With thousands of startups around you and lots more big companies with big PR budgets competing for people’s attention, how can you get your company noticed? The answer is simple: word of mouth – it’s the only way I’ve seen small companies reliably rise above the noise. Word of mouth is cheap and effective and small startups are ideally suited for it because people like to tell their friends about the latest exciting thing that they’ve discovered. I’ve seen it work many times, and it can work for you, too, if you focus on these three things:
*1.Build a great product*
It all starts with a compelling product, so make this your #1 priority. Get the best designers and engineers working with you that you can. Keep away the sales, marketing and PR people. All that matters in your first year is to come up with an incredible product that is useful and exciting and has great attention to detail. In all my personal startup experience, (I’m on #5,) the driving force behind people noticing and talking about us was always a great product. At Crystal River, (early 1990s) it was our Convolvotron 3D audio processor, which blew people away in demos. At Oddpost (early 2000s) people couldn’t believe webmail service was running inside a browser. With WordPress, (today) people were amazed by how easily they can become their own publisher and create online content right alongside the New York Times’ of the world.
*2. Find your story*
Every start-up has a unique and interesting story about how it came into being and – crucially – who the people are behind the product. Maybe it’s a couple of guys dropping out of college (Google, Yahoo, you name it). Maybe it’s two guys working out of libraries and cafes for a year, while they rode out the dotcom bust (Oddpost). Or maybe it’s about a group of volunteers who work on an open source project that spreads across the world in 50 different languages (WordPress). These human stories tend to be even more interesting to the public than your product’s list of features, or tech specs. People relate to other people. So write down your story and then tell it with enthusiasm. People will get excited about it and re-tell it for you. I’d like to stress the importance of genuine enthusiasm, because it’s infectious and fun to be around someone who loves what they are doing. Also – whatever you do, don’t try and package yourself to look like a “real” company (with a slick web site, stiff photos and bios of people, marketing speak, you know the type) – it’s generic and bland and won’t engage anyone at the word of mouth level.
*3. Your medium can be your message*
Once you have a great product with a compelling a story, you need to provide a way for people to spread the word. This is easiest if you can build it into the product itself. (Recall Marshall McLuhan’s historic media tome, _The Medium is the Message_ ). YouTube does this by making it easy for users to share great videos they’ve discovered to their friends. WordPress does it by inviting users to join the project’s user community to contribute and promote their own ideas, thereby creating and promoting the WordPress story, too. Or, at Oddpost we had an irreverent, funny and engaging blog and photo odyssey up on the site that told the story of how the company got started and grew in unexpected ways. Even three years after the company was acquired (July 2004) people still tell me they miss and talk about it.