The Top 5 Questions a Start-up Needs to Answer at a Press Conference

Last Wednesday, me and my partner Dan were lucky enough to be invited to tag along with a large Public Relations company to a press conference by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Dan and I are recent graduates of the Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac Entrepreneur Training Program taught by ITAC here in New York City. The press conference covered several of NYC’s new initiatives to foster new start-up companies in NYC and part of that program is a huge investment in a larger FastTrac training course. So me and Dan tagged along as a human element of the story to try and show off some of the program’s previous success stories.

This was an exciting opportunity for us and our company, Dr. Chrono. As a young company any press coverage Dr. Chrono can get is phenomenal. It is a great opportunity to get practice working with a PR firm, getting interviewed by media, and even just mingling and making new contacts. It can be very daunting to talk to the media about your own start-up company. When someone with a press pass starts talking to you, you suddenly forget everything about what you wanted to say.

Good preparation can really give you a lot of confidence and help you stick with your “stake in the ground” when confronted by media questions. To prepare for the possible interviews, me and my partner Dan sat down in a conference room for about 3 hours and kept going over our answers to the 5 primary questions any reporter would ask us. This is a list that is taught to any first year journalism student and is famously known as the 5 W’s of any news story (there is kind of a sixth “h” crammed in at the end.) So here is my version of the 5 W’s tailored to what a start-up software company should focus on its media message.

1) Who?

Who are the founder’s of the company and what is their personal story? What made you found the start-up?

Our answer to this story focused on my partner Dan who was laid off from a telecom software company that was bought out and moved out of New York state. It is a popular theme in media (and directly linked to the press conference that we attended) that people who are laid off will go on to start companies because they have no other option. I don’t believe this is really true personally, but it makes for a great story. In our case I resigned from a successful 8 year career as a software developer at Bloomberg L.P. to co-found Dr. Chrono with Dan. So I thought our story had both sides of the coin, someone laid off who started a company and someone crazy enough to resign from a stable job to work on a start-up from scratch. This is a great way to start off answering any question and is a natural segue into the 2nd W since you will say, “We are Mike and Dan we founded …”

2) What?

What is your start-up doing? How is your start-up relevant?

This should really be your “stake in the ground” of any conversation with the media. The stake you put in the ground is a PR term for the one thing you want to get across to the media in every question you answer. Everything else you might say is just fluff to get your company’s name and message out there. Make sure you say your company’s name as much as possible since the press might use just clips of what you say. So instead of saying: “us”, “we”, “I”, “he”, always say your company’s name. Dr. Chrono is the first all in one web based practice management system. Dr. Chrono was founded with a commitment to excellence by two long term friends. Dr. Chrono was very optimistically founded in this economy! Nobody talks like this in real life, but you have to keep repeating yourself in hopes someone will use one sentence of what you say.

3) When?

This may be a tough one for most start-ups to answer. But for us in the context of a press conference about the terrible economy, it was pretty clear that we had to be optimistic about how great a time it is right now to start a business. We do really believe this, otherwise I wouldn’t have quit my six figure salaried job (where they also gave me free snacks & soda) to go out on my own. Big companies are consolidating and not working on any new products. There is always a hunger for new products and innovative products that can save people money are especially relevant right now. The story of a small company coming out with a subversive new product that is cheaper and better than the offerings of large companies always resonates, but especially in these hard times I believe it can really catch the public’s attention.

Barack Obama is also apparently quite popular this news cycle, so we also tried to mention how the President mentioned that EMR (Electronic Medical Records) and other innovative medical software products would be heavily invested in and would lower health care costs for the government and spur new hiring by lowering the cost of health insurance. We hope in the future to build a really compelling story about how as a start-up founded in this recession, we are one of the seeds that will grow to be a solution by lowering health care costs and increasing employment (not achieved as of today.)

4) Where?

Where is your company located? What ties to the community do you have?

On the Internet is not a good answer to this question. For Dr. Chrono, founding a start-up company in New York City is a very unique experience and very different from any of the start-up stories that have come out of Silicon Valley. This is good news for us, in that the New York City media is starving to hear about success stories and they are not going to get a lot of them anytime soon from Wall Street.

5) Why?

Why was your start-up founded?

These types of questions at first glance seem to be the least relevant and fluffy of any question you can be asked, but they are your best chance to get a personalized message out there that has a really high chance of getting used by a journalist you are talking too. When Microsoft or Google launches their new health oriented software they don’t have a sick parent at home that they are trying to help. A large company can’t personalize a problem or its solution the way a start-up can. These questions are a great place to really dig deep and share about how you want take charge of your own destiny by founding a company and how the problems your company is trying to solve personally affect you and your customers.

5b or sometimes 6) How?

How are you managing to do it? How are you financed?

Dr. Chrono is a bootstrapped company and it defines who we are as a company. We are working 6 days a week, as many hours a day as we can, to try and get our first version of our product completed so we can start earning revenue. We are working phone lines and pushing our first customers for feedback because we only have so many months of savings left until we run out of money. Every company has a unique story to tell and how you are managing to live your dream is part of that story.

A great book that I’ve read on the subject of Public Relations was aptly titled Propaganda, it was written by a nephew of Sigmund Freud who served in the Allied Propaganda efforts in World War II. One of the gems that I got from the book was that the word Propaganda itself is no longer used to describe Public Relations because the Allies were so effective at making the enemies Public Relations seem devious by titling it as Propaganda that they actually tarnished the word forever. This point really stuck with me as I realized how powerful Public Relations and impressions can be and actually how little it has changed in the last 80 years.