5 Tricks To Get Press For Your Business Or Startup

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Celebrity Photographers at the Tribeca Film Fe...

So you spent a few months, perhaps even a few years, to develop the most cutting edge and revolutionary widget. This widget could be anything ranging from a new product or device to a new company or startup. The bottom line is that the development phase is completed and now it’s time to get the word out. You run through your marketing list. Social Media? Check. PR firm? Check. Paid Media? Check. Events? Check. As you run through the list you realize that it’s the same list every other company would put together. You think you have an extraordinary product or solution and yet, you’re plan is about as generic as they come. Having worked in the trenches as a founder and startup employee, I know firsthand what this marketing laundry list could look like.

But for the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to sit on the other side of the table as a contributor for various publications like Forbes, HBR, and other industry specific outlets. As a result, I’ve personally been pitched dozens of stories that are “game changing” or “disruptive.” What I learned is that most of these pitches are in fact, not “game changing” and moreover, some of the methods used to acquire the sought after press is shockingly abysmal.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some tips to avoid the generic PR trap and ways you can achieve meaningful exposure for your new widget or business.

Build a targeted list of writers and journalists. I was once pitched a story about a non-profit in Africa. While I love nonprofits and love Africa (although I’ve never been there), this type of story is one I’d most likely never write about. Spend some time to identify who the best writers are that are most likely to benefit from your story. Journalists are always looking for good, relevant content. Make sure your story aligns with their experience and area of focus.

Let the writers know you’ve read their work. Most people respond best when they are shown personal attention. Journalists are no different. When pitching your story, start with a personal reference to grab their attention. You can reference a previous article they wrote or mention a past achievement:

“Hi Dan, I thought your last article on startups was …”

This will demonstrate that you were thoughtful and respectful of the person’s time. Check out their profiles on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Do some homework first.

Pitch a story, not your company or product. If you are looking for press coverage it’s because you want a broader audience to know about your product or service. To do this, try to tie your company or product to a hot trend in current events so that it becomes relevant to a broader base. For example, one recent company I covered was building a new home security system. Instead of pitching me on their product, they pitched me on the fact that they raised over $180,000 on their own crowd funding site during a time when crowd-funding was getting a lot of attention. The story was how they raised money. The result was more coverage for their company.

Don’t hire a PR firm to do it. I respect the hustle of people trying to make their business grow. So when I get an email from a hired PR shop, I think to myself, why didn’t the founder of the company send me the note instead? If press is so important to them, why push it off to someone else? Steve Jobs for example would personally spend time, lots of time, chatting up the press. Be like Steve. Spend some time curating relationships with those that can help amplify your message.

Make it exclusive to that journalist. Journalists love exclusive stories because in the world of content exclusivity is a competitive advantage. When trying to get press coverage, let the journalist know that you will make your story available to them and them only. This will create more motivation for that person to write a story about you.

When it comes to press coverage just remember that journalists are people and not robots that crank out words in publications. If you can craft a story that is unique, adds value to a specific journalist, and can convey the message in a personal and respectful way, then it’s a win-win for everyone involved. The journalist will get a great story to write and you will get some nice exposure for your new shiny object.

From Law To Liquor: How One Corporate Attorney Left Law To Start A Luxury Tequila Company

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Over the past few months I’ve heard the same brutally refreshing remarks from a handful of friends: They all want to quit their job as a lawyer so that they can pursue a business of their own. As one corporate lawyer friend put it, “it’s rewarding to help my clients with their business but I think it would be entirely more satisfying if it were a business of my own.”

This is one of the reasons a new tequila company called Qui Tequila was launched. Pete Girgis, a once corporate attorney, felt the same way and decided to leave his corporate gig so that he could launch a tequila company. Pete put it this way.

“I was at a big firm where I felt like a cog in the wheel.  There wasn’t a sense of creation.  Growing up, my father was a small business owner who owned liquor stores that I managed while in school. I had a passion for the spirits business and was lucky to have met my cofounders while practicing law. We are like brothers.  We saw a great opportunity in the luxury tequila market. Now every time I walk into a bar or restaurant and see someone enjoying Qui, it is incredibly satisfying.”

Pete’s leap of faith to start his own business is now paying off. His tequila is now carried by dozens of liquor stores like Sherry-Lehmann, Bottlerocket Wine & Spirits, Park Ave Liquor Shop, Chelsea Wine Vault and prestigious hospitality venues like the Bowery Hotel, the Standard, Lure Fishbar, Casa La Femme, Darby, 1OAK, the General, and La Cenita.

Although hard work and hustle are two key ingredients to Pete’s success, he was able to share some more tips for future x-lawyers and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Education Matters. Although he doesn’t practice law anymore, Pete’s academic background as a JD/MBA provided him with critical building blocks to build his business.

“If I had to do it over, I would have still studied law and business. Starting a successful business is incredibly challenging and big businesses can have lots of complexities. I’m a firm believer that a strong foundation in the business and the legal worlds only helps your likelihood of success.”

Create a unique product. Pete and his team spent a lot of time meticulously developing a product that they would be proud of and the once lawyer is now a full blown tequila connoisseur.

“On the product side, Qui is the first Platinum Extra-Añejo Tequila in the world. So after the tequila is made, it rests in French Bordeaux and American Whiskey barrels for three and a half years.  This aging process gives it a rich flavor, character and beautiful aroma. Then we filter it 9 times and distill it a third time for an incredibly smooth finish. No one has done that before and as a result, we just won Gold in the Spirits of the Americas Competition.”

Have a good distribution strategy. In the world of liquors and spirits, it is incredibly difficult to stand out. Pete and his partners figured they could create a unique product and distribute it in a competitive landscape by targeting specific market segments.

“We knew that New York was one of the most challenging spirits markets in the world, but if we could win here, we could go anywhere.  We set out to create a brand that was more elegant, sophisticated and cosmopolitan then the rest with a juice that was equally as refined.  So far, Qui has had great traction in the fashion, film, music and art worlds because of our focus on strong product-market fit and distribution.”

So if you are thinking about leaving your corporate job to start your own business, just remember that hard work, hustle and good planning can pay off. And then maybe you too will see your product in a nice window display like the one above.

Who Gives You Advice?

A few days ago I was at The Barclays golf tournament watching Jason Day as he was about to tee off with his three wood.

(above: Jason Day is a professional golfer that plays on the PGA Tour)

He was standing at the 5th hole tee box analyzing his shot and thinking about what club to use. These are the same steps that he, and probably every other golfer does before they hit the ball. The only difference however is that he is a professional and most other golfers, like me, are far from it. So I really started to laugh when I overheard the following conversation between Jason and some seemingly out-of-shape, mildly drunk, pompous golf spectator.

Golf spectator: Hey Jason, you’re not using your driver, huh?

Jason Day: Hey Buddy, that’s why you’re on the other side of the ropes.

Everyone was laughing including the genius that tried to give golf tips to the golf pro. Jason also had a laugh and then softened the blow a bit to save the guy from pure humiliation.

Jason Day: All good man, I’m just kidding. Thanks.

Too bad he wasn’t kidding.

There are many critics out there and it seems everyone has some advice to give. Sometimes you have to stop and think about where that advice is coming from.

The corporate ladder climber that offers advice on startups.

The single person that offers advice on relationships.

The broke person that offers advice on money management.

The drunk amateur that offers advice on golfing.

When it comes to taking advice the best critic is you. Listen to yourself first. Trust your instincts. Occasionally you can and should listen to others but understand where they are coming from and where they’ve been. Jason’s golf critic was some 300 pound fat dude drinking a beer. Of course he wasn’t going to listen to him.

If you are getting outside input from someone first think about why they are uniquely suited to add value to your situation. If you can’t think of anything meaningful then you’re probably just listening to the guy  outside of the ropes.

Who gives you advice?

YouTube Is Growing Up, Celebrates At VidCon In Anaheim

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Español: Logo Vectorial de YouTube


YouTube has been around for a while but it’s finally becoming the transformational platform everyone thought it could and would become. Until recently, brands and businesses have written off the medium as a place for teenagers to film short, quirky, and often nonsensical short form videos. But something funny happened along the way. Many of these teenagers became overnight sensations which has people rethinking the power of online video.

Take for example Jenna Marbles. With about 10 million YouTube subscribers and over 1 billion video views, she has amassed a following most brands would be envious of. And there are plenty of others trying to follow in her foot steps by using YouTube as a platform to create a meaningful brand and personality. This week, many of these YouTube stars and celebrity hopefuls will converge in Anaheim, California for the VidCon conference. In attendance will also be other forms of professionals and they are ones you’d only expect to find in Hollywood: talent managers and entertainment agents. The talent and respective managers are both starting to realize that YouTube has completely changed the game.  And this trend is only increasing. According to Rolling Stone magazine, just last week Russell Simmons announced a brand new music label with YouTube and Universal Music  that would be focused on promoting and developing new artists using YouTube.

But music isn’t the only category that is taking advantage of the medium.

Major retailers, consumer packaged goods companies, and beauty companies, are beginning to partner up with influential YouTube bloggers in order to facilitate product placement within online videos. Companies like Stylehaul and HaulerDeals have been created to facilitate these types of transactions between product companies and video bloggers.

Media companies are starting to invest heavily in in-house video production and content creation, whereas just a few years ago they would argue that it was too expensive. However, after recently speaking to a number of executives at various media companies like Conde Nast and Hearst, it’s clear that they realize the time to invest in video is now. And with the costs of video production coming down due cheaper and better tools it’s starting to become a no-brainer for businesses to get into the video production game. Cameo.tv is one such example where videographers can film, edit, and publish a professional video without needing anything more than just an iPhone.

Even medium to small sized businesses realize that in order to do effective marketing and sales, you need to be able to tell your story in a meaningful and engaging way. And how much more engaging can you get than using site, sound and motion? This is the reason more and more businesses feature videos right on their home pages, and even about-us pages, instead of static text.

So if you’re thinking about building your own personal brand or adding fuel to your business, you should take another look at YouTube. It’s not just about teenagers and cute kitten videos anymore.

Innovation And Investment Dollars Turn To A New Region: The Midwest

Memorial Union Terrace, Madison, WI

Memorial Union Terrace, Madison, WI (Photo credit: Mike Procario)

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

It may seem as if entrepreneurship and venture capital are exclusively tied to the east and west coasts. In many cases this is true. A recent report derived by SSTI from PricewaterhouseCoopers Moneytree Survey Data shows that California attracted 53% of all venture capital dollars in 2012 in the United States followed by Massachusetts and New York City with a combined 19% of  VC investment dollars.

For recent graduates pursuing a career associated with the world of startup life, it may seem as if the coasts are the only places to go to start or join a new business.

There are, however, accelerator programs that are trying to change that. One program that I’m intimately familiar with, given my ties to UW-Madison, is called gener8tor and it is launching its third class of startup companies. The program is based in Madison, Wisconsin and is drawing companies from Austin, Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, and the Twin cities.

Jon Eckhardt, co-founder of the program sees a big opportunity to create a more meaningful environment for aspiring entrepreneurs in the Midwest.

“gener8tor’s is tightly integrated into the entrepreneurship communities in the mid-west and the coasts, especially as a result of our work with nearby academic institutions” Eckhardt said. “This, combined with our innovative training platform, lets us link the capabilities of the mid-west with resources nationally.”

And it’s starting to work. According to Troy Vosseller, a co-founder of the program, its 13 companies have raised more than $5 million in capital and created 70 jobs. “The growth is only accelerating and this summer the program saw over 250 applications from around the country and from around the world,” said Vosseller. Other VC firms are starting to notice. One of which is Great Oaks Capital, a VC firm who’s founding team spent time studying at UW-Madison.

John Philosophos, Partner at Great Oaks Venture Capital put it this way. “We see big opportunities brewing in the Wisconsin ecosystem.  The entrepreneurial community is growing and producing high quality start-ups. Critical resources, including top flight developers from the UW Computer Science program and College of Engineering, mentorship from the State’s broad based economy and forward thinking corporations are all being mobilized to support innovation in the State.  Accordingly, we have made Wisconsin one of our national areas of focus.”

Local corporations are also joining the movement. American Family Insurance, based in Madison, has begun investing in and becoming customers of the region’s emerging companies. Dan Reed, Director of Business Development at American Family, says the company “sees an opportunity to engage the community in creating wealth and value in a way that also fosters a culture of innovation across the region.”

And it’s no wonder that more focus is being spent on this Midwest ecosystem.

Consider that just a few years ago, the University of Wisconsin was said to have “stood out among its state school peers” in terms of producing chief executive officers of major corporations, according to a study from U.S. News & World Report. If a program like gener8tor could help guide some of that raw Midwestern talent, maybe we’ll see an uptick of investment dollars and economic growth in the Midwest which would be a huge win for the region and national economy.

Why Borat Is My Hero. A Strange And Uncomfortable Hero.

“I like to ride wild bull!”

The woman looked at me like I was a nut job.

“In my country, I ride wild bull. My teacher help.”

Her eyes were still glued to my face. She didn’t know what the hell was going on. After all, stood before her was a 16-year-old who was..Russian? American? She had no idea and neither did I.

I was trying to pretend like I was from some foreign, made up, Eastern European country. Two years later I would see Borat on television and wonder to myself if I ever encountered him on the street.

I was speaking like Borat. Some made up, nonsensical european dialect. This was before Ali G came out.

I was traveling the country on a teen tour with some friends from high school. We started off in Montana, made our way up to Seattle, down the west coast to Southern California, then to Ensenada Mexico on a cruise, and ended up in Las Vegas. As if the trip didn’t provide enough excitement on its own, I needed to spice things up by invoking some strange persona that only belongs on a stage before a crowd of tomato-throwing hooligans. I’d realize later that this wasn’t so far from the truth. At least the part about standing on a stage before a large audience.

Everywhere we went I’d engage with random strangers and introduce myself.

“Chhheloo, my name is Borris” (I had never seen Ali G or Borat until this point in my life).

“Hi Borris,” said almost everyone.

Then the real fun started.

Once their shields were down and they were open to conversation, I just jumped to it.

“Do you like to ride wild bull?” or, “Why are you wearing those funny shoes?” or [insert something ridiculous here].

The things that came out of my mouth made absolutely no sense but the people remained engaged. They were intrigued and wanted to know what this wild bull thing was all about. I think they really wanted to know what was going on, who I was, and where the hidden cameras were.

The charade continued. From cowboys in Montana to strippers standing on Las Vegas Boulevard, many people had the opportunity to meet, and react to, Borris.

Including Steve.

Steve was a person I met on the top deck of our Carnival cruise ship.

The Carnival Cruise ship docked at the Ensenada marina.

He was a short, skinny guy with blonde hair just mingling about with the other boat guests. I figured he was a good a target to stir up some nonsensical conversation with. I was dead certain his reactions would be different from the cowboy and stripper but that’s what made it fun.

“Chhello,” I said as I did 50 times before, in that strange accent. “My name is Borris, whut iz your name?”

“Chhello Borris! My name is Vladimir.”

My brain started, “What the..”

He responded with the same accent. For all I knew he was actually from the real country I was mocking, wherever that is. I started to get nervous. It was all fun and games but now I was blatantly insulting some guy’s culture and language. As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I don’t take that kind of thing lightly either.

“uhh…hi Vladimir.”

Now I was committed.

Before long we were talking about wild bulls, Russia, and some other arbitrary topics. The conversation got very uncomfortable, very fast, until I just broke my cover.

“Hey man, I’ve been kidding the whole time. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.” I felt better but still equally as guilty.

“My name is Dan and I’m really from New Jersey.”

He started to laugh. I couldn’t tell if he thought it was funny or was about to throw me off of the boat.

“Dude, it’s all good. My name is Steve and I’m a comedian from L.A.”

The next thing I knew he was telling me about his life, his career as an aspiring comedian, and the comedy show he was scheduled to perform later that night in front of the entire cruise ship. He was part of the ship’s entertainment and was supposed to do stand up in front of the 2,500 passengers.

“Dan, why don’t you do the show with me later?”

I thought about it for a moment.

Am I funny? Nope. Am I a good public speaker? Nope. Am I ever going to see these people again? Nope.

“Alright I’m in.”

Later that night my friends were showering up, changing, and getting ready to attend the ship’s 8pm evening activity in the main theater. A theater that seated all 2,500 passengers.

I was also getting ready to attend the show but also getting ready for the biggest public appearance of my life.

Behind the stage Steve conducted a pre-game ceremony with me. It was like we were about to head on to the soccer field and play for the state championship only we were two people, not eleven. He even said some prayers like many sports teams do when they huddle up.

Then the theater speakers came on and started to speak to the crowd.

“And now I’d like to welcome…”

The host for the night called our names and on we went.

The lights were extremely bright as I looked out into the crowd. And there they were. All 2,500 people from the boat. Staring at us, just waiting for us to be funny as comedians should be. I was in an anything-but funny mood once I saw all of those people.

The show went on…

He did some act that had to do with the Titanic and Leonardo Dicaprio. I did something related to Borris.

The audience applauded, we walked off and I remembered thinking about how horrible and awesome the experience was. It was both terrifying and exhilarating, but most of all it was uncomfortable.

At that moment I realized that the most interesting and opportunistic experiences come from situations that are both unexpected and uncomfortable. We find our best moments when we take the path less traveled and when we live life without conforming to the status quo. I could have sat in one of those 2,500 chairs and watched Steve with my friends. Instead, I joined Steve on stage for 20 minutes. A brutal but very exciting 20 minutes.

Steve gave me his card and told me to call him so we could develop a standup routine together. He wanted me to join him in Los Angeles full time. I put it in my pocket but had no intention of calling him. I didn’t think I was funny but at that moment I realized that life was.

The boat arrived back in California. We got off and I continued on with the strange Borris character.

Strange indeed. Just like this post.



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