How 3 Leading Venture Capital Firms Embrace Outstanding Content Marketing — First Round Capital — Part I

Feb 02, 2016

Three years ago, I wrote a post focused in how leading Venture Capital firms used clever Content Marketing to drive more people to their respective sites. Since that post was published, the completed Marketing landscape has had incredible shifts: more companies investing in Mobile platforms, more use of visuals in Marketing campaigns, more investment in Social Media Marketing and Analytics, and many other things. So, revisiting again this post, I wanted to talk about the current perspective of leading VC firms.

In that time, I talked about Sequoia Capital, Benchmark, Greylock Ventures and Open View Venture Partners. These firms has followed a steady content strategy all these years, but there are other three firms which are hitting large home runs with every piece of content. These firms are: First Round Capital, Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz. This first piece is dedicated to the first one.

First Round Capital: Be a Founder (We’re Turning Venture Capital on Its Head)

When you enter to First Round’s site this is the message you see: Be a Founder, and when you star to navigate through it, every piece is supporting this powerful idea. Everything in the site indicates that. But let me explain why details matters for a good Content Marketing strategy.

Amazing design

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First Round Capital ‘s Power message: “We’re Turning Venture Capital on Its Head”[/caption]

As a technical person who loves Web Design, First Round’s site is one my favorite web properties of 2016, because everything on it is crafted until the minimal details. Let me explain. For example, the first things you see are the clear message they want to deliver: They want to help to entrepreneurs, providing them with a lot of resources. When I talk about resources, I’m not referring just for the money; for me: the best resources they have are two: Experience building companies and the amazing network of connections known in the firm like The Community. Then, when you do the scroll to the Companies’s section, you will see that the first companies listed are: Uber, Warby Parker, One Kings Lane and Planet Labs:

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First Round Capital featuring great success with four companies: Uber, Warby Parker, One Kings Lane & Planet Labs[/caption]

Do you think this is a coincidence? Not my friend, these slides deliver a very well defined message: Success and Diversity. They want to show to the world some of its big bets, backing great entrepreneurs which have redefining different industries.

The last piece of the puzzle is The Review, which if you read its Manifesto, is delivered with just one powerful goal in mind: To serve to current and prospective founders, and its design is focused on that:

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First Round Review[/caption]

If you see the arrows I put in the image, you will note that every of its sections (Management, Product, PR and Marketing, People and Culture, etc), has a different color, making easy the navigation among them, and besides they are calling this: Magazines, when you can read the articles grouped by a particular topic:

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First Round Magazines[/caption]

But the best part comes now.

Incredible storytelling with First Round’s Review

Design has played an important role in their Content strategy, but I think that the primary reason why people visit the site is simple: To read and enjoy the quality of every story crafted by the team. For me, this is a perfect example of laser-focused storytelling, because they understand their audience very well and make them happy with every article (at least to me). Thinking in this article, I was in my home trying to select my Top 15 Favorite stories here, and believe me: It was so hard, because all are incredibly well written and engaging. But I will try to do it right now:

  1. The Right Way to Ship Software
  2. This 90-Day Plan Turns Engineers into Remarkable Managers
  3. This Is How You Design Your Mobile App for Maximum Growth
  4. Take on Your Competition with These Lessons from Google Maps
  5. Radical Candor — The Surprising Secret to Being a Good Boss
  6. From 0 to $1B — Slack’s Founder Shares Their Epic Launch Strategy
  7. Three Moves Every Startup Founder Must Make to Build a Brand That Matters
  8. The Keys to Scaling Yourself as a Technology Leader
  9. This Advice From IDEO’s Nicole Kahn Will Transform the Way You Give Presentations
  10. Facebook’s VP of Tech Communications on Building a Bulletproof Comms Strategy
  11. Hire a Top Performer Every Time with These Interview Questions
  12. Indispensable Growth Frameworks from My Years at Facebook, Twitter and Wealthfront
  13. The Simple Rules That Could Transform How You Launch Your Product
  14. Here’s What a Real Growth Strategy Looks Like — Road Tested by Facebook and Remind
  15. The Inside Story on How SurveyMonkey Cracked the International Market

You should be wondering why all these stories resonate in everyone’s minds. It’s simple: because it’s about people talking about authentic problems they face everyday in their respective companies, but many of them have not had the right time to tell them. That’s why the Review’s Manifesto says:

We believe that there is powerful, untapped knowledge out there that can transform the way people build technology. There’s just one problem: It’s trapped in other people’s heads — people who are at the top of their fields, who rarely have time to share what they’ve learned (even when they want to). The Review is about liberating this knowledge to inspire and accelerate action. To deliver on this mission, we’ll make you three promises… 1) We’ll get out of the way and let experts speak directly to you about what they believe is most important. (That’s why we choose not to use bylines.) 2) Every article will serve up tactics that you can use today to change your company and your career. 3) We will never be boring. The stories you find on here are crafted to teach, to engage and to stick. We launched The Review to cut through the noise so that you can make an impact. We can’t wait to see what happens next.

And it seems that I’m the only one who thinks that The Review is remarkable: Joe Chernov, VP of Marketing for InsightSquared (in that time, VP of Content at HubSpot): [embed]https://youtu.be/SLIwWEDX1hM?t=1m13s[/embed] Period.

The genius behind this

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Camille Ricketts, Head of Content and Marketing at First Round Capital[/caption]

So, if you are looking for an amazing example how to deliver great content to the masses, this is how to do it. But if you are looking for inspiration, a role model to follow, you must know the genius this Content Strategy is: Camille Ricketts, who is the Head of Content and Marketing of the firm. When I began to dig deeper in how she works inside First Round to create these amazing stories, I found an awesome interview that Flipboard made to her in their Content Marketing Conversations Series. One of my favorite questions that the Flipboard’s team made to her was: How do you keep it fresh without resorting to rote formats like lists and headlines that seem optimized for fast lessons and ‘hacks’?

It’s not so much that I’m resisting doing that as that I had to put a stake in the ground and choose actively to not do that, even though it’s a proven tactic. It works. Listicles are amazingly popular. Buzzfeed has proved it. A lot of my job is just seeing that phenomenon and being like, “I’m going to do this other thing and see what works.” One thing we’ve done to differentiate ourselves is focus on long-form content. Because so much of the writing out there is very snackable and short-format, we were thinking how can we set ourselves apart in this noisy ecosystem. We thought, we’ll write longer and be much more granular and tactical so that everything we publish is somehow actionable and can probably be used by the person that day or the next day. That’s the bar we’ve set for ourselves.

I’m a big fan of long-form content too, because I think to create a long writing piece, you need to do more research, you must polish the content and review it a lot of times, so if you are actually engaged with the work, you will produce more work with more quality anytime you will do it. The Review is a perfect piece to probe this.

Lessons learned here

For me there a lot of lessons here, as Product Marketing professional and as a blogger; but there is one of them which resonate every time I visit the site:

Be Authentic and Break barriers

, and you return to the Camille’s interview, her words support me:

The first is that instead of our content coming from the company or even a content marketer at the company, we interview people who are known, proven experts at whatever it is that they’re doing, and we write the articles in such a way, without bylines, that it feels like that person is speaking to you. So that’s one thing — we feel like we’re borrowing credibility.The second thing is that we never have a very big bold (call to action) attached to any of our content. I’ve seen so many startups write a short blog post and then write at the bottom, “Do you have any of these problems? If so, you you should click here and get into our signup flow.” People aren’t going to share something that feels like an advertisement. You have to trust the halo effect of putting out something quality.

So, I will break Camille’s rules here with a pitch to you: First Round’s Review must be in your daily web browsing. Why? You will be a better professional if you apply the secrets behind their stories, and in the process, you will help to your company to become in a better organization. Period. You will thank me later for this simple but powerful advice.

Marcos Ortiz Valmaseda

Editor at The Panda Way, where I help companies to earn more income through #investing. Cloud Data Engineer in the morning at Grupo Intercorp