How 2 startups got my attention by being smart, direct and personal – but not creepy

How 2 startups got my attention by being smart, direct and personal – but not creepy

For startups, pitching press can be a minefield. It’s easy to get caught in the maelstrom of a busy inbox, so some founders go too far and enter the ‘creepy zone’ by pitching from the bathroom or sending overly personal Facebook messages. Do that, and journalists won’t want anything to do with you.

That said, a couple of startups that have caught my attention this week did so in creative ways that were personal but stopped short of creeping me out – the sweet spot of pitching!

Say Hi is a messaging app on iOS. I first heard of it three days ago when I got an email asking if I could meet the founders at the Web Summit. I got LOADS of emails like that over the past two weeks, as did anyone else on the event’s media list. There were too many to keep up with, let alone reply to, but Say Hi’s email stood out.

That’s the Twitter account for my music project, The Star Fighter Pilot. Say Hi’s email subtly included the titles of two of my songs. They didn’t draw attention to the fact they’d done it, they just included them in the flow of the email, knowing that when I read the email, they’d stand out to me. It worked. I didn’t have time to reply right away, or to meet them (my schedule was full by that point) but Say Hi was in my head.

Then yesterday at the Web Summit, Say Hi co-founder Matthieu Rigolot introduced himself as I walked between meetings. He referenced the email he’d sent as he briefly showed me the app. I didn’t have time to talk for long, but now I associated Say Hi with a clever email, a friendly and polite co-founder and I had an idea what the app did.

Finally, today, Rigolot stopped me in passing again. This time to hand me a USB drive containing a press pack for the app. It was so nicely presented, in a gift box, that I tweeted about it…

When I get home from Dublin after the Web Summit is over, I’ll have this USB stick in my bag. I get given loads of USB sticks, cards, badges and other promotional items from startups and usually there’s no time to go through them all, but with Say Hi, I’ll make the effort to check out the app in more detail as they took the effort to be:

  • Personal (but without seeming like a stalker)
  • Polite
  • Straight to the point
  • Persistent in a way that was pleasant rather than annoying and got the message to me in a way that any one of their approaches alone wouldn’t have.

Another person who pitched me in a direct and personal way without ‘crossing the line’ at the Web Summit was Vera Mayuk of KeepSolid. She walked up to me, said hi, very briefly described where she worked and what they did and then asked if she could take a selfie with me. Sure, why not?

Then, about half an hour later, she sent me a copy of the selfie via Facebook Messenger. I hate being pitched over Facebook, LinkedIn or anywhere else other than my inbox (it means too many channels to keep up with) so an unsolicited Facebook message is unlikely you have impact, but because there was directly relevant context and value to the message, it was fine.

Now she’ll show up in my recent message list in Facebook Messenger and she and her pitch have stuck with me in a non-annoying way. Result!


These were one-shot deals, they won’t work again. The main reason they succeeded in getting my was that they were resourceful and unique (although hey, maybe they’ll work on another journalist, you never know). They show that being creative and interesting is the key to breaking through the noise at an event like the Web Summit.

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