Back in late 2013/early 2014, I launched a Bitcoin investment fund called Falcon Global Capital. It was the first of its kind to offer insurance on crypto assets.
While Bitcoin and the greater blockchain ecosystem has grown significantly since then, very few people really knew anything about Bitcoin at the time. More importantly, the people I was reaching out to were likely asking themselves: who the f*ck is Brett Stapper and what is Falcon Global Capital?
We had no reputation, trust, credibility, or awareness. Realizing how critical this was to our success, we hired and quickly fired a PR firm after they failed to deliver. That’s when we took control to lead our own media strategy. We were on Business Insider, Fox News, and dozens of other outlets within weeks. We were invited to speak at conferences across the world. More importantly, we were finally getting in the door to have conversations with investors — lots of them.
But the price of Bitcoin continued to decline throughout 2014, and we faced the tough reality that even though we had built up trust and credibility, we couldn’t turn a bad business model into a good one. We closed up shop and moved into consulting for blockchain startups, offering them the same service we had mastered for ourselves — turning unestablished brands into trusted, credible industry thought leaders.
Five years and 200 clients later, we’ve learned a lot. This post is designed to share our top lessons with you. This is not a typical fluffy post — if you have a pre-product, pre-revenue, pre-anything ICO, this guide won’t help you overcome those challenges.
This guide is instead meant to be actionable for legitimate companies in the blockchain space who have a solution on the market. They only need trust to reach the next level. It’s divided into two parts: the first part will cover the five main lessons, the second part will provide you with five actionable strategies that you can execute on immediately.
You may think you have the best solution out there. Hell, that may even be true. But any prospective customer will think you’re biased when you tell them that. They’ve never heard of you, so why should they trust that you can solve their problems? Why should they risk their time, money, and resources on you?
This is one of the most common mistakes we’ve seen, not just with blockchain startups, but with startups in all verticals. Many still have the mindset that if they simply build the best product, the customers and investors will inevitably come. That could be true in a perfect world, it’s not reality. A mediocre product with lots of trust and brand awareness will beat out an amazing product from an unestablished company 99% of the time.
Instead of focusing on selling what you do, you should put all that energy into educating your target audience. You should get inside their heads to truly understand what makes them tick, what worries them, and what their goals are. You should know all the questions they have, not just about your specific company, but about your entire industry. Then start answering those questions.
Taking Action on Lesson 1: As you develop your marketing and PR strategy, you should be guided by a clear objective: to become the go-to educator for your target audience.
Brand storytelling may be a booming topic lately, but it’s storytelling, in general, is a critical part of our history as a species.
Today it doesn’t really matter if you are selling to consumers, businesses, or investors. At the end of the day, you’re selling to people. They’re real, living humans who share the same day-to-day feelings and emotions as you. You can capitalize on this by bringing storytelling into everything you do.
One of the things we recommend to our clients is that they focus on the “big bang” moment that lead to the creation of their company. Most of the time, the motivation to start their company was rooted in the desire to solve a problem that the founders personally experienced. By leveraging storytelling, you will be able to connect with your clients on a more intimate level, building a more personal connection.
Taking Action on Lesson 2: Incorporate storytelling into everything that you do, from marketing to fundraising. Have a clear, passionate, and powerful story that explains the “why” behind your company.
When we started five years ago, establishing trust only required a few logos of the media outlets that featured your company. That was all it took to check the box that your target customers knew your company was legit.
But everything’s changed since then, and having sexy logos simply isn’t enough. People know how easy it can be to get into these outlets, they’re aware of all the hacks, and they also know that just because you landed some media one time doesn’t mean all that much.
Building trust and credibility doesn’t happen overnight. Most importantly, this work is never done. You need to regularly and consistently demonstrate to your target audience that you are trusted and that you can help solve their problems.
As you build your strategy, we recommend publishing one piece of thought leadership collateral per week at a minimum. This could be a byline published under the founder’s name on a targeted media outlet (Founder Insights), a podcast interview, or an article that mentions your company.
Taking Action Lesson 3: You should aim to consistently showcase your progress and expertise to your target audience, over and over again.
We commonly see companies think that they are too big or too good for a certain media outlet, podcast, or speaking opportunity. If you are Elon Musk, sure, you probably shouldn’t take 30 minutes to do a podcast interview that only reaches 500 listeners. But if you are just starting out, you should be grateful and excited about every opportunity that comes your way.
Media is like a ladder — you start off at the bottom then slowly climb your way to the top. Everyone wants that TechCrunch headline or WSJ feature story. Sure, maybe you can get lucky and have it happen. But we know that developing a strong foundation first will actually work.
Gary Vaynerchuk has an excellent three-minute rant about this exact topic.
Taking Action on Lesson 4: Say yes to every opportunity and make it your mission to be absolutely everywhere possible.
We’ve written a lot in the past about how the world’s most innovative companies now think like media companies instead of like brands. Media companies aim to build an audience, establish themselves as a trusted source of information to that audience, then let advertisers pay them money to access their audience.
Instead of measuring their marketing activities in terms of a single piece of content’s reach or scoring a media hit, these brands have a big-picture view that their goal is audience development.
When you begin to approach your marketing efforts this way, you become more focused on adding long-term value to your audience instead of agonizing over how many impressions your Facebook ad or published article got.
Lesson 5: Stop thinking about your blog as a place to showcase product features and start using it to develop, grow, and nurture the audience that matters most to your business.
As you go to work here building your trust, you’ll commonly hear your C-suite or data science team asking, “What’s the ROI here?”
Trust and credibility aren’t measured by backlink value, clickthroughs, or traffic. It’s a long-term strategy that doesn’t yield clear and measurable results in the short term.
Instead of viewing trust as something that has an immediate ROI, you should think about it as a tool that opens doors and increases the speed at which you can close deals, raise money, and recruit star talent.
Customers, investors, and the media are sceptical of anything blockchain-related. They’ve already heard how blockchain will reinvent an industry, and they know the tale of the game-changing startup that challenges the status quo to solve all the industry’s problems.
They’ve also been let down and lied to, oftentimes left holding the bag when the dust finally settles and the hype dies down. This means that even if your company is truly a “blockchain disruptor” with a legitimate practical solution, you start off lacking the most valuable and scarce commodity that exists — trust.
Without trust — you will struggle to find investors, customers, partners, and top-level talent. But if you can overcome these perception issues and become a trusted brand in the space, nearly every part of your company will be able to run more efficiently and in the end, you will grow faster. Once you have trust, raising capital becomes easier, deals will close faster, and the media and talent will come to you.
Being a startup in any industry is challenging but blockchain brings an entirely new level of complexity. By making trust a central theme of all your marketing and PR activities, you can drastically increase your companies odds of success and separate your brand from all the other hype and buzz.