You make a product. You think it’s great. You launch it… and no one shows up. How’s a startup supposed to grow in an environment like that? – where you can build something useful that only 1/100,000 people are interested in? (Yay for early adopters! But every startup wishes it had more early adopters.)

It’s a problem we all have to face, of course. Attracting users is sort of hard. “If you build it, they will come” is simply not the case; and it’s never been the case – at least not since ye olde days when Kevin Costner had a career. No point in complaining, though. We just, as struggling startups, need to figure out a strategy to attract interest and/or get some press.

But even the old-fashioned problem-free path to press – throw money at a PR firm – won’t get a tech startup very far, necessarily. Michael Arrington’s been pretty vocal about sucky, annoying PR ‘stars’ who make rabid pitbulls look like Jedi masters. Press releases just feel dull. And, with success stories like Mint aside, old-school PR just isn’t cool enough or smart enough or ‘with it’ enough in the tech community to help startups get the blog coverage we need.

So the latest & greatest strategies for startup publicity? From what we can see, there are 2 biggies:

  1. Winning contests/competitions run by major names in tech (e.g., TechCrunch50, YCombinator), usually involving VCs
  2. Holding an exclusive private beta and tweeting the hell out of it

The Problem with Exclusive Private Betas
Exclusive private betas are for assholes. They’re ugly to witness: new websites trying to drum up buzz in this gross way that excludes the masses… when they actually really want the masses. Geeks using the same strategy the Cool Kids used in high school to ostracize them. It’s a persuasion strategy; and it works, but it’s ugly. It feels like something a marketing dude would suggest… not something a cool tech company would even consider.

Not that we blame startups that go this route.

And, sure, we get it: sometimes you are actually holding a legitimate private beta that requires a limited number of participants in order to gather data you can actually use to improve. But, for real, how often is that the case?

We’re Choosing the Alternative: Stepping into the Dragon’s Den
The plan is that, as of next Friday, we at will officially have applied to our first startup competition: Women 2.0 Pitch 2010. Our primary goal with this application i, of course, to attract VCs who could help us grow our business; but secondly – and very importantly – is that we’d like very much to use this opportunity – IF we even get past the application – to promote our business.

That said, if we don’t get to pitch, we’ll survive; we’ll cry (I will, at least – not sure ’bout the guys), but we’ll survive. Because completing the application is actually doing our startup a world of good. Editing and revising our elevator pitch. Summarizing our customer pain points. Rethinking our revenue model and refining it until it could actually entice VCs. …All incredibly valuable. We’ve learned a ton about what we are now and what we want to be a mere 3 months down the road. (Next? How to get there.)

The last part of our application is a video pitch… and that’s where we really need your help.

We’ve developed 2 videos ourselves over the course of the last week… and we’re not sure which to submit. Here’s what our video needs to do:

  • Communicate our solution
  • Speak to our customers (i.e., unpublished writers) – not pitch to VCs
  • Act like a 2 minute commercial

That’s what it needs to do. How it does it is at least if not more important.

Here’s video numero uno:

And here’s the other one:

So, what do you think? If you were a startup like we are and you were about to submit an application that might actually help your solution get some serious press and some VC interest, which would you put in front of the application review panel? We’d love your opinion.

We’ve learned a ton about how to create demos… on a beer budget. So if you’d like some tips on the technology to use (we’ve tried ’em all) or where to buy stock audio that won’t slather your computer in porn popups, comment or send us an email: joanna AT page99test DOT com.