HUBgrown: Q&A with Kyle Alspach, Streetwise Media

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Well-known Boston tech reporter Kyle Alspach shares how he began covering the city’s tech scene, tips for startups pitching their stories and why having a tech community that becomes overly obsessed with consumers can actually be a bad thing.

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HB: How and why did you first become a tech reporter? What do you like about covering tech?

KA: I didn’t start out with any plan or aspiration to become a tech reporter. Originally I was hired by the Boston Business Journal to primarily cover cleantech. That exposed me to the world of startups, VC, IPOs, and the like, and so when BBJ had opening to cover tech startups, they asked me.

A big part of the appeal for me was (and is) the fact that there is basically an endless number of things to write about. One definition of newswriting might be “writing about things that are changing,” and tech is fundamentally about change, so there’s never a shortage of interesting stories.

HB: Boston is crawling with entrepreneurs. When they pitch you stories, what are you most often looking for? What mistakes do they most often make?

KA: In a broad sense, I’m looking for stories that will be read by a large number of our readers. That might sound obvious, but honestly I think a lot of companies don’t actually stop to think about that before pitching. They have their goals in pitching us, of course, but it’s only when we can find a shared interest that a story actually gets written—that is, when their news is something we believe will be read by and valued by a lot of people. A frequent mistake that entrepreneurs make is not recognizing this dynamic before they pitch.

HB: How can Boston’s entrepreneurs set themselves apart from other startups in the city?

KA: The easiest way for an entrepreneur to set themselves apart to us is to be connected to some person or institution we already know about. If they are brand new and don’t have those sort of connections, that doesn’t rule them out for coverage, but they just will have to be a bit more savvy in getting our attention. A quick email from a founder explaining clearly what makes their startup unique and important, and offering us a chance to be the first to write about the startup, can often do the trick.

HB: Streetwise is quickly expanding. In addition to Boston, you’re in DC, Chicago and have planned launches in mid-2015 in several other cities. What can Boston learn from some of these other startup hubs?

KA: First off, I think Boston can learn that its place in the Top 3 tech hubs in the U.S. is by no means secure. Chicago and DC are rising fast. I also look at cities and it strikes me how much it really benefits a smaller tech community to have big-name consumer tech companies, which are Groupon and GrubHub, in the case of Chicago. Boston is starting to get there with Wayfair, but we could really use some more like that, for so many reasons.

HB: BostInno recently ran its Tech Madness competition to uncover which Boston tech company will have the greatest impact five years from now. If this was a national Tech Madness bracket, how far do you think a Boston startup would make it in the competition?

KA: It would probably depend on what the constraints for the contest were. If it was strictly limited to “startups,” I think Boston could have a few contenders for making it pretty far—DraftKings, Drizly, RunKeeper all have national profiles. But if you included unicorn companies and public companies, Boston might be in tough shape, because we don’t have nearly as many high-profile national examples there as the Valley.

HB: Boston has a lack of consumer startups. Is that a good or bad thing? Does it matter?

KA: I think it would be terrific if we had more consumer startups. It would do a lot to boost our national standing if we produced more big-name consumer companies, as I mentioned. On the other hand, if we were to produce zero consumer startups from here on but were able to keep producing more HubSpots and Veracodes and SimpliVitys, then it wouldn’t be the end of the world. We would still be a tech mecca.

There’s also an argument to be made that, while they’re cool to have, consumer companies rarely solve our world’s hardest and most pressing problems. So in a sense, having a tech community that becomes overly obsessed with consumer can actually be a bad thing. It’s nice that Boston values companies who aren’t especially sexy but are solving hard problems.

For more information about Kyle Alspach, check out his latest work on BostInno.

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