Should startups do a press release when they raise funding?

Raising funding for your early-stage startup feels like a huge milestone — so that’s a PR opportunity, right? Not so fast…

Raising money is a major milestone. But that doesn’t mean shouting it from the rooftops is necessarily the right call.

This post is part of a five-part series — if you’re trying to figure out how to get press for your startup, it’s probably worth reading all five.

  1. This is how you create an amazing press release
  2. Your press release needs images
  3. How to get your news in front of journalists
  4. Should you send your press release out on the wire services? (Short answer: Nope.)
  5. Should startups do a press release when they raise funding? (this article)

There are a lot of reasons to drum up some press for something exciting happening within your business. I’m a huge fan of press, and a big believer in the power of getting media coverage. Nonetheless, I’m usually finding myself trying to talk early-stage, pre-product founders out of doing press releases. Why? Because there is often no clear benefit in doing so.

I get it; in the early days, milestones are few and far between, and raising money feels like it’s worth celebrating. It is, but in my experience, it’s often better to spend a couple of hundred dollars on a bottle of champagne, rather than worrying too much about spending many times that (in actual cost and opportunity cost), chasing journalists around.

Before you even consider spooling up your public relations machine, it’s worth outlining the business objectives of crafting and distributing a press release. Sometimes the benefits are clear and obvious; for example, if you are launching a brand new product, you’ll want to get the word out there. PR activity results in awareness, which in turn results in cold hard cash. It’s a no-brainer.

If you aren’t launching a product yet, the picture is fuzzier. You’ll often want to completely complete your fundraising round before you start talking about it externally; but at the earliest stages of your company, you don’t have anything to sell yet. The best-case scenario here is that people find out about your company. They might join your mailing list, which is great — but there’s no direct impact on your business. Even if you do collect e-mails, that mailing list is likely to go stale before you’re ready to start selling or community-building.

What about signaling to other investors?

It stands to reason that investors monitor the press, and I quite commonly hear startup founders argue that it’s easier to get a meeting with a follow-on investor if they have heard of you. That is true, but there’s a flaw in that argument.

If you’ve been successful in raising money from good institutional investors, they should be able to help you build a lead list, and to introduce you to co-investors and follow-on investors. If they can’t, you’re in a pickle — but that is a pickle that cannot be resolved by throwing press coverage at it.

The reasoning for this is that high-quality investors usually have plenty of dealflow, and they don’t have to use press activity as a source for potential investments. As a result, any investment leads you do get from press coverage carries an adverse selection bias; people reaching out to you to learn more about the company and to invest tends to be third-tier investors.

Are there any exceptions to the rule?

Not really — but you can bend the rules to match your goals. When closing your funding round, it’s possible to keep the fact that you’ve closed your round under the radar. Some publications like to write fundraising stories, and there’s nothing that says you have to immediately publicize that you’ve closed a round. That means that you can tie your announcement to other business goals that, individually, wouldn’t attract press attention, but that have a bigger impact on your business.

For example, after the dust settles from your fundraising, you could go with “We raised money and are now hiring” as a message. Implied: If you’re reading this and you’re interested in our space, come apply for a job. You could also go with “We raised money and are now looking for beta customers” or “We raised money and will soon be raising again,” or — even better — “We raised money and are opening for pre-orders for our product today.”

Whatever you do, make sure that your business objectives are clear before you start your PR activities, and be honest with yourself. Press isn’t a one-size-fits-all tool to fix all your business challenges.

Haje (@Haje on Twitter) is the Director of Portfolio at Bolt, a VC firm investing in concept-stage companies at the intersection of software and physical goods.