Why You Might Want to Go on TV Instead of Building a Mobile App

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L.A. serial entrepreneur Tracy DiNunzio talks up the benefits of television while cautioning early-stage founders about jumping on the mobile bandwagon too soon.

By Lorraine Sanders (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

About a year since launching peer-to-peer shopping site Tradesy, founder Tracy DiNunzio finally did something many entrepreneurs would have hustled to do right out of the gate: release a fully functional mobile app. Why the wait at a time when so many will tell you mobile is the future?

"Building for mobile often takes twice as long as building for web, and it’s not as easy to update an app as it is for a web site…. We let a long period of time go by because we were analyzing user behavior on mobile web in order to determine what features would be most useful," says DiNunzio, who created Tradesy after successfully building a Recycled Bride, a destination for secondhand wedding gowns that is now part of her current company.

The newly launched iOS app will better serve the 40% of Tradesy users who were previously accessing the site via mobile web and offer features designed using data from the half million active members currently buying and selling apparel and accessories on the platform, DiNunzio said.

A slow, strategic approach to mobile is not the only thing DiNunzio has done differently as she’s grown her company to 18 employees. While so many startups breathlessly await nuggets of coverage in online tech publications and blogs, DiNunzio struck out into surprising territory: television.

"We’ve done more than 50 TV appearances this year," she says. "It’s something that’s a little bit different for a tech company."

Sure, it helps that DiNunzio is well-spoken and comfortable in front of the camera. But there’s another reason the entrepreneur embraces television as her favorite marketing tool:

"The average woman still spends four times as much time viewing television as she does online," she says.

The medium has been a natural fit for Tradesy, as well as a powerful user acquisition tool. For more on how to get your startup on television newscasts and how to decide if mobile’s the right move for your startup right now, read on for a Q&A with this female founder.

You mentioned that television has been a great PR outlet for Tradesy. It’s not often the first media format tech startups look to for coverage. What should early-stage founders know first before trying to get television media coverage? Any strategy tips for getting coverage or things to keep in mind?

TV is a really effective and often-overlooked distribution tool that's easier to access than you might think. I made my first television contacts on Twitter by hunting down the handles of consumer news segment producers and tweeting them a 140 character summary of my story idea. It took a few tries before I got my first segment, but from there forward it became easier with each appearance, because I was building up a reel of segments and legitimacy as a media personality.

The key to getting on TV is to pitch stories that are genuinely interesting or useful to that show's audience. Producers are very turned off by purely promotional segment ideas, so it's important to combine your company's messaging with something newsworthy and timely to catch their eye. Example: If you have a website that sells jewelry, don't just offer to show off your wares on the evening news -- instead, you could teach the audience how to clean their jewelry, or talk about engagement ring trends during wedding season, and find ways to plug your company that fit naturally into that narrative. Also, most news shows try to steer their lifestyle segments toward the audience of the show that precedes it, in order to keep people tuned into that channel. So if your business is about music, seek out the nightly news producer whose pieces run after "The Voice" or "American Idol". Fashion company? Aim for the post "Fashion Star" slot. Bonus: You'll get extra exposure to a relevant audience from the commercial teasers that run before you hit the air.

How would you say television coverage stacks up against print and online media in terms of accessibility for entrepreneurs? Do you think it’s harder to get? Easier? About the same? And is PR more or less useful in any way when it comes to TV? 

I think it depends on what category you're operating in, and more importantly, what type of media your target audience is consuming. Talk to your customers to find out what they read and watch, and test different channels to see what kind of results they yield. For us, TV has always been the easiest *and* the most effective PR channel, but that definitely varies depending on your business and your message.

Mobile is pretty trendy right now. It would be easy to assume that everyone needs to do it…just because. But what are good indicators that it’s a smart business move for a company that’s been predominately online-only?

Mobile engagement is growing so quickly across every category that many startups who see a tiny bit of traction on the web feel compelled to immediately pour a ton of resources into building a native app. But it's important to be conscious of how time- and cost-intensive mobile app development cycles are, and how difficult it is to nimbly deploy new features and changes to an app versus on the web. At Tradesy, we didn't move aggressively on creating a robust native app until our mobile web metrics demonstrated that there was real opportunity and a great projected ROI for that build. By that time, we had so much data and experience with our customers that we knew exactly what they would want out of a Tradesy app. Had we built it sooner, it would have required ongoing updates and changes that would have strained our resources and prevented us from growing so quickly on the web. So while it's extremely business-specific, I think that two general things to be conscious of are: 1. Do you have realistic expectations about the time and resources required mobile development, and 2. Have you carefully considered the data and assumptions that lead you to believe you need a mobile app, or are you just doing it because everybody else is?

You’re based in Los Angeles. What would you say are the advantages for a startup coming out of L.A.? If you had to convince an early stage founder to try building a company in Silicon Beach as opposed to say, the Bay Area or New York, what convincing arguments would you offer up?

LA is a fantastic city, filled with talented and dynamic people who bring a lot of unique skills to the tech world. The startup community here is incredibly collaborative and supportive, and our access to Hollywood and other LA-based media can definitely be a strong competitive advantage. We've also had a lot of success attracting talent from all over the country because people want to come live in LA -- particularly in Santa Monica, where Tradesy is based and where "Silicon Beach" got its name. I also can't go without mentioning Launchpad LA, our very own nationally-recognized accelerator that Tradesy was a part of. But to be honest, once your company starts to grow, you're likely going to spend 90% of your time in an office, and the other 10% traveling between LA, SF and NY. So what you build and how passionate you are about it is much more important than where you build it. 

Are you rushing into building an app?

lorraine-headshotAbout the blogger: Lorraine Sanders is a journalist, blogger and media consultant. She is the author of the San Francisco Chronicle Style Bytes column and writes regularly for FastCompany.com and others. She is founder of the blog Digital Style Digest and an inhabitant of the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Connect with her on Twitter @digitalstyledig or @lorrainesanders.