As the Assistant Editor of PC Magazine’s business section, Rob Marvin has covered nearly every type of business in the tech industry. TST recently interviewed Rob, and he shared insights into tech and VC trends, plus key tips for pitching like a pro.
Rob Marvin Profile:
Years as a journalist: 4
Number of emails / pitches do you get in a day: 20-50
Number of pieces you write each week: 3-5
TST: What do you love about being a journalist?
RM: I always feel like I’m in the middle of the action. I’m always plugged into what’s going on. I have the freedom to write about things that I’m curious about.
I love telling stories. Finding the story, pitching, writing, interviewing, etc. from conception to publishing. A complete way of telling a story you think is interesting exactly the way you want it told. That’s why I love being a journalist.
TST: What makes a story newsworthy?
RM: First, It has to be relevant to the audience and the voice of the publication. What’s newsworthy for the NY Times may not be a PCMag story. Read my work and pitch something that I would want to write. Every organization has a brand and voice directions for stories to fit into.
Second, newsworthiness can also be about timeliness – we definitely want to be competitive in breaking news with the news department where reporters are looking for sources and mining the internet and finding what we need to write and writing it as fast as possible.
Third, I look for a story that gives readers a reason to go beyond the headline. Clickworthiness is important. Give me a business / concept / person I haven’t heard about before.
TST: How do you choose a startup to profile?
RM: They have to be business-focused to begin with, a B2B angle or some kind of tech that is unique and legitimately interesting. I don’t want to pick up a startup that is doing the same thing everyone has already done. I also look for young startups. If your company was founded in 2010, it’s too old to pitch.
Usually, the pitches I get are not newsworthy. They tend to be a company profile. Most of the companies I profile aren’t pitched – I’ve discovered them myself as I’m out looking for stories. My advice to anyone wanting to pitch is to take a broader look at PCMag’s business content. Once they do, they will realize many of the larger topics that are covered are business and commerce- driven.
TST: What makes a startup compelling to cover?
RM: They typically are offering something that consumers have never gotten before. A great example is ZendyHealth, which gives users the option to create their own healthcare plan to mix and match and pay what they want.
We also tend to spotlight companies that have interesting software or hardware. It has to be unique, has to have a “cool factor.” For example, Flowhub got coverage because they took a black market industry – cannabis – and made it a legitimate seed-to-sale business. They crafted a real business and dealt with complex issues such as government compliance. That’s what we like to see in a potential story.
TST: What are the biggest startup trends you’re seeing right now? Where do you think startup investments will end up in the current VC landscape?
RM: It’s all about user experience platforms and dashboards. A startup is doomed if you don’t have the most positive user experience. All the companies we’ve profiled so far have really intuitive user experiences. Everyone is an internet user and tech user, so for the most part people don’t have to learn how to use social media. If you’re putting out a piece of tech that’s harder to use than that, people won’t be interested.
VC investments are not going away, but they are definitely being more careful.
Crowdfunding has been the trend because it’s interesting, but crowdfunding is more complicated than people think. Crowdfunding sites are not going to eat into investments, in my opinion, because it’s a different style of business. Companies are starting to pull back a little bit and watching their existing investments.
Regulation A+ and Title III will have a much bigger impact on how VCs will gain traction as well. Oculus is a perfect example of how rewards-based campaigns can show momentum and ultimately get your startup acquired by a tech giant like Facebook for a billion dollars. Another intriguing avenue that has emerged is ICOs, or initial coin offerings. These are far more volatile as they deal with cryptocurrency, but it’s another avenue for startup funding that depending on the ICO can raise millions of dollars in minutes or seconds.
In the VC world, if you can muster a large user base the belief is that you don’t need to make money. Many of the startup business plans I see are more vague than expected, it’s more about the potential of monetization and not a clear direction. The culture around valuations is more about user base and less about monetization. This isn’t necessarily sound in the long run though, as VC darlings like Snapchat are now discovering post-IPO with Facebook and Instagram eating into its user numbers and its stock price.
The bottom line: if you have a really great idea it won’t be a problem to raise money. Just know how you plan to make money in the long term off that idea once you’ve got the funding to get off the ground.
Five Key Takeaways For Getting Noticed:
Know what makes your startup unique and pitch that. Leave the company profile for the boilerplate.
Familiarize yourself with a media outlet before you pitch, and know how your story fits within their guidelines and content.
Remember that journalists are busy and get dozens of pitches a day. Follow up to ensure yours isn’t lost in the mix.
Timing is vital. Pitch your startup while it’s still young (less than 5 years old). Know what’s happening around you and tailor pitches to industry trends and current news.
Focus on potential, not perfection. Don’t wait until you have all your business details worked out to pitch to journalists.