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How to turn a tech founder into a thought leader

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

You’ve built a tech company from the ground up and are starting to get some traction. How do you pour gas on that fire? One way to differentiate your brand is by becoming a thought leader.

You didn't just start your company to make a ton of money (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) You also set out to change the world in a big way by using innovation. Well, those big ideas don't need to stay inside your own head. By sharing what you know, you can build up your company's credibility as a leader in your field.

In this episode of Mind Meld PR Breaking News, we talked with Silicon Valley marketing executive Sonya Pelia about her experience working with Mind Meld PR -- and the benefit of having PR experts write thought leadership.

Check out the full interview on YouTube or Anchor.

JN: Let's define some terms to kick off. Actually, this is something I've covered in past Mind Meld PR vlogcast episodes is "what is thought leadership." What's it's all about? Well, number one, the the tech founder, or stakeholders within the company who are high up tend to be people who didn't just start a company to make money. And there's nothing wrong with making money, by the way.

But they often started up because they wanted to change the world in some way, drive it forward, often with leading edge technology. And they have interesting ideas. And so I see my my function, my role as helping that person who you know, has ideas, but may not have marketing expertise. They may not know quite how to connect their ideas with the outlets where those thoughts would be welcomed by an audience.

It's my job to help channel those ideas and find a home and help those ideas. Find a willing audience. I think we're on the same page here.

SP: Absolutely. And in fact, I think you already laid out two of the key pieces that someone like you as the PR person does, number one is bring the ideas to a much wider audience. A more general audience, number one. And number two, what you mentioned was also, how do you position those ideas? Just because someone has some brilliant idea about changing the world or tech that's much better than any other tech out there... it doesn't mean you necessarily have the talent to translate it into understandable terms for other people.

JN: I love that you brought that up. Because it's it's something that I mean, it goes to the heart of marketing in general is you're telling a story, because let's face it for any product or service out there is probably, you know, if it's profitable, there's going to be competition out there. And how do you differentiate yourself? So so that's that's one one aspect of it. So we were talking about the why of thought leadership. Any other thoughts there?

SP: So the two points that you made, I want to add, the third point to it is that you want it to be about leadership. Because in the end, it's not just you're selling to a narrow niche, especially if you need to be a thought leader in that space. You also need to educate people about what your solution is. And what happens is, I think when you are looking only at paid media, usually, you end up in a very narrow channel, you don't get to, for example, the wider publications out of the space of that particular technology. And to build a big company or to build a very successful company, you've really got to get out.

And, you know, for example, if you were in the tech space, then Wired magazine would be a great publication to aspire to, but it's not that easy to get in there. Or even being in Entrepreneur magazine or being in some of the magazines that are now proliferating on the internet. And it's really important to have this vast coverage versus just a narrow space with which happens mostly with paid media.


When you’re establishing someone as a thought leader, there’s a lot of ‘fail fast’. We write something up, explain a concept in a new way, and then push it out and see if it gets traction, and go from there.

I tried to write it myself. I’m a marketer, I’m a technical writer, I write very directly. And yet I realized that when I’m writing about things that I’m immersed in, I write as if everyone should know about them.

The interesting experience with Mind Meld PR was that you would take the technical language that we used or talked with, and could translate that into how people speak in the normal world.

Translating it for us made me realize how much we speak and breathe our own technology and don’t realize how we then present ourselves...

I've since become part of another startup accelerator. We had our first session yesterday and one of the founders presented a slide deck to me…it was really well-done, but by the time we got to Slide 11? I couldn’t tell who the customer was. It was obvious to him who it was though.

That’s when I realized that that’s probably how I came across. We talked using tech-babble and you turned it into English.

JN: That’s a crucial hurdle to get over if you’re trying to put ideas out there. Not just with thought leadership, but this is a human problem.

Understand that if you want to get ideas across and not frustrate others and frustrate yourself, take the time to figure out how to put ideas forward in a way that people will understand you.

Use metaphors and playful language, but without being pedantic and boring. Just plain-speaking to get those ideas out there.

How to turn a tech founder into a thought leader

SP: I think there’s this idea of translation of complexity into simplicity so that everyone can understand what you’re doing.

I work in high tech, so for us, let's say you’ve got the seasoned IT person that will immediately understand what you’re talking about. But then there will be people who are junior and may not understand unless you explain it correctly.

Then, there are people on the periphery who need to know what the value of the solution is and they’re not technical at all. So if you keep speaking in technical language, you’re going to pass them by.

So you’re not going to be influencing people who may read this interesting article about a solution that they would use, but the implementation happens by the IT department.

That guides my thought process -- how do I influence a decision maker who needs this solution, and has nothing to do with the implementation?

JN: To use an example out of PR and more in pop culture -- let’s look at the first Toy Story movie. It works on multiple levels. Kids appreciate it, they get the simple story, but adults love the dialogue and the complexity of the interactions between Buzz Lightyear and Woody.

I think the best pieces of communication, whether it’s an essay or video, can work on multiple levels.

(Check out our latest earned press coverage -- the proof is in the results!)

How to turn a tech founder into a thought leader

If you’re looking to turn your tech founder (or yourself!) into a thought leader, contact our Vancouver PR firm



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