Distribution and Credibility, Part II

Part 1 of this two-part series can be found here.

Once you have your list of the largest “stamps of credibility” for your company on one piece of paper and your dream distribution partners on the other, put them side by side. I call this the ladder of credibility and distribution.

Your task now is to climb as far and fast as you can. We hired one PR firm for $1000 for SXSW in 2010. We’d never been to Austin before and they landed us some okay press and introductions but most importantly showed us the lay of the land at already overwhelming conference. Other than that we’ve done all our own PR.

You want to start building relationships and connections with the top 3–5 organizations on each of your lists. Are you a FinTech startup where a WSJ story and pull-quote would be super helpful? Study the bylines of the paper and get a warm introduction to the most relevant writer. Are you a health food startup where Whole Foods distribution would be a game-changer? Well you better get to know as many merchandise buyers as you possibly can. Are you a consumer app where placement on the homepage of the Apple App Store would be a goldmine? You better figure out who makes those editorial picks! Over many years I became close with awesome journalists at Forbes “Moneyball for the Music Industry: The Rise of Next Big Sound”, NYTimes “Music Data Analyst Turns Sights to Books” and Billboard Magazine.

To be clear: there is a near-zero chance that Whole Foods, WSJ, or the App Store will pluck you from obscurity and make your company. Jumping from the bottom to the top of the ladder in one step is not the point. For the first several YEARS of your company your goal is to build real relationships with the people that down the line can make decisions that might 10x your business while you dutifully climb up the ladder of distribution and credibility.

Our Seed financing with Foundry Group in 2009 was important not just because of the money but because the other music tech company in their portfolio was Topspin. Our funding by Foundry was a big stamp of credibility for Ian Rogers and the executive team at Topspin. We were introduced and worked out a mutually beneficial relationship (Foundry had no involvement in the business development deal). Topspin was an incredibly influential music tech company in that era and that deal was a huge, early step on the ladder of credibility that ultimately provided a mark of legitimacy during our subsequent deals “climbing the credibility/distribution ladder” with the major labels, Billboard, Spotify, and Pandora.

What is the biggest next step that will work for your distribution or credibility partner and that you can realistically take without over-extending yourself?