Justin Kahn: How to work with specialized media

Original author: Justin Kan
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Stanford course CS183B: How to start a startup . Started in 2012 under the leadership of Peter Thiel. In the fall of 2014, a new series of lectures by leading entrepreneurs and experts of Y Combinator took place:


First part of the course

Sam Altman: Now I want to invite Justin Kan . Justin was the founder of KiKo and Justin.tv, which is now known as Twitch. He is going to talk about working with specialized media.

Justin: I started a lot of startups, but I think you've already heard enough stories in the spirit of “how I started”, so I'm going to talk with you about a more interesting topic, which constantly revolves around a lot of questions - how to get into the media, and how it can help you. My story is a shortened version of what you are told about it in Y Combinator. Hope you guys find this interesting.

Most people, when they start doing business, believe that getting into the media is possible only by magic. They think that journalists are always trying to get and record the best interviews in order to rise in the eyes of their superiors and colleagues, but this is completely not so.

Before you think about articles and interviews in magazines and newspapers, you must decide who you want to reach out to and what your goal is.. At first, I also wanted to get into publications that specialize in news. I thought it was very important for the company, but later I realized that if you do not set any goals, then it will not work. This phrase is applicable to almost all occasions, including journalism. If you just want to appear in the press, this will not have any impact on the development of a startup. If you have not set a clear business goal, then this is just a waste of time.



You can set several goals and objectives. In the case of Socialcam, which is an offshoot of Justin.tv, our goal was to make sure that when people heard the name Socialcam, they immediately imagined Instagram, but with a video. Thus, when it comes time to seek funding from bosses and investors in Silicon Valley, we would already be known in the technology media as a new social application.

In the case of Exec, my goal was to attract customers. Exec is a bit of a small cleaning service, and our main goal was to encourage the people of San Francisco to use our services. It is useless to use national media for this, because 99% of the country's population will not be able to use our services. Therefore, we aimed at the local newspaper SF Cronicle, which was read by our potential customers.

TwitchTV, probably the most famous of my projects named above, is something like an ESPN channel for gamers, in other words, a stream community. In this case, the goal was to attract the attention of the gaming community. Today about 55 million people know about the service, but at the start no one knew about it. It was not an entertainment site, it was a small, unknown gaming community. Our goal was to bring developers and advertisers to the gaming industry and show them that Twitch can be profitable. In this regard, our goal was the blogs of video game developers and gaming trading platforms, something that potential users read and watch.



So what do specialized media usually write about?I think that there are several different topics, and all these situations usually happen to startups. The first is the launch of the product on the market, they can write about it if you release a new version of your application.

Another popular topic is investing or fundraising. For some reason, the press loves to write about earnings, although this is completely uninteresting. Be sure if you have reached the bar of income of one million dollars, then they will definitely write about you.

Also in the press they like to write about how quickly this or that company makes its money. For example: a million dollars a week. The company that bought Exec recently announced that they earn over a million dollars a week, and they have written a decent amount of magazines and newspapers about them.

Another popular topic is success stories. When you become a successful company, The New York Times, The New Yorker or Business themselves will want to publish the story of your startup. There is no need to worry about this at first.

They also love to write about antics, as I call them. I don’t know whether you remember it or not, but several years ago, a company from YC called WePay threw an ice cube with frozen money from the window of the building where the conference was held. The event was due to the fact that PayPal was booming on all the news because of the intentions to freeze the accounts of some developers. This incident was incredibly widely reported in the press, and an interesting point: PayPal was not mentioned at all in this report.

Media is a good help when submitting job advertisements. If you are a large enough company and are looking for employees, then people will want to know about it.

And finally, you can get into articles written in the style of a review of an industry or the opinion of a correspondent, for example, it could be a technology blog or something like that.



In theory, everything that I outlined above can be a good storyline for a report. But usually, when starting a startup, people don’t think that their activities may be interesting to them, but they are absolutely uninteresting for others . You need to think and make an objective decision about whether you would read an article about a product that you are promoting if you were not the founder of the company?

You need to understand that articles about introducing new features into version 2.01 of your application or material about the new option “Find Friends” via Facebook may be of no interest to anyone. You need to wait a while and look at the situation from the outside before spending time writing articles and asking yourself the question: “ Will it really be someone reading? ". Journalists and bloggers are primarily looking for stories that their audience will find interesting.

On the other hand, giving an interview does not need to be extremely honest. You should not be mentioned as the second best company that raised $ 5 million dollars on Kickstarter - the one who won the first place will collect all the laurels. The first game console to raise $ 10 million dollars on Kickstarter - it was just great news, because they became the first in their category, although before them other companies collected huge amounts. Think about the context of your stories, see if someone wrote something similar or what you want to describe is a fairly new topic.

There is a way to get into the report or article(quite consistent). If you want to publish news in the press, you need to think of it as a springboard for sales. You will talk a lot with people, but not all of them will agree to write about you. Don't be upset if one journalist refuses to interview you.

The first step is to think through your story.. The second step is to become personally acquainted with one or more reporters so that they interview you. The easiest and most reliable way to get to know journalists is to ask someone about it, just like in a business relationship - this is better than writing emails to unknown people. It’s best to ask the entrepreneurs who were featured in other articles or your friends who recently posted on TechCrunch to introduce you to the journalist who wrote about them.

From the point of view of the entrepreneur, the easiest thing to do is to simply introduce you to a journalist who recently interviewed him, thus rendering him a favor if your story turns out to be interesting. This is not the same as asking for money from investors or asking people for a job. From the point of view of a reporter, this is an acquaintance with a person whom a trusted source represents to him, the one with whom he has already worked, so you are a priori quite interesting to him, and perhaps it’s worth writing about you.



And so, you send an email to the guy who agreed to introduce you to the journalist. You need to send it taking into account the time for writing the article, so let yourself know in advance, in a week or two, as reporters will not quit their business just to find out your news. Many people, especially those who have just started doing business, often approach someone and say: “Justin, I’ll launch my product on the market tomorrow, can you publish me on TechCrunch?” This will only work if Justin is your best friend. It is best to think things through in advance and be puzzled by the acquaintance in advance.

You have set a news release date and are planning to release the product within two weeks. The acquaintance with the journalist passed, and you made an appointment. You must make sure that the journalist spends time on you and invests his energy in the project because it may not be. The more time a journalist spends talking with you, the higher the chance that he will write material about you. It is best to set up personal meetings, but some bloggers, for example, do not want to do this, then a telephone conversation becomes the best option. The worst option is electronic correspondence, because in this case you are easily forgotten or ignored.

The next step is to record an interview. I can say to myself that I am writing down a story that I would like to see published, in the form of a plan and remember it. And when I come for a personal conversation, I lead the story in accordance with this plan, and the reporter takes notes, which then turn into an article. Having prepared in advance , you can control the conversation and not miss important points, such as the name of the co-founder or some cool functions of your application.

If the conversation is over the phone, then I know that the plan sheet will be opposite me and the conversation will be held in accordance with these points. It's simple: you tell, journalists write and prepare an article. The next step is to remind yourself a few days or the day before the news. You need to send a letter that should say something like: “It's time to launch our application on the market, thanks for your time, here are photos and videos, if you want, you can use them, and I would also like to remind you how to write my name and the name of my co-founder. I just want to clarify all the information, because it is very important for me. " And that is all. I hope that the day will come when the publication of the article in TechCrunch coincides with the start date of sales of your application in the AppStore, and you will become famous.



Many people ask us about PR firms. I think that at first, when a startup is only gaining momentum, you need to do everything yourself. And this is not so difficult, given the number of press centers and bloggers who constantly need material to work. I highly recommend trying to search for journalists and record interviews yourself, studying the process before hiring someone.

I must say that firms are able to help you find the right person and provide a list of journalists, but they cannot tell you what is interesting in your own company. At least, I have not met a single person who would talk about my activities better than me. You are responsible for the interesting story about your company, and for what you do in it, for the entire spectrum of its activities.

Also, PR-firms will cost you dearly. I think that we spend on them from $ 5,000 to $ 20,000 per month, and these are large amounts for a startup. Spending money on a PR for a young company is inefficient. Writing articles is hard work, and you have to be sure that it is worth it. But measuring the success of a company by the number of articles that are written about you is a very vain exercise. Do you think that you are successful because they write about you, as they write about Facebook? That doesn't mean anything yet. If you make money, you have more and more users and they are satisfied, then what else do you need?



Of course, sometimes working with specialized media is a very good way to attract your first 100 or 200 customers, but such a strategy rarely brings more users, you can’t endlessly publish articles about your company. The public is bored of constantly hearing about your company and pretty quickly.

The essence of the news is their novelty, so it’s quite difficult for the company, with the possible exception of Google, to get to the newspapers every week. If you think that it’s worth it, you need to think about what you will do to ensure that your news matches the specified topics. When I worked exclusively on PR and marketing, I made a schedule and marked the days of the launch of projects on the calendar, and tried to place them all in such time intervals that we did not have time to get bored with our news, but at the same time as many people read about us .



You should also remember to chat with your friends.- This is a very important matter. The journalist who wrote about you once should not forget about you, then perhaps he will write about you again in the future. When you have done something for a person, then you will probably help him again in the future. I am trying to establish good relations with a couple of journalists who publish hot news. Such connections may come in handy if you are out of luck, and there are people who write nasty things about you. Such dating will help you get out of the water.

And the last “advice for the future”: help fellow entrepreneurs, introduce them to reporters, and then they will recommend you. The best way to get into the media is through dating. When I meet with reporters, I name the names of other people and the names of their projects that may be of interest to them, and often it pays off. This helps journalists find interesting stories for articles, and the person whom you recommended will certainly help you too.



If you want to know more about the media, here are my recommendations: Jason Kincaid, the founder of TechCrunch, talks about the things that I just talked about, but in more detail. And a slightly wicked book called Trust Me, I'm Lying, written by former marketer American Apparel. He talks about rude ways to manipulate the media, but I think this is a great look at human psychology, how stories spread over the Internet, and it is useful to read it. Great, I think that's all.

When should you think about working directly with the press?
Kang: When I launched my first startup, you know what my first projects were: we were not able to attract any attention to most of them, and we were puzzled by how we get our first users. Profile media is a good way to get your first 100 clients, and we encourage many companies at YC to do this - write an article and publish it in TechCrunch so that at least a few people notice it. This will prove to be useful. But I would not dwell on this and did not try to light up in several magazines at once.

What role did you play in launching that thing with Pokemon?
Kang: There used to be such a thing on Twitch: “Twitch plays Pokemon,” when the developers launched the Pokemon game for Gameboy, which could be played via chat - millions of people could write A or B there, and the character began to randomly move around. It was a project worthy of a couple of references in the press. I think we just set the stage, because articles have already been published about us.

Therefore, when someone from the BBC “google” the word “Twitch”, he came across a “crazy thing that all of Reddit talks about.” And got some idea about it. We did not plan to make this story an info guide for Twitch promotion. It happened by chance, we just helped the idea come true, giving company employees the opportunity to talk with reporters and talk about how “Twitch plays Pokemon”, which gained at that time more than 100,000 views. We did not come up with these topics, the community itself created them.

[ Translation of the next lecture at Stanford startup school ]

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