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Anyone reading VentureBeat has probably dreamt at some point of becoming the next big startup success story. In fact, a handful of VentureBeat readers may have already achieved this dream. But for most, the dream to build a successful tech company will remain just that — a dream. So it’s a special privilege to meet the dreamers at the very beginning of their journey and be a part of their story.
For me, the journey began in October, 2010 when a friend recommended my public relations firm, Blonde 2.0, to Viber. The company reached out to us to run their PR efforts for the launch of their promising app. Since that time, we’ve continued to work with Viber as it has grown from a young startup, to a thriving tech company, and finally as it completed its exit to Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten for $900 million.
We learned a lot along the way, and I want to share some of these insights that you can apply to help your startup receive the coverage it deserves.
While I can’t write about the acquisition itself, I can tell you what PR techniques helped get Viber to a $900 million acquisition.
Lesson One: Get off on the right foot
When we started brainstorming with the Viber team about all the different strategies we could employ for the launch, we proposed a huge number of ideas. Our strategies ranged from the traditional to the creative to the downright crazy. But in the end, the most important decision was finding a path that made the most sense for Viber.
The Viber team decided to start with a soft launch in a market that was willing to try a new app, and to experiment with what was then a brand new way to register with a voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) app — with your phone number. That led them to a launch in Israel.
Why Israel? Israel is a small country but considered a great place for soft launches and product testing. Many people view Israelis as early adopters; they are technologically savvy and welcome trying new things. Additionally, there is strong potential for word-of-mouth promotion. Gillette, for instance, has been launching its new razors first in Israel for decades for these exact reasons.
Most Israelis also speak English, so there’s no need for translating an English-language app into different languages. On top of this, in 2010 Israel had an advanced data infrastructure in comparison to other potential markets.
Within about 48 hours of the Israel launch, Viber became the #1 app in the Israeli app store. We realized that if we wanted to control the conversation before this news spread globally, we needed to expedite our PR efforts and organize a global launch as quickly as possible.
Lesson Two: Make friends and influence people
Robert Scoble told me once: “I don’t know of any product that didn’t start with us, the tech opinion leaders and early adopters.” I’ve learned from experience that he’s absolutely right.
Therefore, for our global launch, we aimed to gain credibility among the crème de la crème of the tech industry. We didn’t want them to just cover the launch; we hoped they would also become evangelists for Viber. As it turned out, the tech media loved the app. Getting to the hearts of these influencers was always essential to us from day one.
Now, that may seem obvious: Find a top writer and be in regular communication with them. However, this point needs to be emphasized because this fundamental PR truth hasn’t changed, even if some are asserting that PR is dead or that it hasn’t kept up with the rapidly changing face of online media. Those relationships — which we nurtured with years of constant communication, updates, and above all else loyalty to the writers who covered Viber — ensured that we were always able to share our story with the world.
Lesson Three: In an online world, a face-to-face meeting is still king
Only a few days after our big launch announcement on the Web, we did a media tour at LeWeb 2010 where we met face to face with key tech figures.
Fast forward to 2012. While the Internet has made global communication cheap, quick, and easy, nothing carries the emotional resonance of a face-to-face meeting. So when we were preparing for the launch of Viber Desktop, we knew that it was time to get in front of leading journalists.
I traveled to New York with Viber CEO Talmon Marco, and we went from office to office, meeting to meeting, demonstrating the new desktop app that the Viber team had built. We met writers, spoke to them, shook their hands, and added faces and voices to our pitch. With tech writers frequently receiving thousands of pitch emails a day, it’s important to leverage any opportunity you have to meet these writers in person. There is still no substitute for a sincere handshake and a smile.
Beyond this, traveling to New York represented an opportunity to pitch traditional media outlets that don’t always respond to an online pitch. For some tech companies this won’t be a problem, but the majority of global startups can’t simply drop into the offices of the mainstream media.
Pick your moment: If you feel like you have a huge story to tell, get on a plane and tell it to the world in person.
Lesson Four: If you’ve got it, flaunt it
One thing I’m always telling my clients is that you need to time your outreach efforts. Every story should be crafted to include as much valuable information as possible to ensure that writers are always receiving valuable stories with important updates.
The exception to the rule? Unqualified success. That’s exactly what Viber had and we continued to update our writers on a regular basis. Over the last three and a half years, we’ve worked with Viber on nearly 30 different releases. These ranged from updates about new versions and new interesting features, to stories about partnerships, expanding to additional platforms, and momentum pieces about milestones. There was no slowing down.
The lesson is to strike while the iron is hot. Keep your story at the top of mind for users and influencers. Maybe you’ll drop off the radar for a bit, but if you keep looking for new angles and keep pushing your company forward, there will always be news for you to share.
Lesson Five: Work with the best people and products in the world
As much as I may want to, I can only take so much credit for Viber’s PR success. At the end of the day, our ability to pitch a story to writers depends a great deal on the quality and newsworthiness of the product. Yet it’s also true that a lot of great ideas have struggled to get off the ground, or even disappeared without a trace, because the creators failed to get noticed by the right people.
I was incredibly fortunate to spend the last three and a half years pitching one of the most innovative, useful, and all around amazing apps that has ever been released. Viber introduced and popularized a number of features that we currently take for granted. From its innovative and dead-simple registration process, to the way it used push notifications when the app wasn’t running in the background, to the fact that digital call quality was simply shockingly good, Viber did things that hadn’t been done before, or had only been done very poorly before.
In addition, I must add that other than the product being great, Talmon was also a true leader and was skillful in front of media. He knew well how to pitch his product and what points to emphasize. A great product, a charismatic founder: This was a sure-fire recipe for success.
I wasn’t there for the long hours and sleepless nights of programming and development, but I do know how hard everyone on the team worked from the beginning until now to ensure Viber was a success story.
In the end, the success of Viber as an app and as a tech story can’t be tied to any one factor. It was the result of countless things working together in symphony. And what a beautiful symphony it is.
Ayelet Noff has been involved in the social media world before the term social media even existed. She opened Blonde 2.0 back in 2006 when social media was still in its infancy. Since then, Blonde 2.0 has become a 25 person company helping 40+ companies socialize their brands, engage with consumers, receive coverage in top tier publications, and create a consistent buzz on the Web keeping them at users’ TOM (top of mind) all the time.
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