Who writes the headline of your startup story?Shradha Sharma
In 2008, when I started up, like most startups I was keen to be heard and known in the big wide world. And what better way to achieve that than to have the media write about me. After all, any coverage was sure shot way to tell people, “Hey, here I am, and you can reach out to me.” Alas, nobody did. And I was most upset – the irony was that nobody was willing to listen. I had left a successful corporate job to start up on my own and do something cool (or so I thought). Shouldn’t media tell my story? Maybe mention something about my unique venture? To be honest, I really wanted my ex-company, CNBC TV18, feature me in their high-profile Young Turks show. No such luck.
In fact, traditional media kept me at an arms’ length (and I have much to thank them for one of the best things that didn’t happen to me). I remember a few years back when three people were given an award by an industry body (yours truly being one of the three). The other two got half a page worth of coverage in India’s most widely read business daily (again, from a company I had worked with), but I was left out. I remember going through the paper over and over: maybe I’d missed seeing it, maybe it was hidden and buried inside as an afterthought, a tiny piece, just a line maybe. I was keen, well, marginally obsessed, to see YourStory get mentioned (you know when you have no money to promote yourself, a mention matters a lot). Nope, it wasn’t there. Over the last few years, however, I’ve made my peace with the fact that for mainstream media I am just not happening. Sure, there is an occasional mention, and I’m grateful. But overall, this indifference is just one more additional spark I need to make YourStory the most happening place for entrepreneurs. Anyone out there should be able to get a space to tell his or her story here. So far, nearly 30,000 have done that on YourStory. And yes, yes, we do miss out on many such stories despite the relentless pace we maintain.
So, as an entrepreneur, I totally understand why we need to be out there telling our story, sharing our story with media. In fact, I remember when I was in between CNBC and YourStory, an early employee (now a friend) at Flipkart had called me to help get coverage in Young Turks, saying, “This will help us in hiring as we are unknown when we go to premium colleges for recruitment.” We all have our reasons to get media coverage; the reason may change from time to time, but if you’re in business, you need to communicate, and media is the ideal vehicle to do so.
The Indian media has evolved significantly from 2008 when YourStory was set up. Eight years down the line, almost every newspaper, magazine and news website in the country is hungry to tell the stories of startups.
The big daddies of the media world perhaps realized a couple of years back that startups were worth covering and writing about. The wave is probably fuelled by the big money pouring into e-commerce, finally making startups headline-worthy. Everyday startup news is a headline, and mostly led by funding news. Who is getting into the billion-dollar club? Who is the new poster boy? Who is investing big bucks? Yes, even a cheerleader platform like YS has occasionally given to headline pressure, because we know that in online media, page views matter.
And talking about news and headlines, a question that I would love all of us to think about is:
Why is startup news always in the extreme? From euphoria to bubble, from startups as saviors of the country to startups needing saving, why is it that the media relies on extremes to make any point?
I was almost despondent last week reading so many doomsday stories. And yes neither do I get jubilant with the euphoric funding news. For me, as with most entrepreneurs, funding is just one step in a long journey. And yet, with all the gloom-and-doom being bandied about, it feels like the startup world is just weeks away from Armageddon.
I’m not an expert, but I do want to ask the media and proponents of the bubble theory: aren’t ups and downs a very natural part of any journey? Why make someone a hero one day and trash them in just a few months – not based on performance metrics but often speculation?
To entrepreneurs, I ask:
“Why do we become so proud when we make it to the front page?”
Over the last few years, I have seen so many of our startup heroes develop a sense of ‘I have arrived’ because of this incessant media attention. One entrepreneur, I was chasing for a quote told me,
I am being chased by TV channels. I can’t find time for them, so how can I find time for you?
That promptly put me in my place, but I also wondered if they didn’t realize that media attention is ephemeral?
This post is not so much about the media because the media wouldn’t be the media if they didn’t give us headlines to salivate over. News has to justify being news. It has to catch our attention. Otherwise, it will be boring, dull and not worth our time. Let’s face it – most of us will click on a headline that promises a spicy story, most probably to get away from our very own mundane existence.
Why do we, the entrepreneurs, not define, articulate and to whatever extent possible tell our own stories? Lack of time? Or maybe it’s because we feel it's not relevant for me right now. Most of us think a PR person or an expert storyteller needs to do that.
Also read: I don’t know. And I’m fine with that
It’s time we take control of our narrative – at least to the extent possible. And while we are on this subject, why is it so important to be heard by the media so regularly? Why do you need to constantly be in the news? In fact, you need to get worried if you get too much coverage. Why not create your own media through the omnipresent social media? Here, I would mention the recent Peppertap story. Navneet Singh, the founder, did not flounder when the media was abuzz with news of his venture shutting down. Navneet told his story and told it in his own words. To be sure, nobody can stop the speculation, but he took charge of the narrative and told his version of the story. He communicated what he wanted to and his voice was heard loud and clear.
Many entrepreneurs tell me:
I will be the next unicorn and I will be the headline you will chase.
I totally love their confidence but inwardly shudder: God forbid if they do make the headlines, they better be prepared for their time in the sun one day and a dark, lonely night in the next few days.
And while I write this, I am going back to relearning what balance in news, work and life means. And to all of us, I would say, let’s write our own headline and let’s write our own startup story.
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