“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.

“Effective Executive” Series with Shelli Trung, Founder of 3Six5Dates.com

This week’s “Effective Executive” interview is with Shelli Trung, Founder of reality date-a-thon website, 3six5dates.com. The social experiment follows the adventures of four women in four international cities, all going on about 100 dates each, within one year. Shelli was recently listed as one of Australia’s Top 10 female startup entrepreneurs, and is frequently quoted in the media on Marketing and Branding for startups. She is currently located in New York, discussing partnership opportunities to grow 3six5dates – including turning the dating stories into comics and animations.

 

How did you come up with the concept of 3six5dates?

I had set myself a goal at the age of 25 to have started my own business by the age of 30. With this in mind, I started researching the range of businesses that would suit the lifestyle I wanted. I knew I wanted to create something fun that would not tie me to a specific location. I love storytelling and was specifically inspired when watching Nora Ephron’s “Julie and Julia,” which is about a woman who cooks through all of Julia Child’s recipes in one year while simultaneously blogging about it. I combined this curiosity with the gap that I felt the TV series “Sex and the City” left behind when it finished up. I didn’t want the voice of the mature, professional, single woman to fade into the background. 3six5dates is an attempt to fill that gap in some way.

As someone who is passionate about female entrepreneurship, can you provide some ways that women can empower themselves and embrace entrepreneurship?

Regardless of whether you are male or female, going out on your own is exciting but can also be scary. Historically, women have let men lead the charge. However, I am seeing more and more women stepping up to the challenge, which is uplifting.

Women need to recognise that their unique talents – such as being excellent relationship builders, natural multi-taskers and the simple fact that women make more purchasing decisions than men – to be great assets to starting a business. The key thing that has really made the difference for me, is to go out and get your support system if you are not surrounded by other entrepreneurs. I certainly wasn’t when I started! But it is this single reason alone that has sustained me through the tougher moments – and there will be plenty of those. Learning to ask for help is another key factor. Women tend to think they can do it all – but they should realise that they don’t have to! Burning out is the fast track to wanting to give up!

Can you tell our audience about any obstacles you faced when creating your Company and how you overcame those obstacles?

At one stage, we were trying to work on 10 projects at the one time and not completing any of them. It was definitely a lack of focus – trying to do too much and accomplishing nothing. We instead now concentrate on – and are committed to delivering – three larger project outcomes every quarter.

How do you manage your busy team of volunteers and what tools have you found to be effective on a day-to-day basis?

I can work pretty much anywhere there is an internet connection. Being a virtual team does come with its unique challenges. We make use of a lot of online tools – many of them free.

We run all our meetings and training through Skype, which allows us to share one another’s computer screens – extremely useful for design work.

All our files are shared on Dropbox and we are also heavy users of Evernote to keep track of tasks. To minimize the number of emails we send one another, we have a 3six5dates private group to relay any team announcements.

Most of my team, including myself, have their emails feed into their phones which has been a great time saver.

As the sole founder of your Company, how do you keep up with the everyday demands?

I have a wonderful team who are very supportive and make me feel like a superstar so I don’t feel like a solo founder!

I think running any business effectively and ensuring you are leading and driving the vision – as opposed to working ‘in’ it – requires that you automate and delegate as much as possible.  This means equipping, empowering and trusting your team once they are trained.

What is next  for you for the remainder of 2012?

3six5dates has spent the last six months developing strategic partnerships with dating organizations in the US. We have and will continue to roll out cross-promotional activities with them, including comics and animations.

In addition, I am working on launching another startup in Australia called MenuHub with a good friend and co-founder. As the name suggests, it is food-related and early testing has shown extremely positive results so far. I am excited about this new challenge!

The rest of the year looks to be full of possibilities!

 

Effective Executive: Akemi Williams, TeetheMe.com

This week’s Effective Executive interview is with Akemi Williams, a busy mother who has founded an exciting new baby products business called TeetheMe.com. TeetheMe is a monthly subscription service that delivers functional and fun baby products to parents on a monthly basis. Subscribers receive mini care packages that arrive just at the right moment and are for children ages newborn to 3-years-old.

We caught up with Akemi and asked her some questions about what inspired her to start her own business and the challenges she has faced in doing so.

What inspired you to create Teetheme?

As a busy, working mother of a 3-year-old little girl, I found myself completely overwhelmed by all of the baby products on the market today. I knew there had to be a simpler and more efficient way to find quality baby products that would grow with my child. I founded TeetheMe.com to do just that!

How long did it take to get your Company up and running after creating the concept? Did you encounter any obstacles along the way?

It took me about 6 months and I was still working my corporate publishing job while launching TeetheMe. I think everyone who starts any company encounters obstacles! But as I have learned, it really is all about the journey and I am having so much fun and absolutely love going to work every day.

How do you explain your career and your Company to your daughter?

She thinks mommy works with babies all day long! She loves learning about all of the products that mommy brings home and pretends to use some of them on her babies! It’s too cute!

What excites you most about your job?

I am so fortunate to wake up every day and do something that I am truly passionate about. I love working with other mompreneurs as well as meeting real moms and being able to relate to what they are going through as parents. TeetheMe is not just a service; it’s a community of real moms going through real life experiences. We are all, every day still trying to figure it all out and to be the best parents we can be. I am so honored to be a part of this process with thousands of moms!

You have a social community for moms launching soon. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Baby bragging without boundaries or worries! Subscribers are granted access to our exclusive user-controlled Teether Social Network where the parent-to-parent connections are priceless and no milestone is too little to share! We have created a place where parents can share every last detail about their child. Post photo albums, organize play dates or just update fellow Teethers on their little one’s sleep schedule in our safe and secure network.

The review section of our community is a place where like-minded parents rate, review and share their experiences on the latest products, giving you an invaluable buyers’ edge in today’s overstuffed market. The information provided through our community will help you make smarter, more informed and most importantly, time saving buying decisions for your little Teether.

Do you have any hobbies or passions outside of work?

I love to read (what mom isn’t reading 50 Shades of Grey right now?), a good spin class and spending time on the beach! I’m also very involved with my church and can’t live without my weekly bible study with some amazing ladies!

What is next for you in 2012?

Focusing on the growth and expansion of TeetheMe! And, continuing to have fun while I do it! Spending as much time as I can with my daughter, family and friends. Life is all about balance!