It’s all about the pitch

I’m in Seattle for Gnomedex this week and I’ve had the opportunity of meeting a range of new and interesting people (along with catching up with some familiar faces.) Among the various conversations I’ve had, one interesting debate came up: the idea that a great startup will rise to the top based on merit alone. Perhaps as I’ve gotten older I’ve become too cynical and have lost some of the idealism from my youth, but they way I called it is this: it’s all about the pitch. The greatest product in the world will always remain undiscovered if nobody knows where it is.

The pitch can vary. I have the upmost respect for Andrew Baron for example, not because I like Rocketboom the show that much (it’s ok, but I’m not a regular viewer) but because he mastered the art of distribution in online video. Many may have arguably believed that Ze Frank was better, but Rocketboom had the viewers because Baron mastered the pitch to maximize Rocketboom’s presence on sites and services. In terms of a startup, the concept that you can do it all alone and PR is dead is verging on a joke. PR isn’t dead, it’s the greasy hand that spins the wheels of EVERY MAJOR BLOG ON THE PLANET. Besides, consider it logically: you’re writing for a large blog, you’re swamped with emails and calls, who are you going to pay attention to first, the PR rep you know who delivers you great stories in a format you can work with, or some guy you’ve never heard of who couldn’t write a decent pitch to save his life and is email 512 in your inbox for Monday. Now I’d note that I wouldn’t ignore your direct emails, but I have missed stories in the past based on a poor pitch. If you can’t sell your product, unless it’s the greatest invention of all time, it will never sell itself, at least initially.

Of course the flip side of the spin cycle is that those who truly master the pitch can be rewarded quickly along the way by targeted manipulation. Take for example the folks behind JustHackIt, a Slinkset hosted social voting site for hacking jobs, or as TechCrunch so delightfully described it “JustHackIt: It’s Like a Dating Site For Hackers.” In mastering the pitch, they’ve hunted extremely well. They targeted the author with zero real world experience, knowing that he was incapable of noticing basic things, like seeing the site had no Alexa rating then automatically checking the registration to notice that the site was less that 24 hours old! Better still, the URL resolves to a Slinkset sub-domain, so they’re not evening hosting the site themselves! The site is now for sale on Sitepoint, and you can guess the headline: “JustHackIt – Featured in TechCrunch.” This is proof that it’s all about pitch, where a site thrown together on a whim can get this sort of public attention where others who invest millions and years can’t get a post.

My advice to those working in the startup world, or even thinking of entering it: the moment you delude yourself into believing you don’t need to be pitching your product, you shouldn’t be involved in a startup. You have to sell the idea or product, and you have to do it well so that you’re product or site does stand out in a sea of competition.

(in part via Centernetworks)