A journalist friend asked for my opinion on journalism of Startups and I said “where is the journalism? It is mere reportage and reproducing press releases”. He asked “What is your grouse?” And I said “Rahul Yadav is not the poster boy for startups. He doesn’t represent the ethos of most startups. Media created him only to shoot him down at the first opportunity and this hurt all startups”.
I feel the biggest undoing of startups is the failure of a media to dig deeper, probe, analyse and look beyond the bytes and press releases. They made heroes out of non-entities with the real gems mostly ignored. Most startup founders are young and susceptible with little maturity to deal with the media.
Not being in news is as much a need as being in the news. PR and Media are like dope for some of the founders who are rarely capable of differentiating between being in the news and letting your success be the news. Many think that media hype will lead them to funding, which is a fallacy.
It may lead you to a few VC meetings, but funding is only a function of the organisation you created. Many love the social status that comes with media coverage but it has its own pitfalls. Startup founders are riding a tiger with the media and VCs controlling the leash. In fact, the title ‘Founder’ is in itself intoxicating.
How would I cover Startups? What is my advise to journalists covering Startups? Here is my two piece bit from my experience of being a publisher for a news/business magazine. This has nothing to do with my current status as founder of Careers360.
- Journalists are putting the cart before the horse. They are more focussed on funding, valuations and carry press releases which border on bloated claims and often lies and rarely analysing the business itself.
- Most startups are noticed because of PR-formance and not performance. An excel sheet and a good PPT don’t make a successful business.
The commitment, conviction, integrity and desire of the promoter to solve a genuine problem Is paramount. Journalism has rarely uncovered a startup that VCs have missed out. That should be the biggest failure of StartUp journalism.
- There must be detailed follow up stories for those covered already. Compare them to their claims an year back and let your audience know. This will ensure that start up founders are careful about their claims and get realistic.
- Investigative reportage is almost absent in startup journalism. Barring MINT, no media organisation broke a story or carried an expose. That is a sad report card on startup journalism.
- Startup Journalism has rarely analysed an industry. It would be fascinating to know the relative performance (with both funded and boot strapped being part of the analysis) on quantitative and qualitative metrics. But that requires financial acumen and resources that startup journalists possibly lack.
- Till a year back, the biggest stories were Housing, CommonFloor, Tinyowl, Grofers, Snapdeal etc. That should make every startup scared of being in the news. I shudder to think of the fate of those in the news this year.
- Being in the news should come from hard work on the product, technology, revenues, growth and in a few cases profits too. Force startups to perform to be covered and become famous.
- In my opinion, 7 of 10 funded startups will die which is a bad run rate even by informed investors. Journalists following the funding cue from VCs are only falling into this trap laid for and by the VCs.
- Journalists have rarely covered the details of funding agreements. The clauses in the agreement, the valuation, the terms of funding are a mystery to every reader.
This has to be decoded. Go through SEC filings, ROC documents. Stop relying on commissioned industry reports to estimate the market size.
Any projection drawn from 1.3 billion population is bound to be attractive. Realty is otherwise. This can be a great learning for many StartUp founders too.
- A news editor I used to work with would tell me “Politicians and editors are adversaries. I cannot be friendly with them as I lose my objectivity when I know them personally”. The same thing should hold true for the relationship between StartUps/VCs and journalists.
I hope I am not being preachy. I wish media starts playing its right role in developing a good startup ecosystem. Because, in the absence of a responsible media, we will have more Rahul Yadav’s being created only to be downed at the first opportunity. This harms the entire startup Eco system and hurts genuine startups.