How to promote your Startup in an Industry with Image Problems
A friend gave me a t-shirt, I like it a lot. And I wear it everywhere I go. In the past, my environment couldn’t have cared less about the work I do.
“What’s your job, actually?”
“I work in the blockchain space.”
Smile, drop the topic. Don’t know, don’t care. Why would you?
Now, recently I began walking around with this shirt proudly boasting the Bitcoin logo to the world – and I got a reaction. Acquaintances and friends would come walk up to me again.
“Lina! You sell Bitcoin? … Are you okay?”
Yeah, I’m okay. My t-shirt helps me through these difficult times.
I don’t sell Bitcoin, by the way.
Working in the public sector of the blockchain space, I feel that my task is to observe and try to understand first-hand reactions by the people around us. It fascinates me how the average expression upon the dropping of the term “ICO” has changed throughout the course of a year.
Don’t say it, don’t, don’t…
Oh, you got your own token? Great. You’re building a mobile platform based on blockchain technology? Wonderful. Wait while I drag your White Paper into my trash folder.
The majority of people does not understand your startup. That hasn’t changed much in the past twelve months, and it would be naïve to expect that; the difference is that back then, a White Paper and the phrase “XYZ Coin is the first project ever to realise…” would potentially have gotten you seven-figure funding. Today, not so much.
If you work with blockchain technology, you constantly have to justify yourself. Nobody understands what you do, nobody bothers to really spend time learning – it’s just another ICO, no returns for sure, why even care?
Getting funding, for blockchain startups, is harder than ever.
In a not-so-far past...
The accessible, open nature of this industry is what brought its boom, with Cryptocurrency at the forefront. More power to the people, inclusion on a financial and social level. Paving the way for a new era of startup funding, the blockchain industry gained traction as the epitome of our modern longing for freedom and self-realisation.
Possibilities emerged and more startups came into existence. While the technology was being poked at and tested, the community mindset shifted towards a feeling of autonomy – finally, a world that doesn’t judge you for who you are, but for what you do.
This movement did not come from anywhere, and Mark Vernon from TagCash phrased it very nicely at an event the other day:
“Cryptocurrency is the porn of the blockchain industry.”
An exciting feature drawing in the people. Sadly, not only the good.
The blockchain space is moved by people with amazing minds, attitudes of hard work and innovative thinking, and the drive to make a change.
It is also inhabited by a crazy number of idiots.
People using the early enthusiasm to swindle others out of their money. Blockchain is an asshole-magnet.
Then again, objectively speaking, can we really blame the people that did? They had the unique opportunity to get away easily. Seldom was it easier to get to people’s money.
“I’m doing an ICO-“
Deviating a little bit from the topic, there was one person, my secret hero of 2017. He successfully closed an ICO for a token with absolutely no intention of listing, and absolutely no usability. Which he explained on his website, to the point of ridiculous clarity.
It’s an ode to an era nobody can really grasp until now. Of course, this is a temporary phenomenon. Of course, it had to come to an end.
Obviously, not everyone is as honest as this person. And besides the laughable amount of scam projects, there were also simply a lot of bad startups; no proper business plan, no proper business operations, no proper idea, resulting in failure.
At the same time, Blockchain today remains a concept to a large degree. Eagerly, we are observing the market looking for the point of successful implementation. We hold up unrealistic expectations, we wait for the “breakthrough.” When is it?
There will be no breakthrough. There will be no one point of “it’s done, now the world is a better place.” Blockchain technology is used to steadily improve the quality and efficiency of processes in various industries. But it’s more fun throwing out sensational headlines into the world.
So, this breakthrough hasn’t happened. It takes time. But bad news travels fast, creating an image that lashes back on our community.
We can’t expect a perfect world in which everyone throws flowers at beautiful business ideas incubated under the wing of emerging genius. Ultimately, the ones that suffer are those who were set out to benefit the most: startups and small enterprises, and the individuals behind them.
Your startup in the middle
You got a token? You’re a scammer.
If you are part of a startup, for sure you have had this situation. Even if they don’t tell you, they give you the look. Nobody trusts you if you lay your hands on the cryptocurrency topic.
Don’t you dare mention the term “ICO” – funny how now everybody is trying to find other abbreviations. TGE, ITO. No, it’s not what you think it is!
How to promote your project when the community that knows what you are doing is embittered by fraud and loss, and when the global stage is simply not ready, not even too interested in what you are doing?
How to promote your project when the conferences that are supposed to give you positive exposure stopped bothering about due diligence and began filling exhibition spots with questionable projects just because they could pay? These days, you meet no investors at Blockchain World Summit, Global Blockchain Expo, and Cryptocurrency Conference XYZ. The largest part of people you meet there are self-proclaimed ICO consultants.
Startups are disappearing, the spirit is fading. You are in the middle. What do you do?
Get your facts straight.
What is your concept? Is it Blockchain? Stop.
Blockchain technology is a tool, it is not a purpose. It is your bicycle as you speed uphill. It is not the hilltop.
Startups often ask us for PR agency-type services. Invite this representative of that news outlet, contact this VC, book a space, let them pitch, happy days. We used to do that. But this is not how it works anymore.
I keep saying this, but the young blockchain community, while growing fast, relies heavily on genuine partnership and collaboration. We walk this way hand in hand, we try to help each other. We really want to see each other succeed. If you don’t, it will show, and you will end up alone.
I am a strong believer in that good happens to those that do good. If your concept aims at giving to the community, if you work towards a good cause, and if you stand behind your project a hundred per cent, this power will transfer to the people around you. Give before you take.
Yes, Blockchain happens online, but get your face out of your Reddit feed and into the real world. The community is powerful. Every week, events invite you to join for free, to sit and network, have food and listen. This is where connections happen.
My most amazing encounters happened randomly, through a warm conversation, an accidental look, a brief hello. Maybe the person you are seated next to today will turn to be your partner in work or life.
It is extremely important for me to point out to our partners that we are not a PR firm, we are a community. We are nothing without the people that have the drive to push this industry to the next level, even with all the backlash they are getting. If you want to be successful, consider contributing.
Stop the pitch events.
There’s so many of them. The situation has changed dramatically in just a few months. These events used to be popular and draw in a lot of hobby day-traders and crypto investors; that is not the case anymore.
Your business stands and falls with your success in reaching your community. Can you touch them? The environment at the traditional pitch event is all but hostile towards you in that department.
Tell a story.
What is your business about? What can you give to the people? Create a concept that brings value, entertainment, and feeling. Work with companies that share your ideas and collaborate with them on your roadshows, online and offline. And yes, do your roadshows. We often hear comments along the lines of, “it makes no sense, we get no funding there anyway.”
Look for people, not investors.
Maybe the guy with the dirty shoes is married to the owner of a VC. Maybe he is the owner of a VC. Maybe the lady who doesn’t even own a crypto wallet was advised to come join your event by the manager of a fund, or maybe her cousin is an angel investor.
Retail investors are not the way to go right now. Good market times are when you can count on them. As we speak, institutional money is flowing into the blockchain space. Look at that. Talk to those people. They are interested in genuine, large-scale growth. They are willing to learn about projects with potential. Yours might be one of them.
Connect with the non-blockchain community.
The next step for this industry is to leave underdog status.
It is exhausting to constantly have to explain what you do, and it’s easy to become sarcastic about it and start hating on the “non-blockchainers”. No, Blockchain is not Bitcoin, no, I don’t sell drugs on the dark net, yes, I pay my taxes.
But this is the situation you are in. You are part of a young, growing industry, and it is growing fast. You are contributor to this growth. Never forget that, while you are so emerged in the space, people around you might have never heard about it, and they are at the point you were at not long ago. But they are already miles ahead of most others out there. They ask you because they want to learn. It’s a good thing.
This is your task now. You are at the forefront of something, and this forefront requires you to show and to explain, to teach and to share. You are part of change. Believe in what you do, or leave it.