Telling your startup’s story is important everywhere, but it’s especially important if your startup is located outside of a coastal hub. With fewer resources available, especially capital, you need to break out of the pack and get noticed. Here are a few ways you can make your startup more compelling to investors, future employees, users, customers, and just about everyone else.


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1. Articulate your big-picture importance

My friend Adam Hoffman is the CEO and cofounder of St. Louis-based startup CheckTheQ, which uses software to deliver real-time information on crowd movement to airports. When telling their story, Adam and his team could talk about how their technology can help decrease the wait time in security lines at airports. I care about what Adam and his team are doing because less time spent at the airport means more time spent with my kids before I leave on a work trip.

Telling your startup’s story in a way that grabs the attention of your audience depends upon your ability to articulate the big-picture value of what you and your team are doing. How is your product helping people live happier, healthier, more productive, more rewarding lives?

That’s the story people really care about.

2. Embrace the spotlight

Another St. Louis-area friend of mine, Bryan Bowles, is the CEO and founder of Transactly, a startup focused on making real estate transactions more transparent. Bryan is an extremely successful guy, having already founded Worth Clark Realty, one of the Midwest’s fastest-growing real estate brokerages. Bryan is also humble and disdains pointing the spotlight toward himself, especially on social media.

The tendency to shy away from attention is especially prevalent here in the Midwest.

For a human being, it’s an admirable trait and one of the reasons I like Bryan (and living in the Heartland). However, every startup founder needs to get a little comfortable being in the spotlight. In an early-stage startup, the founder often is the story. Their experience, qualifications, resiliency, and determination are what investors and early employees are buying.

Embracing the spotlight doesn’t mean posting pictures of your lunch on Instagram. It doesn’t mean doing your best Kim Kardashian impression. It does mean using social media as a platform to demonstrate insight into your industry.

Early-stage investors, employees, and strategic partners don’t want to see someone spending more time on social media than they are working on a product, but they do want to see thought leadership and industry expertise.  A simple way to do that is by sharing smart, engaging content relevant to your industry. And, if you have the time, consider pitching or contributing to prominent blogs or media platforms.

3. Understand how modern media works

Over the past few years I’ve written hundreds of posts on VentureBeat, LinkedIn, Inc., CNBC, Business Insider, and several other publications. Collectively those posts have received at least 9 million page views.

Nearly all that writing has been uncompensated.

Why would anyone do that? Because I care deeply about specific subjects, including Heartland entrepreneurs. I believe the creation of startup scenes outside of the coasts is an important business and political story.

Why does any of that matter to you? Because every day I receive anywhere from 10 to 20 emails from PR companies hired by startups to pitch their stories. Most of those emails are clearly mass communications, written by PR account execs who’ve obviously never read my content or taken the time to learn more about the topics and issues I care about, much less figure out how the startup’s story might fit within my platform. As a result, nearly every one of those emails get deleted.

But there is good news. If you want your startup’s story told to a national audience, there are more options and platforms than ever before. That means you need to take the time to figure out who the writers are who are passionate about the area your startup is in. That can be done by doing something as simple as looking at the writer’s LinkedIn page, and seeing what topics they write about most frequently. While that might sound time-consuming, it will be more effective than hiring a PR company to send out scattershot mass emails.

In other words, if you’re an AI startup, take time to research the journalists and contributors writing about artificial intelligence. In addition to pitching your startup, there may be someone in your network the writer would like to know, research you could share, or an AI conference they might be interested in.

Telling your startup’s story requires knowing the big-picture importance of your product, embracing the spotlight, and knowing a little about how the startup-focused media functions. Do those three things, and you’ll greatly increase the likelihood that your target audience will hear your message.

Dustin McKissen is an economic development executive in the greater St. Louis area, a LinkedIn Top Voice on Management and Culture, a CNBC contributor, and an Inc. columnist.

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