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There's been quite a bit of discussion lately about how to arrange for a TechCrunch launch and while I can understand the allure, I think it may be more trouble than it's worth and could actually be much more damaging than you might imagine. For a startup that's been around the block a few times, bagging a TechCrunch article to announce a new feature, partnership or funding round is just good PR and should be standard operating procedure. But for a fledgling startup that's peeking out from under the bed for the first time, it's not a good idea and here's why.
From my experience, and from what I've read from others, TechCrunch traffic is more or less worthless for the purpose of picking up engaged users (much less paying customers) and the reality of this is signified by the often discussed TechCrunch bump. But for a new startup engaged users are really the only thing that matters. Who cares if tens of thousands of curiosity seekers crash down your door, rummage through your fridge and then run out the back as fast as they came in. That's not going to do you any good and you're just going to be left standing there wondering where everyone went and who ate your cupcakes.
Instead of attempting to flag down the mainstream tech press, focus on getting the word out to a handful of smaller blogs that cater to the demographic you're targeting. At this stage, you want to learn who your early adopters are going to be and what they're going to want out of your product or service. It's quality over quantity and step one is getting your first one-hundred happy users. While this will most likely happen over a period of weeks or months, the upside is that you'll have the time to establish relationships with the people who are most likely to become your biggest evangelists.
Remember, Guy Kawasaki's mantra - Don't worry, be crappy? Well, how the hell can you not worry about being crappy with a TechCrunch worldwide exclusive just over the horizon. Answer: you can't. You're going to worry about it a lot and that means you're not going to launch because you're going to be afraid of screwing it up, which by the way is the kiss of death for a startup. You know that whole Lean Startup and Minimum Viable Product meme that's achieved so much mind share and credibility recently? Well, guess what - doing MVP really ain't compatible with doing a TechCrunch launch, if not operationally, then at least not psychologically. You go after TechCrunch once you've iterated your way out of being crappy and not before.
I realize you may be thinking why not go ahead and send TechCrunch an email and if you get a writeup great, and if not then it's just business as usual. Okay, fine, but you're going to end up spending a fair amount of time and energy preparing for and worrying about the thunderous wave of looky-loos, which is a distraction because you could have otherwise been working on the core product and interfacing with your early adopters. Focusing on scaling issues before you've achieved some level of product/market fit is like setting up an off-shore tax shelter to protect your billions in future revenue before you have any paying customers. Okay, so maybe that might be stretching it a bit, but it definitely echos of the the dot-com bubble mentality of ramping up early and we're all aware of how well that strategy tended to work out.
Finally, there are two very real psychological downsides to the TechCrunch launch. The first is how you're going to feel if you make a big effort to pitch TechCrunch and they ignore you. You might not care, but then again it's hard not to care if you put the time into pitching, especially with how much you have riding on this startup. The second downside is what happens if you actually do land a TechCrunch launch. Going up the bump you're going to feel like you're on a rocket with a lottery ticket, but going down the other side will feel like watching your stock portfolio during the last market meltdown. So, the process will exact a significant psychological toll one way or the other and when doing a startup your frame of mind is as important an asset as anything you have, so be careful what you expose it to.
One last thing - the majority of the thriving, profitable tech companies we're all familiar with became successful without the pomp and circumstance of a TechCrunch launch. From the behemoths like Google to Facebook to the rising stars like MailChimp and Balsamiq Studios, the list goes on and on. So, forget about the chimera of the all important TechCrunch launch, or any one-off event for that matter, and commit to the long haul that is the reality of the startup experience.
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|Copyright © 2010 Jason C. Roberts|