Silicon Hills News owner and editor-in-chief Laura Lorek recommends that San Antonio and Austin cooperate more closely. A focus on the value that technology holds for people’s lives and businesses sets Silicon Hills News apart.
There are not many tech reporters who can match the deep understanding that Laura has of the tech industry of Austin and San Antonio. Laura founded Silicon Hills News in 2011 and since then her independent outlet has brought in-depth stories on the industry, covered the daily technology news and produced original podcasts. Among the many events Silicon Hills News organizes on top of that, are ContentATX, a day long conference on storytelling, and a very popular annual Tech Calendar Party.
Laura is clearly in a position to connect the dots on a great many questions pertaining to Austin’s tech scene and media landscape, and those happen to be the main topics of a talk I recently had with her.
Connecting Austin with San Antonio
Jo: Not many people know the Austin and San Antonio start-up ecosystems as well as you do. What can they learn from each other?
Laura: I would not say that it is that much about one learning from the other. They need to cooperate and collaborate more. San Antonio has everything it needs to succeed as a tech hub. And it is an emerging tech hub. Austin is already succeeding. Together, they are stronger.
So what both Austin and San Antonio need to do first and foremost is work together, create a regional council and talk – as a matter of high priority – about how transportation issues between both cities can be alleviated.
Austin has grown so much in the last decades. The building in which we are having this conversation did not exist three years ago [she is referring to the Northshore Austin building at Nueces Street, Jo] But you know, Austin would have grow even faster and would have been better equipped for the next growth spurt had more resources been invested in public transportation back in the eighties. A high-speed rail line connecting the city with San Antonio would have been one option that would have made a huge difference.
For an example of where that is working regionally, look at Florida’s Brightline express passenger trains that connect West Palm Beach with Miami. It takes them about 30 minutes to connect two locations at a distance comparable to the one between Austin and San Antonio. This has benefited the entire region economically.
In Austin, Google is getting ready to occupy two giant skyscrapers. Will they find all the talent they are looking for in Austin? Imagine them being able to tap the San Antonio pool of workers. In the meantime, San Antonio’s HEB is running shuttle busses between its HQ and its new Digital Tech Hub, which houses Favor, the delivery service company it acquired in 2018. Rackspace has shuttle busses that need to help bring its workers in. Solving the transportation issue between Austin and San Antonio through public means at a greater scale will unlock tremendous additional growth for both cities.
Storytellers for Houston
Jo: Allow me to inject Houston in the conversation. Houston has been aspiring to become a tech hub in its own right for quite some time now. What cautionary tale does Austin have to share with Houston?
Laura: For Houston to succeed in putting itself on the map, it will have to move more money that it now being invested in legacy industries, oil and gas to name just one, in new tech. This shift is already under way to some degree through the investments made by the Mercury Fund and VC Aziz Gilani, but Houston will need more funds.
Also, Houston needs storytellers. Not everybody has always given Silicon Hills News proper credit for this, but back in 2011, Silicon Hills News was the only independent news outlet in town interviewing the start-up entrepreneurs and telling their stories. Did you know that Mountainview, CA is after Austin the region from which our website gets the most visitors? We have more views from Houston than we have from San Antonio by the way, which is funny and interesting at the same time. So Houston also needs a proper tech media ecosystem that reports on the companies and amplifies their stories.
Not about the technology
Jo: What is your unique selling proposition today? What sets Silicon Hills News apart?
Laura: I am not an influencer. I am not easily swayed by whatever trend is hot at the moment. I think that what sets me apart is that I don’t write bullshit. I love technology and I love to report on it, but I have grown more skeptical in the last few years about some of the ethical and other challenges that technology is presenting us with, but the thing is… it is not about technology.
What matters are the benefits that technology brings to people’s lives and businesses. So we look for that value in our reporting. And we have experience, we are knowledgable. Of course, I do not cover everything anymore. I just can’t, this city has become too big and there is too much going on. So I admit that on occasion a story that really deserves to be told falls through the cracks.
People have a tremendous appetite for good content, but are not willing to pay for it.
The media industry is suffering from people having a tremendous appetite for good content but not willing to pay for it. Reporters at The Statesman and The Austin Business Journal feel the pinch as well. Everybody is overstretched.
Jo: How are tech companies and the PR consultants that serve them doing in reaching out to you? Are you satisfied with the professionalism of the tech communicators?
Laura: People do a professional job.
Jo: Do you see a cultural difference in how certain foreign entrepreneurs reach out to you?
Laura: No, not really. But talking about foreign entrepreneurs, Austin has over the last ten years not only grown but become far more international. I receive a lot of news from Irish, Australian, British and since late also Japanse companies, and the trade representatives have become very active in engaging with me as well.
A “minimum viable story”
Jo: What would be the most important advice you could give start-up entrepreneurs asking themselves how to best tell their story?
Laura: I guess it would be to not tell their story in the media too early. It is very normal for start-ups to pivot, sometimes even more than once. If you put it all out there at the start, you will most likely have to pivot that story afterwards. Entrepreneurs sometimes ask me if they can have an old story deleted that no longer fits who they are, but it does not work that way of course. These old stories are now part of the public record. Companies need to own their past journey.
Jo: Once could say that start-up entrepreneurs need a “minimum viable story” just like they need a “minimum viable product.”
Laura: You can and should already publish content on your own channels. So go ahead and chronicle your entrepreneurial journey. Through your blog, your newsletter, your Facebook Live sessions and whatever channels work for you, you will have crafted your narrative one step at a time, allowing you to have your origin story and your product messages completely ready by the time you do reach out to the media. You will also – not less important – have built a first core community of fans and customers. And when you do contact the media, have some professional headshots ready.
Podcasts for storytelling
Jo: You run a podcast, From Ideas to Invoices. How important is this podcast to you?
Laura: Podcasts are such great channels for storytelling. This is really a way people increasingly enjoy consuming content nowadays, so there is definitely a market out there for well produced podcasts. I am actually considering launching a new podcast. Ideas to Invoices follows a template where in each episode I interview an entrepreneur about how he or she built their company. For this new podcast series, I consider taking a more thematic approach where an episode could cover Artificial Intelligence and robotics for example and I could then talk to different people as part of that one story.
Jo: A lot of companies are still trying to figure out what to do with podcasting. There was a story on this in The Wall Street Journal in March that made abundantly clear to me that corporate America has not yet figured out this medium one hundred percent. Are there any local corporate podcasts that you would consider great examples of how it should be done?
Laura: Let me think. [Hesitates] There are not too many Austin companies podcasting. I think CognitiveScale does a great job with their AIGrind podcast and Stacey Higginbotham is a journalist who runs a great podcast on IoT.
Did you enjoy this interview with Laura Lorek?
You might also like my interview with Angelos Angelou where he talks about why European start-up companies would do well to move to the United States as soon as their product or service is ready.