Yes, I am going start pitching to industry-specific blogs very soon. But I thought my startup's story will be relevant to web startup blogs as well. RWW had written about on of my earlier product (http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/identify_any_websites_s...) but this time I didn't even get a reply.

I may have been wrong about Mashable because they cover consumer-oriented stuff. (And RWW too, since they mostly cover cloud related startups). But for TechCrunch and LifeHacker, I thought the story is aligned to their blog readers' interests.

You must know the email of the person who previously covered your products. Get in touch with them.

What did you send in your emails to these sites, can you show us, so we can critique it? The video was good, but a bit boring and non-obvious to people who aren't aware of the problem you solve. It's dumbed down, but not far enough. Did you mention that your users think you're kicking Google's ass? That's the kind of think a writer loves to claim -- it means page views.

"Google Website Optimizer is old news. Visual Website Optimizer is next generation A/B testing"

I think your name might be hurting you. Your name sounds generic and spammy. It's great for SEO maybe, but it sucks for making people think you're a legit startup. You may want to change the name to something friendlier, like Vizzy Optimal -- VizzyO.com

Ah, so you think video was non-obvious? Never realized that! Do you have any ideas on what can be done so that lay people can get the concept? I think, as a creator of tool, I have got a blind spot that A/B testing is obvious.

Yes, the name might sound generic. But this is the product's name. Startup's name is actually Wingify http://www.wingify.com/ I chose Visual Website Optimizer, because it solved all pain points of Google Website Optimizer by allowing creating A/B tests visually.

Here is the pitch I am using:


Hi there (or name of blogger, if available),

I'm Paras Chopra, founder of Wingify. We just launched Visual Website Optimizer (http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/), which is the world's easiest A/B testing tool. Here is a quick 2 minute video which demonstrates just how simple is to create and test different versions of a website http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0YYNebfuvLc

Even though we are a small bootstrapped startup, initial private beta users (about 1200) think we completely beat Google Optimizer by a huge margin and are in fact much better than enterprise testing tools (costing thousands of $$$ per month). Here are some of the testimonials from users http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/testimonials.php

By providing a dead-simple tool, we aim to transform A/B testing from being an niche, enigmatic term to something even small business owners can use. Already, in private beta phase, a couple of small businesses have been able to increase sales and conversions b 20-90% http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/case-studies.php

Since you have covered other web analytics startups in the past, we are hoping you could write about us too!

Regards, Paras Chopra

Founder, Wingify Phone: +91-98682-21372 Skype: paraschopra

The video is pretty good, but it just shows too much. It needs to be simple enough a child can understand the value. Maybe 1 minute long. Most people don't even get what multivariate testing is, or why it's important. Maybe show a name brand site or a site going from making $1000 to making $2000 or whatever. "Conversion improvement of 423% = $3253 more revenue per month".

Honestly though I'm impressed. You have a great product and good pitch. Those bastards should write about you. Either way you should also contact the dozens of smaller niche blogs (especially SEO/SEM sites).

Thank you! Considered showing a video of doing A/B test on a popular site (such as Amazon or even Google) but then was scared of all legal issues it may crop up.

To try with Amazon.com, simply head over to http://dev.visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/first_time_ab.php?demo... and enter the URL. You don't even require code on the site to start designing tests.

Now if I only could convince bloggers to at least have a look :)

This is just a minor piece of feedback on the video and site itself but.. I didn't understand how i get my site to work with your 'visual designer.' My site is complex, has lots of CSS, etc. How can I just type in a few fonts into a wysiwyg editor and start? :P

This is the key piece to the 'duh' moment that I'm missing. If you could spend a second to give an example of how THAT piece works, you could probably cut out 75% of the rest of the video :)

Just in case you are not familiar with Peldi's advice, this might be useful - http://balsamiq.com/blog/2008/08/05/startup-marketing-advice...

PS Where in India are you based?

Yeah, read that article and followed his advice. But it is 2 years old. Not that advice has gotten old, but I am fearing if randomly pitching to bloggers is still as effective as it was earlier?

PS: Based out of Delhi

Paras, any startup events you attend in Delhi or other parts of India? I'm from Bangalore, but wouldn't mind flying to other places if there are good startup events.

Check TiE, Headstart Network, OCC (in Bangalore), Barcamp (inactive), MoMo Bangalore. All except TiE have mailing lists. DARE Magazine held a recent event called Startup City in Bangalore.

Ya I've heard of most of them. I've been waiting for Barcamp for a year. There was recent talk on the mailing list abt organising the next one. But nothing yet.

I've heard about Headstart network. They have something called Startup Saturdays right? How are the headstart events?

P.S: Your email?

Yes, Startup Saturdays is part of Headstart. Email is in the profile.

Yes, attended most of the events that Braindead_in mentioned but I have started finding them boring. Same people, same stories, same topics!

It would be great if you could write a blog post on your views/experiences with respect to startup scene in India. It would be insightful, especially for people like me just starting out here.

I dont know if there is anything necessarily wrong with your pitch. These days however, getting on one of these huge sites is HARD, so hard that its not worth your time.(I mean if you get covered great, bonus, but I wouldn't worry about it)

My suggestion is that if you want to get your startup talked about is to not focus on these generalist first tier blogs. You want to focus on the second tier. So basically find blogs that are interested in your startups space and have a fairly large following an pitch to them. They don't have people beating down their door to pitch to them like these other large sites.

The upside of these smaller second tier blogs is that their readers are generally passionate about their bloggers. Generally the readers of these blogs feel a connection to the bloggers they are reading(as they are individuals, not companies) and when they say they think a product is great, or interesting, or that their readers should check it out, the readers do.

These bloggers generally do around 3-5 posts per week, so you also don't have to worry about the post about your product getting lost in the mix.

I got my little webapp http://weekplan.net featured by Lifehacker.com by doing the following:

1. I submitted to KillerStartups.com and waited three days for it to be approved (free) 2. MakeUseOf.com saw the post in KillerStartups.com and covered my app too. 3. Lifehacker saw the post in MakeUseOf.com and covered my app.

By the way, I have used your application in the past, and I can attest that it is an awesome application, simple to use and very useful.

My only worry is the extra request to fetch your javascript. I saw the script to take quite long on some occasions.

Thanks. We have fixed all those problems and also allowed the users to host JS on their websites http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/split-testing-blog/host-vi...

And now our JS is on Amazon S3. Also working on tweaking the servers to make everything much faster!

I've heard about your software form somewhere other than the websites you listed :) So at least you're doing something write on the marketing front!

My experience is that the blogs either run very minimal 'skim' pieces based on a press release (which they probably don't like but owe someone a favor) or a solid piece based on a single event.

Like Peter said, build a story... but make it relevant to today's events. It's almost like submitting a story to Digg.

Look at things going on with the blogs (i.e. location mobile app hype) and figure out a way that you can use your software to provide them a great story on that relevant news. For example 'VWO profiles Foursquare, Gowalla, Company X - here's why Foursquare wins' or something along those lines.

You need to present a compelling article, video, blog post or infographic that they can quickly skim, instantly get it, then can easily summarize it in a post.

A few tips I got from a talk at Dogpatch Labs with Jason from Techcrunch and Anthony from VentureBeat:

Talk about competitors to give them a quick understanding of what your product may be, they will be able to quickly see how you are different without trying to understand brand new idea.

Don't use buzzwords because those tend to make everything ambiguous

And the last thing I found out was, sometimes you just have to get lucky or know someone who can help put in a good word for you. FanPulse was able to get mentioned because we were launching right before the superbowl, mostly because the timing was perfect and we had some popular techie people using and promoting us.

It's realyy hard, i don't believe there is that one golden ticket that will for sure get you covered. It's going to be a combination of features, relevance, and outright popularity as an individual.

Think of it this way: what do THEY gain by covering you? What's THEIR benefit? Inform them what they will gain.

Well, my product completely beats Google's tool (which has dozens of engineers working for years). While we are a very tiny startup. I think that makes up a pretty good story.

Well, with no offence to the mentioned startups, then what does TC gain from covering Sibblingz (http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/12/sibblingz-launches-multi-pl...) or QLess (http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/13/qless-saves-you-the-annoyan...). I mean, aren't they in the business of covering tech startups?

They are in the business of writing interesting stories. If you have an interesting story like "I totally kicked Googles ass in all benchmarks", they may write about you. Give people the interesting story that their viewers could like, and you may get covered.

Don't give them the facts and expect them to make an interesting story out of the facts, give them the interesting story straight up. People are lazy, nobody wants to convert a screencast into an interesting story.

Your tool 'beating' googles tool is mildly interesting, but it's still not very compelling. Your being a tiny startup is not too exciting either. Make your pitch with the benefit of the journalist in mind.

My guess is that your startup just isn't that interesting, especially to general audiences like Lifehacker. Your tool is a tool for making tools, which is not what the average Mashable, RWW, or TechCrunch reader really cares about. They want a shiny new service to show to their friends on their iPhone or something, not a tool that will help their company make money. They don't even have companies, or websites to optimize.

That's your problem, I'd guess. The group of people you'd appeal is too small. (Of course, on HN, the demographic is quite different, and you got 28 upmods in 4 hours... in the middle of the night US time. This is probably where you should pitch -- not as many eyeballs, but more eyeballs that care.)

Well I too thought this could be a problem. But then I searched archives and saw that they have covered startups in this industry in the past.

See Clicktale (a tool to see heatmaps/clickmaps on website) for example. TC covered them and got 53 comments too


RWW covered CrazyEgg (another similar tool) http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/crazyegg_measuring_webs...

One tip would be to include references to past coverage.

Its relatively easy to blast your PR pitch to MSM folks in India and get heard. Especially Mint. Let me know if you need references.

For Indian Bloggers try and contact them personally through FB, LinkedIn, Twitter etc. and them send them a pitch. Helps to know them personally too. Buy them coffee/beer if you can.

If you believe your company is that good then just show up at the office and ask for 5 minutes of time from one of the bloggers.

Make sure you are well prepared and that what you have to talk about is actually news worthy and interesting.

Just don't a fuck and go and do it you have nothing to lose.

Try sites with smaller audiences to get at least some coverage. If your app is good big blogs might notice and write about it.

My personal experience: I submitted my app to MoMB - just a short email. The next day it appeared on Lifehacker (via Life Rocks).

Good luck with your venture.

Think in terms of "what's in it for me" from the major bloggers' POV. Email your pitch, written with flair and passion.

Going for the big catch is good. But if you get cold, try the smaller fish instead (medium-size bloggers who writes about conversion/ab testing).

you have paying customers that is really great. you objective in reaching bloggers is to reach more customers.

Why not follow the other approach instead of waiting for their posts...............

one idea is

1.Make your product viral.[Focus more on creating a component which helps the user to refer this product to their friends at some benefit etc..] Dropbox is a great example free 250 MB storage if you refer a friend.

Go after big affiliate bloggers and give them an affiliate link so there's incentive

appear on This Week in Startups and ask Jason a question

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