Monday, October 1, 2012

How to Get Your Startup Picked Up in the Wall Street Journal

A couple of days ago I was honored to speak with Walt Mossberg, Columnist at the Wall Street Journal and co-founder (with Kara Swisher) of AllThingsD. We had a time to discuss happenings in the “Post-PC Era” and he had mentioned that he really likes to see what entrepreneurs are up to. Below are some hints about how to get Walt and/or Katie Boehret, his review partner and columnist, and/or the AllThingsD editorial staff to take you seriously in the early stages of your company.  Listen closely…

Ann: Walt, you are well known for outstanding coverage of major releases from big-name companies, new mobile technology gadget reviews, and, well, all things that are D, so to speak. But I’ve worked with you for years on products from start-ups – and you seem well-disposed to taking a look at new products from entrepreneurs.

Walt: I do like to talk to entrepreneurs. Continues inside...

In fact, this week I had 2 college students from University of South Carolina in my office. They had this great idea called “52Apps” where they’d create a different iPhone and Android app, one per week for year. Several weeks into their endeavor, their investors looked at one particular app and said ‘whoa, let’s not finish this one in a week – let’s do more. It has such potential.’  So the students brought it in for me and Katie to take a look at. It is a pretty neat ‘geofencing’ solution that alerts parents when teens are using their phone while in a car, or when they’re in a location that they’re not supposed to be.

So sure, I love to see creative new things. I’ve written a lot over the years about Microsoft, Google and Apple, but many columns are about companies we’d never heard of.

Ann: Wow – college students. That’s equal opportunity! Let’s talk about some hints that can help other entrepreneurs get in front of you. I’m a big believer in making sure I don’t bug journalists about a product that’s not well suited to their interests – or at least I like to be sure the topic is something they’ve written about before.

Walt: That’s key. I’m a Personal Technology columnist; I write about consumer technology. Now, I’ve written about tools that work in a small business environment, but that’s because they were well-suited to either home-based business or consumers.

For example, an app that helps you take notes, or make audio recordings would be appropriate for the column. It may have been developed for a business application, but it extends into the rest of your digital life. And vice-versa -- these days, consumer products usually make it in to business. (ed: BYOD, anyone?)

I believe that all successful companies have a focus, and successful journalists have to do that, too. There are many outstanding journalists writing about enterprise software, but I’m not one of them. For All Things D, as well as for the columns that Katie and I write, it has to be a consumer product.

Ann: OK, so we’ve pared that universe down. I have a consumer technology. When should I bring it to you – do you want to see product really early in its cycle?

Walt:  It’s a bit of a balance. I want to see it before it ships – but not so early that it’s not working right. I see alphas. I’ve even seen mockups. Typically, however, both Katie and I like to see them and test them when they’re really ready. Now, if they’re missing a couple pieces of polish, we’ll understand and will check before it ships to see if the ‘missing parts’ have been made good.

Also, we don’t take meetings for a technology – it must be an actual product that is going to be released.

The bottom line is that our consumer readers need to read a review when they can buy the product – and preferably as soon as they can buy the product. In the case of the iPhone5 or something when there’s already huge pent-up demand, we’ll try to run reviews ahead of actual availability.  

Often big and impactful products will come in stages. Maybe six weeks to even a few months before it’s scheduled release date would be a good time to show it to us. If we’re interested, we may say ‘send it at least a couple weeks before you ship.’ That’s true for software, hardware and cloud services.

Ann: What’s the process like for the company? And what can we do to make that process the most successful?

Walt: We usually meet with people in our office as a first step, but sometimes that’s not possible and then we can get the product introduction via phone. And as I said we like to see things early, but if a product is already available on the market we might still review it.

If we do decide to review, it gets intense. Generally there’s another long phone call and a ton of email. We go back and forth with questions and answers. The good contacts – they get us an immediate response, and send pretty much the final version very early. If it’s feature complete but the polish isn’t ‘done,’ let us know everything you can about it and send us new builds as appropriate, etc.

Ann: Tell me more about that “good contact.” Who should the company send for a meeting with Walt and Katie, or others with All Things D?

Walt:  A small group of two or three people that are extremely knowledgeable about the product is the best. Who to send? That will differ, I expect, for each company, but generally it’s the developer, or product manager – could be an engineer, but also the marketing or PR person who can discuss the ‘why,’ where it fits in landscape, what’s different, etc. Of course in a small company, the CEO might be there as they’re often wearing many of these hats and are intimately involved with the product. The bottom line is that we want answers to our questions as they arise in the meeting; and the questions we have later are for people who really know product but also can answer key market questions. 

Ann:  Ok, one last tip on how to have a successful meeting with Walt.

Walt:  Speaking for myself only… I do not like to see PowerPoints. Show the product. Get right into it. Talk about the product; demonstrate the product.

It’s not unusual to have people walk into my office and try to show a slide deck, and we don’t respond well to that. I can’t say this strongly enough: get right to product.  Sometimes an industry overview or product positioning is important but not as opener.  

Ann:  Walt, you have just made it easier for a whole new group of companies to get you some very exciting new products, and do it the right way. Thank you so much for your time.

Walt: My pleasure. As I said, I love to see new products! It’s what keeps this industry so intriguing.

Ann Revell-Pechar is a volunteer on the CED PR / Marketing Committee. When she’s not volunteering, she’s VP/GM for the Carolinas at Arketi Group, a B-to-B technology marketing and public relations firm. Respond to Ann here.

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