In my recent interview on Mixergy with Andrew Warner, I was asked how Wahooly managed to raise our first round of capital.
My answer: Hype
The complete answer is a bit more complicated than that, but, in simple terms, that is the honest truth.
Later in the interview I mentioned to Andrew that I was a "press whore".
After watching the interview back, I think a more accurate term would be "press addict".
My name is Dana Severson and I'm addicted to media attention.
For anyone that's had a taste of media attention, either personally or professionally, you can probably understand the appeal.
It's partially ego-driven, but that's really not where the high and euphoria come from. It's the traffic boost. The sales spike. The instant credibility. And, the shear amount of inbound interest and leads.
For a startup hustler, it's the perfect drug.
That said, it's typically short-lived and the 'high' diminishes rather quickly. This is where the addiction kicks in. Your need for more. You can't help but chase down your next feature, because you don't want the high to end.
The reality is, media works. In some cases, very well.
In the span of three months, we used media hype to build a database of over 30,000 people before we even had a product to use. Here's how we did it:
In the case of Wahooly, we started with a two page site in September--sign up page and a How it Works page. Our goal was to get 20,000 people to sign up by December.
We didn't know 20,000 people, and of those we did know, 90% of them really didn't understand what we were doing.
We needed help reaching new people and media attention was our answer.
Rather than starting with the Wall Street Journal, who we knew would ignore us, we started locally. But, even in every local market, there is a hierarchy to media. You have the big newspapers, local business magazines/news, local television news, radio and niche blogs.
We focused on niche blogs with the goal of getting one post we could leverage elsewhere.
Our first hit was with Thrillist.
Continued trading up
With each piece of press you receive, your creditability increases slightly. Leverage what you received and take it to the next media outlet on the food chain.
We took our write-up in Thrillist to Business Insider. We made the case that, while Thrillist featured us on a local level, they would be the first to break us Nationally.
Be mindful however that by accepting the exclusive write-up from one media outlet, you may also be jeopardizing coverage from another. We learned this lesson the hard way. Twice.
Made a compelling story
Before you start crafting your pitch, you should be prepared with a few facts:
1. You're likely one of more than 100+ people asking for their attention that day.
2. They don't care about you or your company. #HardTruth
3. If your email is too long or your subject line is too boring, they won't even read it.
Our standard subject line was that we were Klout meets Kickstarter meets Shark Tank. While it takes a minute to comprehend, it was appealing enough to spark curiosity.
Wahooly had a slight advantage in that what we were doing was uniquely different than anything else that was happening at the time. Our pitch was way too long, so we were fortunate it was even read.
Here's the email we sent that got us covered in Business Insider:
Found approachable journalists and was personal
In nearly every pitch we made, we looked for the journalists that seemed low-key and more approachable. These seemed to be the people that gave us the best response.
Our theory was, the less visible they were on the publishers site, the less pitches they had in their inbox. For the most part, our theory was correct.
Once we found a good journalist, we looked through their stories to find a way to tie into something they had written about previously.
Over time, we stayed loyal to these journalists. Giving them first crack at stories before broadly pitching them elsewhere.
Here's the personal approach that got us in Techcrunch:
Hustled like hell
We were relentless. In some cases, we would follow up with a journalist ten or more times before hearing back. We didn't give up until they either said 'yes' or 'go to hell'.
Following up was key, but equally as important was trying as many angles with as many journalists as we could find. It didn't matter whether it was a tech site or a gossip site, we looked for a way to get coverage.
As a case in point, we appeared in TMZ based on a pitch that featured our client's story, but included a mention and link to us as their partner.
In the end, we appeared in nearly 100 different stories, from NPR to USA Today. As I've written about previously, we ultimately didn't survive, but it wasn't for lack of attention.