The awkward relationship of tech bloggers and startups

Today Robert Scoble came to visit our batch at the 500startups offices. He did some 1-on-1 sessions and later gave a free-form talk, mostly about Google Glass (not surprisingly), but also about reaching out to tech media. Here are a few bullet points from the talk –

  • Know what every tech blogger likes to write about and approach them with stuff they care about. Robert is infatuated with Google Glass right now, so even if you have the shittiest Google Glass app (his own words) he would be interested, but if you have the most amazing WinXP app he will probably not.
  • Get tons of traction and people will write about you (a given). Get everyone in your batch to say you’re the “hot” company of the lot.
  • Get intros from insiders and trusted people in the blogger’s network. If Dave McClure gives a personal guarantee about your startup, Robert will likely write about it.
  • Build something in a hot market. Everybody loves mobile and mobile is the future. Nobody cares about desktop. So build mobile – you’ll get more love from bloggers.

This looks an awful lot like advice for fund raising. Robert has put himself and other prominent bloggers / tech blogs on the same level as investors as far as getting their attention is concerned. Is this a reasonable positioning for tech media?

IMHO, no.

We’re way past the times when a TC article could catapult your startup into the public eye, and even then it was more illusion than substance. Today, there is no dominant media outlet that can guarantee significant exposure by itself, or even combined. Too much noise and low attention span leads to articles that send a few hundreds, maybe thousands of visitors as opposed to the server-crashing articles from TC of yore. Those are at best one time spikes and at worst a one-time blimps on your traffic map.

Now, I’m not saying that tech media is useless and doesn’t require time investment, far from it – prominent publications and authors writing about you gives you some social proof, can get you some early adopters and is useful for SEO considering the pagerank of those sites.  The days of a big TC launch are over though, and bloggers should be working with startups and trying to find the next big thing before everyone knows about it – and not just following the herd and have them go through hoops and filters just for a chance to pitch their concept. (I could say the same about investors – the best investors are leaders and not followers. And they add much more value than bloggers, it’s not comparable at any level)

Would I try to reach out to bloggers when we close our seed round? of course. Would I spend days compiling lists and work my network to get intros in the same manner as we do for fund raising? no way. We’d love to get media attention, but we don’t rely on it. We’d like to work with tech bloggers, but we won’t have someone full-time doing mostly that (like we do with fund raising now). I feel like tech bloggers should be of the same mindset – looking for interesting startups that are doing new things, and not another social / mobile / local app that can be phrased as x for y and solves another first-world “problem”. Just because it’s easier to grok for the general public (and the blogger), doesn’t make it more news worthy than startups who tackle “hard”, unsexy problems.

Just my 2cents. You can troll me in the comments.

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  • http://500startups.com/ Dave McClure

    big TC lunch might be satisfying, especially if you’re hungry… big TC *launch*, perhaps less so.

    btw, I agree that the path to success isn’t necessarily to depend on TC or other tech bloggers covering your product, however having a good relationship with the press & bloggers is still useful.

    also, TC articles & others can be great to provide background & history on your co when investors, partners, potential hires, and even other press start looking for your references.

    one thing you also didn’t mention is how important doing your *own* blogging and writing (and other media) can be to your own success, and to again help other folks to understand your story before they write their own take.

    so good job & keep blogging!

    DMC

  • http://www.binpress.com Eran Galperin

    Thanks for catching that typo! I should give the TC lunch a try one of those days :-)

    Agree 100%, self blogging is important for building a brand and audience, though I’m under no delusion about my blog’s reach (even though I got DMC commenting on my post right now, so I must be doing something right)

  • http://scobleizer.com Scobleizer

    Ask Tempo the role of press. They had 100,000 downloads the first day. Or look at Flipboard. Or Instagram. But they didn’t go with just one media outlet. They had dozens of articles in dozens of blogs. If you look at your launch that way then you’ll be more successful. Just have a customized pitch ready when you call each blogger/journalist/loud mouth/early adopter/influencer.

    Techcrunch alone might not make your launch, but, believe me, if you have dozens of outlets all praising you at the same time and a few credible people like me or Dave come along and say “this is the most mind blowing thing I’ve seen this year” you’ll be way ahead of even just having Apple feature you.

    And it does feed on itself. Lots of press outlets will read TC and will decide what to pay attention to just because of what they and a few others (NextWeb, Verge, AllThingsD, GigaOM, etc) will say.

    PR is still the cheapest customer acquisition you’ll have. Oh, and Apple generally doesn’t feature things that don’t get talked up in the tech press either. We both watch each other.

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  • http://www.iheavy.com/blog/ Sean Hull

    Multiple tech blogs and channels is probably a good thing because it means more voices. In the end gigaom, pandodaily & betabeat are my favorites these days. Disqus also helps a lot. It’s how I found this blog, for example.