With Scott Orn

A Startup Podcast by Kruze Consulting

Subscribe on:

Scott Orn

Scott Orn, CFA

Haje Jan Kamps of TechCrunch - How to Get Your Startup Covered

Posted on: 01/05/2017

Haje Jan Kamps

Haje Jan Kamps

Contributor - TechCrunch

Haje Jan Kamps of TechCrunch - Podcast Summary

Haje Jan Kamps of TechCrunch comes by to explain How to Get Your Startup Covered. Haje also talks about his love of photography and how a simple crowdfunding campaign turned him into an entrepreneur.Haje can be found on Twitter and TechCrunch.

Haje Jan Kamps of TechCrunch - Podcast Transcript

Scott: Welcome to Founders and Friends Podcast with Scott Orn of Kruze Consulting and my very special guest is Haje Kamps from TechCrunch. Welcome, Haje.
Haje: Hey! How are you?
Scott: So I’m doing great. Haje and I met probably about a year and a half ago. We were working with one of his startups and he ended kind of going in a different direction. Ended up at TechCrunch. Do you want to give the folks your quick background?
Haje: Yeah sure. So basically what I ended up doing was I did a journalism degree which was a complete and utter waste of time. I swore to never work in journalism ever again and of course the first thing I do after I come out of journalism is realizing I can’t make any money doing photography. So I’ve become a journalist and I’ve kind of been bouncing between startups and journalism in some form or other ever since. Worked at at.v. Station for a while. Worked for a gadget magazine for a while and kind of kept just bouncing around and figuring what happened. At some point I was working on a book on kind of building your own photography equipment and kind of started my own company on accident. I built this photography trigger that triggers a camera based on a laser beam, so when the laser beam is broken it takes a photo.
Scott: Oh my god! That’s cool!
Haje: Yeah and I did that as a Kickstarter project and the whole time, I mean this is how ridiculous and naïve I was, the whole time I never even started my own company for it. I just kind of, you know, I thought, “Oh I’ll do this for six months. I’ll check out this product and then I’ll go back to writing books.”
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: But, it turns out that as soon as you start manufacturing something you need support. You need operations. You need logistics. You need all this kind of stuff and it never even occurred to me. I’ve never run a business before. I had no idea what I was doing what so ever. Luckily, I got some good advice early on the Kickstarter project was a success. And I thought, “Actually, I’m going to have to start a company now.” So I started a company and it was a lot of learning on the job and stuff and we made some pretty clear mistake. Looking back now I’m like, “Okay. What the hell am I doing giving anyone advice on startups.”
Scott: It’s kind of a beauty of the Kickstarter stuff though is that people who maybe didn’t think they were going to start a company end up doing it. And of course, there is that learning on the job. It sucks people in. It’s really cool.
Haje: Well, it’s definitely a blessing and a curse then. I mean, I would have done literally everything differently, but at the same time if I knew what I was in for I wouldn’t have done it. So there’s the whole dichotomy there, but that startup actually is still running. It’s four and a half years later. It’s called Triggertrap and we have something like a 150,000 customers all around the world.
Scott: Are you kidding me? That’s amazing!
Haje: It’s really good fun. It’s available on Amazon and all that kind of stuff, but there was a couple other interesting things that happened including, my buddy met his wife. In fact, today is their fourth anniversary which is-
Scott: Congratulations!
Haje: And I hear you some sort of a pre-anniversary happening.
Scott: We got married 10 days ago or 12 days ago. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Haje: Well, you got your 12 day anniversary. Right? That’s pretty exciting. Right. So my wife is from here in the U.S. And her mom got quite sick.
Scott: Oh, I’m sorry.
Haje: Yeah, which is a same, but the bright side in all of this her mom did live in Alaska, I suppose, as a massive startup nerd there are worse places to be than San Francisco.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: So we moved here about 18 months ago and a friend of mine needed some help with a startup and that’s how I ended up on your desk.
Scott: Yep. Yeah.
Haje: And to kind of figure out how to navigate the US legal and financial side of things. Because I now have a lot of experience with my startup in the UK, but the laws here are very, very different.
Scott: Totally different.
Haje: And, yeah, it was very good to end up in some good hands and get some good advice there.
Scott: Thank you.
Haje: And then, after a while I decided that particular startup was not for me. So I did what I can to kind of do my temporary CEO thing and then handed it back. It was funny actually before we moved to the US my wife said, “Well you know what you should just not take a job for a while. You should just float around in Silicon Valley and kind of figure out what’s what. Have a lot of conversations.” So she moved out two months before I did and at some point I called her. I was like, “Hey Zahia, I’ve taken a job.” What did I say? What did I say?
Scott: First of all, this is a total reverse of how these conversations usually go. Normally, your spouse, a man or woman, is telling you, the other one, to get a job so you have a very understanding wife there. And then, now you didn’t even have to get a job, but you took one anyways. So this is amazing.
Haje: Yeah my wife, I think she knew I was a little bit burnt out because the last startup. I mean doing any startup is incredibly hard.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: It’s physically and mentally it’s draining. Then, there was a new shiny, shiny. I mean it’s very hard to say no when someone comes along and says, “Hey, do you want to be the new CEO of our shop?”
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: Especially because it was a pretty good friend and I really thought I could have something. And time will tell. History will tell. I hope I was able to do some good.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: But ultimately I kind of went back to my original plan which was I was going to buy a car and drive an Uber. And the idea was to just meet lots of startup people and have the same conversations again and again and again. Kind of try and pick people’s brains and I figured an Uber’s ride worth is a very good time, kind of like this podcast actually, to have 20-30 minutes to talk business. Pick somebody’s brain about business models. About what kind of industry therein. And my idea was to let luck do its thing and find an interesting job that way.
Scott: Yeah. That’s super cool by the way. That’s amazing.
Haje: Yeah I thought it was a cool idea and that never happened because when I got around to buying a car it turns out I bought a two-seater which is a dumb idea. And of course, I look at my wife and go, “Well I can’t drive an Uber in this.” And she goes, “Well you were never going to do that anyway.” And I was like, “Yeah I was.” But, she kind of points out, “Well you do have some writing skills. Maybe you should try and reach out to someone at tech publications.” So I emailed the editor at TechCrunch and I say, “Hey, so do you have any internships?” Very, long story short the answer was, “No, we don’t, but how about you come work for us instead?” Yeah, since about February so that’s almost a year now.
Scott: Did you apply for the internship because you were like didn’t want to get paid Your a highly qualified person it’s interesting you would ask for an internship. what was it?
Haje: I’m not crazy enough to not want to get paid.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: But, I figured- It’s been a long time since I’ve done any jobs. I mean, I’m always writing. Stopping me from writing is impossible, but I figured honestly TechCrunch is one of the top of the tech journalism bio and I figured it would be kind of presumptuous of me to jump in as a working journalist. I mean I’ve now I’m now about 250 stories in. I’ve got my feet under the table.
Scott: That’s in less than a year, right? How long? Is that a year?
Haje: Yeah.
Scott: That’s almost one. That’s insane! Wow! Good for you!
Haje: So that’s been fun. That’s been a part-time job.
Scott: And they’re getting their money’s worth if you’ve written a story almost every single day. They’re probably very happy.
Haje: I hope they’re happy. I’ve lasted for a while. I haven’t been fired yet so let’s call that a success. So that’s about half of my time. I’ve just finished two books. One on photography it’s a very like photography tips book and one that’s actually ghostwritten for a VC down in valley. It’s like the concept is imagine the first two or three weeks of a startup accelerator, but in book form. So all the bits you really need to know about the mindsets. How you raise funding. How you get yourself into an accelerator, all that sort of stuff.
Scott: That’s really smart! That’s awesome!
Haje: So that’s been really good fun. And I say that with some reservations in that I’m not sure if I knew what I was getting myself into.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: I could turn out photography books day and night. I mean I think I’ve done 12 or 13 books now which is easy.
Scott: Do you do the Amazon self-publish? Or what do you do? How do you-
Haje: I’ve got publishers. So they-
Scott: Oh. So your publishers you just work with them. Yeah.
Haje: They come to me. My first couple of books I pitched. Then, they were like, “Oh, we need somebody to write a book about blah.” And then I say, “Yeah, sure. I can do that.” Then, we work together on putting together a table of contents. Then, they go, “Cool. Go and write it.” Then, I write up the books and the manuscript. Go back and forth with editors a few times and then it’s done. So that’s normally a three to six month process for a books. This other book was very different. I mean some of this stuff I could write up in my sleep. Crowdfunding is kind of one of my main beats at TechCrunch. I could write about that great confidence, but there are other bits. I mean, there was a chapter on selling and it turns out I know absolutely sweet F.A. About selling.
Scott: Interesting, ‘cause you’ve done it. ‘Cause I feel like a Kickstarter in some of that stuff the selling is required in that like embedded in your pitch. Right?
Haje: Yeah.
Scott: Maybe explain what you learned about selling in this book. That would be interesting.
Haje: Yeah. I think well actually to kind of do it backwards. I feel that Kickstart or in all crowdfunding companies are kind of a marketing channel, but it doesn’t help to have a marketing channel unless you also have a way of actually reaching your audience.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: I mean PR and press leagues is a marketing channel. Unless you’re actually able to get it in the right hands and get people to write about it you can write all press leagues as you want.
Scott: Same with Kickstarter. You can do a Kickstarter, but no one pays attention. A tree in the forest kind of thing.\
Haje: And a lot of times that happens. Especially now I get because I’m one of the main writers about crowdfunding campaigns I get so many campaigns. And a vast majority of them I have very, little faith in. And it isn’t because I think they’re bad campaigns. But, it’s just because sometimes I get emails that say stuff like, “Oh we’re not doing so well. Could you please write about it so we’ll do well?” It’s like, “Well, not really because that’s not a new story for us.”
Scott: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Haje: So I think the main thing I learned about selling is that it’s really, really hard work. I like to think of myself as an incredibly, lazy person at heart and I just cannot do cold sales. I can not. I’ve tried many times. Pick up the phone. Call people up. And I just feel like a horrible person.
Scott: I think it’s because you’re a good relationship person. And so you value so conversatility once you actually knew someone you’d be a really amazing salesperson because you’re really good at helping a relationship and building a relationship. But, maybe it’s just that first little cold call is hard to do for you.
Haje: I think so. I think so. Other thing is I’m introvert at heart which means the traditional definition of an introvert is somebody who gains energy from being by themselves. Right?
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And that’s definitely me. I’m very happy sitting in a corner reading a book. And then, I’m happy to go out and meet people, but if I’m in a group of 10-15 people I just don’t know what to do with myself. I think that makes networking very hard. That means this kind of sales process is very, very hard. In a one-to-one interview I’ll shine. I’ll get the information I want out of someone to do an article and it turns out there’s actually a lot similarities between selling and interviewing. There is getting information out of people and then letting them speak.
Scott: Yes.
Haje: And I think that was the main thing. I did a lot of reading to write this book. I did a lot of reading on how to sell and it turns out wait a minute. Everything they say about selling is also true for interviewing people. It’s you ask a question. You listen very carefully to what people say. And then, you take action based on that.
Scott: Yeah. Yeah.
Haje: If you spend half the time talking you’re doing it wrong basically.
Scott: That is so true. And how’s that where the incubator guy’s like pretty or whoever you’re working on in this book. I never thought about selling being such a inner little part of an incubator, but I guess it is. Right? ‘Cause you’re there to learn how to polish yourself and sell to investors eventually. Is that kind of the idea?
Haje: Well, I think it’s the scale of proving traction. Right? For any startup it’s traction above everything. I mean you can have a ridiculously sounding idea, a terrible name, a rubbish product, but if people are flocking you to buy the product the investors will ignore everything else you say. If you say, “Okay, we’ve been around for two months. For two years we’ve been growing 15% a week.” It doesn’t matter what you’re selling. The investor will take your meeting.
Scott: Totally.
Haje: And I think that’s kind of the thing and there’s several ways of doing that if you manage to build a viral product. For sure. That’s great. But, if you have some kind of gold star, magic fingers sales guy, who can sell snow cones to Eskimos, then it doesn’t really matter what the product is. I think that’s the part of the selling that’s very important to any startup. Right? And it’s kind of the strategy behind what do you need to prove? If you have to prove traction which you do. Then, you can do it via marketing. You can do it via sales. You can do it any channel you like, but sales is often a very important part of that media mix.
Scott: Yeah, and I actually, just to build on that, I totally agree. A lot of my friends are really, good salespeople. I think that’s something a lot of startups don’t quite understand and devalue. Or they think that they’ll build a better product and everyone will flock to us. But actually, especially in the enterprise, salespeople make the world go round. What they’re really doing I love reading Jason Lundkin, the [inaudible] guy ‘cause he’s a natural sales person and he’s got all these hacks. What he always explains is like a good salesperson’s really just kind of lubricating the wheels there. It’s giving the customer what they need. Helping them through the buying process. This is how to think of a good salesperson. Not someone who’s just going to cold call like crazy or throw spaghetti against the wall. They’re actually lubricating the process which I always like.
Haje: Yeah for sure. I mean a great salesperson can’t save a rubbish product.
Scott: Exactly. Yeah.
Haje: But, the other way around this is true. If you have a pretty good product that solves a real problem. That adds value. Then, you don’t actually need … The product doesn’t need to be the best product in the world. It just has to solve the specific problem in a very good way and then you need somebody who can go and sell that like crazy.
Scott: Yeah, yeah. And that can take you to the moon. So you’ve been working on this book. And when does it come out? When’s the release?
Haje: Sometime early next year, so I’m NDA to the eyeballs. I can’t really talk about it that much. But, it’s been a very interesting process and it’s been phenomenal fun too to kind of experience what Silicon Valley looks like. And it’s been interesting to have a pretty high profile VC pick up the phone for me every week. So we’ve had some really good conversations and it turns out that a lot of the time the conversations aren’t even really about the book. It’s about just kind of pumping him for antidotes and ideas which of course is good for me because I get to understand a little bit more about how he thinks about the choice to invest and all that kind of stuff.
Scott: Yep, yep.
Haje: But, also just to kind of doing what I have been doing which as I told you in the beginning, have lots of conversations. See where that kind of journey takes me.
Scott: Yeah, that’s cool. I think it’s really smart of you whether it was you were just tired and needed to reenergize or you just want to get back [inaudible] . You have written a ton of articles and actually one of the reasons I want to have you on the podcast is you wrote this article about how to get your startup covered. And I actually read it a couple different times and I was like, “Oh my god.” And then, there’s the most amazing checklist of all time in there which I have right next to me. Do you want to discuss? How did you get the germ for this idea? And I’m reading your articles, really funny, and you’re talking about sometimes journalists are lazy. Sometimes you just don’t want to make it easy for people. What caused you to write this article? And maybe just kind of get into it a little bit.
Haje: So I’ve through the course of my own startup life I’ve seen quite a few people on startups. I was lecturing at some universities for a while and at some point people started coming to me and saying, “Hey, so you managed to do two very successful Kickstart projects. How did that happen? What is the magic source?” I was like, “Well, there’s no magic source.” It’s just about I because of the books, because of the blog I was running, because of all the things I was doing in the photography space, I was a relatively well-known person in that space. Some people trusted me and listened to me and read what I was writing. And I knew a lot of journalists in that space. So when I launched a photography product I was able to. It was actually kind of funny. I went to all my old colleagues and I was like, “Have you heard about this crazy journalist that’s trying to do a Kickstarter project? He’s some sort of an idiot.” And then we laughed a little bit together. And I was like, “It’s me. Now write my damn story.”
Scott: Yeah! Yeah, yeah! That is a great hook by the way!
Haje: Which worked really well, but then when I kind of started writing a lot more for TechCrunch I realized that I think at least 18% of the press releases I get sent or the approaches I get taken have massive gaps in them. I realized as a startup founder it’s not your job to write a press releases and you probably can’t afford a PR agency, but you don’t really need it. You don’t really need to be a good writer either. What you do need to do is to be able to tell your story. And at the heart of it pretty much everything you do with a startup is storytelling. Whether you’re pitching to an investor. Whether you’re telling your story through finance. Whether you are writing copy for your website or writing text for your. I mean I’m terribly biased as a writer, but I think writing is one of the superpowers you will have as a startup person.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And so I kind of I sat down and thought about this for a little bit. I was like, “Look, anybody who has a successful startup have got there by somehow convincing somebody that they’re doing a good thing.” Right?
Scott: And by the way it doesn’t come like day one you figure it out. You whittle your story down.
Haje: Oh for sure.
Scott: You get super focused. You figure out what works. And then, you start telling your story over and over again.
Haje: I feel like as a startup person you’re always pitching. Right? The very first day before you even start your startup you’re trying to explain to your parents why you’re leaving that fancy job and going to a nothing for 18 months. Or you’re convincing your co-founder to join you. Or you’re convincing your first staff member. Or somebody to invest. Or your bank manager to let you open a bank account. Or you know, you’re constantly pitching.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: That’s like your that’s your base existence.
Scott: You’re pitching your first customers. You have to get them to buy in.
Haje: Yeah, you’re making sales, but essentially you’re doing two things. You’re pitching and you’re telling stories.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And so by the time somebody sends out a press release I think you’re really good at telling your story. And so the disconnect I found was that per definition these guys are good at telling their story, but somehow they’re not able to tell the story in a way that journalist needs. And so I started collecting some bullet points. I got just a little pad next to my desk and for every single email I received I would put a little mark like missing pictures or got my name wrong or really stupid stuff. My initial idea was just to create a pie chart of what were the most common mistakes.
Scott: Oh that’s yeah, yeah.
Haje: But, eventually I realized I can either shake the piss out of people which I do gladly or I can actually try and be helpful. And I decided to pick option B. And so I spent a lot of time writing up this article which was basically a the idea was to do a PR course in a box. I think it’s about 3,000-4,000 words long now and I’ve added to it many times since with good examples and bad examples, all that kind of stuff.
Scott: And it’s on Medium by the way. Everyone can find it. Just search storyteller Kamps and you’ll find it.
Haje: Yeah, sure. Yeah, I know and it’s the pin the post on my Twitter account and if you ever send me an email it will be in my signature. There’s no way you’re going to miss this.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: Because it saves me a lot of time. I mean it’s entirely selfish if somebody follows every single tip in that press release it doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get covered, but there’s definitely I will be a lot less frustrated with you.
Scott: I want to talk about that a little bit more. It’s selfish maybe, but you’re also being very generous because you’ve done startups. You know how frustrating it is and this is like these people want to tell their story correctly. They just don’t know how to. I think that’s really cool that you took the time and have the generosity to actually put this together to really help guide these people. I think it’s really cool. You’re being very modest, but I just want to kind of call it out ‘cause that’s who you are.
Haje: I’m British enough that I can’t-
Scott: You can’t talk about yourself in the positive way.
Haje: Talk to me in five years when I’ve been in California for a while. No, but I think those are interesting things actually. I did Goldman Sachs startup course or kind of a small business course a while ago called Ten Thousand Small Businesses. It was absolutely phenomenal and that was the spark. I did it three years into Triggertrap and that was the spark that made me realize that I know very little about running a company. And it was very transformative from there on to actually put some structure into how you run a business. It was like, “Wait a minute running a business is a set of technical skills that you need to have. I don’t have those skills. I’m going to go out and teach them to myself.”
Scott: Mm-hmm.
Haje: And one of the exercises they had was a little bit macabre. Okay imagine your gravestone. What does it say? I was like, “Wow! That’s something to throw at you at like 9:30 on a Monday morning before you had any coffee.” But I had a bit of a think and I thought, “You know what if my entire was kind of summarized.” I’m getting a bit deep here, but.
Scott: Hey keep going! This is good! This is really good stuff!
Haje: My entire life is summarized as learn and teach I would be happy.
Scott: That’s cool.
Haje: So I’ve kind of with the books that makes sense. With the blogging that makes sense. With a lot of stuff I’m doing I mean with TechCrunch a lot of the articles I’m writing are part news, but I also like to inject a lot of opinion in there.
Scott: Yeah, that’s what people want. The people want that by the way. Maybe they’re-
Haje: I hope so. I mean which is fantastic. You can basically do whatever the hell you want within certain limits, but you have a lot of wiggle room. And at some point I asked the people that be and said, “Hey, so what do you feel about opinion?” And they said, “Well, what do you feel about opinion?” I was like, “Well, I like writing my opinions into news stories.” And then they were like, “Well, I’m not going to stop you.” And so that’s a long way of saying that I really feel that there is a lot to be said for going out of your way to learning something and then paying it forward.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And I think that was the idea behind doing this article. And saying I have learned a lot by being a trained journalist, by working television being a journalist, I’ve seen ten’s of thousands of press releases over the years. But, I’ve also been on the other side. I’ve run my own startups. I’ve gotten quite a lot of press coverage and I figured out how to do that. And in the process I’ve kind of been jumping back and forth, learning more and more. And then, when I was back in journalist chair I was just flabbergasted by how even professional PR people very frequently get stuff wrong and the amount of times I get a Word document sent to me, which I hate, with all the pictures embedded into Word document. And I’m like, “Look, I don’t even really want to. You get paid for this. Why do you get paid for this?”
Scott: Yeah, yeah.
Haje: Who is paying you?
Scott: The picture’s thing actually goes through a few this is great ‘cause it’s covering the pictures, but like a few of the things in by the way if you want me to if you need this for a reference go for it. But, it had never, I’m totally like one of these startup founders, it had never occurred to me that I should be including pictures in an email to you about coverage. It just I don’t know why. As soon as I read that in the checklist it made perfect sense, but maybe talk about that. And the embedding in the Word thing I can totally feel your frustration like it’s just crazy. Yeah.
Haje: I mean its kind of an obvious thing it’s not you care about your story and the biggest problem that I’ve found is they’re too close to it. That is always true. Right? And you feel like you don’t have to tell the full story to the investor because somehow they’re meant to have understood.
Scott: Yeah, they don’t recognize your genius like right away.
Haje: Right, right. The pictures is kind of like one of those big selling blocks and it’s one that we did wrong many times too where we commissioned a photographer to take really good product photos of our products to stick on the website. And then, when a journalist asked, “Hey, have you got any pictures?” “Cool, yeah we’ve got product photos.” You send them through, but we forget is that on most blog layouts photos are on a white background just look terrible. So it just looks like it’s floating in space and so one of the tips on my list is try to have lifestyle pictures which means show pictures of the product the way it’s meant to be used. Now if you have a product that needs to be used in a pure white room.
Scott: I can’t think of any, but yeah.
Haje: You’re doing it wrong basically. So you know if it’s an app then don’t send me a screenshot of the app. At least put it on a phone and if you don’t or even better-
Scott: With someone holding it or something.
Haje: With someone holding it or using it the way they’re meant to be like if you’re doing a doctor’s app find a doctor’s office somewhere where you’re sitting there with the background of doctor’s office. Because you know exactly what’s going to happen if you send it to me with deadline of tomorrow. I’m not going to sit around and wait for you to take new photos. And so it makes a huge difference to from our point of view when it gets tweeted out if it has a photo it’s tweeted out with the photo.
Scott: Yeah, ‘cause you’re looking out for the reader. The reader needs some context on this. The reader’s just going to see this and they need to know how it’s being used. You’re also trying to help them put their best foot forward like-
Haje: Absolutely!
Scott: This is the way the app or the device is going to look the best in a photo. Yeah.
Haje: I mean it’s one of those things where earlier today I had an email from somebody saying, “Oh yeah we’ve got this really cool product and this is what it does. And this is what it is.” And I was like, “You know what that is a really cool product! I’m excited for you! That’s fantastic, but the link you send me to the press release is almost two months old and there is no way I’m going to cover that.” And they’re like, “Well nobody else has covered it either.” Well whose problem is that?
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: That is really not I mean if you have news then make sure it gets in the journalist’s hands on the day of the news report.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: Or you know I’ve had a couple of times where somebody sends me a press release with a date of today and I’m like I kind of do a quick search and it’s been out there for months and they just changed the day.
Scott: Oh my god!
Haje: Which I mean fair I mean I would do the same. Well I would probably write a new press release, but if I was lazy I might try and get away with that. And with some journalists you might get away with that. At the heart of it I’m doing service for a reader. And I’m like, “Okay you have a startup that you want covered. That is not why the reader is reading this.”
Scott: Yes, yes.
Haje: The readers might be investors. They might be people who are interested in startups in general. They might be you know there’s lots of different reasons to read an article if you’re feeling good about yourself isn’t it.
Scott: Well and that’s what one of the things I like on the checklist. You talked about I’m forgetting the exact words, but it needs to be interesting. It needs to be news. There needs to be a hook and like people kind of forget that. A lot of it is they’re too close, right?
Haje: Yeah.
Scott: They just live with this product, but yeah you’re looking out for the reader. You need to intuitively understand why the readers gonna read that story. You’re helping them.
Haje: Yeah and it’s like okay if my reader is well it doesn’t matter who the reader is. I’m not writing it.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And the thing is I always describe my beats as sort of stuff I write about as hardware, crowdfunding, but not crowdfunding products, so crowdfunding as an industry and quirky stuff. And quirky stuff is really, really broad because it covers all sorts of stuff.
Scott: But that’s fun actually because you get a lot of you get latitude.
Haje: Yeah and I mean a teacher is you got to pick your own beats. It doesn’t really matter what you write about, but I think quirky is really important because it’s stuff that make you go, “Hey, that’s interesting.” For any reason, right?
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And I’m lucky that in hardware and crowdfunding there’s often a lot of quirky stories, but it’s to me it’s just really important that it’s something that people can relate to.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And again it’s about story tagging right. And all good storytellers have their audience in mind. And I feel like as a journalist that’s important, but as somebody that’s sending me a press release that’s also important.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And I think that was one of the core ideas behind the checklist.
Scott: You said it perfectly. Is there other things on the checklist that people can kind of improve upon or any little things that just drive you crazy sometimes?
Haje: Well I think the feeling of being to close to the startup is important. And I think even if you send your press release to a journalist whose covered your startup before it is probably safe to assume that I don’t remember you.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And so even just having a couple of paragraphs at the end about the startup saying, “Oh yeah we’re based out of Boston. We were founded in 2012. We’re funded by investor A and B. We’ve raised this much money. We have 10,000 customers in 20 countries and we’re currently looking to raise our funding.”
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: That is I wouldn’t put any of that directly in the article, but it makes me look really, really smart if I say, “Oh did you know these guys have been around since 2012? Did you know they’re raising funding? And actually know because they actually raised money from Bessler who raised money in this which is interesting because X, Y, Zed.”
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: It just shortcuts that storytelling process for me and it makes sure that I don’t make silly mistakes.
Scott: Yeah. I also like there’s something in there about quotes. Quotes from the CEO and again this is one of those things where I haven’t really thought about that. It was I’m so close it was such an obvious thing, but like some actionable quotes that actually draw people into the story a little bit more. That’s a really smart thing to include.
Haje: I think it’s one of those things whereas a journalist when I get a press release I’m interested in I should try and get a hold of the CEO, talk to them, have a conversation back and forth, grill them about some of the points I’m not sure about, get some quotes out of them that I can use in the article, and then write my article. Realistically I don’t have time. I do that for some startups. I do that for startups that I care about particularly or where I feel there’s something a part of the story that isn’t being told or if I feel they’re on to something really huge. Like if I get a startup early on in their journey I might make sure to have a working relationship because I know that when they become Facebook stars they will remember me. And so it’s kind of a self-serving kind of thing there.
Scott: Yeah and it’s investing in the relationship, you know.
Haje: Right and it’s yeah and by including some quotes you make it look like I have spoken to you which is the way to make me look good.
Scott: Yes.
Haje: And as a startup if you I mean it’s obviously not your job to make the journalist look good, but as a journalist it’s my job to make my publication look good. And I think it’s about realizing who your audience is and I mean people who include quotes I don’t think it really makes much of a difference as to whether or not they get coverage, you know. The decision to cover the startup happens way before I see you whether or not there are quotes, but it just it makes it a lot easier to get something in the voice of that startup.
Scott: That’s what I was gonna say or maybe you end up you read the quotes and you call the CEO. And you’re like, “Hey you’re on the right track here, but have you thought about saying it like this. Or this is how I see it. Would you agree?” You know like-
Haje: Yeah.
Scott: It’s not like … I view it as a tool to look at it and also it kind of goes back to your prior point about letting them tell it in their own voice and maybe it’s not a super formulate company summary. It’s like it allows their passion to come out.
Haje: Yeah for sure.
Scott: Which is what you want. You want to feel that passion.
Haje: And I want to feel like people know who their customers are. That they know why they’re solving this problem. Why they’ve decided to invest some of their nonrefundable time in this particular startup. And I mean the problem is with a lot of press releases I get across my desk I realize the CEO’s never even seen this. This is the PR person has made up this quote, but what ends up happening is that a really vapid entity, infuriating quality of, “Yes, we have created this product which is going to change the world that marketing automation happens.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but that exact quote you could drop into any number of things.” So it’s more about the things like why now? Why this? Why you? And I think there’s a lot more color that could be added to a lot of stories by actually having some real opinion in there, right?
Scott: Yeah, I love the whine out question actually because there’s so many good ideas that for whatever reason just don’t work out because of timing. But, that is a really good way of getting to the heart of what the companies doing. Why the CEO thinks it’s going to be it’s going to be successful? I actually ask that question all the time with our clients who are onboarding because I want to know A, we want an invest our time in companies that are going to grow because they consume more services and help us grow. But, it’s also like we only have a fine amount of time too and we want to work with like awesome companies. And that you can capture the CEO’s passion very quickly when you ask them that kind of question. That’s cool.
Haje: And I mean it’s all the standing questions its like who, what’s, where, why, when. But, I think the why is really where the passion comes out. It’s not about I mean I get a lot of pressures where X Apple version does this. I’m like, “I don’t care.”
Scott: Yeah, yeah.
Haje: You know, I really don’t care. That only tells me one thing. At some point they were employed by Apple. At some point for whatever reason they left Apple.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: That is not a story and you know it’s not like Apple is at a shortage for employees or Google, right. There is so many X Google, X Apple and I understand that some press people get very, very excited about being able to say, “Oh X Apple version does something.” But, it’s just not interesting.
Scott: Yeah, yeah.
Haje: And I think, you know, the readers of TechCrunch and the readers in general know that.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And you know it very rarely makes its way through and if that becomes the thrust of your story then it’s like, “Well, you know essentially what you’re pitching at me is a person that worked for a famous company. A person no longer works for famous company. Person does something new.” I’m like, “Well that’s not a story I can cover in any possible way.”
Scott: That’s not that interesting.
Haje: Now, if Zuckerberg leaves Facebook and starts something new, fine.
Scott: You’ve made an exception.
Haje: But, we would cover that anyway. That is not something that a PR person has to pitch at me.
Scott: Yeah. Your passion for TechCrunch is like palpable. Like it’s clear you love working there and you have a lot of respect for them. What you know you [inaudible] . What do you? Now you worked on inside. What do you love about it? You know, what keeps drawing you to TechCrunch? I mean you were willing to work for free there for God’s sakes, you know. What did you see there? And that was a year ago like you’ve now you’ve met people on valley and you’ve written tons of articles. But, I just see it in your face you like working there.
Haje: Yeah, for sure. TechCrunch is weird. I mean I’m in the office maybe every two months. I-
Scott: Wow! That’s a super remote super. That’s good. You got to be out meeting companies you know.
Haje: Yeah for sure. I mean I have a couple of pretty good friends there now who I hang out with on a social basis, but we very rarely talk about work and they’re just good people that I like hanging out with. The thing that draws me to … The reason that I wanted to work for free or I was willing to work for free is access. The fact that if you say, “I’m Haje. I’m some random bloke writing something on Medium.” Nobody calls you back.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: If you say, “Hey, I’m Haje. I’m a writer for TechCrunch.” That changes very quickly. And I mean kind of the same mechanic as me being a writer or being a driver for Uber except I’m able to select the people I want to talk to and they return my phone calls.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: So that was like the base level, but then it turned out that I’m actually really enjoying digging deep into startups and applying what I know about hardware startups, about crowdfunding, about all these different aspects of running a business to a new flow of information from another company I speak to, investors I speak to, other people with opinions. And then, that becomes a nice little pyramid of really interesting stuff. And for me that’s not really my master. I mean as I mentioned before I really started recording I’m vaguely considering starting a new company and I have a couple of other opportunities on my desk. But, the milestone becomes okay my quality of life now is really good. I’m spending half my time writing for TechCrunch, a lot of time just doing research, and playing with my 3-D printer and learning stuff and kind of becoming better at the stuff I want to be better at. I’m spending a tremendous amount of time reading and I really like my life right now. And so if I were to start another startup that is going to drastically change or if I take a job at one of the big companies that will drastically change my life. And I think the realistic choice for me is it’s an opportunity got to stay right.
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: Am I willing to go jump ship and work for a big corporate? Am I willing to start my own thing? Or am I willing to take a plunge in joining somebody else’s startup?
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: So for the questions the answer has been no if I didn’t have something I really like doing I probably would have started something else by now.
Scott: Yeah, yeah.
Haje: Because I am pathologically curious and I always keep chasing opportunities. Especially the whole story of my life, an interesting opportunity comes along I start salivating like a little puppy and I run after it. So this is a good milestone, it’s a good like mile marker it’s like okay if I think if I leave this existence and it’s part of that, but there’s lots of other bits and pieces as well. If I leave this existence behind and I go do thing A, B, or C six months from now am I going to be happier or less happy?
Scott: Yeah.
Haje: And so far it’s always come out as less happy and I’m like, “Well, I understand the startup thing of running yourself ragged, but I’m privileged enough to start optimizing for happiness.” And I think that is literally I’d really rather not give up.
Scott: Yeah, well it’s also like you know before we turned the microphones on we were talking about it’s a four, five, six, seven-year commitment, but I’m highly confident that when that thing does come along it will grab you and you’ll be like that puppy salivating, right. And you’re going to lose all your self control and jump in. You just haven’t found that yet.
Haje: I might be myself a little. The thing to me is ultimately if there is something that comes along that I can’t not do-
Scott: That’s what it is. That’s perfect.
Haje: I will do it, but for now I really enjoy what I’m doing. And I really enjoy I do a lot of travel. I’m doing a lot of speaking. I’m doing a lot of-
Scott: You’ve written two books for God’s sakes too. I mean that’s pretty amazing. I’m starting to like reevaluate what I do with my spare time.
Haje: Well, I don’t have spare time. That’s the thing, right and the agreement I have with my wife is I don’t work late. That’s been true in my entire startup life where I just don’t work later than 6:00 which means that I can get up early, but I can’t stop late. And so I have made that a rule.
Scott: That’s good.
Haje: And if I want to do some reading, if I want to do some experimenting, if I want to pick up coding again and throw together a prototype I need to carve out a time before 6:00 because at 6:00 I make dinner. I work out of the house a lot and I love cooking so I do most of the cooking. But that means at 6:00 I need to be in the kitchen doing my cooking.
Scott: You know I really like that and I actually behave the same way now like in the last year because what I found was I didn’t have any stoppers. And I was just I was working myself ragged and I was losing productivity in the morning. So now I work a little bit later than six but I do the same thing. I go home and make dinner. We actually talk. We watch TV together. We read fun stuff and kind of recharge. And I just wake up early. I wake up at six a.m. And I work out and I feel great. And then I go put an 11 hour day in or whatever it is, but like that was my way it actually really rejuvenated me in taking that approach. I respect that.
Haje: I mean I don’t I’m not going to lie whenever my wife is traveling for work I will work around the clock and loving it because it’s kind of I guess it’s good sign that you picked a job that you really like. In my work in this case I mean not necessarily TechCrunch, not necessarily book writing, I can get my teeth into a good project. I’m coding a new website or I’m coding a new approach type or writing up yet another Twitter blog or working on a Medium post I’ve been thinking of forever and I will happily work many, many, many hours. But, I think that becomes if that is a treat. It sounds insane, but if that is my special treat to myself-
Scott: We’re wired the same way. We’re totally wired the same way. Yeah.
Haje: That is that is beautiful.
Scott: It is a gift.
Haje: I’d like to try and keep it that way if I can.
Scott: Yeah that’s amazing. You are an amazing guest. You’re such a thoughtful person. Do you want to kind of just tell everyone where they can find you? Where they can find the Medium post?
Haje: Yeah so my name is Haje and put that into Google and you’ll find it.
Scott: Haje at TechCrunch. You’ll find it or Medium and they’ll find you.
Haje: Yeah for sure. I actually ending up getting at Haje on Twitter by filing a trademark for my own name and going to Twitter and saying, “Someone’s infringing on my trademark.” And they were like, “Yeah, he is infringing on your trademark. Here is at Haje.”
Scott: You know there’s a dude sitting on my last name, Orn. He hasn’t been active in like six years and I was trying to get it, but then Orn looks a lot like Ohm. And I was like, “I’ll get so many weird things. I’m just gonna stay with me.” But that’s really cool you did. Yes. So everyone should check out this Medium article. It’s super helpful. I’m a huge checklist person that’s maybe why I love it so much, but it’s so good. And again for like I’m probably a good proxy for a startup person who really loves what they’re doing, but didn’t think about all of these details like photos, like quotes, like making it’s like giving a hook. You know like all these little things that are on this checklist.
Haje: Yep.
Scott: So I highly recommend it.
Haje: I guess the only thing I should kind of caveat is that this is the way I like getting stuff and a lot of journalists are quite different even within TechCrunch are very different. The big difference is how people prefer to get their press info. I mean there are people who would never even look at a press release. Who will only work on the back of personal relationships or personal interviews and there are others who prefer to take their own photos or whatever.
Scott: That’s sad. This was a very generous thing that you did for the community and I-
Haje: I think it’s a good I mean if you start with this and you follow those rules nobody is going to complain, right.
Scott: Yeah, it’s great.
Haje: So I think it’s a good starting point for kicking off your Medium journal.
Scott: Well I thank you for coming on. I really appreciate it and-
Haje: Thank you for having me.
Scott: You’ve been a pleasure. It’s an awesome, awesome interview.
Haje: Awesome!
Scott: Alright buddy. Take care.

Explore podcasts from these experts

Important Tax Dates for Startups

  Talk to a leading startup CPA