Business Week Top 25 Under 25

BusinessWeek.com is highlighting 25 of the best young entrepreneurs in the country on its web site this week.

One of the nominees is Utah’s own Cammon Randle of Copperrain Productions. The company does “promotions, training videos, and creative shorts “. He is 25 and is a member of the Provo Labs Academy, along with his wife Lorri.

You can vote for Cammon online and help him get even more national exposure.

Congrats Cammon and Lorri!

The best traffic driving press release I’ve seen in a LONG time

I remember how press releases during the bubble could make stock prices jump like crazy. Once, a press release went out to announce that SkyMall was partnering with MyFamily.com. Dick Eastman noticed the stock price jump immediately. Here is an excerpt from my personal notes database:

“Our goal at MyFamily.com is to help families use technology to bridge the distance between their various members,” said Curt D. Allen, chief executive officer of MyFamily.com. “Sending and receiving gifts is an important family tradition made easier by the addition of the SkyMall catalog to MyFamily.com. The breadth and quality of the SkyMall catalog merchandise, coupled with the MyFamily.com gift registry, gives our customers a simple, welcome way to remember those they love, regardless of where they live.” SkyMall is the largest in-flight catalog company in the United States. If you have flown recently on a U.S. airline, you probably found a SkyMall catalog in the seat pocket in front of you. The company also sells products via traditional mail order and via its website.

Here is a short excerpt from the press release issued by the two companies:

MyFamily.com offers families and other close-knit groups a free, private place to share and distribute family information on the Web. The personalized MyFamily.com websites are accessible only to invited visitors, providing ways for families to securely share news and photos as well as audio and video clips. A multi-user calendar on each MyFamily.com website helps track family events, and an e-mail reminder service helps people remember important family dates. The MyFamily.com gift registry allows family members to record their personal interests and gift preferences.

“We are excited to be a part of the roll-out of MyFamily.com and to offer its members quality, unique gifts from the nation’s leading merchants,” said Robert M. Worsley, president and chief executive officer of SkyMall. “MyFamily.com is providing families a new way to stay in touch, while at the same time capitalizing on a powerful marketing opportunity. We believe partnering with MyFamily.com and providing gifts through their gift registry and event calendar are excellent ways to expand distribution of SkyMall’s shopping programs.”

Mr. Worsley had a good reason to be excited. The stock price of SkyMall Inc. (SKYM) jumped 50% in extremely heavy volume after announcing that it has placed an online catalog on MyFamily.com. When asked, a SkyMall spokesperson said that it appeared that the announcement of the tie with MyFamily.com was responsible for investors’ interest. The company was unaware of any other reason for the big jump in stock price. Apparently investors were impressed with the amount of advertising the company would receive.

SkyMall’s stock was at $4.00 a share before the announcement on Tuesday morning but went to more than $6.25 by mid-afternoon. Some profit taking occurred during the rest of the week; the stock closed on Friday at $5.06 a share.

The amazing thing to me was that the MyFamily.com site had not yet launched. The deal was announced before the launch of our web site. Of course Ancestry.com had a lot of traffic, but the SkyMall deal’s success would depend on how much traffic MyFamily.com attracted after it launched.

It’s just that back then, during the bubble, any dot com-oriented press release could create fortunes overnight.

So, today I found a press release that went out on Business Wire on Oct. 17th that seems to have generated a huge spike in traffic to Hotsoup.com.

Check out this Alexa chart on Hotsoup.com.

The press release was smartly written. Check out all the prominent names in the title of the press release. The Clintons, Mitt Romney, Bon Jovi, etc.

Because Google News and Yahoo News index Business Wire press releases, and this release was stuffed with so many big names, tons of people would have found this while getting their daily news fix, and so would have clicked through to Hotsoup.com.

Stuffing a press release with the right keywords and doing it appropriately will get you far more exposure and traffic than using the wrong keywords–words that no one is searching for. I say appropriately, because in this case, all the people mentioned in the press release are presumably really going to be posting messages on the site.

The Alexa spike also happened because Hotsoup.com is now live and open for business. But I believe this press release had a lot to do with the spike. (I’d love to get someone from Hotsoup to comment on this and let us know how effective their recent pr effort has been.)

I just found the editor in chief of Hotsoup.com on LinkedIn.com, so maybe we’ll be able to get someone visit here and comment.

$31,000 in Prizes at BYU Student Entrepreneur of the Year Competition

Kevin Willeitner, one of my BYU Internet Marketing students asked me to blog this:

Student entrepreneurs now have their change to win a little money to put into their business. The Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization of BYU is now accepting applications for the 2006 Student Entrepreneur of the Year. So far, they are planning to give out a total of $31,000 to the winners with $12,500 going to first place. Contestant get prizes all the way down to 12th place, so the chances of winning something are quite good. Last years winner was Jayson Edwards of J-Dawg’s (a small hot dog shack on the edge of the BYU campus.)

Here is the official BYU Student Entrepreneur of the Year website.

Other previous winners include Adam Edmunds (CEO of Allegiance), Dave Bateman (CEO of Property Solutions), and Jonathan Coons (CEO of 1-800-Contacts). All of experiencing great success in their businesses.

Business competitions like this are a great way to get publicity which can be leveraged in a variety of ways to help your company succeed. The cash prizes don’t hurt either!

I read recently that in the 1970s there were something like 20 university entrepreneurship programs in the U.S. Now there are something like 2,000. Many of them have business plan competitions these days. I wish there were a central directory of these competitions. Here’s an incomplete one.

I know our team at FundingUniverse.com is interested in making sure that the winners of business plan competitions and the winners of Entrepreneur of the Year competitions like this one get a chance to meet with local angel investors when the time is right for them to raise capital for their business.

This one will be fun to watch, because I’m sure I’ll know quite a few of the students who will be in the running.

Influencing Key Influencers

While I was on vacation last week, I caught a USA Today article (I love USA Today) entitled “Using Blogs for Buzz” by Kim Hart. You can find her original article about getting bloggers to write about your product on the Washington Post web site.

When Nokia Corp. released its camera smartphone last fall, the marketing campaign cut back on news releases and flashy ads. Instead, the company sent sample products to 50 tech-savvy amateur bloggers with a passion for mobile phones.

The tactic paid off, as word spread online about the N-series phone, driving up sales and contributing to a 43 percent profit boost for Nokia last quarter.

We are thinking about a similar strategy for LDS Media. We have been considering offering full access our LDS search engine (with more than 3,300 full text books) to key influencers. There are probably hundreds of LDS bloggers who would love a free subscription. All we would ask is that whenever they quote someone, that they link back to the ldslibrary.com web site. We also want to find ways to provide subscriptions to other groups, including, for example:

  • columnists for Meridian Magazine or LDS Living
  • webmasters
  • Education Week speakers
  • Seminary teachers (there are 40,000)
  • faculty at religious educational institutions
  • We need thousands of influencers who are using and citing and talking about the new LDS Library web site, so that everyone in the LDS community hears about our search engine.

    Question is: how do we reach them and get them full access to our web site. It might be best to start with the bloggers and give the bloggers full access if they are willing to blog about the full access offer for these other customer segments.

    Another Provo Labs company is marketing a great new product to help kids do their chores without whining: it’s called Children’s Miracle Music. Last week we had record sales. But we are just doing pay-per-click and email marketing. (We will soon be using SEO, online video (through 10Speed’s online video affiliate network), and traditional affiliate marketing as well.) We haven’t yet implemented a blog-based marketing strategy.

    We are seriously considering finding every major mom blog on the internet and sending each blogging mom a free copy of Children’s Miracle Music, with no strings attached, just because we know so many moms love this product and the blogging moms are going to reach a lot more people with their enthusiasm than the non-blogging moms.

    What do you think?

    What is the best way to use the blogosphere to start a viral campaign? What other case studies exist besides the Nokia example?
    Nokia hired Comunicano Inc. to develop their blogging program. What other firms are doing this?

    What would you do if you wanted to kick of a viral blogging program for your company? Would you hire a PR firm with a blogging expert, or would you do it in-house?

    If you’ve tried giving away your product or service to bloggers and saw an impact from it, please share with the rest of us! (I’m adding the Nokia example to the Strategy Tree wiki’s blogging page.)

Getting Offline PR

I’ve been doing internet marketing so long that sometimes I forget about all the pre-internet marketing possibilities that exist to help companies grow. I started a Library Science Masters Degree at BYU before dropping out to run Infobases. I used to have dozens of extremely valuable reference books in the BYU library that helped me with direct marketing, public relations, and media planning/advertising. So I’ve been digging in my 1990s knowledge base to see what sources I can draw from now to help promote a new product.

I rediscovered one of my favorite sources — the Gebbie Directory by Gebbie Press. It’s a low cost directory for small businesses who want to do their own PR.

I hope we can get a lot of media coverage for the new Children’s Miracle Music product that we are promoting. (My blog post last week got a bump in the site’s Alexa traffic–kind of fun to see.)

So here is my question: have any of you used the PR Pro CD software from Gebbie Press, which, when combined with their databases of all the TV stations, radio stations, magazine editors and newspaper editors in the country, allows you to get your press release to any subset of that audience. I guess you can email most of them, or, if you want to mail your press release, you can use the software to print mailing labels.

Tell me what you think of this software or other do-it-yourself PR solutions for small companies. What is your favorite tool for reaching the offline media?

(Of course we’re going to use PRweb.com as well to reach journalists and consumers online. But I need to know what the best offline services are these days. It’s been years since I did anything like this.)

Utah Business Magazine – The Magazine for Decision Makers

Brock Blake, CEO of FundingUniverse.com (a Provo Labs portfolio company) just made it on the list of Utah’s Top 40 Under 40. At age 25, he was the youngest person on the list. So he can stay on this list for the next 14 years! Way to go, Brock.

Brock is already being quoted in the Wall Street Journal online about how to raise money from angel investors, so maybe he’s gunning to make a national top 40 list soon.

His company recently got some great coverage with a Connect magazine article about Simpligent, the highest rated company that presented at the November 2005 speedpitching vent held in Provo.

Rix Ryskamp, Simpligent CEO said this: “We have been contacted by quite a few investors since the speed-pitching luncheon,” says Ryskamp. “This has been the most productive funding event that I have ever seen. The amount of exposure we received in a single day was amazing.”

How PR is Helping FundingUtah.com

Many internet entrepreneurs I know (myself included) are pretty content sitting at the computer most of the time doing research and figuring how to generate traffic, improve web site design and conversion rate, and study web analytics to determine what to do next. We use the web for hours a day to do research on what everyone else is doing. Then, relying primarily on email and instant messaging, we can efficiently communicate hundreds of times per day with employees, customers, partners, etc. So why break away from the computer and have a real world event, when using the computer for everything is so efficient?

To generate publicity, for one thing.

One of our recent startups, FundingUtah.com hired a PR firm a couple months ago to help us with a single press release to announce our existence. John Pilmer, head of PilmerPR called me about a week later and suggested that since our business fit in so nicely with Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s economic agenda, that he thought we might be able to attract the Governor to a press conference or launch event. With our permission, John Pilmer started the ball rolling.

Yesterday all the hard work culminated in a wonderful event with about 100 attendees yesterday in Sandy, Utah. We had about 40 angel investors and 50 entrepreneurs in the audience along with a few government and media representatives. The Governor made a great speech about entrepreneurship and economic growth in Utah. We are the 5th fastest growing state in the U.S., we have the youngest population, and the Governor is predicting a boom period because we have such a strong entrepreneurial spirit in this state.

David Bradford, a partner in FundingUtah.com told the story of hearing Jon Huntsman Sr. speak in California 30 years ago just when his styrofoam packaging company was getting under way. 30 years later Huntsman Chemical is one of the largest chemical companies in the world with a $4 billion plus market cap and manufacturing operations in 22 countries.

Today I woke up to find the FundingUtah.com story on the front page of the Deseret News business section. We also got coverage from the Salt Lake Tribune, KSL Radio (you can even hear an audio clip), and other media outlets.

With the coverage today we’ve jumped to 73 investors and $47 million in available capital, and we’ve had many new business plans added today from entrepreneurs who are seeking funding.

I told the audience yesterday that I haven’t seen people gather to see a launch of a web site since about 1994–but this story became newsworthy both because the Governor attended our event and because the site has the potential to help hundreds of Utah startup companies attract capital and create jobs.

The event was even better because we invited the two angel organizations in the state, Utah Angels and Top of Utah Angels (who are holding their first meeting on May 10th) to the party. Utah needs hundreds of active angels to provide fuel to the fire of innovation and talent that already exists in the state.

If you know any high net worth individuals who aren’t putting their money to use to grow our economy and make dreams come true, invite them to check out FundingUtah.com.

And remind them of this quote by Brigham Young, Utah’s first Territorial Governor:

A man has no right with property, which, according to the laws of the land, legally belongs to him, if he does not want to use it; he ought to possess no more than he can put to usury, and cause to do good to himself and his fellow man. When will a man accumulate money enough to justify him in salting it down, or, in other words, laying it away in the chest, to lock it up, there to lie, doing no manner of good either to himself or his neighbor? It is impossible for a man ever to do it. No man should keep money or property by him that he cannot put to usury for the advancement of that property in value or amount, and for the good of the community in which he lives; if he does, it becomes a dead weight upon him.

Omniture Uses a New Free PR Service

I just read a press release from Omniture stating there were more than 3,000 site implementations last year. Omniture is one of the most exciting companies in Utah. And they are in one of the fastest growing industries. Yesterday I saw a prediction that web analytics will reach $11 billion in revenue by 2008.

I noticed that the Omniture press release was delivered on i-newswire.com, a free press release I hadn’t seen before. (It’s obviously quite new–check out it’s Alexa traffic growth over the past few months.) This service is similar to PRweb.com and press-world.com. Google News indexes press releases on i-newswire.com and PRweb.com.

All startups should take advantage of these free services which provide distribution to Google and Yahoo News readers. What a great, low-cost way to get your company news directly to end users.

How do I know these services work? Because I found the Omniture press release through them. (And now thousands of my readers will see it as well. I would call that working.)

Telling the Story–Why Startups Need PR

The first thing I do when learning about a new company is check its Alexa ranking. The second thing I do is visit the web site and click on Press Room. I want to see what the company has been doing lately. Then I often look at the In the News section to see what media coverage they might be getting and I like to read about the management team and investors.

But too many companies don’t even have a Press Room section on their web site. Literally every company that I work does a sub-par job of telling their story through press releases. I think too many PR firms have led us all to believe that press releases alone are not worth anything. They want us to believe that the only thing that matters is their relationships with the media which can lead to getting our news releases published and stories being written about us.

While the value of well done PR is enormous, it is often very expensive–way too expensive for most startup companies, which is why, I believe, almost all of them neglect it. (Except for SearchGuy.com, a publicly traded search engine company with few employees, very little revenue, almost no site traffic–but somehow they try to maintain their market capitalization by issuing a press release every couple of weeks–but that’s another story.)

I see huge opportunities here.

We are starting a company to address this issue. We want all CEOs of small companies to be able to afford our PR service. We are designing software that will make it easy to choose a PR template (from hundreds or thousands), fill in some blanks, create some quotes, and have a press release prepared. The best part of this is the release will show up automatically not only on the company’s own web site (which is important!) but also on several other web sites including Google News! (That is the “secret sauce” that I won’t be disclosing.)

Some of my readers have wondered if disclosing our ideas and plans too early might be costly to us, and in fact, might create competition for us down the road, and thus lessen our company’s valuation.

In this case, if another firm starts offering turn-key press release creation and distribution services that small businesses can afford then we may skip this opportunity and instead focus on training and encouraging all our portfolio companies to use such a service. But we haven’t found such a service yet.

A consistent stream of press releases that contain significant announcements about products, customers, partnerships, trends, statistics, and good news can help a company gain momentum with, generate interest from, and reinforce the company’s value to several different audiences:

  • Potential employees
  • Current and potential customers
  • Investors or potential investors
  • Strategic partners
  • And of course, the media

If you are aware of startup PR firms that are affordable please let me know. If you find this concept interesting and want to be considered as part of our startup team, please contact me.