Content marketing is becoming more and more prevalent in many industries, venture capital included. Good content marketing can be quite valuable for VCs, especially with the industry getting increasingly competitive. More and more VCs are deploying some kind of content strategy. Some firms do it extremely well while others seem to be doing it without any clear objectives.
This post covers:
A brief definition of content marketing
How content marketing can help VCs
Examples of good and bad content marketing strategies currently being used by VCs
Recommended content marketing strategies and tactics for VCs
What is Content Marketing?
To make sure we’re on the same page for the rest of this post, I wanted to briefly define content marketing.
Content marketing is a strategy for attracting, engaging and acquiring customers. It entails creating and/or curating relevant and valuable content. Value, as it pertains to content marketing, comes in two primary forms: entertainment value and educational value.
Content can come in many formats including blog posts, public speaking, Tweets, videos, books, podcasts, and more. One of the main premises behind content marketing is to deliver value to potential customers before asking for anything in return. It’s effective partly because it attracts potential customers and enables them to buy rather than to be sold.
If you want a more thorough explanation on the what, why and how of content marketing, check out my blog post here.
4 Ways Content Marketing Can Help VCs
To understand how content marketing can help VCs grow their business, let’s first consider the main responsibilities of a VC. To oversimplify, a VC’s primary responsibilities are deal sourcing, deal selection, portfolio management, and fundraising. Content marketing can help VCs with deal sourcing, portfolio management, and fundraising. The focus of this post will be on deal sourcing, but I will give mention to other aspects as well.
Venture capital is different than many businesses in that transactions are very personal and “high touch.” You can’t raise money like you can sell an app; It doesn’t happen at the click of a mouse. Whereas, say, an ecommerce company can generate inbound leads and conversions through content marketing, a VC will need in-person meetings, due diligence, relationships, etc.
However, content marketing can still help VCs like it does for many b2b service companies. Here are 4 ways:
1. Keeps Network Activated
Most VCs get a lot of their deal flow through referrals from their network. Content marketing is a great way to stay on the top of your network’s mind. They may see one of your blog posts on their LinkedIn feed or get your email newsletter in their inbox. Content that displays current interests, highlights recent accomplishments, and expertise, may make people more motivated to make introductions.
2. Provides Exposure
As discussed above, VC is probably not the type of business that generates a lot of qualified leads (i.e. deals) directly through someone searching on Google (i.e. “venture capital”, “ecommerce seed investors”, etc.), however being “out there” or even appearing higher in search could lead to more referrals.
How will founders know if they should be trying to get introduced to you? If they’ve come across your blog, or even subscribe to it, you will be fresh on their mind when they go to raise their round. Or if you appear higher in a search for, say, “ecommerce seed investors” a VC may find you and t find a way to get introduced. It could also lead to exposure to potential hires for portfolio companies or LPs.
3. Boosts Authority and Rapport
What do people see when they search for you? If a founder’s trusted advisor makes a suggestion to speak with you, he or she will most likely “google” you. Before closing a deal, founders will most certainly do some due diligence. Having content that displays expertise and passion for their space could help make that decision easier. In addition, people like to business with people they know like and trust. If you’ve been sharing your personal opinions and experiences people can get to know you from the start.
4. Leads to “Secondary” Opportunities
Content marketing can lead to interviews, press, speaking engagements, etc. If you write a lot about sales for startups, someone who’s hosting a startup sales conference may reach out to you. Secondary opportunities could lead to more exposure or quality networking opportunities or opportunities for portfolio companies (in terms of press or speaking engagements).
7 Content Marketing Strategies Currently Being Used by VCs
Here are a few examples of content strategies that VCs firms are using (some that I like and some that I don’t) with some analysis on each…
1. Brad Feld’s Venture Deals
Brad Feld’s book Venture Deals is an outstanding piece of content marketing. It’s valuable to the target audience. It’s actually become a “go-to source” on the topic of fundraising and term sheets. It probably has staying power for decades. Books are also a massive boost to authority. Anyone who’s written a book on a topic is often considered an expert. While I’m sure Brad’s Startup Communities book is great, it may not be as much help to him as a VC.
2. First Round Capital’s Holiday Video
Every year, First Round Capital puts out a funny holiday video. It definitely has entertainment value and seems to get a ton of exposure for the firm as a result. However, I’m not sure it’s the right kind of exposure. I’m not sure how the holiday card would make a founder want to accept money from First Round, how it helps existing investments, or any other aspect of First Round’s business. I think the time and money could be put to about million other better uses.
3. Foundry Group’s Conferences
Foundry Group invests within a handful of “themes.” They put on conferences like Defrag and Glue on these themes. The conferences provide value to Foundry’s by delivering content in the form of live presentations and by enabling its audience to network with each other. It helps Foundry group making it the center of those themes. They’re connectors and experts. They can get to know everyone working within those themes and when people think about those themes they will think about Foundry. This is a strategy USV could apply effectively as well. Jeff Jordan from a16z’s ecommerce market overview is another great example of this kind of content marketing. Now Jeff’s network and the startup ecosystem knows that he is interested in ecommerce and has a lot of expertise in it.
4. Steve Schlafman’s SlideShares
Steve has created some great presentations on SlideShare. His most recent, “Raising Seed Capital,” came out less than a month ago and has almost 50 thousand views. What’s great about this presentation is that it’s valuable to entrepreneurs and it has staying power. It’s a comprehensive guide to fundraising. There are many blog posts etc. about fundraising, but this one is probably one of the best and most comprehensive. As a result, it will probably be linked to, referenced, and shared for years to come. SlideShare is a great marketing channel, especially for b2b, and, in my opinion, is underutilized. As a result, Steve’s presentation really stands out.
To improve: I would 1) include a link within the slides for people to sign up for an email list (more on the power of email lists below) and 2) Make it more relevant to the types of companies RRE is looking to invest in (more on relevancy later too).
5. NY Angels’ Webinars
NY Angels hosts webinars via it’s Meetup group on entrepreneurship and financing related topics. I think this is poor content marketing for a couple reasons: 1) they’re charging entrepreneurs for the content. I understand it’s not much, and that there is value in the content they’re delivering…but content marketing is really about offering value. 2) It’s a missed opportunity for in-person engagement. It also eliminates an additional opportunity NY Angels to deliver value to it’s audience by providing them with an opportunity to network with peers.
To improve: I would give the sessions for free, in-person. I’d also bundle them up in to a Udemy course and give it away for free (more on the power of Udemy below)
6. Fred Wilson’s Blog
Fred’s blog is great because it displays expertise, adds value, shows character, highlights accomplishments without being gaudy, and is relevant to his investment interests. Somehow Fred is able to consistently write high quality posts every day. He occasionally promotes something he’s working on or makes an ask. That’s ok because 24 hours ago he delivered value, and and in another 24 hours he’ll deliver value again.
Fred’s blog doesn’t feel like “content marketing,” and he probably doesn’t think of it as content marketing, because his writing is incredibly genuine. It seems like he loves blogging and it shows in his posts. In addition, there is a large community of people who regularly provide valuable comments on each post, providing great “social proof” to Fred and even more value to readers.
Other examples of blogging done well by VCs include Chris Dixon, Mark Suster (often very detailed tactical advice), Semil Shah (deeply analyzing areas within his interests and expertise), and Paul Graham. When Paul writes (about once per month) it’s usually epic. It gets talked about for days and referenced to for years. Paul’s strategy may have a small advantage over Fred’s in that because he only writes about one post per month, it’s usually more thorough. This type of post may have more staying power. However Fred’s strategy to blog daily enables him to stay fresh in people’s mind all the time.
7. USV’s Homepage
USV recently added a “HackerNews” style content curation product to it’s homepage. I’m not sure how it helps the business objectives of a VC firm. There are so many ways to discover/share content and communicate online I’m not sure it solves a problem or delivers value to anyone. I do occasionally use it because it’s usually good content and the partners and other good folks actively comment there, but that could quickly dissolve if others find that valuable too. Seem like their time could be better spent elsewhere.
Other honorable mentions: Andreessen on Twitter (the only Twitter feed I regularly scroll through old tweets to see what I’ve missed), David Rose on Quora, 500 Startups’ conferences, First Round’s “media company” (though I think it’s a little over-kill), and Shai Goldman’s list of new/small VC funds.
8 Content Marketing Strategies for VCs
Here are the strategies and tactics I’d use for a VC firm:
1. Interview Partners and Portfolio Companies
There is probably a ton of valuable knowledge locked up in the minds of VC partners across the world. But unfortunately not everyone is good at writing, speaking, or creating content without being prompted. Sometimes if you ask someone a question they can give you a lengthy and awesome answer but when you tell them to write a blog post about it they get stuck.
Interviewing portfolio companies could also be valuable. Additionally, it could help boost the company’s SEO by linking to their website.
2. Answer Questions at Scale
The problem that education content solves is knowledge. People want to learn or have a question about something. A good way to learn about what people want to learn about is by listening to what questions they have. Good content answers those questions.
Think about the questions that entrepreneurs commonly ask and answer them at scale in the form of a blog post. Quora is great for this! Quora shows what questions people have. There is a large community of entrepreneurs on Quora only a handful of VCs that are “active.”
3. Focus on Educational Value
Content with educational value will have more impact on a VC’s target audience than content with entertainment value. Good content should always have some entertainment value and not be TOO dry, but I think it’s easy for entertainment value content to go wrong for VCs. Blogging only to announce investments in a generic way is lame. It won’t lead to exposure, engagement, perception of being helpful, or perception of expertise. At a minimum, include some commentary about why the investment was made and the analysis that took place. To avoid being too dry, make sure to be genuine, add some character, personal opinions, etc.
4. Create a Udemy Course
Udemy is an online marketplace for educational courses. Anyone can teach or take a course from anyone. Udemy has a highly engaged and growing community of students. It’s like a mini YouTube just for educational content. I often get more signups on my Udemy courses than I do views on my YouTube videos. People use Udemy to search for educational content. People may first find you based on their search for a course on fundraising or recruiting. That person may turn out to be your next investment, portfolio company hire, etc. You can learn more about Udemy here.
5. Start an Email List
A mailing list is a great way to maintain engagement with an audience and increase exposure for future content. For example, as mentioned above, a link to sign up for a mailing list within Steve’s slides would make it easy for people stay engaged and for Steve to build a stronger following. Without a CTA to sign up for a mailing list, people might just read and then browse away and forget all about Steve, even if they really enjoyed the slides.
Most people are more engaged with their email inbox than their other communication channels such as Twitter. I’d recommend adding a Mailchimp widget to the blog theme or even the firm homepage.
A mailing list could also be great for hiring…next time you’re looking for a key hire for one your portfolio companies, you will have a captive audience of relevant people who may be a fit or know someone who is. Include a link to portfolio company job openings every time you send out a blog post.
6. Reproduce Content for Multiple Networks
One of the content of content marketing is producing the actual material. Regardless of what format it is created in originally it can be reproduced in the appropriate format of given content networks. Examples of content networks include YouTube, Udemy, SlideShare, Amazon, etc. Each content network has a different audience and acts like a mini-search engine. Searches that happen within the network as opposed to Google are missed opportunities.
Some people like to write before, say speaking at a conference. Others can’t write but they can talk out loud. Answers on quora can be reformatted in to blog posts, videos, courses, etc. Blog posts can be reproduced in to Quora answers. Talks at conferences can be recorded and put on YouTube. Use VoiceBunny to get blog posts read verbally (like Fred Wilson does) and publish the audio as a Podcast. Podcasts are awesome, partly because you can engage people during the time away from their computer (i.e. mobile).
7. Write About Topics Relevant to Target Audience
If you’re trying to attract enterprise startups, write about enterprise sales tactics. If you’re trying to attract healthcare startups, write “how to pitch your healthcare startup to VCs.” If you invest in growth stage startups, write “how to prepare for an IPO.” Fred Wilson writes a lot about network effects. Foundry Group puts on conferences on topics within their themes. If you’re targeting LPs, write about money management…or even golf 😉
8. Deliver Value
The best content delivers tremendous value to audiences! Go the extra mile to produce high quality, detailed content that truly delivers value and has staying power.
Content marketing can help VCs by increasing exposure, boosting authority, and building rapport.
The best examples of content marketing done right by VCs are Fred Wilson’s blog and Brad Feld’s book Venture Deals.
The worst content marketing strategies by VCs are First Round’s holiday video and NY Angels’ paid webinars.
Create content that’s relevant to the target audience, genuine, displays expertise and accomplishments without being gaudy, and above all else…delivers value.
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