Hugo didn’t write for startups

Writing Tips for Startups (French Tech Redux)

Benjamin Joffe
Aug 14, 2018 · 5 min read

What could be said about writing specifically to French startups?

Maybe first to stop worrying about being perfect. A major advantage of American culture is that of ‘doing’, and improving as they go, based on results. The beauty of theories and appeal of perfection are not compatible with startup life: nothing is ever perfect — but it keeps getting better. So drop the ego, and put yourself out there in writing, speaking and more.

The second thing would be: reach out. You have ideas? Then try to pitch a guest post to TechCrunch, VentureBeat, Forbes, Inc, Entrepreneur or else. The leverage of ‘other people’s platforms’ is a key asset, and can only happen if YOU make it happen.

Now, here are my tips about writing!

Literary and business/media writing are different. Startups often need to write (and should write more) but don’t necessarily know where to start, or what makes good (business) writing.

I wrote several dozen articles for various media (most recently: Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, TechInAsia and HackerNoon) and helped edit quite a few more written by others.

As an non-native writer of English, it used to surprise me native speakers would ask me for edits or help, until I realized it wasn’t about ‘fluency’ (as in grammar or vocabulary) but about effective communication.

This quick guide will level up your writing faster than you could suppose:

First, Remember Your Goal

Your purpose is for your message to spread, not win a Nobel Prize in Literature (though your chances increase if you’re French).

Your have to find a ‘resonance frequency’ that will get your message not only read but amplified. Be impactful, concise and memorable. It’s not as easy as it sounds!

Basic level

You’ve heard it before: brevity is the soul of wit. Here are some basic editing tips to have more impact:

  • SIMPLE words. Long/complex/unfamiliar ones create unnecessary friction. You might sound smart but lose readers.

Now here is an awkward memo trick:
Simple + Active + Short + 800 = SAS 800.
Imagine a Scandinavian Airlines Boeing 737–800. Scandinavian design is clean and minimal, and planes travel far!

Depending on the publication, a more conversational tone might fit better and be more friendly than a cold ‘business tone’. Sprinkle with humor when possible. You’re talking to new friends!

Note that long form can work if what you write is so interesting or exhaustive that it can’t be ignored (that’s what we try to do with our Techcrunch pieces).

But often, long writing is just lazy — you’re offloading the summarizing effort to the readers and wasting their time — or to quote Blaise Pascal I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.

Titles matter a lot!

Titles are teasers. This is how people decide to read or not.

Write a few different titles trying to imagine what you would be interested to click on. For instance:

  • A fun or ‘rhyming’ title

Some media will tweak or change it, but you’re often better off writing your own rather than relying on the inspiration of a random and hurried editor.

Intermediate level

Speaking from personal experience, it’s like with life drawing: it’s not ‘talent’ but that nobody taught you right, and a few tips can help you improve dramatically.

Before/after (disclosure: not my drawing) — to draw better, just observe: (1) contours (2) negative spaces (3) perspective and proportions (4) lights and shadows (5) the whole (from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards)

The method developed by Betty Edwards is spectacularly effective at improving how we see, which is the real key to drawing (‘talent’ and ‘hand’ might come into play but much much later).

If drawing is seeing, writing is thinking. Clarify your thoughts, put yourself in your reader’s shoes, and your writing will improve.

I tried to draw below some parallels with Edwards’s method (no pun intended).

  • Contours: list your core ideas in short bullet points. Neat contours with concise phrases fare better than wordy sentences.

Meta-Meta Writing

If writing about writing was meta, I’m now going to write about how I wrote this article about writing — we’re going two Inception levels down, folks!

  • I wanted to write about writing. I tried to remember my ‘process’, and also how I edit other people’s work. I jotted down some tips but it was starting to look like a list of bullet points, and not particularly memorable. At least it was simple and immediately usable. Just felt a bit lightweight.

I hope it all makes sense? Let me know in the comments!

One more thing: writing is not always for top publications. Writing helps clarify and organize your ideas, which often need some time to brew and be enriched over time. This article is fit for a blog, and is a first iteration. I might re-work it later with new ideas and comments received. Often, ‘done is better than perfect’ as (again) writing is thinking. The real test of your ideas is putting them in front of others. Pin up your work!

La French Tech

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