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Startup

‘Distruptive’ Startups Refine Their Strategies for Working with Regulators

airbnbAirbnb’s executives have decided that the free market doesn’t trump the law and that the rules do apply to them after all.

The details have been reported elsewhere, but the decision is a big deal for startups (and their investors/promoters) that might eventually run up against those pesky things we call legal regulations.

The big questions to be answered–and the ones that most concern these startups’ advisory and PR teams–are “how should ’distruptive’ businesses be regulated” and “what’s the best way for them to work within/around existing regulations?”

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Airbnb Goes Grassroots With ‘Us vs. Them’ Damage Control Campaign

We might almost feel bad for Airbnbairbnb thanks to its appearance in an endless stream of negative headlines if the company–and its ideological partner Uber–weren’t also responsible for so many think pieces about “the sharing economy.”

If the news is so bad, then why is the company’s estimated value somewhere around $10 billion–which is, as The New York Times reminded us today, more than the total worth of Hyatt Hotels Corporation?

The answer, as far as we can tell, involves the appeal of staying somewhere for cheap and a strategy focused on casting the company’s legal struggles as a case of “The People” versus “The Man”–said man in this case being New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman.

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PR Is Essential for Startups…or Is It?!

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These guys (don’t) get it…

Many professional communicators will argue that every single worthwhile startup needs some public relations assistance by default–but some ambitious tech entrepreneurs disagree!

Shocking, we know. A recent point/counterpoint in the digital pages of Fast Company makes clear that this debate will continue for some time.

Earlier this month, entrepreneur Stephen Robert Morse wrote a piece titled “Why Your Startup Shouldn’t Hire a PR Firm.

The article understandably sparked a bit of controversy; some key points–and today’s rebuttal–after the jump.

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Bad Headlines Keep Coming for Airbnb

airbnbA PR pro in Manhattan wanted to make a little money while out of town over a recent weekend, so she “rented” her apartment to a woman claiming to be an active service member who just wanted “a place to hang out before she got shipped out.”

The rest of the story is, at this point, predictable: the publicist got a call from the cops after a man who was visiting her apartment for a “massage” slashed the woman paid to provide it; on re-entering her abode, she found the telltale signs of illegal activity.

One anonymous sex worker (aka the world’s most reliable source) told The New York Post that “It’s more discreet and much cheaper than The Waldorf.”

So it is. The point here is that Airbnb’s promise comes with some very unique challenges.

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Startups Like Airbnb Are Getting Better at Addressing Viral Scandals

airbnbAllow us to overgeneralize in writing that tech startup founders can sometimes come across as…what’s the word…aloof. Arrogant. Condescending.

Maybe all that adulatory media coverage goes to their heads. The point, as Valleywag reminds us every day, is that they don’t always respond to challenges in the most effective or sympathetic way.

Yet a PandoDaily post this week argues that companies like Uber and Airbnb are getting better at crisis communications, and we have to agree.

You probably read the viral story about one Airbnb client whose apartment served as the set for a “XXX Freak Fest” (NSFW). Rather than dismiss his complaint as the cost of doing business, the company changed his locks, paid for his hotel stay and wired him thousands of dollars to cover the literal clean-up cost.

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Time to Leave Your Agency? PR Vets Discuss the Challenges and Rewards of Going Solo

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We hope you didn’t miss our piece on breaking into fashion PR last week, but we have to confess that we left some of the most interesting parts out.

Beyond the great stories about graduating from crazy internships to working for designers and brands, we saw a trend emerging: two of the three industry veterans we spoke to went from jobs at major firms to running the show as independent consultants—and the third started her own agency.

Laura Hall’s resume reads like a PR “who’s who”: she’s worked for Burson-Marsteller, MSL Group, FleishmannHillard, Hill+Knowlton Strategies and Weber Shandwick.

Impressed yet? So are we.

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Airbnb Offers Journalists Solutions to Their #SochiProblems

We’ve covered a weighty topic or two today, so we’ll end the week on a lighter note: as Brian Morrissey of Digiday noted this afternoon, the famously responsive Airbnb decided to make the most of the many journalists documenting their terrible experiences with Sochi hotels by doing that thing they do and directing them toward alternatives in the area.

It started last night with this announcement:

The company’s social team followed up by interacting directly with those journos in need of a better place to rest:

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Startup Founder Gets a Little Too Flirty with Journalist

The latest News You Should Know from Valleywag, aka “Tech Douche Daily”: a certain startup founder may have taken the phrase “media relations” a bit too literally.

Seems like Sam Shank wanted to thank Alyson Shontell of Business Insider for this article covering his “Uber for hotels” app Hotel Tonight, but he just had to make it weird…

Eww. We’re not quite sure why Sam Biddle files this story under “PR” since the agency that scored the piece would never suggest such a socially clueless move.

In short, this is NOT how you thank a journalist for good coverage.

Uber and the (Negligible) Cost of Bad Publicity

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Chances are that any recent news you’ve read regarding taxi service app company Uber was bad.

The company has recently suffered a string of very negative stories including:

  • Accusations from drivers (which Uber calls “freelancers”) that the company was stealing their tips
  • A case in which the company argued that the California government cannot regulate its business practices since it is not a transportation company (it simply happens to help cab drivers meet up with people who need a ride)
  • Angry complaints from both coasts about the “surge pricing” model that boosts rates by as much as 500% when users need the service most as opposed to, say, establishing a base rate like New York’s yellow cab service
  • An incident in which a driver hit and killed a 6-year-old girl; her family has filed a wrongful death suit against the company

The most recent story is the worst, though.

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Most Startups Fail. You Just Never Hear About Them.

shutterstock_137747492-1We know a lot of our readers’ work involves promoting startups and getting them noticed by media outlets as well as potential investors and buyers.

Here’s something we’ve noticed about the startup world: for the most part, you only hear the stories behind the successes that raised millions before eBay or Facebook or some other big digital name picked them up for a ridiculous ten-figure sum.

This week, however, brought two interesting stories about startups—one that failed and one that almost failed. We think they’re worth noting.

The first tale of valiant defeat comes via Chris Poole, founder of infamous imageboard site 4chan. You’d think that he, of all people, would be able to launch a successful startup. But the collapse of his DrawQuest venture is sobering:

“In the past year it’s been downloaded more than 1.4 million times, and is currently used by about 25,000 people a day, and 400,000 last month alone. Retention and engagement are great. And yet we still failed.”

And this happens most of the time.

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