Learning a lesson

As a CEO of a growing start-up there is a lot of stuff you have to learn – and quickly. Over the last year Tradeshift has grown from four to 40 employees, with users in more than 170 countries. I normally love the challenge of learning and doing new stuff on the fly, but yesterday I got my ass kicked.

I could of course just take the beating and walk away, but knowing that there is a lot of Tradeshift users and other start-ups out there that are going through the same phase as we are, I thought I would share that lesson with you, and hopefully you can learn it a lot less painfully than I did.

An important part of a CEO’s job is to make sure the right people know about your company, in Tradeshift’s case what we are doing is so new, that it doesn’t really fit any existing paradigm, we are a combination of social network, business software and financial infrastructure – in other words we are something completely new. To date we have been pretty good at generating coverage without a lot of effort in publications like WSJ, Wired and TechCrunch, but even though classic PR is good, I wanted the analysts who as you know are influential to really get to know us.

Being who I am, I just shot of an email to one of the more famous bloggers, telling him that if he was interested in learning more about Tradeshift, I was available. Thinking that he would appreciate an email from the CEO and co-founder instead of the usual PR babble, but boy was I wrong. First I broke the golden rule of any PR when pitching to a journalist I got the name wrong… I actually knew his name, but writing the email, I just got confused by it being “Da” and called him Dave. Below is my email and his response for your viewing pleasure:

Hi Dave,

I like your style and you seem like a no bullshit kind of person. So I will keep it simple, I would like to tell you about Tradeshift and show you what we are really up to, hopefully you will like it enough to say something about us, if not I will survive.

 

 

/Christian

His answer:

When you can spell my name correctly then please feel free to pitch…otherwise….you know the next few words

I instantly realized my mistake, and felt terrible – I wrote an email trying to correct the mistake, but at this time, he had already tweeted the incidence (to his 6000 followers), included my email along with my mobile phone, on his blog (in what seems to be in violation with his own privacy policy) and generally abused me as a big idiot (which make no mistake I was). I tried to play along, retweeting his message and apologizing, and finally asking one last time if he at least could just remove my mobile number from his blog. His response was not kind.

You are one in a long line of idiots I have to deal with on a daily basis…get over it. Learn a lesson and leave me alone unless you’ve got something directly relevant to say.

So this brings me to his blogpost, I learnt a lesson– always get the name right. Our brilliant Head of Marketing @rensip put it plainly “Christian you are off PR duty”

And that made me think.

Is that really the lesson? Personally I hate all the PR out there, the fabricated press releases and the lack of real dialogue, but I’m afraid of pulling a stunt like that ever again, just trying to contact someone and getting a conversation going – next time that particular blogger hears from us, we will make sure it’s an extremely well-crafted message so we don’t rub his ego the wrong way.

And that makes me sad, because if the bloggers and independent analysts out there start acting like the big media, haven’t we lost? If there is no room for real people communicating (and making mistakes) and that probably brings me to my real mistake, the lesson I learned, thinking that I should establish a special channel with a single analyst, instead of just putting everything I want people to learn about Tradeshift right here. I promise I will do that in the future.

What do you think, let me know on Twitter and in the comments below

About the Author

Christian Lanng

Co-founder and CEO of Tradeshift. He was instrumental in the creation of PEPPOL, the standardized framework for e-business used by 14 European governments. Christian is a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of IT Software & Services, World Economic Forum. He also serves as a young advisor to European Union VP Neelie Kroes.