“Influencers Who Inspire” – Interview with Rebecca Strong of BostInno

We are excited to resume our “Influencers Who Inspire” interview series, where we highlight industry influencers and leaders in business. Today, we talk with Rebecca Strong of BostInno.  She shares her thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Boston and what she loves about her role at BostInno.

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Strong is currently a staff writer at BostInno, where she’s been covering local tech and startup news since November 2014. Previously, she was a writer and video blog producer for the content marketing agency, Brafton. Since graduating from Emerson College in 2010, she has contributed to a variety of local and national publications, including The Huffington Post, U.S. News University Directory and Elite Daily.

Please tell us a little bit about your beat at BostInno.

I’m in charge of covering anything relating to tech and start ups in and around Boston. That could mean anything from a funding announcement, merger, or acquisition to a profile on an entrepreneur, a first look at an upcoming local app or information about a brand new accelerator, incubator or coworking space. And sometimes I’ll dive into the aspects of startup culture—from style to office beer taps.

With Boston being populated with so many tech startups, how do you personally keep up with all the latest developments and introductions to the market?

It’s next to impossible to stay on top of everything and I’m fortunate in that people are constantly reaching out to me about their newly established startups or other announcements. But personally, I’m always scouring AngelList for interesting early stage companies, keeping an eye on industry folks on Twitter, and continually checking college/university news (MIT, Northeastern, etc). Going to networking events, panels, etc. is also a great way to get a scoop on a startup I might not otherwise have known about.

What do you love about your role at BostInno?

Knowing that I’m shaping the way people understand and view emerging companies so early on in their development. It’s extremely rewarding, too, to see the impact that positive press can have on startups. I’ve gotten emails from founders saying that after my article was published about their company, they were contacted by an interested investor. Or, from accelerators saying that a local expert offered to be a mentor for their program after they read my piece. There’s so much going on in Boston tech that it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. But I like to think that my shining a spotlight on some of these startups that are still getting their footing, and building up some hype around them, can actually make a difference—even a small one—in their being able to generate traction.

What types of companies do you like to cover and why?

It sounds obvious, but my favorites are the ones solving a problem that, to my knowledge, hasn’t yet been addressed. The startup world is saturated, and there are so many people making very similar apps based on basically the same idea. When I come across a company that’s going after an unresolved issue, or innovating in a space that still operates in an archaic way, that’s what excites me. Because in my mind, they’re the startups that have the most potential to turn heads, and to be responsible for significant change.

What has been your most interesting interview thus far?

That’s a tie. Arianna Huffington, and T.J. Miller from the HBO series “Silicon Valley.” Very, very different interviews but both fascinating individuals.

Do PR people help or hinder your storytelling?

I wouldn’t say PR people have ever hindered my storytelling. But not all are as helpful as they could be. The ones I really appreciate are those who get BostInno, who make a point to get me information as quickly as possible—often in advance of any embargo time—and who offer to connect me with the people who matter in any particular story.

If you had to guess, what percent of stories come from ideas a PR person sent to you?

I’d say about 17-18 percent. There are many cases in which a PR person will pitch me something, and I may not take that exact idea, but I’ll pull some other tidbit that I find interesting about the CEO, or the company, and run with that. And in those cases, that PR person still played a crucial role in making the story happen because they originally facilitated it.

What’s one thing you think PR executives could do better?

Know the journalists they’re pitching to. And no, I don’t just mean know that they write on tech, or sports, or food. I get so many irrelevant pitches - if the PR person emailing me had actually taken a glimpse at my coverage, they would know the angles aren’t relevant either to my beat or to BostInno as a whole. It’s equally important to know the publication’s audience when you’re pitching a journalist. BostInno has an edgy tone. Our readers are largely 20-somethings and 30-somethings. So if you’re trying to get me psyched about a tech company based on a super dry concept that’s difficult to comprehend, that’s going to be tough. And if you’re still sure it’s something worth covering, then make sure you do it in a way that very clearly helps me understand why it would pique our readers’ interest.

What do you love about the city of Boston?

The sense of community here. We band together like a small town would, yet we have all the awesome resources and businesses and other perks of living in a major city. The camaraderie here is particularly advantageous for startups. There’s this overall feeling that everyone supports everyone else. I don’t think you get a lot of that in other cities, where it’s more of an “every man for himself” mentality. It’s not just in the tech and startup world, either. The restaurant industry here holds so many events and meetups—everyone knows everyone else and you get the feeling that everyone gets genuinely excited for one another’s successes.

What are you passionate about outside of your journalism career?

Singing. Fitness. And, if I’m being honest, eating.

What is one goal you’d like to accomplish before the end of 2015?

In relation to my job, I’ve been asked several times to be on the judging panel at a startup pitch event and it hasn’t worked out with my schedule, so that’s something I’d like to do.

Outside of my job, my new goal is to get a basil plant, grow it, and make a mean batch of homemade pesto.

“Influencers Who Inspire” Our Latest Interview with Dan Rowinski, Mobile Editor at ReadWrite

dan_rowinski_headshot (3)This week we are happy to share our latest interview with Dan Rowinski, Mobile Editor at ReadWrite. We follow Dan’s work religiously and are excited to share his thoughts on working with PR people, what he loves about Boston and what he loves about his current role.

How did you transition from covering sports to covering technology? What do you miss about it?

My transition from sports to tech had a lot to do with the advanced study of baseball statistics. In baseball nerd circles, these are called sabermetrics. You ever heard of Moneyball (first a book, then a movie starring Brad Pitt)? For a long time I studied these advanced statistics to the point that I knew them by heart. It awakened a very statistically-driven analyst in me and taught me that I could basically learn anything and break it down into simple, understandable terms for my readers.

After I left TBD.com in D.C., I was on the lookout for a steady gig in either tech, sports or investigative reporting. I like tech and have always had kind of a casual interest in how things are made and then put to use. So, I landed at Government Computer News writing about smartphones. The clincher for me in getting that job was telling one of the editors at GCN about how I had taught myself sabermetrics and how that learning process informed my world view. Hurray for baseball.

What I miss most about sports is being at the arena or ballpark and the competitive but close-knit relationship with other beat reporters. They all may work for different outlets, but it is kind of a club. What don’t I miss about it? The fact that most professional athletes are trained to say absolutely nothing of substance. Lots of, “I trust my teammates and god” (in that order), type of quotes.

As a native of the Boston area, what do you love most about our city?

You ever been the Green Dragon Tavern? It was supposed to be the headquarters of the American Revolution and guys like Sam Adams and Paul Revere met there to discuss the resistance against the British. The actual Green Dragon was torn down in 1854 and the current pub (tucked behind Bell In Hand by all those bars on Union Street) is a few blocks from where the original building was. But, it is still a part of history, of both Boston and the United States. Boston is full of those little types of places. Hell, Harvard is quite a bit older than the U.S.

I love history. I have a degree in it (next to my English degree and Master’s in Journalism). I love living in a city where major history is so casually interspersed with the everyday and modern.

Also, the Red Sox. ;)

As a journalist, what is your biggest pet peeve about PR professionals?

Multiple emails. If I don’t answer the first time, the pitch may have gotten lost but not bloody likely. I am well on top of my email. If a PR person sends two, three, four or more follow ups, I will actually ban them to my spam folder. This is probably the worst possible outcome for a PR person trying to get my attention because it will mean that all subsequent communication from them will go to my spam. There is a good chance I wasn’t interested in the pitch the first time. I don’t have time to respond to everything, so my silence is generally my answer.

That being said, I archive just about every single email I get. It is a fairly large archive at this point. If I am looking for something on a particular topic, I search my email for products, points of reference and people to talk to. It’s a resource, just like Twitter is a resource or Google+ (yes, I use Google+).

Also, don’t ever, ever, ever cold call me if we have not communicated before. I might give you 30 seconds, if you are lucky.

Also, don’t send things to me in the mail (actual, physical mail) if I have not asked for them and am expecting them. The PR person from Mophie once sent me a lunch box before CES with one of their battery packs and some energy bars. Clever, I have to say, but really annoyed the hell out of me.

What has been the most fascinating interview you have conducted over the years?

It was actually a series of interviews in a 24-hour span. When I was still covering government tech and doing freelance sports, I talked to former NASA CIO Linda Cureton and former CTO Chris Kemp. The next day I covered both a Washington Capitals game and then a Wizards NBA game that night (one of those rare days when both teams play on the same day at the same arena and the bull gang has to change over from the ice to the parquet). So, within that day I interviewed both Cureton and Kemp as well as Capitals star Alex Ovechkin and San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan. That was pretty cool.

Of those interviews, Kemp was the most fascinating. This was when tablets were still pretty new and Kemp (who now is the CEO of a cloud company called Nebula) gave me one of my favorite lines ever; “tablets are the gateway to the cloud.” That has stuck with me as I have studied the confluence of the cloud and mobile revolutions.

What do you love about your job?

Learning. I feel like I have gotten another whole degree since becoming a tech reporter. I study everything mobile, all day just about everyday. Been doing it for years now. I’ve gotten to the point where I might be able to cobble together a book or two on subjects like mobile payments and the proliferation of the app. I like to get pretty wonky with my articles sometimes, so I will find and study source code or take a look at new integrated developer environments. Basically, my job allows me to absorb information and that makes me really happy.

Outside of work, what are you passionate about?

I am a pretty big cycler. I have a very nice Jamis racer road bike. Love to get out into the roads in Metro West and do 50 or 60 miles around Lexington and Concord.

After I stopped being a sports reporter, I have always rediscovered the pleasure of being a sports fan. I love baseball. When you are a sports reporter, it becomes a job. Even if your job is to wake up and go watch hockey for a living, there are days (everybody has them) where you just say, “I don’t want to go to work today.” You lose that exuberance that made you a fan in the first place. It took a couple of years for me to get over that but I have found that I can once again watch the Red Sox game and enjoy it without having to worry about filing a story as soon as the game ends.

What is next for you for the remainder of 2013?

Work, work, work. Absorb more knowledge. Get ready for the mobile product blitz that is the holiday shopping season. Looking forward to seeing exactly how Apple has cobbled together the new aspects of iOS 7 with the iPhone 5S. Also want to see whether the concept of the “smartwatch” becomes a popular product item. My editor-in-chief Owen Thomas is not a fan of the smartwatch, but I think it could be really cool. I want to be like Dick Tracy, damnit, and I don’t want to have to tether my smartphone to a watch to be able to do so. A couple scheduled trips to New York and San Francisco (those are the only places I seem to go these days) and then home for Christmas. Trying to take it easy on the travel because my spring travel schedule is brutal (Las Vegas, Barcelona and Austin, Texas).

Other than that, just keep on keeping on.

“Effective Executives” Series with Beantown Bedding Founders, Kirsten Lambert & Joan Ripple

Here at PerkettPR, we are not only avid Red Sox fans, but many of our employees are proud to call Beantown our “home.”  This week’s interview is with the founders of a  local Massachusetts-based company, Beantown Bedding. Beantown Bedding, LLC was founded in December 2011 by Joan Ripple and Kirsten Lambert, two mothers of college students. The company is located in Hingham, MA, a suburb of Boston (“Beantown”).

The concept behind Beantown Bedding was to offer a solution to busy college students who had little time to launder their sheets.  Beantown Bedding developed a line of linens made from a fiber called Tencel, derived from Eucalyptus trees, which you can simply toss into a compost bin or trash can when they’re dirty. The sheets are both compostable and biodegradable and available for purchase on their website and at Amazon.com.

We caught up with the founders and asked them more about where the idea came from and what they have planned next.


Please tell us a little bit about Beantown Bedding and where the idea came from.

We met when our oldest children began dating in high school.  When they each went off to college, we quickly learned that they, like most college students, just didn’t take time to wash their sheets.  The health and hygiene implications were simply gross.  We wanted to find a way for them to have clean sheets without the hassle of laundering. Essentially, we decided to rethink laundry.  We joked about sending them the rolls of paper sheets found in a doctor’s office.


We decided to take the idea seriously and began searching for material that would be both comfortable and disposable in an environmentally responsible manner.  Easier said than done!  We identified the material we liked, organized focus groups with students and mothers, and began to explore sources of supply. Once we had a product, we conducted product testing with students from 22 universities over a two-month period.  The findings indicated we had a winner.


When you were researching what type of materials to use in your products, where did you turn for information and how long did the process take?

The better part of a year was spent researching the market, fabrics, and supply options. Initially, our secondary research focused on sustainable textiles through sources such as fiber and fabric manufacturers, trade organizations and publications,  trade shows and published white papers and articles.  Our first fabric choice didn’t perform well in the qualitative research stage, so we continued the search until we discovered a fiber called TENCEL®, which offered the properties we wanted… softness, strength, and compostability. Lenzing, the manufacturer of TENCEL®, was instrumental in helping us establish our supply chain and has been tremendously supportive as we’ve grown. In fact, they recently hosted us as part of their Innovation Platform at the Home Textiles Sourcing Expo in New York City.


How did your previous education or career prepare you to be a business owner?

While we both have degrees and backgrounds in business, we feel it’s the versatile skills we learned as mothers and volunteer leaders in our communities which best prepared us for our entrepreneurial duties.  Like all entrepreneurs, we wear many hats and must be resourceful. Joan’s Management and Human Resources background nicely complement Kirsten’s marketing and research experience. For everything else, we either learn quickly, consult with experts, or cover the gaps with outsourcing.


One extremely valuable resource was the team of graduate students from Stanford University who worked on our business as a class project this past spring.  After presenting our pitch at a competition for startup companies at Stanford last April, we were selected by one of the teams. It was one of many tremendous opportunities we’ve had in bringing bedsox to market.


You are passionate about the environment and sustainability especially with your product offerings. What else are you passionate about?

Yes, sustainability is a central theme in our messaging and we’re delighted to have just received USDA certification as 100% Biobased®.   That said, we really love college kids!  Their energy, enthusiasm, work ethic, and desire to make a difference in the world is inspiring.  Our own college kids are the basis for our story, but we’ve worked closely with many others as we’ve researched and gotten to know our primary target market.


Our dogs are also an integral part of our story. Since our earliest conversations about the concept, the local dog park has been the venue for many of our strategy sessions. We each have yellow Labrador Retrievers – Fenway and Sunshine, who receive an undue amount of attention since we sent our youngest children off to college. (For the record, the younger kids also dated!)


What is next for Beantown Bedding in 2013?

College kids aren’t the only time-starved consumers who can enjoy the convenience of laundry-free linens. We will soon roll out additional sizes of sheet sets to serve markets such as overnight camps, vacation homes and travel.   Though the retail launch was only weeks ago, via our ecommerce site (www.BeantownBedding.com) and Amazon, our wholesale business took off before we received our first inventory.   Universities nationwide began purchasing bedsox this summer for their overnight conferences and events.  As a result, our next steps are to generate awareness for bedsox in both the retail and business sectors.  Fortunately, Beantown Bedding has received quite a bit of media attention in recent weeks to convince consumers to rethink laundry.


Thank You For Supporting Our Virtual Clothing Drive for Rosie’s Place

Thank you to everyone who supported our virtual clothing drive for Rosie’s Place in Boston. We received some generous monetary donations that we passed along today, and we were able to deliver about a dozen bags of clothing. We appreciate all the retweets and buzz – and hope that next time, we can turn even more of the awareness into action.

We were given a tour of Rosie’s – here’s our Whrrl story with more details on what Rosie’s Place does and who they help. Happy Holidays.

More stories at Rosie’s Place
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ShopUp Proves Social Media Value to Fashion Retail World

Over the last year I have sat across many-a-Starbucks table from social media and marketing consultants of all types. I have given advice on job hunting, standing out from the competition and more, and I’ve asked a lot of questions, such as, “What makes you an expert above and beyond the next guy/gal?” A lot of times, the answers were vague.

But one of those times, I sat with Rachel Levy (@bostonmarketer). Rachel has a very interesting story to tell – she recently became the Director of Marketing and Social Media for Second Time Around, a chain of contemporary, designer, consignment clothing & furniture stores. But prior to that, she spent a year off – networking, job hunting and ultimately, with the intelligent use of social media (as well as some tenacity), reinventing herself. (See her recent blog post about this.) In our conversation Rachel stood out – she’s smart, insightful and most of all, she was enthusiastic about finding the right position with the right company.

I’d say she’s found it.

Last night I attended #ShopUp, a shopping event that Rachel planned to help raise awareness of Boston’s Second Time Around (the company has 21 shops in cities around the U.S.). Now, I’m a rabid fashion fan and involved in the industry as a Board Advisor to New York City’s Style Coalition, but last night I wasn’t paying attention to the fashion. I was paying attention to the social marketing of this event – Rachel did an amazing job.

I sat down with Rachel today to ask her about the event. I was so impressed with it, I wanted to share it as a great case study in how social marketing can help any business – when done well. I’ve heard a lot of people claim social media expertise – but anyone can pull off tactics like running a Twitter account. Integrating them into an overall strategy is a different story.

PPR: What was your overall strategy for #ShopUp?

RL: Mainly, I wanted to spread the word about who we are and what we do – specifically, create regional awareness for the Boston store through word of mouth. A specific part of that goal was to get people to interact with the product. Having a party and getting them into the store was the best way to do that. Consignment shopping is a different experience than shopping for new retail – I wanted people to experience it first hand. Lastly, while this event was held in Boston, I also wanted to use it to create national awareness for our 20 other stores – creating curiosity for shoppers to find out about the store near them.

PPR: What was the event?

RL: ShopUp was an evening of shopping and schmoozing. We encouraged shoppers to come by for appetizers and drinks, a little shopping and, in honor of New York Fashion Week, a fashion show. Held at our store, we provided shoppers with 20% off during the event, and handed out 10% off coupons for future shopping. We also encouraged shoppers to bring in any designer clothes to consign that evening.

Christine Perkett (@missusP), Michael Durwin (mdurwin), Carissa O'Brien (@carissao)

Christine Perkett (@missusP), Michael Durwin (mdurwin), Carissa O'Brien (@carissao)

PPR: How did you use social media to promote and run ShopUp?

RL: Pre-event promotion included a community contest through Twitter, where our followers nominated the models for the fashion show part of the evening. We created the hashtag #ShopUp for easy tracking of the conversations taking place around nominations and the event itself. Once we had nominees, we had people vote for the four models who would be in the show. This process proved to be very viral – people were really interested because they had a part in creating the show. We also posted news about the event on Facebook. During the event, we had guests vote for the best outfit and model – again, via Twitter. The model who received the most votes for a specific outfit got to take the clothes home. To share the event with those outside of Boston, we streamed live video through UStream, Twittered during the event (using TweetDeck and CoTweet) and we’ll be featuring a compilation video of the entire evening on YouTube. Our photos are also up on Flickr, and many people sent TwitPics during the event as well. Lastly, today we issued a post-event survey through a BostonTweetUp twtpoll.

The runway (photo by Pamela Rosenthal)

The runway (photo by Pamela Rosenthal)

PPR: What was the ROI? Did you reach your goals?

RL: Oh yes! About 75 people attended the event and our sales were positively impacted. We experienced a positive return on our investment in regards to revenue vs expenses as well. Although I don’t yet have figures to share around the specific number of impressions driven by the event, I can say that we drove new business – 50 percent of the people who attended had never shopped here before… but either did last night or intend to return, I’m sure. (PPR: Rachel incorporated a smart strategy to ask attendees two questions at the registration table; 1) Have you shopped with us before and 2) Can we add you to our mailing list?)

Congratulations to Rachel and Second Time Around on a terrific event – and to the lucky model/winner (Manolo Blahnik shoes, Escada sweater, jeans & accessories!), Carissa O’Brien.