Is your startup ready to launch? Probably not.

You’ve got two engineers, a cool co-working space, a product in the works, angel funding, and a registered company name. Congrats! You’ve done a bunch of productive stuff, but it’s not enough to introduce your company to the world.

There are several fundamental steps you need to do before consulting a PR agency for the launch of your product or service. There is a common misalignment in a startup’s timeline, where the founder feels they need to get media attention for their half developed idea first, then raise more funding to complete the world’s greatest product.

Sorry friends, it’s the other way around – you need to develop a working prototype before letting your freak flag fly in the media – otherwise you’ll spend a lot of cheddar building a product with features nobody needs.

Some startups tend to think first about how they can scale their idea before they have a working product. But let’s say you spend $200 on Facebook ads, get some downloads – but your app is buggy, or has a three second loading time – that’s an automatic uninstall. Figure out first if it can be used and sold before spending tons of cash on it.

There’s only one chance to launch, so before calling up a PR company and selecting the fillings of your mini sandwiches for media, make sure you have the following, in this order.

1x solid MVP

The MVP (minimum viable product) is a working product with core features, let’s say version 1.0 of your product that lets you gain insight as to whether the world actually needs it. There’s no purpose in spending your savings building the Uber App if you don’t develop a functional “driver”  account that makes you scale the adoption among drivers.

20 x friends

Well, they could just be colleagues or neighbours – individuals who will not blast you on social media if the product is buggy. You need at least 20 people who are using the MVP and are willing to give you feedback. Here you need to ask, do people love it? Do they need it? Will this gain traction? Will they trash if after five uses? You need to build a product that can gain traction before scaling.


It’s better to do repairs or a pivot BEFORE you launch than after you launch. A company that has an identity crisis doesn’t look good to the media. Once you have some local users, this is the opportunity to do some A/B testing, improve on the UX, and even at this early stage you still have resources to pivot if you realise no one needs blue tooth dog collars. Now ask, is it going to be scalable?

[Spoiler alert Silicon Valley S3]: You don’t want to end up like Richard when Jack Barker’s cuts up Pied Piper to make it easier to sell via the ‘Conjoined Triangles of Success’ to make it more profitable.

10x pieces of good content

Let’s say you’ve launched early and the media are flooding to your Facebook page. But umm, there isn’t anything on here except 1 post from your mom that says ‘I’m proud of you!’ Have someone create content on your company website just to show that you are truly interested in the issue you’re solving.

5 x brand ambassadors

We don’t mean the tanned and toned Instagram influencer who holds ANYTHING for $500 a post, we mean a real human being who truly LOVES your idea and product. If you have social friends who are ranting and raving with one another about your idea, then it brings some legitimacy to your product. An enthusiastic brand ambassador is worth more than any advertisement at this point.

1x small community

Once you have some people who love your product or service, it’s enough to start a community. This can just be a minimum of ten people who are talking about your dope product online. Successful startups have kicked off because there was a community around an already existing common issue: ‘Jon realised he couldn’t get meatloaf online, ‘til he met Peter and Jim who also wanted to digitise the meatloaf industry’.

People might not know they need your specific product, but if they meet other people who love it, they might realise they have been missing your product their whole life.

Always remember to start small, very very small. Do that small thing very well and invest in making it better for your fans. Only then can you grow and improve. This will reduce the amount of money wasted on building and selling a product that nobody wants.

Get in touch with us at [email protected].

This article was first published in Tech in Asia on 11th May 2016

Your brand sucks: Part 1

This feature is part of a regular series”Getting frank with Joe” giving you a brutally frank, yet realistic look at the business world.

Look, I get it. You’ve worked your arse off building your business – you deliver a product or service you are proud of. The market is simply waiting for something like this and a massive increase in sales is just around the corner simply because you have nailed it. Right? Wrong.

When you fail to communicate your brand, you will not achieve the success you aspire to and – most likely – will crash and burn. I’m not about to give you a step-by-step guide on how to do that but I will give you a few pointers to keep in mind.

  • Your business is not unique

I’m a simple guy; I love the idea that a person can deliver an exceptional product and it will become a success. But unfortunately those times are no longer here, if they ever existed.

Sure, there is the odd exception, but when you do come across those rare cases, there is a specific purpose and strategy behind it. Think of those cool bars with a secret entrance and no obvious branding. They didn’t get popular simply because they make a good cocktail, there is a specific strategy behind their success. This can be a mix of PR, word of mouth and social media. I’ve seen amazing businesses go under because they wanted to be underground or aloof, without understanding how to effectively communicate.

It’s not just lifestyle either. Whether you are in construction, B2B technology or whatever, if your target market doesn’t know you exist, can’t relate to you, or they don’t easily understand your key values, then you are not building the long-term relationships that is  needed to scale your business.  

  • Take a look in the mirror

All founders need to take a good, hard look at themselves before getting too involved with branding at a creative level for both planning and execution. Supply the vision and ethos that will guide the strategy, but if you lack the skills, understanding, or even interest to get involved, then please don’t.

I’ve seen all sorts of approaches towards brand strategy and communications, where the CEO doesn’t have any experience or know what they are doing. If they recognise they lack in the area, they are often fine. The others, less so.


In one meeting, I met the CEO of a tech company that had successfully raised millions in funding. It was an amazing platform and should have done really well in the market since they launched 18 months earlier. Yet here they were looking for desperate last ditch measures to get sales, so they could raise more funding just to survive.

I asked the CEO about his marketing and branding strategy. There was none. He even told me he hates doing “that sort of stuff”, yet he was the one in charge of executing it. Unsurprisingly, the marketing efforts fails, and then the CEO decides it doesn’t work.

With millions of dollars and over a year of operations, this company had built itself a large global team, yet not one person outside of the CEO had a role that involved giving thought on how to actually get the product in front of paying users, or how to build the brand or to scale it (beyond tech requirements).

So there you have it! Stay tuned for the second instalment to my branding series where i’ll guide you on how turn failure into success.

In the meantime, drop me a note at [email protected] if you could use a hand promoting your new idea.

Missed the first Getting frank with Joe instalment? Check it out here.


Getting frank with Joe Part 1: “No one cares if you are a startup”

Okay, maybe your friends, family and investors do — but that’s about it. The rest of the world couldn’t care less that you are a startup.

They say they care, they think they care, they like the idea of it and the romance of it all, but they don’t really care. Don’t blame them; I’m sure they are nice people, but at the end of the day, their love of supporting a startup goes no deeper than an immediate reaction.

This might come as a bit of a shock because your business is everything to you. To you. Allow me to run you through a few home truths to help you avoid falling on your face when it comes to managing a successful startup.

Your target market doesn’t owe you anything

You can certainly leverage being a startup in your branding and to tap into natural sympathy and support. You can even cultivate pro-startup audiences and have your brand develop and evolve over time.

But be under no illusion that most people won’t hesitate to drop you if they have any issues or face any barriers.

They will gladly move back to their safe corporate, mass market product if you impact their consumer experience in any way. It’s simply the nature of the beast.

Don’t be a loser

Always be positive around friends, contacts, clients… anyone.

Why? When you talk about your business, even your closest friends are making subconscious decisions about you and your company, and when they have the opportunity to refer you to one of their friends or contacts, they know their reputation and credibility is also at stake.

If all they hear from you is complaints about staff or how tough it is, they are going to form a negative image of you and are less likely to make the referral.

But when you are positive and they feel like you are on the up and up, well, everyone loves a winner.

This is not necessarily a conscious decision. And yes, if you are too positive, you run the risk of not sounding genuine. No one believes any entrepreneur who says it is all smooth sailing.

Try something like this:

Friend: “Hey mate, how’s business?”

You: “Really good. Cashflow is a total pain in my arse but we are getting some really strong traction.”

Boom. You get your gripe out, but the positives outweigh it and you still sound like a winner.

Don’t let your bubble become a crutch

I often come across founders or staff from startups who are extremely tapped into the startup scene, constantly patroning drinks, networking events and conferences. In many ways this is great – you will learn something from your peers in this space and you’ll have a good time. They will be a valuable source of tips, advice and a sympathetic ear, but it does not replace your need to get out into the real world.

Unless your company or brand is aimed at the startup community, no one cares if you are friends with a dozen different CEOs of bootstrapped enterprises. By all means keep your toe in the scene, but the law of diminishing returns exists even for your own time. Instead, think about who your target audience is or what you want to achieve, and go where they go.

Don’t be a wuss

Toughen up. It’s supposed to be hard.

Recently, I was blown away when a startup I was meeting with said they couldn’t meet before 11am because that’s when they arrive at the office. Seeing my shocked expression they followed up with, “Oh don’t worry, we work really late. Like until 8, sometimes 9.”

It was clear they had bought into the romanticised version of their own story – staying up late working over Red Bulls and pizza with the occasional break to play Xbox. Meanwhile they are barely doing a normal day’s work because they don’t turn up until lunch.

I’m all for work life balance, but if you are serious about your startup, you are going to have to haul arse.

There is more to having a startup than proudly proclaiming it.

So basically, ignore the fact you are a startup in your day-to-day work life. Your number one priority is to move your business forward, so focus on that. Don’t let the hype or romanticism blind you. Be awesome every single day and get on with being successful.

If you have any questions just get in touch with us at [email protected].

This blog was first published in Tech in Asia on 19th April 2016

Why your startup needs public relations

Plunging into the fast-paced, high-risk world of startups and entrepreneurship is exhilarating and nerve-racking — and it takes more than guts and grit to make it and be the next big thing. If you’re equipped with a groundbreaking idea and your product’s ready to hit the market, odds are you’re doing everything to spread the word: telling everyone you see about your startup, and making your rounds in networking circles to meet fellow entrepreneurs, potential clients, and scooping up an investor or two along the way.

What many startups fail to recognise at this stage is how much of a game changer public relations (PR) can be. PR is particularly crucial and most effective when a startup has just launched, and smart PR can directly impact your brand perception, company revenue and investor opportunities.

Some entrepreneurs we meet don’t see the need for PR. They believe a good idea will sell itself through word-of-mouth and personal networks. That’s definitely important, but it’s hardly enough. Public relations — and media coverage in particular — will provide you with a far wider reach than you can imagine and act as a launch pad for your big idea. Here’s why PR should be taken seriously, whether you take a stab at it on your own or get some help from industry experts.

1. Introduce your brand to the public
Media coverage in key news outlets will introduce your brand to the public. In Singapore, think The Straits TimesTODAYThe Business TimesChannel NewsAsia and other tech sites like e27, ZDNet Asia and more that are the perfect gateways to public recognition. How often have you read about a new company while flipping the newspapers or browsing news sites? Your startup could be recognised in the same way.

Public relations is essentially brand outreach to the public and your stakeholders through various media channels. Yes, you’ll still want to rely on word-of-mouth, and yes, social media should be an important element of your PR campaign, but what happens when these are combined with media coverage? Brand recognition increases by leaps and bounds.

2. Be searchable
Have you ever Googled a company, brand or product, only to find it’s not a top hit, and then give up digging for more information? With news features, potential clients searching for you will find your brand across a slew of media coverage, rather than a lonely link low on Google search.

For your startup to do well, you’ll want to build on your search ranking through search engine optimisation (SEO) to help people easily find your brand online. SEO isn’t a quick fix and takes concerted effort. Media coverage is a great way to boost your SEO, particularly online news articles that link back to your website, weaving strong backlinks. You should also ensure you have SEO best practices in place early on – here are some tips from Mutant.

3. Gain credibility
Consumers today are smart and informed. Before your potential clients buy your products or use your services, they’re researching your brand — they’ll read reviews and look into your online presence before making a purchasing decision. News coverage in reputable news sites and publications will give much-needed credibility to your services and products, particularly when you’re relatively unknown.

If journalists buy into what you’re offering, their favourable reviews will be the best endorsements. Many of them are influential, with loyal readers who treat their words as gospel truth. And news articles that quote your product users who speak to its awesomeness will add even more credibility.

4. Investors see you
Every startup needs funding — and PR will increase your chances at striking the VC lottery. Venture capitalists, government entities and rich folks are on the lookout for investment opportunities in the news. Positive coverage highlighting your business proposition and growth potential is bound to turn a few heads.

A startup we recently helped to launch in Singapore is an entrepreneur’s dream come true. Combining an excellent product with dedicated PR pushes, we secured news coverage in national newspapers The Straits Times and TODAY, popular news sites such as e27 and Yahoo! Singapore News and more, which led to calls from a major government research agency keen to invest in the app and a major client who wanted to roll out the service at scale. When you hit the media that matter, you’re going to get noticed.

5. Become a thought leader
The establishment of trusted brands goes beyond good products and services — the best ones establish themselves as a thought leader and knowledge expert in the field. As a first step, you should craft opinion pieces for targeted media and land your commentary in industry news articles. When your brand starts to get recognised, you could speak at industry events to share your insights with stakeholders.

Building thought leadership is a gradual process, and you’ll want to start working on it soon as possible. If I’m an investor or consumer looking to invest my hard-earned money in a startup and its services, I’m far more likely to trust a startup with a business leader who’s knowledgeable, rather than any other brand who’s merely jumping on the startup bandwagon for the ride.

6. Receive valuable feedback from journalists

Many journalists, particularly those focussing on technology and startups, are knowledgeable about the industry and they’ve seen many startups make it and break it. Some might think of journalists as writers who’re only out to catch them off-guard for a sensational story, while others see journalists purely as mouthpieces for their brand. Don’t treat a media interaction purely as transaction, especially in Singapore where journalists are open to conversations.

Along with your interview, make an effort to sit with them over coffee and find out what they think about your products and services. Have an honest conversation and pay attention to what they have to say. You might be surprised at their suggestions, which could help you re-consider loopholes you’ve missed.

PR complements your startup’s initial launch and can be really impactful in driving growth. Not every news article is going to land you a million dollar investment, but every PR step you take in the right direction will persuade your potential clients, add credibility to your brand, and boost your online presence to eventually establish you as the startup to look out for.

This article was first published 14 July 2014 on e27.
If you’d like to discuss your public relations approach, get in touch with us at [email protected].
Startup Live Vienna image by Heisenberg Media is licensed under CC BY 2.0.


Say no to cold calls: What the Do-Not-Call Registry means for your business

You might have heard of the new Do-Not-Call (DNC) Registry, which kicked off on 2nd January 2014, enabling Singapore consumers to put an end to those irritating unsolicited calls, text messages, and should anyone still use them, faxes. While the much-anticipated DNC Registry rids the everyday Joe of pesky sales calls, concerned businesses that regularly employ telemarketing tactics now have to find new ways to reach out to consumers.

Under the new rule, organisations will generally be required to take the following three steps when contacting consumers:

1)   Check their marketing lists against the DNC Registry unless they have obtained consent from individuals or an exception applies.

2)   Provide contact information about the organisation that sent or authorised the telemarketing messages.

3)   Make sure the organisation’s identity is not withheld for voice calls.

An exemption applies to businesses that have existing relationships with customers, and they will still be able to share marketing offers related to the subject of the ongoing relationship through texting or faxing, but not voice calls, with the caveat that there’s an option for consumers to unsubscribe.

Fines and fine-print

The costs of phone number checks rack up – businesses have to purchase credits to run numbers through the database and each phone number costs between one and two cents depending on the bulk of purchase. 500 free credits are provided annually. From now till 31 May, the results of each check will be valid for 60 days, but will transition into a 30-day validity period after that date. This means businesses that choose to conduct telemarketing will have to run routine monthly DNC Registry checks.

Delinquent business will have to pay the price, with maximum fines of up to $10,000 per offence bound to make even the most unwilling of business owners acquaint themselves with the DNC Registry.

You can’t spam, but you can preach

Although consumers will spend less time politely refusing unwanted sales calls, non-sales related communication including service calls, reminder messages, market surveys, and messages related to religious or charitable causes are still allowed. Other businesses are also not exempted as B2B marketing calls are still given the green light.

In the grand scheme of data privacy, the DNC Registry falls under the Personal Data Protection Act, which protects consumers’ personal data and ensures it’s used responsibly by businesses. Enforcement for additional data protection rules will begin in July this year.

More details on the DNC Registry and its application in different scenarios can be found in the Advisory Guidelines.

What this means for your business?

The establishment of the DNC Registry reaffirms two facts – consumers value their privacy more than ever before, and most people dislike hard selling through cold calling. On the day the DNC Registry was launched, 400,000 numbers were listed, according to The Straits Times.

But many marketers still prefer to pick up the phone and speak with strangers on the other line, even though it’s proven to be ineffective most of the time. Cold calling doesn’t work 90.9 per cent of the time, costs at least 60 per cent more per lead and results in meetings only 2 per cent of the time, according to an article on Hubspot.

Help your customers find you instead

Consumers today don’t appreciate in-your-face marketing advances. Just think about the times you’ve hovered your mouse impatiently over the “Skip Ad” button on YouTube, or contemplated hanging up on a cold caller. The very people you’re selling to are smart, discerning individuals who can easily find out all they need about your product through Google, social networks, the media they choose to consume and your very own website.

Instead of bugging your potential customers, it’s more effective to let them come to you – and they’ll only do so when they trust your company and your products. That’s where content marketing comes in. There’s a deluge of information out there and you’ll not only need to be interesting, but also relevant to both your potential and existing customers for them to look to you.

What exactly is content marketing?

Creating engaging, targeted content to establish your company as a subject matter expert and thought leader is the way to go. This could take the form of social media posts, company blogs, how-to videos, opinion articles for the media, targeted newsletters for your existing customers, and much more.

The DNC registry marks the descent of cold calling and hard selling in Singapore. But businesses that have traditionally relied on such methods will find themselves better placed marketing through good content people want to read, watch, listen to and share – and this applies to any kind of business.

Just consider real estate agents, who frequently rely on mass texting. They can leverage other outlets such as social networks to share tips and answer questions on property investment, blogs to comment on the housing market, and relevant media to offer thoughts on the industry and position themselves as thought leaders. Keen property buyers are much more likely to seek real estate experts who have demonstrated industry knowledge, rather than blindly trust a name at the end of a text message.

There are numerous outlets available for you to share your brand, products and services, and the demand for interesting content and commentary isn’t waning anytime soon. Instead of slamming it down their throats when they least want and expect it, get creative and help them find you, on their own terms.

To find out how Mutant can help with your content marketing needs, get in touch with Joseph at [email protected]