We’re an industry that loves disruption and let’s face it: most of disruption is about leveling the playing field. That’s what Launch.it – the first free self-publishing platform for PR agencies, brands and startups to launch and socialize everything new – is about, and all things considered, it seems to be a major focus for President and co-founder Trace Cohen, for whom this is his third startup.
For Cohen, entrepreneurship started in college (Syracuse), where and when he launched Brand Yourself, a reputation management platform which he co-founded in 2008 with Pete Kistler, his college roommate who found that he couldn’t get a job because when any potential employer Googled his name, what would pop up first in the search was another Pete Kistler, who happened to have a criminal record.
Yeah, that’ll do it. Not that Trace Cohen is the only Trace Cohen, either, mind you, although the other one whom he found isn’t a criminal. Or even male.
BrandYourself raised $1.5 Million and is still going strong, but Cohen decided to leave the company (and Syracuse) to move back to his native New York City to co-found iFluencePR with his dad, Brian Cohen, Chairman of the New York Angels. The two worked together doing strategic PR for tech startups, while laying the groundwork for Launch.it.
There are those people for whom entrepreneurship is the blood. In Trace Cohen’s case, it may well be in his DNA. After all:
- His parents cofounded the largest tech PR firm in the industry (Technology Solutions, Inc, which was acquired by IPG)
- He was named after a supercomputer
- One of the rules in the Cohen house is that you must launch your first startup by the time you’re 26
As is the tendency towards disruptions.
“There’s no new tech in PR,” said Cohen. “It’s still company-PR person-media. The media is being disintermediated and trying to figure out how to stay relevant. Brian has always wanted to disrupt the PR space. Or at least make it more efficient.”
Which is Launch.it’s focus.
“We are building the largest searchable database for everything new,” Cohen explained. “If you’re looking for something new, where do you go? Crunchbase? It’s only for tech startups. If you’re looking for the latest news on, say, Louis Vuitton shoes, where do you go? That’s what we’re building.”
“Why do you put things on Pinterest? Or Google? That’s where people are. We’re focusing on events,” he continued.
Which might seem an odd choice, at first glance.
“Why do people rob banks?” he continued. “That’s where the money is. Why do people go to events? That’s where the news is. They want to find out what’s new. It’s a really interesting anomaly, especially from a PR communications perspective. It’s the one time of the year when an entire community is focused on this one event, to find out what’s new – and to do business. Otherwise, PR is really just yelling to a room or posting something and hoping that you get coverage, or that people will read it at the right time, and care.”
While Launch.it’s focus was always on company news, the Cohens pivoted to the event space with CE Week NY – Consumer Electronics Week – a few months after launching, which is the stalwart NYC show in June for the much bigger Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“You have 150 companies (at CE Week) and there’s no way to find their news online. I want all of their PR brochures, their sell sheets, rich media – all in one central location. You send one link to the media, one link to all attendees so that they can get all of the information.”
It worked so well that they were brought in to service CES and that show’s 20,000 announcements from its 3200 exhibitors.
“We got 75% of the companies to publish their news through our CE Week Digital Media Center. The press loved it, too – it was searchable, it was visual – and you could find what you wanted. Why should there be friction between companies who have news and the press who want to cover it – and the readers who want to find out about it?”
So CES was their first show partner, with Eureka Park, the startup section of CES.
“Our focus has always been supporting startups,” said Cohen. “Tech, medical, whatever. You can’t meet everyone at a show that has, say 500 exhibitors. And our news never gets taken down, so if you missed a company, the news is always there online. We want to turn shows into 365 publications, where there’s always engagement and they’re not just there for a moment in time. “
The strategy must be working. After their trial run, CES signed on for a second year, and has been a partner ever since.
Not that Launch.it’s focus is purely tech.
“It’s construction and earth moving equipment.” Cohen explained. “They need heavy equipment just to move in the heavy equipment. There’s a show for everything.”
And it’s not like Launch.it has to move heaven and earth to get it all done.
“It’s all self-publishing – we don’t produce any news,” said Cohen. “I’m not in publishing. I’m in the container business. We build digital boxes for shows and their exhibitors to put the content in. They publish it themselves.”
Which is also making the planet greener, considering all of those show dailies, sales materials and brochures that have all been moved online, thanks to the Launch.it platform.
“Once it’s online, you can add to newsletters, share across social networks, it’s greener, you can monetize with sponsorship, advertisements, and it never gets taken down – unless you want to take it down and no one has ever taken it down yet, or asked for it to be taken down.”
Anyone can launch – which is part of the power of the platform, which levels the playing field.
“PR agencies also using it to publish news about their clients,” said Cohen. “Newswires send news out, but why send it out when everyone’s already at the show looking for the news. All they need is the link to the branded show media center.”
There’s more news coming soon, which will be announced on Launch.it, of course, but back to the directive about having to have a startup by 26, if you’re one of Brian Cohen’s progeny.
“He wants us to have startup experience and you have more of an opportunity to make mistakes and startup or fail, when you start early,” Trace explains. “He invests in them all.”
Trace’s brother, Maxwell, is launching A Fresh Sheet, the world’s first and only fitted sheet with seven soft, comfortable, peel away, disposable (and biodegradable) layers. Perfect for college students, and yes, that is Maxwell himself in the video.
And sister Nikki is working on bonvoyaging, for people who want to travel and be well traveled. In other words, it’s a travel planning site for the well-heeled traveler with discerning tastes, who enjoys finding curated events, off the beaten track.
This is family where the entrepreneurship seems to literally be in the blood and you just don’t know what they’ll come up with next. One thing’s for sure: no matter what it is, no doubt you’ll hear about it first on Launch.it.