Harjiv Singh, Co-Founder & CEO Gutenberg Communications
The first order of business was to raise cash. Our timing was impeccable; we set up shop four weeks after the NASDAQ market reached its dot-com-driven peak on March 10, 2000. In our first few weeks of operations, we gave scant attention to the weekly stream of negative headlines pronouncing the end of the dot-com era. We firmly held to the belief that our company was different. Ignorance, as the poet Thomas Gray put it, is bliss.
Like most start-ups we had to overcome two major obstacles: cash and credibility. The first we addressed by going on investor road shows, meeting angel investors and venture capitalists. At one of our VC presentations we discovered a third obstacle. Our long, incomprehensible but technically brilliant (so we thought) presentation put a friendly VC to sleep. As we wrapped up our presentation the VC recovered from our dreary storytelling skills and chided us for not having an “elevator pitch.” It was our “failure to communicate” moment. We were back to where we started — no cash, no credibility and more importantly no story.
Business is about effectively communicating with various stakeholders.
At the time, what we did not realize was that a failure to communicate was really one of perception and could be addressed by an effective public-relations strategy: public relations is about storytelling. It is also about addressing your target audiences — investors, customers, employees, vendors — through credible sources like the media and industry analysts. Credibility is what builds brands.
So my team and I went back and crafted an effective elevator pitch and started to learn the ropes of public relations. While our much-desired initial public offering never saw the light of day, in the next 18 months, we successfully closed a couple of angel rounds of funding, hired a product development team and got to beta-test the first versions of our product with a few customers. We built some credibility (and a tiny bit of a brand) through the media using an IBM partnership announcement which got us into a few technology trade media publications. We met with a leading industry analyst and told him a story about how we wanted to reduce medical errors by automating physician practices resulting in better quality of patient care. Our messages became more effective, and we stopped putting VCs and prospective investors to sleep.
Credibility is what builds brands
Nearly 18 months after my rollercoaster ride began we had to shut down the company. The experience though left me with one of the most valuable lessons of my business career: Business is about effectively communicating with various stakeholders. It was a lesson that led me to my next business, a global public-relations firm that now spans three countries.
Harjiv Singh is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Gutenberg Communications.