Missoula Notebook: Trusted startup advice not successfully followed, and it’s my fault

Martin Kidston

And it goes a little something like this.

I launched the Missoula Current less than 23 months ago, and over that time I’ve learned a good deal about building a media company from the ground up, and doing it on a bootstrap budget.

First rule: Stay true to the original cause, even when distractions are abundant. Second rule: Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are. Third rule: Work hard and stay honest. Fourth rule: Ignore the naysayers. Fifth and final rule: Listen to the advice of others who know more than you do.

Reflecting on the Missoula Current’s past year, one of tremendous growth and progress, I’ve considered those five principles, though the last one remains elusive. Missoula’s business mentors have been consistent with their constructive criticism, saying I need to brag a little more – I need to tell the world what we’re doing to move the dial in Montana’s media landscape.

Sure, we’re not the biggest media fish in Lake Missoula – we all know where that title lies and where its funding comes from. But if we’re going to stick with this silly metaphor, then I should say we swim pretty fast and bite above our weight, if we really bite at all. We don’t chase the shiny lure to artificially drive up page views. We don’t eat worms when there’s nothing else to report on.

I doubt the constructive critics had such metaphors in mind when they encouraged us to self promote. One local leader in Missoula’s startup scene who comes from the East Coast once told me that Montanans, and Westerners in general, are terrible at talking about themselves, and even worse when it comes to self-promotion.

In thinking about it, he’s right. Other than an occasional announcement, I’ve done little over the last year to promote the Missoula Current and its rising success. I’ve said little about how our audience is five times larger than it was last year, or how we frequently have stories days ahead of the competition – if they have the stories at all.

I haven’t mentioned how our team of reporters this week have a combined 80 years of experience, never mind there are only three of us. Or how our director of development has a business degree and has worked as a successful female entrepreneur for more than a decade.

I’ve hardly mentioned the large and laborious redesign we completed this summer in partnership with Cedar Mountain Software, the new features we included, or how we plan to use them as we grow our resources.

Little has been said about our solid list of community partners who, without their advertising support, I’d be searching for jobs down on Third Street, just like I was after leaving the Marine Corps back in the 1990s. The growing number of readers who contribute with a voluntary subscription each month – they don’t get enough credit.

It’s that support that makes our reporting possible.

And I may have forgotten to mention our morning products like Montana Today and Missoula Business Weekly. Or our YouTube channel. Or our live-streaming videos. Or the jobs we’re posting on our site with the Missoula Job Service. Or what we plan to do next year as we overcome some hardware limitations.

Bad self-promotion? I suppose my trusted business sage was right, though there must be a fine line between promotion and pulling a Sharpie from your sock after scoring a touchdown. Maybe I’ll carry a pencil in my winter cap and start with that, hoping the lead doesn’t break as we tout our success and thank all the people who have brought us this far with their support, encouragement and advice.

Oh, and if you’re inclined, consider a monthly subscription, call for advertising, and like us on Facebook. How’s that for promotion? Not too slick, I know, but we’re still riding the learning curve into our second anniversary.

It’s Dec. 28, in case you were wondering.

Martin Kidston is a University of Montana graduate and the founding editor of Missoula Current. He served six years in the Marine Corps and spent 17 years with Lee Enterprises reporting for the Missoulian, the Billings Gazette and the Helena Independent Record.