Launch Your Startup When You’ve Already Won


The tech industry is overly-obsessed with making noise, being self-congratulatory and too often, focused on the wrong things. We look at PR as a big win. We celebrate financings (although we also spill plenty of digital ink about not celebrating them too; and yet they’re common on tech news sites).

There’s a time and place for making noise about your startup, but you’ve gotta be clear on whether you’re doing it to feed your own ego and make yourself feel good, or if you’re doing it strategically for some understood and measurable benefit. Making noise can definitely help–but more often than not we do it for the former reasons and not the latter: we want to feel important, we want people to recognize our “accomplishments”.

One of my best portfolio companies has never publicly launched.

And yet, if we compared their metrics to a lot of similar companies (and others in my portfolio), I’d bet they would be on top. They’re absolutely killing it. Why? Because they’re 100% focused on their users and providing an awesome experience. Press, publicity, blogging, tweeting, shouting from rooftops, etc. doesn’t help them. In this particular case their customer isn’t an early tech adopter either, which is even more reason to ignore the “rah rah” bubble we live in and stay focused on real growth.

This portfolio company has also raised two rounds of financing. The last round was a good size and brought in some of the top investors out there. It might have been a bit harder to get investors’ attention without being in the tech news cycle every few months, but their team + mission + traction got them to the right people, and those people invested.

When you finally hear about this company in the tech world, they’ll have already won.

That’s my goal for them. They’ll have ironed out the wrinkles, solved most of the hard problems, and they’ll be scaling like crazy. They’ll have an unfair advantage over everyone else that invested any iota of their time making noise about what they were doing–because the noise doesn’t drive results.

Launching a startup is almost a silly concept. It’s a single point in time that has almost no bearing on the ultimate success of your business. But it can actually lead you down the wrong path to failure, getting you caught up in things that don’t really matter. Launching doesn’t solve your #1 problem (whatever it might be).

Most people are swayed by the spotlight, by the opportunity to be recognized as an awesome entrepreneur who’s doing something amazing. We’re almost uncontrollably attracted to the celebrity of startups. But unless you can genuinely draw a line between your public efforts and your startup’s success, you’re wasting valuable time. Launch your startup when you’ve already won. Hell, don’t even bother launching–just build an insanely awesome business, and the right people, investors, partners and acquirers will know what’s going on.

Want more content like this?

Signup for free and you'll get new content as soon as it's available. Thanks!

  • Clyde Smith

    Then again, I’ve talked to startup CEOs who say coverage has helped them with investors. So there’s that. Certainly who the user and/or customer might be will make a big difference as well.

    Startups should evaluate their situation and always base their actions on that situation and how they can improve it. What works for one company doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t fit another.

    I’m not sure Spotify would have done so well without some media outreach.

  • Ben Wiener

    Nailed it again.

  • Benjamin Yoskovitz

    Clyde – thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree with you. Investors will take notice of the press. And if you’re going after early tech adopters you want to get some press to build that awareness + momentum. And there may even be other types of press in other areas for different types of customers.

    So there are circumstances for getting press and building buzz — but I think MOST cases we see people using press and building buzz for no other reason but to make themselves feel good.

  • Clyde Smith

    Well it is a good feeling to see your name in print!

    But I know what you’re saying. I had someone contact me about a startup that was entering an accelerator and hoping for coverage. They are someone I want to cover but I suggested they wait till they get out of the accelerator since a lot can happen in that experience.

    They certainly aren’t the only example of people who want coverage before they’re really ready. I understand the impulse but they don’t always realize the importance of that first look in the public eye.

    So I think more discussion about startup marketing is definitely in order.

    And if you don’t really need press to reach your target market, I agree that holding off makes sense. Then you have less scrutiny from outsiders who may not really understand what you’re doing.

  • Benjamin Yoskovitz

    I think you did the right thing telling that startup to hold off. Even when you leave an accelerator–unless the press has an intent (ideally to reach a specific market and establish credibility in that market), I’d hold off. There are so many “Here are the X startups launching from Y accelerator” posts out there, it’s not meaningful in my opinion.

    Celebrate getting through the accelerator–by all means–but is it really newsworthy?

  • Clyde Smith

    Definitely a key question.

  • Pingback: Can you be successful without PR? | A Founder's Notebook()