Jump starting a startup
When Jason Cohen, founder of Austin startup WPEngine recruited early key hire Aaron Brazell, author of WordPress Bible, he attributed this major coup to the reputation he gained from his blog A Smart Bear.
Cohen said: “Well, we got Aaron, and it’s because of this blog.”
Further, Austin startup SpareFoot, an online resource that helps people find and book self-storage units, has been able to get on the radar screen of Wall Street analysts because of their “unprecedented coverage of the self-storage industry” in their SpareFoot Storage Beat blog, Editor in Chief John Egan told me recently.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg about the power of content marketing and blogging for many of Austin’s startups, which also include successes like OneSpot, who made it on the list of the top 50 content marketing brands, alongside AppSumo and Spredfast.
But blogging and content marketing could help Austin’s startups do more than build a stellar team or reach the next level of growth – it could actually help them to jump start the whole process from the very beginning.
The Traditional Startup Route
The startup process has been shrouded by a romantic myth for years. The image is of the brilliant young founder who launches a startup after a lightbulb moment in the shower, writes a business plan on the back of a napkin, raises millions in a seed round, experiences a hockey-stick growth spurt then has a head-spinning exit.
That typical startup image is just that – an image, not based on reality. And the rare startup that follows that pattern are the (very) rare exceptions to the rule.
The more typical scenario is the methodical search for product/market fit, and several pivots before the founders get the initial product right.
WPEngine’s Cohen describes the journey as relentlessly finding enough people who not only believe the combination of feature/functions and target price point is a great idea, but who would absolutely pay the price he was asking for.
Only then did he go about building his initial service offering.
But the initial product/market fit process, the customer development process, is a tough process. It involves lots of lunch meetings, coffees, phone calls, networking, cold calls.
Is there a better way?
Joe Pulizzi at the Content Marketing Institute thinks so.
Content Marketing as Customer Development Tool
In his podcast Content, Inc., which he will soon turn into a book of the same name, Pulizzi asks in the appropriately named post How Entrepreneurs Can Conquer Goliath whether “…startups can or should focus first on content (and related audience research and development) and second on developing non-content offerings.”
He cites the example of Brian Clark, founder and CEO of Copyblogger Media. You may have heard of Copyblogger Media: they spawned such companies as StudioPress, Synthesis Web Hosting, and the Rainmaker Platform.
So what does Clark say about the startup process?
“We started first by building an audience,,,serving that audience with valuable free content revealed loads of useful insight into the problems and desires not currently met in the broader market.”
In other words, before even building a minimum viable product, Clark built a minimum viable audience. For 14 months he published tons of valuable, free content before even offering a single product for sale.
How Startups Can Use Content to Start and Grow
NextView Ventures from Boston has developed a growth guide for startups to help them use content to grow.
Called Content Marketing for Startups, the guide lays out a simple step-by-step process you can use to establish a content marketing practice for your startup.
- Develop your “minimum viable persona” and interview loyal customers, beta users or target customers to get an idea of who you’re writing for, their biggest challenges, what are they looking to achieve, and how they discover information.
- Determine your story. What is your customers’ status quo? What’s the drama surrounding their problem? And what’s the resolution?
- Set up your blog as your content hub, and make sure you: use simple, clear language, make it easy for them to subscribe, place your critical calls-to-action adjacent to each post, and link to info about your product.
- Pick your topic of focus. Get as niche-y as possible. If your niche is too big, narrow down even more. Your goal is to own a niche.
- Use an idea pipeline to record ideas whenever they strike, because it’s really hard to think of fresh ideas everyday.
- Open an editorial calendar using Google Calendar to make sure your team contributes content on a consistent basis.
- Create an outreach list of influencers who can help spread the word on your content.
These steps comprise just the first stage of the content-as-growth-hacking process laid out by the NextView guide.
The following section provides a practical playbook for executing on your content strategy.
Could We See More Austin Startups Starting With a Blog?
I like this definition of content marketing from the NextView blog: “Content marketing is just solving the same problems that your product solves through media you create and promote.”
The startup process followed by Cohen and dozens of other startup founders using Eric Ries’ lean startup approach seems to have become firmly established as the proven, methodical startup process for Austin’s tech community.
But for those founders who are more inclined to write, or are short of time, or who are just fascinated with the idea of launching a startup with a blog, beginning a new venture with a blog and a minimum viable audience could be the perfect approach.
Will we see more Austin startups using this approach?