Alex's Tech Thoughts

3 Things To Figure Out Before Pitching

A friend of mine recently emailed me three questions she is struggling with about pre-pitching and I thought I should share the answers here as well.

The three questions were:

"1) Finding the right person and right level: I have a general idea of the department of the person I want to speak with, but how do I figure out if it is the right person?

2. Appropriate method of contact: If I do find them, do I send a LinkedIn message? Or use a sales program to obtain an email address?

3. Pricing: Competitors do not publish their pricing online, so it is difficult to know if we are competitive or how others price. Any insights on how to remedy this?”

For the first question I responded:

I usually think about who would need to be involved in the conversation to get the deal done. Sometimes it is the business team but other times it could be the product or engineering team. I would walk through the selling process and see who needs to be sold on the idea to make it happen. That’s usually the right person to begin with.

For the second question I responded:

I would shy away from blind reach outs. I would use your network to get in front of the right people. It will save you time and rejection. I would use LinkedIn to identify the right person or someone connected to the right person. Then I would find the mutual connections, ask them for an intro (while giving them context) OFF of LinkedIn. Then get a warm intro in. If not possible, then short, blind reach out is ideal.

For the final question I responded:

This is tough. Something we are dealing with now at SocialRank for some more premium stuff. For this I would ask the company you closed (note: the friend had stolen a client away from a competitor but more by chance and was trying to replicate it). I wouldn’t put it in an email, rather I’d get on the phone or meet with them in person and ask what the industry pricing is. Let them know that this is so you can offer a more effective and cost-saving pricing and want to know so you don’t over-price. If they have worked with competitors then they should know, right?

I think these types of things should be shared. What would you have answered?

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Questions Answers Startups Pricing Pitching Closing
How Much Time Before An Announcement Should You Reach Out To A Reporter When Trying To Get Coverage?

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I’ve been around the block with product announcements, fundraising news, and everything in between from my time at Aviary and now at SocialRank (I didn’t do any press stuff at Dwolla; Jordan there was a stud). I’ve always struggled with the time-frame necessary to give a reporter enough time when trying to get coverage. I don’t have all the answers and I think the real answer is that it really depends and is situational. However, I think I’ve nailed down the time-frame for giving a reporter a heads-up about an upcoming product release and would love to share it here.

Let’s take a hypothetical upcoming product announcement that is newsworthy (i.e. you have a cool story that said reporter might be interested). Let’s say you plan to release it on September 24th, 2014. From my experience the best time to make first contact to set up a time to either get on the phone or meet in person is 9/4 or 9/5. Now it may seem like a long time before release but you need to give yourself some breathing room in case a) the reporter doesn’t respond and you need to try someone else b) they don’t have availability the next week but do the week after.

Hitting up the reporter on a Thursday or Friday also allows you to follow up early the next week if you don’t receive a response. The goal in your pitch is to give enough to information to pique their interest but not enough that you have nothing to talk about or show when you end up talking.

If someone doesn’t respond to the initial reach out or the follow up then it is fair game to hit up someone else from that organization in the attempt to get their interest. But never, ever mass email all of the reporters together because this is a) annoying, b) will piss them off, and c) they will either not cover you or cover you in a mean way (it has happened before).

Lastly, whenever you can, try to get a warm introduction to a reporter. They get hit up a lot and if you go in through the route of a friend or business relation you have 100x chance of them being interested in at least reading your email.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

Press Pitching News Startups
How Do You Pre-Sell When You Don’t Have a Product?

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Pre-selling a product is a risky game to be in and it can blow up in your face if you do it wrong. The truth is, it can even blow up in your face if you do it right!

Before pre-selling anything you need to believe three things:

1) I believe that the prospective customer will not be lost if I don’t have exactly what they want when pitching them.

2) I believe that I can internalize the feedback from prospective customers, use it for more pre-selling, and successfully express to my team what the customer wants/needs.

3) I believe in my team’s ability to build the product that the majority of people want, in a timely fashion.

Don’t sleep on #3 as it is the biggest risk you are taking by pre-selling. It happens all the time. You pre-sell well but can never sell-sell well because the product never comes into fruition.

Okay- so you believe in the three things above. How do you start?

Everyone needs to start somewhere and that place usually is a) with close friends in the industry (maybe not a customer per se) and b) with some idea of what it is you are offering/selling/pitching.

You do this because usually friends will not start ignoring your emails when you pre-sell them on something you are working on/thinking about (to clarify- this is not a hard sell and is more of a “catch up + this is what I’m up to, what do you think?” situation). On top of that, good friends will give you real advice on what works and what doesn’t.

Once you have a few friend pre-sells that have gone well, the next step is to pre-sell some potential clients. Start with people closest to you and go from there.

Pre-selling is really a more intimate way of doing market research. In each of your pre-sells you need to tell the other side what it is you are offering/doing but more importantly you need to LISTEN to what it is they are saying about their wants/needs. If you can open your ears, listen, take the feedback and come back with a product offering that fits what a majority of people have told you (don’t build one-offs) then you will be sitting quite nicely when it comes to closing deals.

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Startups Pitching Closing Pre-selling
Sell The Sizzle

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I recently sent around an early version of a deck I’m using for an upcoming product to some of my investors, friends, and family for feedback/spelling/grammar corrections. I got amazing feedback and improved the presentation over this past weekend.

One comment (that actually came from my dad) made me take a step back and re-think how I was positioning the product in the deck. He wrote something along the lines of “the presentation is good overall but you aren’t selling the sizzle. Sell the sizzle.”

He was right. The presentation did a good job of giving all the facts and information about what the product does and how a brand can use it. But it didn’t make the other side go “Wow- I need this right now.” To do that we need to sell the vision of what the product was going to be and why, as a brand, you need to say “YES I AM IN. WHERE DO I SEND THE CHECK?”

And that is the difference between a good pitch and a great pitch. A good pitch is something the other side says “Yes, let’s do this. But soon.” Whereas a great pitch is when the other side wants to hash out the details of the deal before they leave the room.

Sell the Sizzle is a good mantra to live by.

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Sell the Sizzle Pitching Decks Presentations Startups SocialRank
The 3 Biggest Mistakes BD People Make When Pitching

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There are a million things you can do wrong when pitching a person, company, or organization. These 3, I believe, are the biggest no-nos.

Mistake #1: You make your pitch via email

We all do it early on in our careers. We are sending an email to someone (sometimes to someone we don’t know) and write a wall of text expecting them to read an email that would take 5-10 minutes to process and then respond to us with interest. It is the classic rookie mistake. The mistake being that the initial email to someone, whether you know them or not, should be short and should pique their interest to find out more. The goal is to grab their attention in five sentences of less, not to close a deal via email.

Mistake #2: You don’t ask for next steps in a meeting

One of the biggest mistakes BD people make when pitching is to not ask for or lay out next steps at the end of a meeting. If you go through an awesome presentation but you don’t seal the deal (or at least lay out the plans to seal the deal), well I hate to tell you, but you just wasted your last hour. Make sure you ALWAYS end a meeting with all the next steps (even if that means the person you were pitching needs to go back to their team to talk). After you get back from your meeting (usually next day), make sure to send these next steps via email to solidify them. If you don’t do this, the deal will, almost always, fall by the wayside.

Mistake #3: Assume you know what the other side cares about

This mistake is the ultimate BD/Partnership blunder. Every BD person does this at some point in their career. You head into the meeting with someone you want to work with and make a ton of assumptions (the worst being you know what they care about). This is why at every meeting I go to, I make sure that one of the first questions I ask is, “What do you folks care about right now?” (or, “What’s important to you?”) Another good question to ask is “What are you working on?” as usually whatever a company is working on at that moment is not public information and there is no way to know the answer unless you ask.

While these three mistakes might be the biggest, they are by no means the only mistakes BD people make. By, at least, identifying these you may be able to avoid them and be on your way to closing more deals.

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Pitching In Front Of Teammates

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Pitching in front of teammates can sometimes be more awkward than pitching in front of strangers. I’ve been there. I’m not 100% sure what it is. It could be that after good and bad pitches you have to spend time with them. This especially feels awkward when a pitch doesn’t go as planned.

To make pitching in front of teammates less awkward, I like the idea of asking teammates, pre-pitch, for feedback afterwards. This way, you don’t just feel judged but actually try to get them to tell you one or two things you can improve next time. You may still feel awkward, but at least you will have good communication with your teammates.

How do you go about pitching in front of teammates? Any thoughts?

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Pitching Team
Internal Presentations and Meetings

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It may not seem like it, but internal presentations and meetings are as important, if not more important, than those outside your company. Selling internally is crucial and if you don’t come with your A-game your ideas might not be heard or at worst deemed not valuable and eventually let go from the company.

Communication is probably the most important thing in a professional career. If you are doing a great job but can’t express what you are accomplishing or your new idea on how to grow X metric it will, 9 times out of 10, go unnoticed. Not being able to communicate internally (as well as externally) can hinder your career big time.

So what can you do?

Take internal meetings seriously. Come with research and ideas. Be prepared. Talk! (but don’t talk for the sake of talking, add value!). The worst thing you can do is just show up to meetings and hope to wing it.

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Startups Pitching Internal
Article Of The Week I

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If you didn’t read my 500th post, I mentioned I would start adding an extra post each week. The post would be on Friday and consist of my favorite article in the past 7 days.

Soooo… here we go.

This week’s article of the week is courtesy of Elad Gil, formerly at Twitter. Elad is always spot on with his writing and this post is no different. It’s titled "The Danger of Pitching VCs Too Early" and well worth the few minute read.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

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Pitching and Closing: What You Need To Know Part 3

This article originally appeared in VentureBeat.

This is Part 3 of a four-part series about things you should know about the entire value chain of doing business development and partnerships at a startup company. The posts are skewed for product integrations on third-party websites. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Before I begin discussing closing, I would recommend that no matter what I write below, the best way to learn how to really close deals is to work under someone who has done it many times and can teach you the craft. You can be a natural born pitchman/woman, but there is no such thing as a natural born closer. If you are a junior employee and have the opportunity to jump to the majors and run the show or work under a founder or a VP of BD/Partnerships to learn the fundamentals- work under the seasoned pro.

Now, here is what you need to know about closing:

Understanding Why Someone Would Want To Work With You

If you want to work with Company X, you’d better bring something to the table. I’ve written a post before about The Four Golden Rules Of Partnerships. This is really where they apply. Either you are going to make Company X money, save Company X money, grow Company X’s userbase, or improve Company X’s product. These are the only four major reasons why Company X would want to work with you.

What Are They Focused On?

After you identify what it is you offer Company X (it may be only one, two, three, or all four of the golden rules), then you need to know where the company is on their roadmap (i.e. what are they focused on?). There are three stages in business: product development, scaling, and monetization. If you want to work with Company X and your partnership would help monetization efforts, when they are just focused on product building, it probably wouldn’t be a good fit at this moment. If you can help with scaling when they are focused on making money, then you probably won’t partner.

Let’s take Tumblr as an example. Presently, Tumblr is in monetization phase. They have scaled unlike many others and are looking to monetize and turn themselves into a business. If you came to Tumblr with a user acquisition or product improvement partnership (unless the product integration made them money) they would most likely not be interested in partnering at this time.

How Much Can You Help Them?

After you have identified what you have to offer and understand where the company is in their roadmap, the next big question you need to think about is how deeply you can affect the other side. Take a company like AOL. If you want to work with AOL, and you offer a way to grow their userbase, the question is, “well, how many new users will you bring?” If that number is five users, then you definitely don’t have anything to talk about. But if that number is 50,000 new users a day then maybe that’s interesting enough for them to explore further.

Have You Done It With Anyone Else Before?

After all is said and done, the big question is, “Can you prove it?” You can talk a good talk, but all the company really cares about is if you will be able to do what you say you are capable of. If so, can you prove it with use cases or examples of other companies you have worked with to make a much stronger case.

Timing And Motivators For Partnerships

One of the major elements for product integrations is how timing is everything. Sometimes your timing may be off at first connection, but keeping in touch with the other side could lead to something in 3-6 months. One closing trick I have come to see successful a few times over I’ve dubbed the “Launch Partner Strategy.” This is best used for launching new features.

Instead of just pushing out a new feature, you try and wrap a few companies actually involved with the launch (and subsequently integrating your product offering). This only works if you can pre-sell these companies on what is in the hopper (not an easy task to get someone to commit to integrating something before it is ready). But if done well, it can turn your medium-sized announcement into a mushroom cloud type of ripple effect. Having great examples to point to from the get-go can make all the difference.

As I said in the beginning, closing deals is not an easy task and there is no such thing as a  born closer. Learning the ropes from an expert, experienced deal-closing veteran is the only way to do it. Be wary of being the guy/girl in charge of closing deals for a company, without the proper experience. Quit that job, go to work for a closing machine and then become the closing machine yourself.

Checkout other articles in these categories:

Business Development Pitching closing partnerships series
Pitching and Closing: What You Need To Know Part 2

This is Part 2 of a four-part series about things you should know about the entire value chain of doing business development and partnerships at a startup company. The posts are skewed for product integrations on third-party websites. Part 1 can be found here.

While all the phases of the partnership cycle are equally important, a lot of emphasis is put on pitching. This is because if you don’t do a good job at getting the other side excited about what you are offering, then you are probably SOL.

Doing Research and Understanding Other Companies
When getting ready for your call or meeting with a company there a few things you can do ahead of time to prepare yourself for success. Any research should be done before to holistically understand the company; it shouldn’t only be memorization of a fact sheet (although you should also know that). To understand another company holistically there are a few things you can do. You can read their blog, read any press they have had in the past few months, if they aren’t public- you can talk to their investors, if they are public- you should talk to any of their partners, etc. If you can do the proper research then you’ll be able to position your offering to touch upon what they find important or are focused on.

The Actual Pitch
My pitching style has changed in the past two years. I used to come in with a proper pitch deck and go through the entire deck, slide by slide. Anytime the conversation would drift to something else, I would try to steer it back to the deck. I had moderate success with my pitches. I’m not sure what it was, but eventually I decided to ditch the proper deck and instead go with a different strategy.

My current pitching strategy starts off by asking two questions to the company I am actually pitching. It’s nothing too personal, but the fact of the matter is, when I go into pitch a company, I am actually missing some crucial information about the company. Namely, (1) what are they focused on now and (2) what is important to them. Once I find this out, I will know whether my offering is relevant for them or not. This is probably the most important part of the pitch and shouldn’t be overlooked. Since changing my strategy, and getting answers to those two crucial questions, my success has been much higher.

After getting these answers I will instantly know whether what I am working on (and offering them) will actually be worthwhile in their eyes. If it still is, then I go into the pitch (and if not, then either end the meeting or just give them a short overview and then end the meeting). Instead of using the deck, I like to give the other side an overview and just demo the product. There is nothing better than jumping into the demo. At Dwolla, that means sending them money to their email address (ranging from 1 to 10 cents). It’s hard to complain about a demo when you end up with some extra money :D

A big part of the pitch is being able to tell a good story. Sometimes you have something exciting right now (or imminently releasing) for them and other times you are trying to figure out what that killer offering will be. Whichever it is, craft a good story, and make a good case on why they would want to partner with you.

To really put together a good story, and a compelling case for anyone to want to partner with you, you’ll need to understand how to close deals. Which is why pitching and closing go hand and hand. Tomorrow I will post Part 3 of the four-part series, which goes through how to actually close deals.

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Pitching and Closing: What You Need To Know Part 1

This is Part 1 of a four-part series about what you need to know about the entire value chain of doing business development and partnerships at a startup company. The posts are skewed for product integrations on third-party websites.

Working in business development and partnerships at a startup company is not easy. There are a few pieces in the value chain that you need to know about to be successful. I’ve broken it down into four posts and six general pieces.

The first post will be about (1) identifying targets and (2) connecting with the proper people at the companies you want to work with. The second post will be about (3) pitching the company. The third post will be about (4) closing the deal. The fourth post will be about (5) launching partnerships and (6) managing relationships.

Identifying Targets
Some people call this making a hit-list or building a pipeline. What I like to do is first figure out where our offering fits in on third-party websites. This could be in the checkout process (Dwolla), on the side of online video content (Media/And), right after a photo upload (Aviary), or somewhere else completely. Once you solve this step then it is time to identify the industries or verticals your company needs to be in.

When I was at Media/And it was studios (WB, Universal, MGM, etc.), networks (ABC, FOX, CW, etc.), sports (Turner, Tennis Channel, NFL, etc). At Aviary, early on we broke it down by social networks, blogging platforms, website builders, photo sharing apps, dating websites, etc. At Dwolla we look at it in 5 quadrants: eCommerce, Gaming, Marketplaces, Nonprofits, and Retail. Once you have done this, it is time to identify the actual companies in those verticals.

The next step is to actually figure out what companies to put on your hit-list. I use a few different methods to identifying them (news, friend referrals, etc). However, the best way is to use Crunchbase and AngelList to analyze which medium and small companies should be on my list. I put the industry/vertical into the search toolbar and then get 100+ leads of companies I may have never heard of. I go to each company’s website, try to do a quick glance to see if it’s a good fit, and then track it. To best track all of this I use a spreadsheet on Google Docs.

Connecting with Companies
Once you have mapped out the verticals and companies, it is time to get in front of them. You may have some connections and contacts already existing at some of these companies. Get in touch with these people first. If you are close to them, you can test the pitch on them before going to anyone you don’t already know.

Getting in touch with people you don’t know is a learned art. Getting a warm introduction is the best thing you can do for yourself. If you know someone who knows them (and knows them well), and they can vouch for you, then you have a high chance of being able to get in front of them. What I like to do in this scenario is use LinkedIn. I search the company’s names to figure out who the right person would be for me to speak with. Depending on what I am trying to do it could be the business person (although they will typically slow you down :D), the product lead, an engineer, the CFO, or someone else. LinkedIn let’s you see which mutual connections you have with any profile. If the person I want to connect with has multiple mutual connections, then I am in a good position. I look through these people and if I am close with one of them, I add their name to a column in my spreadsheet for my pipeline (the column is typically called Mutual Connection and added like this- “Sally Johnson knows Bob Smith at FB”).

I do this over and over, company after company until I have someone at each place who I can connect with. If I don’t have a mutual connection to the right individual at a company, I will try to get in touch with someone else at the company who may be able to refer me to the right person. If both of these things don’t work out I will resort to a short blind reach out.

Now that I have my list of companies where I either have a mutual connection or one’s I need to blindly reach out to, it’s time to actually get in front of them. If I’m asking for the intro- I typically keep the email short. The subject is usually something like “Intro to X at Y?” (i.e. Intro to Jon at FB?). I then just say that I saw that they were connected on LinkedIn and I want to chat with Company X about what we are working on (I try to be specific) and was wondering if they are close enough to them to make an intro. Nothing too long or crazy in my ask. If they are close, they typically make the introduction.

For the blind reach out, the subject I use goes something like “Reach Out- Company X/Company Y” (i.e. Reach Out- Dwolla/Apple). Then I limit myself to five sentences about why they should talk to me. Most people forget that the blind reach out is not for them to say yes or close a deal, but just to get them to respond to you. Give them enough to be intrigued and to want to find out more.

Tomorrow I will post part two of the four-part series, which discusses the pitching part of the process.

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The Three C’s For Press

I haven’t been slinging the press rock for some time now but someone recently asked me how they could make their press pitch more effective. I responded by saying that your pitch should be well crafted, concise and compelling. The three c’s.

This is actually the case whether you know the journalist or not. 

Having a well-crafted pitch/story is obvious. You need to be able to string together a story. What is the news you are trying to get the reporter to write about?

Keeping it concise should be pretty self-explanatory. The writer is probably inundated with pitches and if you want there to be a high chance of your email being read, you’d better keep it short.

Lastly, making it compelling is the key to any good pitch. Why is what you are pitching important? What is unique about it?

If you can take that well-crafted story, make it compelling, and keep it short, you have a shot at getting covered. 

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When Getting A Yes Is Actually Worse Than A No

I had a post last week about what you should do when someone says no. In the comments section someone mentioned that there are times when getting a yes is actually worse than a no. 

The comment:

Completely agreed on the insight about hearing no when trying to partner. A bit of pure sales experience at some point in someone’s career is important to learn that ‘no’ could just mean ‘not necessarily for me at this time’, and learning how to maneuver those situations.

One random point would be how to deal with a “yes” in looking for partnerships. I can’t count the times that in a meeting someone said ‘yes’, but actually completing the deal took a tremendous amount more effort (bureacracy / approvals, etc.). Just as you shouldn’t get too discouraged by a no, that initial yes should also not make you think you’re already the king. 

- ranjanxroy

I totally agree. Getting an initial yes is a great feeling, but if you don’t take the proper steps to get the partnership live then it is actually worse than getting a no. 

Once a company says yes, I like to map out the proper next steps to the promised land.

It usually comes down to three things:

What do we need to do?

What do they need to do?

What is the timeframe for both sides?

If you can map this out right after getting a yes, than you should be good to go.

What To Do When Someone Says No

There will be times in your life when you will get a no.

I’ve experienced getting a no in many situations and have learned a bit about dealing with it. The main two situations are when applying for a job or when trying to partner/work with someone.

Getting a no when applying for a job:

There is very little you can do when you get a no from someone when applying for a job. You need to take this in stride and just realize that you only need one person/company to say yes.

Or you can follow Avi Lichstein’s method and go out and prove that you are worth getting a yes. After Avi got rejected from Square, he went out and closed a series of merchants and proved to Square that he should be part of their organization. They gave him a position in their Square U program. You can read more about his story here.

Getting a no when trying to partner with someone:

No means no. But that doesn’t mean never talk to me again. When someone tells you that they don’t want to partner/integrate/buy whatever it is you are offering you need to respect that. What I do is thank the other side for taking the time and only re-engage if I have a completely new offering that will be more complementary to them. There is no harm in that. If they aren’t interested in the new offering, I come back with a newer offering. Granted this might take months, if not years, in time.

In which other scenarios do you get a no? How do you deal with it?

Startup Press: Dos and Don’ts

Here is a little help guide in press best practices.

Dos:

- Do give your press contact a day or two to write the article. When covering the beat, it is easy to miss something to write about if not given enough time to put together a respectable piece on whatever it is you’re announcing. If you are afraid to give it to them with enough time because you think they will “break” the embargo then you are not close enough to them to ask for an embargo.

- Do give your press contact a clear story. You should be able to summarize it in one sentence. You will get bonus points (and be able to control the message more) if after you talk with the press, you send them an unpublished blog post that they can lift information from. This helps remove any barriers of press people covering you (ie they can tell you they forgot any details).

- Do thank your press contact for covering you after they write the article. Try to help them out by sending them cool and interesting stories that come your way. They will be appreciative and want to continue to cover you down the road.

Don’t:

- Don’t give the same exact story to 10 different outlets. If you can’t spin the story for different audiences, then you should probably go the route of offering one big outlet an exclusive.

- Don’t try to sell the idea of your company’s existence as news. Unless you are a previously successful entrepreneur who just starting a company, you need to actually be launching your product to get coverage.

- Don’t blindly email the same exact story to every tech reporter. It is not hard to tell that you didn’t do the legwork to craft an original email that is relevant to that specific reporter because of what they cover and their overall readership demographic. They are also mostly in the same circles, so they might even chat about it.

Protip: each tech outlet usually shares a chat group (often in skype) and they talk to each other about things that come in. All the time. Try not to email multiple folks at the same outlet if you don’t know them. They will find it mildly annoying.

Any other great Dos and Don’ts?

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