Being Intentional About Your Message

I’m reading through the Hunger Games series right now because, at this point, how could you not? In the ninth chapter of the first book, main character Katniss has just been chosen as a tribute, or contestant, in the annual Hunger Games where members from each district fight to the death. The Games are held each year by the Capitol, the presiding ruling class of Panem, to keep the lower-class citizens in check and assert their power. Wait a minute: is this a metaphor for Corporate America? Is every company competing in their own twisted version of the Hunger Games?

In the book, tributes go through a beauty pageant-like contest before entering the battlefield to win the favor of Capitol sponsors, who can send gifts during the Games to assist in the competition. But as she prepares for her first public speaking appearance, it becomes wildly clear: Katniss Everdeen has a PR problem.

“I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to present you. Are you going to be charming? Aloof? Fierce? So far, you’re shining like a star. You volunteered to save your sister. Cinna made you look unforgettable. You’ve got the top training score. People are intrigued, but no one knows who you are. The impression you make tomorrow will decide exactly what I can get you in terms of sponsors,” says [advisor] Haymitch.

How Katniss positions herself at the beginning will affect how much sponsors will give her throughout the competition. Though she might be technically skilled, people still want an image they can easily connect with. For startups, the same advice applies.

Even though your startup’s product might be amazing, how you position your company can greatly impact the attention you receive from investors, especially if you’re eyeing that grand prize: an exit. To go even further, imagine how much more of an impact you make when your position is pre-meditated and intentional. It means that much more to your company in shaping its identity, and it means a whole lot more to your audience. Are you the “fastest growing startup with a quirky personality” or “the brand that sells a lifestyle of thinking differently?” You might be tempted to go with the flow, figure out messaging when you’ve perfected the product and solidified your business model. Chances are you’ll be so busy you won’t have time to think about it.

It’s best to have the defining characteristics of your company set from the beginning. Instead of allowing the press, users, and influencers to form your corporate identity, create it yourself. Be intentional about creating it and letting people know about it. Remember to be consistent, bring it up in every interview, place it on your website, and make sure it’s included in your elevator pitch. Performing this exercise at an early stage of your startup can help you go a long way when it comes to public perception and identity.

Right before the start of the Hunger Games, Katniss solidifies a strategy with her prep staff: her fighting spirit is her shining feature and sets her apart. Every story she tells in an interview and how she acts in the Games speaks to that particular feature. How do you think she fares in the Games where only one survives? I don’t want to give away the ending but let’s just say… there’s a second book.

On China

It was announced this week that TechCrunch’s Disrupt Cup winner in Beijing, OrderWithMe, raised a $3 million A round shortly after the conference ended in November. TriplePointers Molly and Ashley had the privilege to see this young startup present in the Disrupt Battlefield in China and to meet CEO Jonathan Jenkins (see picture below).

OrderWithMe is just one example of a huge shift of American entrepreneurs starting businesses in China and larger American corporations expanding their business into the East. The hot topic of discussion onstage at TechCrunch’s first international Disrupt Conference was the difference between doing business in China and the United States. Using Groupon’s recent struggle moving into the Chinese market as a running example, Sarah Lacy and other TechCrunch reporters dug to the bottom of why it’s so difficult for American companies to expand in a country with so much opportunity. Groupon may have rushed the process; they failed to carefully analyze the market and customize the interface accordingly. Other US companies fail because of the false perception that running a business in China works just like the U.S. – but modern examples show it is vastly different.

Sarah Lacy invited some of the most successful people in technology to Disrupt. Here are some pieces of wisdom that were shared:
*Pony Ma, founder of Tencent, said large companies can only be successful if they maintain a small company mindset of humility and persistence. Successful companies must pay attention to the demand of users and be responsible for meeting those demands.
*The Android Fever seminar with John Lagerling (Google), David Cao (DCM), and Wang Hua (Innovation Works) pointed out that Apple products are very expensive and have a closed environment, which make it harder for them to thrive in China. China’s markets are usually more open so they favor the open source format of the Android platform.
*Sarah Lacy noticed that China may be accused of “copycat” businesses, but China also sees more business model innovation than in the West.
*Chinese VCs invited to speak at the conference harped on the fact that they look for different types of entrepreneurs and startups than American VCs. Chinese entrepreneurs must be both extremely competitive but also flexible in such a volatile market.

In short, there is still a lot for Eastern and Western cultures to learn about the other. Conferences like Disrupt that bring Chinese and American business people together are crucial and increasingly necessary. China’s participation in the global competition is in no way slowing down, so let’s continue the conversation!

To view videos from TechCrunch Disrupt Beijing, please visit

Molly and Ashley with Jonathan Jenkins after OrderWithMe won the Disrupt Cup

TechCrunch Disrupt SF Highlights

Last week, TriplePointers Molly and Ashley mingled with entrepreneurs and investors at TechCrunch Disrupt SF. The energy at the SF Design Center Concourse was high as startup teams were enthusiastic about demoing their products to anyone that would pass by. The biggest competitors were showcased in the Startup Battlefield, the conference’s main event. Shaker, a Facebook app that brings social hangouts in clubs/bars/parks to the web, took home this year’s Disrupt Cup. However, the most important prize for founders was walking away with new relationships with investors and funding opportunities. TriplePoint was there to check out upcoming trends from the startups and also soak in all the information from experienced panelists including Kevin Rose, Peter Thiel, and Reid Hoffman. Here’s a recap of what we learned and observed:

Advice for Entrepreneurs from Top Investors
Reid Hoffman, Greylock Partners: With early stage startups, having a “killer entrepreneur” is crucial because the product will often change.

Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures: In innovation, you have to throw away all research and science, not even experts can predict the future of the market.

Doug Leone, Sequoia Capital: Sequoia looks for entrepreneurs who can clearly articulate the future (market view) and who are solving a personal need with their product or service. Entrepreneurs should get started in the Bay Area but once business gets big, the Bay Area holds too much competition for talent.

Dave McClure, Angel Investor: The 5 things that help determine valuation – market, product, team, customer, and revenue.

Photo Credit: TechCrunch

What’s next in tech?
A number of angel investors agreed that the Internet is still in its early stages, so there is room for lots of innovation. Ron Conway asserted that “collaborative consumption” is the current trend with businesses such as Airbnb and Disrupt finalist, Farmigo. Vinod Khosla has a “Cool Dozen” of hot trends including: Data reduction, large data, apps that tap emotion (ie. Foodspotting), education, health, and utility. He explained utility as businesses that empower people, such as democratizing publishing with tools like Storify. No matter which direction the industry turns, investors still agreed that Silicon Valley is still the #1 place to start a company.

The Future of TechCrunch
The controversy over TechCrunch’s editorial independence and Mike Arrington’s future with TechCrunch raged on during the conference. Fortunately, the startups still had their time in the spotlight without too much distraction. This conference may have signified an ending to the “Arrington era”, but TechCrunch will still prevail as the leading tech industry publication. TechCrunch as a publication won’t change much but the team has lost some unique characters, Mike Arrington and Paul Carr (who served as whimsical Startup Battlefield moderator). There is no doubt Erick Schonfeld will do a responsible job as the new Editor-in-Chief. Regardless of what actually happened behind TechCrunch walls, the unprecedented attendance at this year’s Disrupt SF was a testament to the publication’s immense growth in the past 6 years. TechCrunch has forged a strong influence in the tech industry that will only continue to deepen.

Photo credit: TechCrunch