Building Buzz for Your Product on a Startup Budget

by Peter Hudson, CEO of Shelfie by BitLit 1 year ago

Every startup needs a hacker, a hustler, and a designer. The hacker and designer need to build something people will actually use. The hustler needs to find people to use it.

Successful startups often have technical founders, which makes sense since the first hurdle is actually building something useful, but there are legions of startups with amazing technology that end cash-desiccated in the desert of obscurity because all engineers believe deep down that a product should sell itself.

It won’t.

Before your customers can give you money, they need to know you exist. While there are people out there looking for new cool products to try — like the people on or who browse deep in the app store categories — who might find you, everybody else needs to be beaten over the head to know you exist. And that involves getting people who already have the attention of your target audience to talk about you and your product.

I’ve found that thinking about the PR problem is easier if I think about it like a biz dev problem. At Shelfie, we have a CRM with a huge list of book bloggers, book-tubers (yes this is a thing), book podcasters, technology websites, and traditional media that cover our space:

Shelfie screenshot

For each media “account” we’ve found the journalists who’ve written stories about our domain. From there it’s simply a process of relationship building, then eventually pitching stories that fit their style and themes.

Pitching media is no different than pitching VCs – you need to have a lot of them in the pipeline because not all of them will say yes, and you need to focus on the journalists who are interested in your domain.

Start small and treat the blogger whose website has an Alexa ranking of 10,000,000 the same way you’d treat CNN. Sometimes you’ll get away with cold pitching a journalist, but you’ll probably have better luck if you’ve spent several months commenting on their stories and retweeting them.

On a tactical level, make sure to get inbound links from people who write stories about you. This is especially true for stories that appear on websites with high page ranks. There’s a great Chrome plugin called WebRank SEO that lets you see how important a website is in terms of the inbound link value. Get in-bound links from anybody, but be sure to get them from websites with high Page Rank.

Learn how to do basic PR yourself

Take a week or two, read a book, pitch some journalists, read 20 press releases from a company you respect, and you’ll figure out the formula pretty quickly.

I’m not a fan of PR agencies or consultants. At the startup stage, I think you need to work with people who are invested in your success. Consultants are expensive and in my experience, are never worth the money. Once you understand the basics you’ll be in a better position to actually hire a dedicated PR/marketing person when the time comes.

There’s no magic to hustling for media attention – just be smart, polite, and persistent. If you have a product worth talking about, your efforts will pay off.

shelfie pr quote