Dear Startups, Don’t Let the Media Glitz Get To You

PaparazziRecently, I discovered that many other publications like the Business Today & Deccan Chronicle have also turned up their focus on startups. Like I said before, it is easy to get some publicity going for your startup these days. You will see a lot more media interest coming your way. You will see lots of coverage, vetted and un-vetted. WorldFloat, a company which made it to mainstream as India’s answer to Facebook, is an example of the latter. For genuine startups, it is a good thing. But what’s my problem then?

Vanity Fair

Mainstream media is important. But to a large extent it is a vanity metric for early stage startups. Early stage startups need to pay attention to the product and customers more than anything else. You don’t need to take it from me. Ask any reasonably successful entrepreneur and you will know.

“When we watch entrepreneurs succeed in the myth-making world of Hollywood, books and magazine, the story is always structured the same way…Then the photo montage begins…Unfortunately, the real work that determines the success of startups happens during the photo montage. It doesn’t make the cut in terms of the big story because it is too boring. Only 5 % of entrepreneurship is the big idea, the business model, the whiteboard strategizing, and splitting up of the spoils (as shown in movies). The other 95% is gritty work that is measured by innovation accounting.”– Eric Ries, Lean Startup*

But can’t a bit of media help?

Sure. But the real problem is if you let all the public adulation get to your head. Media can help. But if it is badly timed, it will backfire terribly. There are many startups, especially the folksy ones, that have received disproportionate media attention because of the founder, or an idea that sounds fancy, egalitarian or is nicely storified. Don’t let that get to your head. I can easily count a dozen media favorites who never made it past the publicity bout. The previous generation of commuter startups in India and a few dating services are examples.

In the case of media, it is almost always better to wait until the right moment. Delayed gratification, like this column points out, has pretty much been proven to give better results. Too much publicity at a very early stage can give you a false sense of achievement and put you off from really doing things.

Minimum viable products aren’t media ready.

You can’t expect the mainstream media to be early adopters. That’s the reason sites and platforms like ours exist. The mainstream will always look at it through a lay consumers eyes. Like Ries points out in Lean Startups, minimum viable products are not always fully ready or shiny enough for the mass consumer.

When is the right moment?

As an entrepreneur, you might have a different take on this. But if you ask me, once you really know where you are going, it is time. As in, you should have figured out your customers inside out– willingness to pay, choices, geographies, age, sex, affinities et al– with a minimum viable product before going out there for the media blitzkrieg. When you are out there, you should be spreading the message which is already clear in your head.

*Eric Ries, Lean Startup, P 147 (Words in the bracket mine).

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