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Ask HN: Best practices when pitching your startup to Techcrunch, Mashable etc?
59 points by pramodbiligiri on May 5, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 49 comments
Our product (distilbio.com) is in good enough shape to be exposed to the whole wide world (we think :)) and we'd rather have top rate criticism sooner than later. Is it ok to just cold-mail Techcrunch and others, or is there a better protocol? Comments from fellow HN readers much appreciated.

My guess: you'll almost certainly not get covered by those guys unless you can find an angle that is interesting to their audience. You might think that it's the blogger's job to find the interesting bit-- but it's actually yours.

This is an empathy exercise. What's THEIR motivation? Turns out it's pageviews, retweets, likes, comments, and FAVORS (more on favors in a minute). So your goal is to hand them a gift-wrapped story that will perform above average on their site. Do you have that story? It's certainly not "ditilbio is ready for top rate criticism!". What's the STORY? PR and social media marketing is a storytelling exercise. Some businesses lend themselves well to that... Some don't. But you can do it with ANY business (37Signals and Zappos had epic PR with fairly mundane markets). Again: hand a blogger a story that will make them look like a hero (by the metrics they care about) and you win.

The only exception here is if you can get someone important to ask them to cover it. If one of your investors is Ron Conway, you can almost certainly get covered if he makes the ask.

Related: Don't pitch it yourself. Get your most famous friend/advisor/investor to pitch it.

Yep, this is very good advice -- especially the last bit. An intro from an entrepreneur we know already, or a respectable VC, is the best way to grab our attention for a closer look.

Thanks, that's the kind of perspective I was hoping for. Hm, 37Signals did an amazing PR job, come to think of it.

Will see what's the best "angle" we can come up with, without being fake of course.

Yes, this is true. Our best stuff comes from trusted referrals.

DO NOT COLD E-MAIL US with a single, vague paragraph. It will go into the bowels of oblivion into tips@techcrunch.com where we get 95% crazy and 4% decent and 1% awesome information.

You should find the writer that most appropriately fits what you want to do. We all have different styles and interests. Josh does a lot of FB-related stuff, I do a lot of mobile & finance-related stuff, Leena does some more enterprise, Alexia does culture, Sarah Perez does mobile stuff.

Establish a relationship with them for future coverage. Many of our e-mails are just our first name followed by @techcrunch.com

In terms of explaining what you do, we basically ask the same questions that PG or any investor would.

1) Who are you? Tell us about your team and why they are interesting or uniquely positioned to build this.

2) What is the idea? How did you pick this problem?

3) Why is your solution better executed than everyone else in the space? Eg, tell us about your product. Why is it built this way and what does it let you do? Where do you think your competitors fall short and who are they?

4) What is the market opportunity?

5) How does the revenue model work if you have one? If you don't, what do you think it could be?

6) How do you acquire users? Most people do not have a thoughtful answer to this and it makes me very sad. Especially people who want to "launch this cool app" or whatever. The world does not work like this.

7) Do you have evidence of traction? If you provide arbitrary vanity metrics, I will go crazy (unless you have a really good explanation) for why you need to deviate from the standard engagement metrics like DAU/MAU/uniques/# of transactions/monthly or annual revenue, etc. In your case, sheer DAU or MAU may not really be that relevant since you have a very specific target market.

8) Do you have investors or advisors? How much did you raise and why did you take money from these people?

What's your general take on covering startups that haven't launched yet, but that have an interesting idea and/or a credible founding team?

We cover lots of companies that haven't taken funding or (even launched yet) but they need to have an interesting founding team or concept.

I covered a company the other week from the FB engineer who built Presence (hasn't launched) and another wearable computing company that was built by a very, very interesting team (hasn't launched but took funding). We've also written plenty about Airtime (from Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker + some early Facebook design talent) but it hasn't launched yet.

If you were early and instrumental at a profoundly successful company or were key to a big project at a giant co like Google, then we'd be interested.

These are all examples though, we'd be flexible in how we think about it.

Btw, this is for the basic company story. We also do trend, feature, or random culture stories, for which the bar is very different. :)

Hey thanks much! I didn't expect someone from TC itself to be commenting. Will make sure my CEO reads your comments.

One of the best sources, brought up here every now and then is from Peldi at Balsamiq: http://blogs.balsamiq.com/peldi/2008/08/05/startup-marketing...

This was essential reading for me on a couple of launches.

As to Mashable in particular, they have a startup coverage series 'Spark Of Genius.' Was a dead simple pitch (it is a form) and coverage for me there really got the ball rolling.

For other bloggers find someone how covers your niche and pitch them --- never pitch the general email address of the publication.

And one last thing - it might be worth it to pick one primary target of the big tech news sites. Once one covers you they usually all jump to follow (ie weeks old emails suddenly returned requesting interview ASAP)

One thing I've discovered from this thread is that Mashable is influential! It had never been in my radar, except in name. It might make the most sense for us, as TechCrunch is too mainstream.

TechCrunch is "too mainstream"?

Oh. I just meant its audience is really broad, like I mentioned in my other reply to you (not saying that's a bad thing!). It's like the NYT of startups. Practically everyone who wants to consider themself clued in reads it (or in the case of NYT, pretends to ;)). Naturally it's competitive to find a spot in it.

I think you'd be better served pitching to influential blogs with sizeable readership in your area of business, rather than aiming for a TC or Mashable post. Bloggers specializing in your space are always happy for tips and have more relevant, concentrated attention. Getting relevant readership aware of and promoting your product for you will eventually lead TC much easier, as you'll have a link history.

Cold emailing with a short pitch of what you are and do (hitting the 5 Ws), and short description with useful press material like logos would go a long ways to getting coverage with Biology and search related blogs. Good luck!

Step 1: get popular on user driven site. (HN, reddit, digg, etc...)

Step 2: blogs like Mashable and TC see popular post and pick it up

Step 3: mainstream media see it spreading through blogosphere and pick it up.

Thanks. Our product is somewhat specialized (bioinformatics) and we've gotten some traction among that demographic. Was wondering if Reddit/Digg will boost it much :)

On 2nd thoughts, you're right. I will go submit on Reddit and friends. More eyes on it the better.

You might be aware of this already, but when posting to Reddit, make sure to use the appropriate subreddit - in your case http://www.reddit.com/r/bioinformatics, which has 2,790 subscribers. Posting to Reddit generically won't get you anywhere. If your product has a certain application angle that could be interesting/funny/relevant to larger subreddits you could try to create an infographic hosted on imgur - as cool as Reddit's community is, their attention spans are rather short and most people won't read / upvote a lengthy article (safe specific subreddits, I bet things over at r/bioinformatics are different.) Good luck with your startup.

EDIT: semantics.

I read /r/programming regularly. Hadn't thought of looking for /r/bioinformatics!

Btw, EyeQuant looks nice, but the activation email went to Spam (Y! Mail for small businesses), and the password in there isn't working :(

My bad regarding the password. Had copied surrounding whitespace.

If you can use what you've learned from your startup to tell a story about something bigger than your startup, you're more likely to get some coverage, both about your company and the broader story you're telling.

I did well when I was running an iPhone analytics startup not by pitching our boring software but by talking about what we knew about the iPhone app ecosystem as a whole.

Tell me about it! :) Our current blog (http://blog.metaome.com/) is too product focused. Have some ideas in the works..

12 Tips for Getting Your Startup Featured on Mashable: http://mashable.com/2008/04/10/get-your-startup-on-mashable/

Wow that's nice. I especially liked the Don't Be section.

Watch this video: Mike Arrington speaks at Startup School 2008 about how to get, and how to respond to press for your startup.


Just finished watching that. He's surprisingly down-to-earth. And holy smoke, from 7:20-8:15 he precisely predicts an Instagram!

This related thread also has some useful comments: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1351460

Oh, Paras Chopra! He's quite a popular blogger now. Didn't know he had to start off so humbly too :)

This is what we did:

1) Gave the exclusive to the author we thought had the most influence in our target demo. (Sarah Lacy + Erin Griffith at Pandodaily).

2) Leveraged that story into a blog post, that got retweeted by Eric Ries. (http://blog.meeteor.com/18-days-from-sxsw-mvp-to-launch-our-...)

3) Leveraged that momentum into stories at other outlets.

If another outlet has published it before, we are not inclined to rehash them. Maybe Mashable will, but we won't unless you can provide super interesting, exclusive information (eg a funding round, new product, key hire, passing a traction benchmark, or even interesting ideas for feature stories).

Got Eric Ries to retweet! Whoa, nice job :)

i have been covered by techcrunch, mashable, boingboing, lifehacker, ... a few times, here is what i did:

made a page/webapp that

  a) offers an iteration on an existing popular product
  b) pitched every good damn techblog out there
a) is basically a story in itself


b) it's all about distribution

most of the time i got covered by the big guns, after some other tech blog picked me up. (http://www.makeuseof.com/ and http://www.freewaregenius.com/ are good starting points)

so basically: do not pitch a product or your startup, pitch a story, distribute widely.

said that: every time i pitched a company i was consulting, the success was not as easily as with my private (weekend project) approaches, most products/companies aren't a good story.

How To Get Media Coverage For Your Startup: A Complete Guide http://onstartups.com/tabid/3339/bid/80121/How-To-Get-Media-...

if you need techcrunch, you're doing something wrong.

I agree. OP does not need tech crunch, although it would certainly be a nice ego boost to be featured there.

I think there are two sides to the startup world. The glam side: featured in TC, gets lots of early funding, and is visible in general. Sold right away, for a large amount of money. Think instagram. The other side of the coin is the army of startups that no one really talks about. These startups bootstrap, they have customers, they make money, and they create jobs. They are the unsung heroes of the startup world. They are often focused on professional verticals that are otherwise not super interesting to the general audiences of tech crunch et al. They are the companies that employ many of us.

At the end of the day this is not a beauty contest. It is about providing a valuable service to your customers.

I disagree.

The point is to always be strategic about why you want press and what you hope it will achieve. For some companies, TC is very relevant for acquiring customers. For others, it serves as validation for prospective investors and employees.

If, say, you're a women's fashion app, we would probably reach a small subset of your target market and it would probably be smart to have a broader strategy that reaches powerful fashion blogs.

I view TC as a parallel to HN, but on the user side. While this forum gives the best value for time in terms of startup operations, TC readers would be people who have heard of similar products, seen companies getting Dead Pooled in that category etc (though not always genuine end users, like that women's fashion example).

Just on a lark, is "BioInformatics" with a strong Semantic Web angle to it, of particular interest to anyone among your group?

Send us an e-mail with answers to the eight questions above. Put my name "kim" in the subject line and send it to tips at techcrunch dot com. I will find it.

We do cover some health and biotech (particularly if it's something that could be consumer-facing or doesn't require like a 10-year FDA clinical trial). We wrote about Dr. Chrono, which was a YC company.

Cool! Will get on it.

May I suggest consolidating some of the links on the home page? Stuff like contact and about are usually together, and right now everything around the border is distracting me from the main product.

The URL above wasn't clickable: http://www.distilbio.com By the way, is there some list of such blogs/sites which profile startups?

That would be http://betali.st. All other similarly themed sites (launchsoon & co.) appears to be scraping/re-publishing their content.

The copy on the website is hard to read.

The page does not load on my android phone (2.2).

You do not really explain what you do in simple words. I honestly feel dumb after reading it.

Before going after some PR, please fix that.

Good luck.

How do you feel about the content on the Help page (http://distilbio.com/help)? Do you want to see some of that on the homepage itself?

I can't access it from my android phone.

Shoot me an email.

rm at innovafy dot com

Ill look into it with you.

Be funded, or they generally don't give a damn. That seems to be their MO.

Which means don't be self-sufficient. Sell out. Don't go into an enterprise with the necessary resources yourself.

Thanks, but I'll just forego their "coverage" instead.


That is a pretty great article for this topic from the cofounder of Buffer who is really good at gaming the tech media.

Here is the condensed version I emailed to a friend who had just raised a big funding round:

Target writers themselves, not the publications they work for. Reach out to them on Twitter, ask if you can contact them about your story (so your email gets opened). Don't go after famous bloggers/writers (they are super busy). Choose timing carefully (friday > monday).

Buffer is a really great app too, so that helps the cause immensely.

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