By Chris Lucas, Vice President of BLASTmedia and Rachael Feuerborn, Program Manager Techstars Chicago
I see my fair share of brilliant founders. Many of whom have well-thought-out business models, growth strategies, product roadmaps, etc. However, most neglect PR… because honestly who gives a hoot when you are spending your last $276.78 trying to get your big vision off the ground while investors (and your parents) keep telling you to quit? I get it. That’s why I wrote this.
What is PR?
Public Relations: if you break the words down it’s quite broad.
“Public” means just that: people. Not just your customers or the media. Think of Tesla. I certainly don’t have a Tesla. But their PR strategy doesn’t ignore me all together. Tesla’s brand permeates all of society purposefully.
“Relations” is the way in which two or more people or organizations regard and behave toward one another. Thanks dictionary.com! If your startup were a person, who would she be? What characteristics and personality quirks does she have? How would she communicate with her friends? Think of a blogger. Bloggers get it. They are people creating and publishing content to essentially make more friends.
Therefore, public relations is the way in which your brand creates and maintains relationships with a variety of stakeholders.
Public Relations is not…
- Shoving your personal founding story down the throat of anyone that will read it;
- Trying to get as many media outlets as possible to publish details on your beta launch;
- A way to test product market fit;
- Even close to the same process for every startup;
- Dependent on press releases.
How to do it
- Personify the brand
If you don’t know who you are, you can’t relate to anyone. Have a point of view. If you haven’t done this your brand won’t matter. (Shoutout to mentor, Suzanne Muchin)
- Have a specific goal in mind
Anyone who has worked with me knows the first thing I ask in any meeting or brainstorming session is: What is the GOAL? I often see startups think they must do some sort of PR and to do so, they must follow generic steps 1, 2, 3. Wrong. What is your goal? Always know the “WHY?”
So you just closed a round…
Don’t: Publicizing closing your seed round because you think it’s a thing to do. Yay!
Do: Publicizing your seed round to show what an attractive investment you are for your Series A in t-minus 12 months. Promote the traction of your overall industry with investors as a segment to take notice. Make it an announcement to your future investors.
So you just launched a new feature or product…
Don’t: Read out to journalists just because you are excited about it.
Do: I hope you developed that feature in response to direct, credible customer feedback. If so…
Trala did a great job with this: How to Learn Violin 3x faster with an Audio Practice Diary. This self-published blog post provides valuable feature descriptions. Trala provided valuable content to their target market showing how the product solves the problem they knew the user had.
So you want to get your brand out there…
Don’t: Introducing Company A. Hi, we are Company A and we do X.
Do: Be creative! Here are two great examples:
Vacation Fund: 3 Canadian Startups Setting Up Shop in Chicago. Why? To show potential Chicago clients she is investing in the local community and is setting up secondary roots close by.
Rheaply: Rheaply Circular Discovery Scholarship. Why? Rheaply uses this scholarship to show its support for education, invest in the next generation of sustainability advocates, and connect with universities (one of Rheaply’s target markets).
- Decide where
Techcrunch is not the only option. It’s not even the best option 99% of the time. There are multiple options:
- Local tech outlets
- Tech blogs
- Blogs/trade media in your industry
- Blogs/media your prospects read
Example: Neopenda: Invest in Neopenda. They launched a crowdfunding campaign. For the cash? Sure… but also for the publicity. They were rewarded for their creativity and storytelling. Check it out.
Example: Speeko: Chicago Sales Professionals Meetup. Speeko created a sales professionals meetup and features speakers who offer value to their target customers. For example, at their last meetup they featured an amazing leader from Google who is transforming how the company uses data to tell stories.
- Decide when
Timing is important with PR. Launching a ton of investor related PR campaigns when you aren’t raising is wasted momentum. Don’t only think about the circumstances you can control, but also external factors giving you momentum.
This startup streamlines the pro bono work of lawyers, including those fighting for immigrants at the border. Here, Paladin is aligning their brand with a cause. Not just any cause, but a very relevant cause that some will find compelling and some will not. Paladin has a personality and (s)he supports immigrants.
- Tell a story
Make it newsworthy. Otherwise, it’s useless. By now, you (hopefully) realize how much your PR strategy can overlap with your other marketing strategies (like social, content, etc). Your company’s personality, as we established early, has a voice. What does she say? She needs to be more than a bump on a log (yes, I’m from the country… y’all). See, my voice has a little twang and sass to it. What’s yours?
One great example is the introductory sentence to this post: “Jiobit CEO John Renaldi once lost his young son in a public park in Chicago for a nerve-wracking 30 minutes.” See? There’s a story in one sentence.
- Actually do it
You can’t just write a story and slide into a reporter’s DMs. Before you even wrote the story, you had a goal in mind… you also had a target in mind for publication. Right? So write the story with the publisher in mind. If it’s for your personal blog, it should be sharable and written for your followers. If it’s for a local media outlet, make it newsworthy and show the local impact. What does the reporter want to publish? Ask him!
Admittedly, that last little tidbit is hard. So when your PR strategy is a smidge more legit than your own social media page, bring in the big guns. This year, I brought in PR experts BLASTmedia to work with the founders from the Techstars Chicago Class of 2018. I’m not a big outsourcing fan, but outsourcing PR is smart.
Benefits of outsourcing
- The firm’s sole job is to source the optimal media opportunities for you;
- They have the relationships you just don’t have time for;
- They are not only PR subject-matter experts, but also experts in your space (if you have hired a firm with industry experience);
- You have a team of people to provide outside perspective, helping to hone your message and provide reality checks when needed.
Outsourcing NO NOs
- The PR firm will NOT define your brand’s personality, target customer, or go-to-market strategy. To set yourself up for success, know who you are, what you are selling and to whom before bringing on an outside PR partner.
- Outsourcing doesn’t allow you to wash your hands of it. Sure, it’ll ease up your workload but you are now in a partnership that requires your attention. Treat the firm like an extension of your team, not a standalone vendor, and the results will show it.
I chose BLASTmedia for multiple reasons. First, they are specialized in B2B tech and SaaS, working with start-up, scale-up, to publicly-traded tech companies for 13 years. They understand how to take a company and make them a thought leader in their industry, not blindly sending out press releases hoping it will get pick up. Second, they work with clients long-term to really understand the brand personality and story, allowing them to more effectively source opportunities and help create content… which about 4% of founders actually enjoy doing. Lastly, I spent hours on their blog learning about PR strategies and tips. After about 30 minutes of reading their plethora of media mentions, I realized I was in a PR trance and said, “dang, they are good.” If you’re a B2B SAAS company, check them out.
In 2018, Techstars Chicago scoured a list of thousands of mostly midwest startups to select ten. Techstars does indeed thrust a young company into the PR limelight quickly; however, every startup can follow a few tried and true principles to quickly put a PR plan in place. Good luck!
By Shannon Liston, Techstars Corporate Council
Just to be clear: This sheet is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Companies should consult their own attorneys for legal advice on these issues. Because of the generality of the issues discussed in this piece, the information provided may not apply in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.
Sometimes, startups fail.
It’s painful and brutal—and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s part of many, many entrepreneurial journeys. But along with the emotional ups and downs, you’ve got to deal with the practical legal side of shutting down your startup.
The legal name for one version of this is corporate dissolution. If you don’t need the protections of bankruptcy (you’ve got low risk of litigation or disputes over claims), corporate dissolution may be right for your startup.
The Techstars legal team has created this best practices sheet to give you guidance and practical tips if your company is facing dissolution. Unsurprisingly, these will be different depending on which state you’re incorporated in—this sheet focuses on Delaware, because of the large number of US corporations incorporated there.
Long-Form v. Short-Form Dissolution
Many smaller companies liquidate without the protections of federal bankruptcy law, as corporate bankruptcy can be very expensive. Instead, you can get some of the same protections through Delaware’s long-form dissolution process—it gives boards of directors similar protections, and provides company creditors with notice, plus an opportunity to present their claims.
Work with your legal counsel to make sure you meet all the formalities of the long-form process, like 60-days notice to all known claimants, including public notice, and a court approval process ( 8 Del. C. 1953, § 280).
The formalities of the long-form process may be overkill for your company, especially if you’ve already sold your operating assets, if you stopped operations a while ago, or if you’re unlikely to have unknown creditors.
In this case, short-form dissolution may be right for you: it’s simpler and less expensive for many companies, and comes with fewer formalities than the long-form process (8 Del. C. 1953, § 275).
7 Steps to Dissolve a Business
- Obtain Board and Shareholder Approvals. Your company’s Board of Directors must approve the decision to dissolve and adopt a Plan of Liquidation. A majority of the company’s shareholders must also approve the decision and the Plan of Liquidation.
- Pay Franchise Taxes and File an Annual Report. You must pay Delaware franchise taxes in full (including the current calendar year franchise tax) and file all applicable Annual Franchise Tax Reports. The Delaware Division of Corporations will not accept the Certificate of Dissolution (see below) until this step is done.
- Notify the IRS. Within 30 days of the Board approving the dissolution (the dissolution resolution date), your company must file a notice of dissolution with the Internal Revenue Service: Form 966.
- If the dissolution involves the sale or exchange of corporate assets, Forms 8594 and 4797 might also be necessary.
- See the IRS checklist for other required filings.
- File for Dissolution with the State. Once the decision to dissolve is properly approved, the company must file a Certificate of Dissolution with the Delaware Division of Corporations.
- If your company has stopped doing business and doesn’t have any remaining assets, it might qualify to file the short form certificate of dissolution.
- If the company is registered to do business in another state, it will have to withdraw or surrender those qualifications.
- Provide Appropriate Notice to Creditors and Stakeholders. Follow state law requirements to give notice of the dissolution to anyone with a claim against the company. Delaware’s long-form dissolution notice requirements are here: 8 Del. C. 1953, § 280.
- “Winding Up”. After the dissolution is effective, the dissolved company is deemed to continue, generally for three years, for the limited purposes of winding up per the Plan of Liquidation. This means:
- Settling and closing the business;
- Liquidating remaining corporate assets;
- Settling claims;
- Resolving any lawsuits;
- Making final distributions to creditors, and if funds remain, to applicable shareholders.
- File Final Federal and State Tax Returns. Review the IRS checklist for closing a business and filing final returns. For the company’s final returns, check the box to indicate the tax return is a final return.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do: Act in accordance with your fiduciary duties.
It’s your responsibility to focus on maximizing the company’s value. For more on your obligations as a Director, see here.
Don’t: Disappear; act in a manner that presents a conflicting interest; arbitrarily pay back one creditor over another; etc.
Do: Send the filed Certificate of Dissolution to investors, describing your decision to dissolve and your efforts to maximize return to shareholders.
Don’t: Use dissolution as an escape hatch.
Dissolution alone does not abate actions, suits, or proceedings begun by or against your corporation prior to dissolution—or, generally speaking, for a period of three years after dissolution.
Do: Educate yourself on the several ways to wind down a company.
Talk with your lawyer about which way to wind down your company is the best choice for your situation—the complexity of your company (number of employees, investors, creditors, etc.) will have a big impact on this.
By Henrique Dubugras, Brex CEO
True innovation is driven by aggressive targets. Not by slides and ball pits.
I am not talking about innovation of a product or idea. I am talking about a type of innovation that is often overlooked: innovation of internal processes. I never cease to be amazed by the number of problems that people are solving with and within technology. However, I am always surprised to see how many companies with very innovative product ideas still use outdated methods to conduct their daily operations.
How Not To Innovate
I’ll use recruiting and sales as two examples. Most companies still recruit through “spray and pray” LinkedIn mass messages that are often overlooked. For sales, they sell via online ads that don’t stand out. Then, they hope that ping pong tables and colorful bean bags will act as magic talismans that will enhance imagination and trigger innovation in the company. (I have nothing against ping pong or bean bags! They do help attract employees, but they don’t solve your problems). In contrast to all of these tactics, I have never seen so much creativity happen so fast than when we established our first quarterly targets. Because I like specific examples and think that you do too, I will tell you how this process worked in more detail for these two areas.
When we started Brex, we also started off with the obvious recruiting and sales tactics. LinkedIn and online ads were our tools for recruiting and inbound sales, respectively. We were still in our beta phase and there was no information about us online yet—which made these tasks that much harder. However, once we were able to get a potential customer on the phone or a prospect through the door, our conversion rates were very high. Our problem? Getting them to pay attention to us and take that call.
Our Famously Aggressive Quarterly Targets
Once the Brex team was large enough, we employed a tactic that we learned at our previous company, Pagar.me. We set our famously aggressive quarterly targets. These very high numbers set the bar high for individuals and teams, but we backed them up with industry benchmarks (to show that they were humanly possible) and with high compensation rewards (to show that they were worth it). Two weeks after the target setting meeting, the team realized that they would not hit the new targets if they stuck to old methods. Soon, creative solutions started popping out. My favorite ideas were handwritten letters for recruiting and a Brazilian chocolate campaign for sales.
Instead of sending 5,000 Linkedin messages, the recruiting team selected 500 profiles that we thought would be an excellent fit, did some more extensive research on their backgrounds and wrote 500 handwritten letters that we had delivered over the course of a few weeks. The letters were personal and kind of mysterious. We were trying to get these candidates’ attention, and we definitely did. One thing that worked for us was to specifically target the candidates and messaging to South Americans, whom we thought were most likely to resonate with our story and background. The conversion into actual interviews was six times higher than when we were using LinkedIn only. It was a manual process, but we got invaluable talent that was crucial at that phase of our company, and continues to be today.
Chocolatey, Delicious Sales
Sales followed a similarly thoughtful strategy. Rather than just blast online ads for “corporate credit card,” which has $20+ CPC and is clearly too broad so it doesn’t convert, the sales team mapped the coworking spaces in downtown San Francisco, did some research on concentration of target leads and the hours of the week these spaces were the most crowded. For two weeks, they had boxes of artisan Brazilian chocolates delivered to companies in the coworking spaces and followed up with an email. Once again, unprecedented conversion rates. The cool thing about this campaign is that it didn’t just catch the attention of the companies that received the chocolate. It also sparked the curiosity of others in their coworking spaces who did not get one—which was great for driving word of mouth.
In my experience, aggressive targets forced us to innovative aggressively. The more creative our approaches to common challenges, the better the result. Stretched targets drive this. Innovation is born from necessity.
Is your startup ready to get creative? Apply to a Techstars mentorship-driven accelerator, and #domorefaster.
Interested in learning more about the Brex Corporate Card for Startups? Learn more here.