Stellar Start-Ups: Helping the voice of technology to be heard

Israel is chock full of great ideas, but Israelis often have a hard time with 'the vision thing.'

April 19, 2009 09:29
Stellar Start-Ups: Helping the voice of technology to be heard

Steve Rainier 88 248. (photo credit: Courtesy)

He started working on the lightbulb in 1850, and by 1860 he already had a working device. In 1875 he came up with the idea of using carbonized thread instead of the paper filaments he had worked with before, ensuring that the bulb could generate light and heat without catching fire. He patented his idea in 1878, and the next year he started installing bulbs in homes and offices. By 1881 he started his own company, his springboard to fame and fortune. The rest is history, and that's how we remember Joseph Swan ( Come again? Yes, it's true: Swan is the one who invented the electric lightbulb, not Thomas Edison. But with his better PR and ability to connect with the powerful and the rich of his day, Edison is the one who gets all the credit - and for whom all the electric power companies are named. Edison, who knew how to explain his technology and its benefits to the financiers who could make his vision come true, is the one we remember for "inventing" the lightbulb, even though he didn't actually invent it! It wasn't the first time and it wasn't the last, so there have been plenty of object lessons in how to market technology, but tech folk have been slow to learn them, says Steve Rainier of Rainier Communications ( While heading an international organization that has worked with many Israeli start-ups, and helping them win funding or get acquired, Rainier says many great ideas, past and present, have gotten "lost in the shuffle," because the people who invented them were unable to communicate exactly why investors should be interested in them. Technology, by its nature, is supposed to change the way people do things - sometimes radically. Technology, by nature, is exciting, in its ability to save people money or time, or otherwise make their lives easier. And historically, technology has often paid off for investors in a big way. But unless the people who understand technology are able to explain - to the public and to investors - exactly how that technology will change their lives, chances are it will remain on the shelf, not given the opportunity to do its magic. "Technology needs a voice if it is going to turn into a business success," Rainier says. "Many companies have great ideas but no marketing. Without both, you have nothing, and my organization tries to be the 'credible voice' of technology, especially among investors and in the corporate world." That voice is what investors, especially VCs, and especially during a recession, are looking for. Working on crafting that message should be a priority, Rainier says, but don't expect to find that voice at a regular publicity agency. "I have never come across any PR agency that was able to do this successfully and that had the technical basis to understand the technologies they were supposed to be selling," he says. Agencies will gladly write press releases when they're asked to, and keep rewriting them until the customer is satisfied. But that's not enough, Rainier says. "Most agencies are basically order takers, waiting to hear what their clients want and following through. But a good tech PR person has to lead," he says, helping the tech people understand exactly what the impact of the technology really is. How do you know that the people handling your brand - your product and reputation - are competent? "They need to ask a lot of questions," Rainier says; that's a sign they are striving to understand the best way to sell your idea, instead of striving to be the best yes men/women. Once the "impact message" is clear to the people behind the technology, word needs to get out to the appropriate outlets - newspapers, professional publications and/or Web sites, depending on the product/technology. That's already beyond the ken of most technology folk; for that, Rainier says, you really need a professional organization, such as his own. "Investing in PR is, for many companies, an expense they think they can do without, handling things 'in-house.' That's a a big mistake, though," he says. "You need to place articles in the right places, put together presentations and speeches and touch base with key industry analysts, with your message consistent on all tracks. You invest in PR in order to make money: either get more sales, more funding or a higher valuation in the market. The better, more relevant - more world changing - your ideas, the higher your value." When times are tough, PR is usually the first thing to go at many companies - and that's a huge mistake, Rainier says. "Of course, the investment and sales climate during recessions is tougher. But recessions don't last forever, and the companies that made the market aware of their innovations during the tough times are usually the first ones the markets turn to when things pick up." When sales are down, attention in many industries turns to research and development - whence the star products and technologies of the next round of growth are born, he says. Witness the iPod, Facebook, and Youtube - all developed during the tech downturn after 2001, he adds. And once a breakthrough is developed, the market has to be kept abreast of what your company's done, says Rainier, who learned his craft from, among others, the futurist Ray Kurzweil (, who was perhaps one of the greatest tech evangelists of them all. "The buy decisions are being made now, so if a company drops off the radar of customers or investors, they'll miss out. Many start-ups do understand this, and they try to make noise. But with a professional hand guiding them, they have a much better opportunity to craft their message precisely and ensure that it is as effective as possible," he says. Israel, Rainier says, is chock full of great ideas, but Israelis often have a hard time with "the vision thing" - and he's there to help. "There is a lot of innovation in Israel, but it often doesn't have a proper voice," he says. "I'm here to make sure it does." [email protected]

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