This ain’t about advertising — How to PR your startup and make customers

Adrian Barwicki
5 min readJan 30, 2018

We build an audience of over 1000 people. The product does not turn out to be a market-fit. What do we do? We get into a cocoon, we adapt, we change… and we do nothing to communicate with the audience. Once we are done, we lose all the engagement we would normally get.

How could we have kept the audience engaged? What should we have done instead?

Listen. Engage.

Listening provides insights into how your clients view your brand and let you understand what the overall sentiment is towards your startup.

Once you know what your audience thinks and looks for, you would be able to engage them. Engagement is not to drive traffic to your site — That is a short-sighted strategy that at best will result in a few transactions. It is to forge long-term mutually beneficial relationships.

So how can startups achieve true engagement? The same way a person would establish a relationship with another person.

Offer help, knowledge, support or value. The desired result is trust. Trust that leads to loyalty. Trust that leads to advocacy. It takes time and effort but the rewards can last a lifetime.

Let’s take as an example a customer that really takes into account the price. It’s important the price is affordable. With us taking 2000€ per consulting day, sometimes, it’s just not feasible for the startups to afford it.

But personally, I want to come across and really empower the entrepreneurs and startups, not the enterprises.

What do we do?

We say: “All right — we are doing right now this and this marketing campaign, help us with it, share it, bring your friends to share it. In return, we will be able to justify the discount of 50%”.

The outcome is trust. Trust that what you do is in the very interest of them. Trust that leads to loyalty. Trust that leads to advocacy.

It takes time and effort but the rewards can last a lifetime.

Give your company a face

Many founders shy away from giving the company their face because they are afraid of personal embarrassment.

Yet, research shows: Founders that personally represent the company, are more motived (maybe because they feel the pressure to perform?) and their audience develops a personal touch and loyalty. Also, they reach better conversion rates.

Remember that the business is done between people, never between companies.

Frequent tactics involve putting your face on the company website, publishing content as yourself, becoming active on social media — as yourself. Besides — network, network, network.

We are also starting to do it now and I feel VERY uncomfortable about it — I got to be the one to be the face of the company.

It’s as simple as that: You google my name, you land on the company website, you buy our products or become aware of it.

Ensure a constant Drum-Beat

You launch a product or a beta program, then you plan a big 2-months promotion. Then… for half a year your followers get no updates from you.

One wants only to communicate successes. Obviously. Everything in between is not worth it.

I will tell you one thing. Half of the success is to sell your mission, not your product. Your product may suck and be incomplete and have errors in every possible corner. And yet, your customers will test it and give you feedback because they share or like your mission. And you know what? They’ll buy it once you fix the issues.

Communicate often, communicate about the day-to-day activities in your startup, let other know why you go to event A or B. Make photos from important meetings and share it.

Seriously, I recently had a meeting with an important politician to talk about Sharing Economy and the significance of it to the integration of the refugees in Germany. At the end, I asked if I can get a selfie with him after a meeting. Did I feel embarrassed about it? Sure! Was it relevant to our customers that we look for ways to empower them? Certainly.

Some giveaways:

Do not communicate only if there is sunshine on the horizon. Communicate also during the bad times.

Communicate during the product development.

Communicate the day-to-day activities of your startup.

You are not the only story in town

Face it, you are not the only one who does it. There are so many that do and broadcast the same way as you do. Maybe they copy you, maybe you copy them. The chances that what you do is unique — are really low.

Don’t push the content, give little hints and let your audience pull it.

In both cases, you make them aware of what you do, but there is a clear difference:
* in the first case they are irritated that you spam them
* in the second case, they appreciate that you gave the effort to present the full information.

Set — cut — surf the agenda!

People will tell you that you should set up an agenda for your PR, marketing etc. and stick to it. But along the way, you will notice that some things work better, some worse. Don’t be afraid to change or even disrupt the agenda. Exploit what works, drop quickly what does not.

As a startup, you don’t have the resources to execute something that works only in 50%. You want the 200%.

Customize your tale!

We have one mission — spread the Sharing Economy and two really different target groups — Startups and Enterprises. Even though the mission is the same, you customize it to each of the groups.

I’ll tell you one thing, none of those target groups really cares that we want to spread the Sharing Economy.

One of them expects to hear that “we want to empower them in the field of Sharing Economy with Technology”, and the other that our “Innovation Lab can be a reliable key and long-term partner in driving innovation in Sharing Economy”.

The same mission, but broadcasted differently.

Authenticity is key!

If you are an authentic self — you have no competition.

I personally made so many mistakes, I am embarrassed to say that we tried to launch many products, burn thousands of euro of my own money and have nothing out of it.

In the beginning, I would not admit that our ventures have just been ventures of a layman and still are. Now we are building a SaaS business for Sharing Economy Platforms and we have never done anything like that before. Our precious partners neither.

We maybe learn the same lesson told thousand times before, but we have a unique and authentic way path to learn it.

Your audience wants to hear your story. An authentic story. And this is something that can make your PR really stand out.

What’s your strategy for PR? I’d love to hear that.



Adrian Barwicki

Hi, I’m Adrian. This is my private blog and you’ll find here from time to time updates about my travels, works and investments.