Entrepreneur Media’s Kara Ohngren talks startups, PR, and journalism



Posted: In: Blogs Interviews

In the words of my dear friend and founder of Astrsk PR, Elliot Tomaeno: “This is the future, and we’re living in it. So deal with it.”

This was his [indignant yet charming] response to a discussion we recently had as to how technology has changed the communications landscape, for better or worse. PR pros, companies, and journalists alike have their roles to play in this rapidly moving, information overloaded, content rich world.

Entrepreneurs, on the one hand, must understand how technology can either catapult or kill their business – faster than ever. On the other hand, PR pros are required to make rapid changes so that emerging communications tactics and modes, driven by technology, not beat them at their own game and render them obsolete.

But journalists, oh journalists, they sit squarely in the middle. They have the power to facilitate or fan the flame of “catapult” or “kill”; likewise, they [often] make the rules around which technological communications advancements will be embraced, and which will die a slow miserable death.

Case and point: telephones. I’m sorry, no, phones. Actually, what I mean is smartphones, and more specifically iPhones.

These devices are not to be used for calling a journalist. Don’t do it, unless of course you know them relatively well. Even then, it’s a dicey proposition. “I prefer text or email” is a common battle cry.

Don’t Facebook them. Don’t Tweet them pitches. God no. Only Connect with them on LinkedIn if you’ve shared a handshake, a mutual event, or a conversation. Email them, but make it personal. But not too personal because then you seem fake-ish. And no one likes a fake. Especially a fake who’s acting like a fake. It’s like journalist “Inception.”

Jesus Christ it’s like trying to get a UN treaty passed just to get to them.

But I get it, I do. These folks have a unique job. They must field (on a daily basis) thousands of pieces of information coming at them from every possible angle; then, in the midst of the “info chaos”, find the creative space to think about all these things and string them together into one linear piece of digestible content. That’s a lot of pressure, and it takes an extreme amount of discernment.

The best ones are hard to get to by design. We must respect that. But the best ones are also passionate about the stories and the people they put on display for the world to see. Because when a journalist tells a story in a compelling, thought-provoking way the outcome far exceeds any dumb sales or advertising tactic aimed at a customer.

Enter: Kara Ohngren, Entrepreneur Media. She’s been an amazing advocate for startups over the past several years and is one of the best. My personal appreciation to her runs deep…and I am grateful for journalists like her because they are an integral part of the public discourse in our startup-crazy, tech-saturated world.

What excites you about covering startups and the entrepreneurs who build them?

Kara Ohngren: Startups are the future. Never has there been a more exciting time to be an entrepreneur. There are so many resources and tools available to help people launch and grow businesses and a real culture has emerged around the startup scene. It’s thrilling to write about people who refuse to take the conventional career path, but rather insist on embarking on their own to create something innovative. I never get tired of hearing about entrepreneur’s unrelenting passion and persistence to make their dreams come true!

Who are some of the most interesting entrepreneurs/companies you’ve covered over the past year?

KO: I’ve had the privilege of covering some really cool up and coming startups this past year. Everyone has a unique story, but a few that stick out in my mind are:

SpiritHoods – A Los Angeles-based faux-fur accessories maker inspired by festival culture and endangered species.

Social Toaster  an online marketing service that snagged $2 million in funding by sticking close to home.

Modify Watches –  a hip young startup that’s bringing back the wristwatch and making it relevant in the tech age with interchangeable styles and quirky designs.

Krochet Kids International – an Orange County, Calif.-based social venture that teaches crocheting to women in the developing world — and then helps them sell their wares in the U.S.

What makes for a great story? In other words, what elements do you look for when crafting a feature?

KO: There are many elements that come together to make a great story. The startups I cover have more to offer than just an innovative product or service. They have to prove through revenue, funding, or growth rates that they have a viable business model in place. Also, every story needs to offer specific takeaways for the reader. In other words, the startups I cover all have stories that other entrepreneurs can directly learn from. I always ask entrepreneurs to share their specific challenges and how they managed to overcome them. Success stories are great, but it’s in the setbacks where the real lessons lie.

It also never hurts when a startup has a relevant link to current events, or exemplifies an emerging small-business trend.

As a writer, who inspires you? Who or what do you look to for inspiration?

KO: I draw inspiration from everywhere – the news, social media, PR reps, email pitches, issues my friends are chatting about. I like to attend startup events and chat with entrepreneurs in the trenches to hear about their specific pain points and triumphs.

How are the entrepreneurs of today different from those of 10, 15, and 20 years ago? How have things changed?

KO: Technology has changed everything. Entrepreneurs today have the world at their fingertips. Now a guy running a tech startup out of his basement can compete with the major corporate players.

It’s also exciting to see colleges across the country embrace entrepreneurship. It wasn’t long ago that students didn’t even know owning their own business after college was a viable option. Now many schools offer entrepreneurship courses, startup programs and funding opportunities.

Any parting thoughts?

KO: It’s truly a pleasure to cover all of these exciting new startups. I’m inspired everyday by the passion and drive of entrepreneurs who grow something spectacular from nothing. The hustle necessary to run a successful business is rare, and something that every entrepreneur should be incredibly proud of.


Follow Kara on Twitter @KaraOhngren

Check out some of Kara’s articles on Entrepreneur.com: http://www.entrepreneur.com/author/2

Kara Ohngren About Kara Ohngren

Kara Ohngren is a writer and editor at Entrepreneur.com and YoungEntrepreneur.com. Specializing in social media, she launched Entrepreneur’s Twitter and Facebook profiles and helped both take off. Her work has appeared in publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, The New York TimesMSNBCThe Huffington Post and Business Insider. She’s also worked at daily newspapers, trade magazines and a host of online publications.