Anatomy of a Startup Profile

Propllr works with startups and growth companies looking to build credibility and awareness for their products, services and people. To accomplish these goals, we help them tell their stories in media outlets large and small, global and local.

The Propllr “Anatomy of a Startup Story” series aims to inform startups about what it takes to get great coverage in great outlets. Below are the areas that almost every reporter needs to know and wants to have to make a great story. Startups can increase their odds of success by understanding their strengths and weaknesses in each of these areas:

  • Compelling founder story – The startup founder should be a hero (or sometimes being a villain works), and what’s a good hero (or villain) without a compelling backstory?
  • Founder track record – Reporters don’t want their profile subject to flame out – so the more successful the founder’s track record is, the better. And for track record, think broadly – you don’t have to have founded a name-brand company.
  • Personal reason to launch startup – The best startup stories feature founders who had a personal reason to start the company – Uber was founded by two successful entrepreneurs who wanted to fix the problem of never being able to find a taxi in San Francisco; Khan Academy started as a result of a good uncle helping his niece with math; Dropbox was founded out of the frustration of working on multiple computers.
  • Unmet need – Are you first to market in addressing an unmet need, or are you a me-too? Either are ok – but being first has its privileges.
  • Timeliness – Reporters need a reason to write about your company TODAY. Find a timely reason for a reporter to move you to the top of his or her list of story ideas. Funding, new products, a news event impacting your space – these are all timely issues that you can use to your benefit.
  • Quick comparison – It’s always helpful to be able to make a quick analogy: The “Facebook of this industry,” the “Uber of that industry.”
  • Disruptive – Is it possible that your company can change the way industries operate? If so, make it clear how and why – and what it means for the future.
  • Clear value proposition – If you don’t have a clear value proposition, you can be sure the reporter won’t either.
  • Referenceable clients – A longtime client of mine has a great quote (and I normally hate quotes) – “Potential is interesting, Performance is everything.” For a big piece of coverage, it’s not enough to simply say that you’re making a difference – you better have customers and partners who will say it for you.
  • Client stories – Even better than a few nice words from a customer are customers who will share their complete story with reporters – going into detail about how your company saved them time/money/their lives/etc.
  • Metrics – Private companies can certainly fudge numbers, so any quoted metric will (or at least should) be taken with a grain of salt, but not having any metric at all certainly gets in the way of media success. Metrics can include VC funding, sales, client numbers, employee numbers, growth rates, market share, etc.
  • Third-party endorsement – Is there someone who has no business relationship with you – someone who is not a customer, not a partner, not an investor, not an employee – who can say great things about you and your business? Think of the Gartners of the world, or perhaps “friendly” VCs who know your story but haven’t (yet) invested.
  • Trendiness – This is where you need to be paying attention to the world around you, something difficult for the driven, heads-down startup founder. Predictive analytics, cloud, drones, big data, 3D printing, maker movement, farm-to-table, XaaS, etc. – these are all trends that help position your company in a hot area.
  • Healthy skepticism – Reporters have to play the role of skeptic – it’s their job, really, or else they should simply join your marketing department. Skepticism can come in the form of business model doubts, a look at whether a recent stumble was a potential warning sign of future problems or the question of whether your company really has the ability to grow beyond a particular niche. Know where skepticism is likely to occur, and be ready to counter it.