We are proud to be launching Totem tonight. Yes, we’re going to finally DO IT LIVE.
This process has also, I should note, given us considerably more empathy for each of our clients, and the unique challenges they face every day. It has upended many of our preconceptions, and it has forced us to reexamine many of our own PR processes. It has been an opportunity to eat our own dog food for awhile, and see how it tastes.
Of course, side projects like this would never get off the ground if we didn’t work them into our world in a way that computes — that’s straight out of the Jim Coudall playbook, and best embodied these days by the excellent folk at Zurb, of whom we are jealous. Totem is a client that has a team and a budget and weekly meetings and all the fixin’s — to me that was also one of the biggest lessons learned. An untethered skunkworks is always attractive at the outset, but intrapreneurship only happens from within, not without.
"Side project" is a bit of a misnomer, I should point out — we’ve taken Totem deadly seriously. It is full-featured. Although it is a beta, anyone can sign up at launch. It scales. It is ready to rumble from a service, support, marketing, and business development perspective. We would never do this if we weren’t going to do it right, and we intend for Totem to be around for a very long time. When we started, we weren’t sure if we’d go the distance with Totem. Early feedback and experimentation told us the pain point was real, and when it came time to check our gut, we were all-in.
I’m really proud of how scrappy we have been along the way, in hard, soft, and opportunity costs alike. We have enjoyed several distinct advantages, and just as many, if not more disadvantages. Luckily, we had time on our side — Totem has been almost 2 years in the making. Now that we’re to market, that luxury is no longer afforded us.
Each of you would have thoroughly enjoyed observing me on press pre-briefings this week, by the way — I was a nervous wreck. I’ve spoken to press, on and off the record, nearly every day for over a decade. And yet, when it came my turn to practice what I preach, it was as if I was starting from nothing, all over again. Encouragingly, the press were more enthusiastic than any of us expected. We seem to have hit a nerve. They’re really happy that someone is finally addressing a pain point that drives them bonkers on the daily.
So what is Totem, if you don’t already know?
And to be extra meta about it, here is Totem’s own totem, so you can see the product in action:
Why did we build Totem?
It’s a classic scratch your own itch startup, truth be told — when on-boarding clients we uniformly found that they had no press page, or a poor one. For a long time we helped build those pages, or offered detailed guidance and examples so clients could roll their own. We were also ways frustrated, because press pages we so often the victims of procrastination. And yet, the press, analysts, and influencers are among your earliest and most powerful audiences, whether you’re a large company or a small one. Why have the press, who we court so emphatically, been catered to so poorly, for so long?
The reality is that press pages often involve too many middlemen — designers, developers, and webmasters. And the people who understand what makes a great press page are seldom the ones building them, much less keeping them updated in real-time. We surveyed over 100 press and asked them what they really wanted, how, and where. Totem is reverse-engineered to make press happy — that’s the only goal that matters. The last thing you want to do it make it harder for someone to write about your company or product. We should always be putting our best foot forward.
If you’re an agency, Totem gives you a strategic new item to add to your services menu, and it makes for better pitches (with no attachments) and appreciative press. Showcase your clients, showcase your results, and free yourself to focus on what you do best.
Totem, is, we hope, above all else simple. Of the many things we learned along the way is exactly who hard it is to make something so simple. It is so much harder to take away than it is to add in. I have always known this intuitively, and as much was always true in the editing room back in film school. But the effect is even further magnified when it comes to software development. I hope that totem feels lightweight, and intuitive.
So yeah, you can now sign up and make a press page in :5 or less. For $99 — a one-time fee, not a monthly or yearly charge — you can upgrade to Pro, which means customizability, custom domain, and the removal or the totem logo/branding. Longer-term, we think there’s a clear roadmap of value leading to Totem 2.0 and 3.0. But right now we feel lucky to have come this far, and it’d be incredible to see traction enough to justify further investment.
For those of you who have been willing guinea pigs, you rock, and we are in your debt. You’ll be upgraded to the new version of Totem tonight, and invited to your project as collaborators, so that you can add coverage with the bookmarklet, upload new assets and make structural changes, too.
Please do help us spread the word — our goal is the make sure that everyone who should have a press page has an awesome one. We’re the press page company. Whenever you see that “Press” or “Media” tab on a website — we want to power it.
We have a lot of people to thank — starting with our friends Justin Britten of Prefinery and Flip Kromer of Infochimps, for volunteering to build the prototype in under 48 hours, under Justin’s mantra that if it a minimum viable product can’t be built in a weekend, you’re in over your head. Thanks to BJ Heinley for our brand and identity and endless encouragement. Thanks to Ben Friesen and Swingset Imagination for our beautiful new website. Thanks to Ellis Neder and Sway Design for the press page template itself, which everyone loves. Thanks to Corey Ward and Justin for everything between then and now — the other 90% of development that we never saw coming, and all the little bits of magic that make Totem feel special.
Thanks to John Robert for PM’ing this thing like a pro, and to Zach for services, support, and a million and one fires put out along the way. And of course, thanks to all of our colleagues at JDI, whose support, feedback, and elbow grease got us this far. I ultimately had very little to do with executing Totem myself — I think that’s a testament to the team we’ve built.