How to launch a business the right way | Semafor logo
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How do you launch a business the right way? At the beginning of October 2022, the planned and long-awaited launch month for Semafor, a new global news platform, the official website was receiving 40,000 visitors a month, based on September 2022 figures. This was more than three weeks before its official launch.

The global digital news startup’s Twitter account was already verified and had more than 14,000 followers. Its other social media accounts were also gaining traction.

At the same time, the company had already received coverage from the New York Times, Financial Times, Press Gazette, The Guardian, Economic Times, and Nieman Lab, among other leading publications.

One major reason for such extensive coverage is the profile of the founders. Both co-founders have extensive experience and far-reaching networks with leading media houses, with co-founder and CEO Justin B. Smith formerly of Bloomberg Media, Atlantic Media, and The Economist Group.

Similarly, Semafor co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith is a former New York Times media columnist, as well as stints at BuzzFeed News, Politico, and the New York Daily News, among other outlets.

Even so, the fact that Semafor raised a $25 million pre-launch round didn’t hurt, especially considering its backers. This alone would certainly have brought along significant coverage compared to your ordinary new startup.

How to launch a business the right way

All the above are advantages that most new businesses don’t have. However, the Semafor team has shown how preparation, resources, experience, and more can be utilized to build a winning startup from the outset.

Below are six lessons from the Semafor team that every would-be startup founder should take away.

1. Build anticipation

How to launch a business the right way | Semaform article format

Ahead of your official launch, you’d do well to allow the public, and potential clients, a sneak peek into your upcoming business. This is essential in making sure people have an idea of what unique offering they should expect from you, and how this will impact their lives. 

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Semafor did this brilliantly. Months before its October 2022 launch, Semafor executives held interviews with other news organizations, continuously fed the public information on their progress, and essentially kept the young media house in global media industry conversations.

The company even did some exclusive news reports ahead of launch, which were published as blog posts on Medium. This ensured the news startup hit the ground running, a huge advantage compared to businesses launched “out of the blue” as far as its intended customers are concerned.

The good news is that you can do this by yourself, but where possible, we recommend working with an expert consultant or agency to shape your activation and go-to-market strategy. 

2. Mobilize your resources

What resources do you need to ensure a successful business launch? Once you figure these resources out, it is advised that you go find them and make sure to put them in place ahead of D-day. Whatever you need will vary depending on your business, the niche, and your financial capabilities.

For a nascent global news media startup, the answer is plenty. Semafor needed an audience so their initial coverage didn’t go to waste. They also needed a team of reports, a reliable content management system, and sufficient funds.

All of these resources, and a lot more, were steadily put together long before launching. Semafor has raised about $25 million from leading institutional investors such as 3G Capital and individual investors like Sam Bankman-Fried. Among other things, the funding allowed Semafor to put together a roster of A-list reporters and other essential personnel.

3. Hire the right team

Unless you are launching as a one-man show, the quality and composition of your team must be determined in good time. Definitely ahead of the launch date.

Hiring the right team is a hallmark of every successful business enterprise, as they meet deadlines, make sales, and contribute towards building the brand via positive customer interactions.

According to the Financial Times, Semafor has hired a roster of well-experienced, tried-and-tested staff from leading publications around the world. These include former employees of the Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, and the Washington Post among others.

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4. Niche it down and target the market well

How to launch a business the right way | Semafor homepage

Starting a business takes some really hard work, which starts even before the launch. One of the most integral decisions you’ll make is on deciding the scope of the market to serve.

According to Inc.com, niching down is an entrepreneur’s best chance of success because it allows one to identify their strengths and weaknesses. However, niching down also lets you address the unique needs of your customers more accurately.

At first thought, there’s not much niching down for a news startup billing itself as the “global news platform for breaking stories.” That is the eventual goal, however, with Semafor only covering select regions at launch.

With plans afoot to enter new markets, later on, Semafor can build itself up more controllably, put the right systems and processes in place, and develop a desirable brand prior to future expansion to cover the entire globe.

5. Figure out your business essentials

Your business essentials include all of the important elements that contribute to the success or failure of the enterprise and usually vary depending on the business. They are very central to everything a business does or achieves.

To launch your new enterprise the right way, you must determine and put your business essentials in place well ahead of launch.

For Semafor, this included finding the finances to run operations. According to the founders, the news startup has enough finances for its first two years of operations.

How to launch a business the right way; Semafor proposition

However, Semafor also needed reporters, non-reporting staff, and other resources integral to its business.

For instance, the company used nearly ten months between January 2022 and its October launch to put in put a few newsletters, build a social media following, create industry buzz, and decide on the company name among others. 

6. Lean on your network

Both Justin B. Smith and Ben Smith, the Semafor co-founders, have been working in the media business for decades. That comes with years of building relationships, learning the who’s who in various industries, and learning the tenets of the business.

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It also gave them an enviable network that was instrumental in the successful launch of Semafor. From reaching potential investors, having close contact with high-caliber potential hires, and even reaching out to major news houses to cover their young businesses, the Smiths have demonstrated how best to rely on one’s network when launching a new business.

While not everyone has access to a similar network, it does not mean the people in yours cannot contribute to your launch. Whether you need a blogger or content marketer, a business formation specialist, or a graphic designer, you can and should lean on your network ahead of launch.

For instance, while there is a clamor for no-code website creation tools, your business may be better off if you worked with your web designer friend to create a custom solution. Or rely on your very sociable friend to initiate your word-of-mouth marketing.

Conclusion – How to launch right

Semafor officially launched on Monday, October 24, 2022. While it had a few super stories to kick things off, the event itself was news in and of itself. Semafor co-founder and editor-in-chief Ben Smith and the paper’s editor Gina Chua held an interview with Reuters on the day of the launch, shining further light on an already well-publicized event.

Of course, your pre-launch business will likely not receive as much coverage as Semafor has, but you should endeavor to create a buzz around it before opening the doors. You can achieve this in various ways: some people have adopted the “building in public” mentality. Others excel at pre-orders for product businesses, waiting lists, and even pre-launch email subscriptions.

However you do it, getting people talking about your budding enterprise is critical to your success. Remember that there’s no such thing as too much publicity when starting your business. The Semafor launch proved as much. 

About the author

Vani has a keen interest in investments, entrepreneurship, and small businesses.

Vani Ongaya

Vani has a keen interest in investments, entrepreneurship, and small businesses.