Your Startup Is a Rock & Roll Band

Branding, storytelling, and tactical advice for startups from Alan Weinkrantz


On his current visit to Jerusalem I had a chance to sit down with Alan Weinkrantz, a PR and media relations guru, who shared with me his views on marketing and narrative building, and offered practical advice to startups on how to get ahead.

Alan will be back in Jerusalem on June 1, talking PR & Press for Startups at Beera-Tech, this time hosted at PICO.

Q: Alan, that’s a pretty bold statement — what do you mean startups are like rock and roll bands? How did you come to this realization?

A: The idea began during I period when I was spending a lot of time at a good friend’s high-end guitar shop in San Antonio. Being surrounded by music all the time I started studying the history of rock n’ roll. And then it hit me.

It’s all code.

I went back in time, listening to old albums from the Kinks, the Who, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones. I realized that all the albums, the songs, the lyrics — they’re code. The code isn’t manifested as “lines of code” but rather in the stories built, layered and played.

Q: What do you mean by that?

If you look at the way musical history progressed, it seems each band was creating a new experience for their audience — not just musically but, story wise. We’re talking about their narrative, where they came from, how they got famous, their clothes, their sound and the overall experience which is just as important as the music itself — if not more.

Just like startups.

And just like startups, Rock & roll bands, work together iteratively. Collaboratively. And hopefully, harmonically.

Even marketing strategies are similar. Going out to play at small venues at the start of a band’s career is a means to gather user feedback — which songs worked and which ones didn’t.

Companies rarely succeed when they define their target market as “everybody”. And startups definitely don’t. It’s the same with rock bands. They have a defined set of “users” or listeners who love their music and are die-hard fans.

Q: So what does this mean for startups? Can you offer us some tactical advice?

A: Narrative is King. Branding isn’t about your logo. It’s about storytelling and narrative. Just like in music, it needs to catch someone’s attention. It should be interesting, engaging and something that people can hold on to, identify with and remember.

Your story will evolve with time, which is why creating a compelling narrative, is critical. It will be the undercurrent that helps sustain your company over time.

Rather than focusing on, “how do I get to an exit?” you should be asking, “how do I build an interesting company?”

Q: But how should a startup create their narrative?

A: The startups that write together. . . . stay together.

One exercise that I use, is to say to the team: “okay, we’re going to kill the company and become a magazine. We’re going to build an editorial calendar. We’re going to start forcing ourselves to write and produce content shares our beliefs and story with the world”

What happens is this often puts the founders in a really uncomfortable position. They’ll say, 1) I’m too busy, 2) I’m a terrible writer, 3) I don’t really know why we’re doing this.

But what happens when you get the different team members writing together, is that you start building a common narrative. This common narrative becomes the voice, the heart and the soul of the company.

It’s no different than being in a recording studio, where the different band members are working together to produce an album, each contributing their own voice but combining together to create the band’s unique sound.”

Q: Do you have any tips on how to get famous?

A: Often founders will approach me asking for help getting covered in the major tech publications.

My advice is always the same: listen first. Find the bloggers, the writers, the industry analysts, and do not pitch. Instead, listen.

There are so many tools to monitor what’s being said on twitter, what’s being published in your field. Use these tools! They are the stethoscope to the voice of the social web.

Want to learn more? You can follow Alan on his blog or on social media. Or, come out and meet him in person at Beera Tech this Sunday, June 1 7 p.m., at PICO in Jerusalem.

Details and sign-up can be found here: http://bit.ly/madeinjlm-alan