Introducing Your High-Tech Startup: An Irreverent Guide


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every person whom you want to make a decision about your story or your company is a target. Each needs a reason to care—a motivation to make a decision about your message—and they need a fact set on which to base their decision.

For current and prospective investors, customers, and employees, you or your agents will have one-to-one time to deliver the motivation and message, but the effectiveness of this investment of time will be influenced by the cloud of opinion that results from your media efforts.


By now, you have probably spent a lot of time discussing your key message. What simple image do you want to pop into the minds of people who hear your company name? What small set of facts do you want them to have well enough in hand to transmit the message to others? What decisions do you want them to make based on your message? Answer these questions before going further.

The kernel of that message has to convey a problem and a solution. The problem may be so obvious that it doesn’t need to be made explicit. If you think that is the case, it had better be very close to the surface of your recipient’s mind. The solution has to be something communicated in a very few words. It has to be believable. To convert it from “believable” to “believed,” you will have to go beyond the kernel of your story and supply proof points and invoke trust. Proof point delivery will require more attention than can be obtained in a few seconds. Trust comes only from repeated impressions, delivering results that match the message, and a complete absence of trust-destroying behavior such as self-serving inaccuracy and arrogance.

Dramatis Personae

Your PR Firm

The good ones are an incredible source of experience, insight and contacts. Treat them like a true partner, even as you are aware that they are working you as hard as they are working the outside world. Give them a reason to believe, but never believe all the nice things they say to you. Listen really hard, and set realistic time-based goals for them based on the milestones that drive your company’s success. Don’t just think of them for media, but use their expertise and contacts for creating the right opportunities for public speaking, socializing, recruiting and more. It’s okay if your account executive is junior in age, so long as he or she has the ear of the rainmaker partner who sold your deal and the right personal qualities to drive your projects internally and externally. Don’t delay the decision to fire your PR firm if they aren’t delivering.


These folks work very hard, live by deadlines, have short memories for facts, and never forget an offense. They are acutely tuned to detect insincerity and arrogance. They have a beat and rarely stray from it. They compete with their colleagues to fill the news hole every cycle. You are a means to their ends. Don’t forget that, but don’t treat them the same way.

Target a few reporters with the aim of becoming a trusted resource for them on stories other than your own. Help them understand your expertise and earn their trust by being available, candid and interesting. To do that, you need to be well informed about recent news in your sector, so keep current! Take great care before criticizing others, but a judicious dose of this can be strategic for your company and makes your input more interesting for the reporter.

Know the difference between speaking on and off the record and figure out which reporters you can trust to honor the distinction. Send them interesting stuff that is not pitching your company, but don’t spam them. If you are going to offer any reporter special access when there is real news, it should be from among this targeted group. And always send this group an e-mail after every really good story and gently correct the facts when they err, whether it is about you or others.

The rest of the reporting crowd is also important. News cycle deadlines make their calls different from others who want your attention. Since they often cold-call the company general number, train anyone taking a message for you to ask about the reporter’s deadline and make sure that you actually get the message in time to respond. Even if you have nothing to say, do them the courtesy of calling back and refer them to someone who can comment.

Your PR firm will help you target reporters, but keep their beat in mind as you work with them. There are some special breeds that need differentiated handling. The people who report news in the front pages of scientific journals, for example, are technically sophisticated and very worth cultivating. As important as getting your news stories placed is the need to not to be left out of the round-up stories here and in the general press.

Local bureau reps for the major national papers and business TV/Internet outlets are very important. They will spend time with you but rarely write about you. If you’re a startup, you don’t have enough shareholders to drive automatic interest in the story by their readers, so the hurdle for newsworthiness of the story is high. News means something new. The more desirable the outlet, the more essential it is to provide a news hook, something that just happened that is surprising and interesting and … Next Page »

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Leighton Read is an American serial entrepreneur and venture investor with a long track record of building companies that have commercialised important medicines and life-science technologies. His primary role now is as the Palo Alto Venture Partner of Brandon Capital Partner, Australia's leading life science VC firm. Follow @

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2 responses to “Introducing Your High-Tech Startup: An Irreverent Guide”

  1. Dan EramianDan Eramian says:

    Wise words from a classy guy.

  2. Steve Weiss says:

    Leighton’s comments are spot on target, and provide a great roadmap for entrepreneurs looking to boost their company’s visibility.

    I’ve used a similar approach in helping build several cleantech firms, including Serious Materials. We’re in the early stages of raising the profile of Genomatica, the emerging leader in sustainable, bio-produced chemicals.

    The good news is that his approach works and can deliver high value. It takes real focus and energy to do it right.