Why your cloud startup didn’t make the cut

by Jeff Vance on February 12, 2013

in PR/Marketing

I’ve spent the majority of today answering emails and fending off scores of phone calls about my Cloud Startups Final 25, which I posted on Startup50. These are the finalists for my upcoming CIO story, “10 Hot Cloud Startups to Watch.”

So I don’t have to keep repeating myself, I’ve created this FAQ. Hope it helps. Sad2


Q: I sent you a question when I first saw your query asking for clarification. Why didn’t I ever hear back?

A: When I have stories that get huge volumes of pitches, I set up an email filter and don’t even look at the pitches until I’ve actually carved out the time – usually a week or so later – to dig through them. By then, the deadline for entries is usually past and I’ve received so many pitches anyway that your chances have dwindled to almost zero.

The same is true of follow-ups of the “did you get my pitch?” variety. Those I consider a nuisance and rarely answer, but for genuine questions, here’s a trick:

If you have a legit question, be absolutely sure to change the subject line. A subject line of: “New Pitch: Top Cloud Startups” gets your email filtered into the story folder, where it will sit for a bit.

If you changed your subject line to “Question about your CIO cloud story,” your email would end up in my inbox and not the story folder.

There’s still no guarantee I’ll get to your question. I mean, I have three open stories right now, and I’m also regularly receiving a million and one pitches for new products, company launches, etc., as well as pitches for several trade shows I’m not even going to, so . . . Well, at the very least, you have a chance of getting your question answered if you have a subject line that doesn’t get filtered.

Q: If my startup did make the cut, what can I do to increase my startup’s chances of making the final cut?

A: Vote on Startup50, and encourage your client and their supporters to vote. I’ll weight the voting at about 30%. It matters.

Q: Can you tell me ahead of time who makes the final cut for the CIO story?

A: Sorry, but no. I can’t step on my editors’ toes. Suspense helps drive up interest, and if my stories don’t get enough interest, my editors won’t come back to me for future stories of this type.

Q: My startup didn’t make the Final 25. Why?

A: This is a highly subjective process, so don’t read too much into the opinion of one guy. If you believe in your startup, and you are targeting a viable market niche, you don’t need my stamp of approval.

Q: What were some of the reasons that startups didn’t make the Final 25?

A: Many startups were too old – for the purposes of these stories. If your startup has been around 7, 10 or 12 years . . . well, if my readers don’t know about you by now, that’s not a good sign. Readers flock to these “Startups to Watch” stories to learn about new companies.

If your company has been around for a while, I’ll need a really compelling reason to include them.

Conversely, I was pitched on several startups that I already know inside and out because they’ve been kicking ass for a few years now. Those are equally ill-suited to these stories, which are about discovery as much as anything else.

Other common reasons include:

1) You didn’t answer the questions in the query. When I have 150+ nominees to consider, the more you make me work, the lower your chances get. If your pitch just said, “we’re awesome, check us out,” you can bet that I did not.

2) The pitch came in past the deadline.

3) I’m not convinced about the viability of your technology or market space.

4) I felt like you were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Many of the startups I was pitched are really mobile, Big Data or social media companies. I included a few cross-overs, but only when the cloud was a huge part of their message.

5) I felt the startup was too narrow (I was pitched on a lot of very narrow, very specific apps, for instance).

6) Your startup is me-too startup that is hard to distinguish from a dozen other ones doing exactly the same thing, yet you seem to think you are the only startup of this kind in the market. Not a good sign.

7) You’ve launched your product, but aren’t getting any third-party validation (VC funding, customers, etc.).

8) You don’t have PR and instead have engineers in charge of your messaging. Without fail, the worst pitches I received came from companies that don’t have PR representation. I complain all the time about how much of a nuisance PR pros can be, but, man, it’s obvious when a company has no representation. Their messaging is usually terrible. It’s often off-the-mark, and they rarely follow the directions in the query. They also almost always have an inflated sense of their own worth.

Even if you can’t afford a big agency, find a boutique agency or an independent who can help you out.

Q: What can I do to get you to reconsider my startup?

A: Nothing right now. If your startup didn’t make the Final 25, that ship has sailed. However, Startup50 will offer tons of opportunities for startups to get the word out. Be sure to check it out.

Q: It’s called Startup50, yet the list of finalists is 25. What’s up with that?

A: Eventually, I’ll expand this list to 50. If you sign up for my Startup50 newsletter, you can download the Mobile50. After the CIO story runs, I’ll expand the list to 50.

For now, just be patient. State your case in the comments field, sign up for my Story Source newsletter and Startup50 newsletter and pounce when I announce that I’m updating the Final 25.

Q: When will CIO run the story?

A: I have no idea. This is one of the hardest parts about being a freelance feature writer. Editors typically use my stories as a kind of safety net. Typically, my stories get a lot of page views, so editors often save them for times when they really want to “juke the stats,” as Lester Freamon would say on the Wire. If they have an issue or a week where they really need to drive up numbers, they’ll save my stories for those times.

Moreover, since my stories aren’t time-sensitive, editors also save them for the next content emergency, because there will be one soon enough. Someone will miss a deadline. A story won’t live up to the publication’s standards and will get cut. A breaking news story will gain a ton of attention, but there’s a need for complementary stories. Etc. Editors like to have stories to fall back on in case something unforeseen throws sand in the gears.

Typically, when my stories post, I hear from PR pros before my editors remember to tell me. (And, yes, that’s an admission that I only check Google Alerts once a week, if that.)

Q: Will you do more of these in the future?

A: Absolutely. Next up are social media and big data. Story Source subscribers will hear about those opportunities the minute I have the green light from my editors.

In the meantime, there will be plenty of other startup-related content on Startup50.

Also, be sure to help me promote these stories when they run in CIO, Network World, etc., so my editors keep coming to me for more of them.

Q: What can we do to help ensure that the stories do well?

A: Promote on Facebook, recommend on LinkedIn, tweet, link to it, send out a press release if your startup made the cut, comment on the story if yours did not, etc. The more you can do to spread the word, the more successful the stories will be. And, of course, the more likely it will be that my editors will want to revisit these successes.

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