How the Founder of Unigo Emailed His Way onto The Wall Street Journal
Jordan Goldman’s essential business development philosophy is this: Before you impress, first you must pester.
The 31-year-old Goldman delivered that message on Wednesday in front of a standing-room only crowd during a breakout session at Inc.’s 2014 Growth conference in Nashville.
In the talk, titled “Strategic Partnering for Fun and Profit,” founder of university and college review site Unigo explained how he secured partnerships with the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, and ABC News--all within 12 months of his website’s existence, without knowing a single soul at any of those organizations. The short answer? Lots and lots of emails.
“I was an English major with no business experience, who started this company out of nowhere," says Goldman, who relied heavily on Facebook and LinkedIn to land meetings. "A personal connection helps if you have one, but aggressively berating people until they take a meeting works just as well.”
Here are four of Goldman's other top startup hacks:
Never Stop Messaging
Early on, Goldman scored a big coup: a deal to put his columnists’ content on the Wall Street Journal’s website. His method was a study in persistence: Using LinkedIn, he found 20 staffers at the business paper's website whom he thought might be interested in putting one of his site’s columnists online. No one responded. So, he wrote 20 more people. Several months later, he finally got in to see someone. After that, “it snowballed,” he says.
Patience was everything. Goldman says he generally expects big meetings to take several months to line up. He lets the constant rejection and radio silence roll right off his back. After all, he says, “when someone reaches out to me again and again, a I’m not annoyed. I’m impressed. That person is resilient. If they follow up again and again, they’re going to follow up on their promises.”
Tug at Their Heartstrings
To increase the chances of a response, Goldman encouraged the entrepreneurs in the crowd to play on their personal stories. “You’re selling you’re story as much as you’re selling your concept,” he says. “If they’re refusing to answer you again and again, they need to feel like they’re not just rejecting an idea but turning down an ambitious person who’s putting their hearts and hopes and dreams into this concept. That carries weight. People feel bad turning down that person for the 5th time.”
Goldman often seeks out older alums of his college (in his case, Wesleyan University) for help--playing on their affection for the school. “They need to feel like you're someone they can imagine in their head. Maybe that sounds manipulative, but you've got to use what you got.”
Make Them Feel (and Look) Like a Genius
When Goldman gets to the meeting, he spends less time thinking about what’s in it for him, and more time thinking about how he can make his offer seem like a slam dunk for the other side. “Pitch it in a way that makes them feel like it helps their business disproportionately to what you get,” Goldman says. “Both parties, in a good business deal, feel like they cheated the other one.”
At big companies, business development people have one job: Find promising opportunities, and bring those opportunities to their bosses, Goldman says. With that in mind, he always thinks about what challenge he’ll solve for them, and then how his solution in particular will save them money. When he arrives, he brings in slick presentation materials--the kind of thing the Biz Dev guy can turn around and present to his boss.
When he pitched U.S. News and World Report, he gave them the following offer: Each week, he’d give them a column written by a top college admissions officer for free. They could keep 100 percent of the ad revenue. He just wanted the exposure. That deal gave him even more traffic back to his site, and it also gave college counselors a reason to want write for his site in the first place.
Outsource the Tedium
To free up his time, Goldman used outsourcing sites for administrative tasks including Mechanical Turk, Zirtual, and 99designs, so he could eliminate the tedium from his life, and let him focus on deals. “When you’re running your own business, your most valuable asset is your time.”
For example, before heading to a big conference, Goldman says he, like many people, tries to get his hands on an attendee list. But then, using Amazon’s outsourcing website Mechanical Turk, he hires someone to Google all of the names and input who they are and what their company does into a spreadsheet. Then he hires someone else to highlight which people could be relevant to his company. Then he gets to work figuring out how he’ll meet and pitch them.
And once he leaves for the conference? He puts his apartment on short-term rental site Airbnb so he can make money while he’s gone. Or rather, he hires someone on task site TaskRabbit to handle the Airbnb posting for him.
But first and foremost, Goldman stresses that he’s always trying to find the next person who can help him build his business, in new and interesting ways. “It might be a year before you get a partnership, and annoying people is going to be the longest part of the process,” Goldman says. “But once you’re in the door, you’re in the door. And once you’ve impressed them? You will find ways to work together.”