Content marketing is one of the most effective ways to let people know you exist. Companies that get content marketing right from the start tend to see higher rates of success due to the ratio of attention versus how much time it took to get that attention. For example, you can write a blog post in a day but it takes weeks of prep work and a lot of money to attend an event.
As a founder, you’re expected to have thoughts, opinions, and perspectives on the technology you’re creating and the industry you’re operating within. Sharing these thoughts publicly will jumpstart brand recognition for yourself and your company. The goal in the first 18 months of company formation is to use content marketing to build traffic to your website.
OCV Content Program Weekly Content Workshop OCV Content Support ScopeHiring writers, editors, agencies, and content marketers Early competitive marketing strategies How to create competitive contentWriting interesting content Common storytelling anglesBuilding in PublicThe Startup JourneyTake a StanceBlog post images and mediaStock photos Optimizing blog post titles Title examplesContent distributionCross-postingLink sharing on forums Contributed articles and earned media
Benefits of early, founder-driven content marketing:
- Building awareness, traffic, and trust. Publishing original content is a cost-effective way to build awareness, traffic, and trust for your brand. Sharing interesting content early on will build an audience for your company, so when you are ready to acquire new users, you have an audience base to market your product to.
- Early messaging and positioning feedback loops. The first year or so of building a new company is an incubation period. Growth and success are accelerated the faster you can iterate on feedback. Writing about features, functionality, and your overall vision for the company is a low-cost way to gather input and reactions to the company's direction.
- Improved communication skills. As a leader, you need to articulate your thoughts clearly and be able to explain the why behind decisions. Writing is a way to practice and hone in on your particular style. In addition to positioning yourself as a thought leader, you will be better equipped to communicate with your employees when you’ve practiced and refined your message.
Founders are expected to drive content marketing efforts in the early stages of company formation. Content marketing success is the north star for newly formed companies, and internal efforts should reflect the importance of content marketing goals.
OCV’s content marketing program, founder expectations, and processes will be reviewed during the Content Marketing Founder Onboarding Session in the first two weeks of company incorporation. You can always request additional with OCV’s Head of Content to review blog post ideas, titles, distribution channels, etc. 📅 Schedule a consultation with OCV’s Head of Content.
By the first meeting with OCV’s General Partner, founders should have at least 4 blog post ideas and title suggestions. OCV will assist newly formed companies in setting up their content marketing program within the first week of company incorporation, including sourcing or reviewing writing applicants.
It is the founder’s responsibility to drive content creation efforts. OCV founders are expected to create weekly content for their company blog. Don’t wait until you have a writer to start.
OCV’s Head of Content holds two 50-minute open workshop sessions a week. The content workshop is designed as drop-in office hours. OCV doesn’t set an agenda for these meetings. This time is for founders to workshop blog post titles, and ask questions about content creation and strategy, or any related topic.
Founders can join as frequently or infrequently as needed. It is recommended that new founders join one bi-weekly session to workshop their bi-weekly blog post titles. You’re welcome to join as many sessions as you’d like. Feel free to drop in and listen.
Use the OCV Content Workshop Agenda to sign up for a title workshop session and add your questions.
Blog Title Workshop Requirements
- Include at least two signal words
- Include a post description or main point of the article
OCV’s content team will assist new companies as consultants. We will facilitate introductions, review contracts, and help manage the initial onboarding process for new writers. OCV does not write or create content for portfolio companies.
OCV will assist with:
- Sourcing a writer, agency, or a FTE content marketer.
- Reviewing contracts and rates for writers, agencies, and FTE.
- Content strategy: messaging, topics, distribution.
- Brainstorming and workshopping blog post titles.
- Review the first two article drafts from a new writer and provide feedback.
- Give feedback on marketing copy, subject to the team’s availability.
Founders can hire a contract writer, an agency, or a full-time content marketer. OCV founders can access the OCV Content Creators Network by requesting access using their company email address. Only requests from company email addresses will be approved.
When working with writers, it's important to establish clear expectations and communication channels. Here are some tips:
- Provide a clear brief: Make sure the writer understands the topic, target audience, tone, and any other relevant details.
- Set deadlines: Be clear about when you need the content and when revisions are due.
- Provide feedback: Review drafts promptly and provide constructive feedback to help the writer improve.
- Be open to collaboration: The writer may have ideas or suggestions that could improve the content.
- Pay fairly: Agree on a fair rate for the work and pay the writer promptly.
It's also important to establish clear ownership of the content. Make sure to agree on who owns the rights to the content and how it can be used. If you plan to publish the content under your name, establish this upfront with the writer.
Most contractors assign all copyright to the company they are contracted by. This means you are free to use, modify, and share the content in way you choose. We highly suggest you have the contract writers ghostwrite for you and publish under your name. This will help position you as a thought leader. The default OCV contract stipulates that content will be published under the founder's name.
Startups are underdogs—the odds of success are not in your favor and you are competing with large, established companies. Getting early attention and awareness is key to the company’s success. Creating competitive content that picks on the weaknesses of the industry leader is one way to leverage an established company’s clout to bring attention to your company.
It’s natural, especially for a CTO, to feel very uncomfortable focusing on marketing and the inclination is to focus on building better software. But for most startups, <5% of your target market has heard of your open source project compared to the market leader. In the early stages of the company, spreading awareness is a bigger lever than improving the product.
As a general rule, focus on the largest competitor that is primarily known for the same type of product as yours. Don’t go after other small underdogs. The bigger, more popular the company, the less likely there will be backlash to commenting on what they are failing at. It’s unlikely the company will react because you are too small. And if they do, it’s great awareness for your company.
- Identify your largest, most well-known competitor. The best competitor choices are companies that are large and older in what they offer compared to you. It’s better if they are known for a single product that is similar to you versus a conglomerate.
- Set up alerts for when the company is mentioned in the news. If the company makes an announcement, especially if it’s potentially controversial or impactful, be prepared to generate a rapid response to the news.
- Create a Google doc to start recording the company’s activities. Start by looking at recent, negative press. Go back a few years if necessary. You can break up the activities into two categories:
- Product: Create a product comparison and identify areas where the product is weak and areas where there have been a lot of complaints from customers.
- Newsjacking: Start a list of decisions the company has made that have received negative attention. This could include things like deprecating a favorite feature, increasing prices, or hiding a security breach.
- Select a competitive angle and double down on it. What is the issue that stands out the most? For example, if a company has recently removed features from the software so people are forced to use the cloud and thus pay for cloud credits. This makes intuitive sense that it’s bad.
- Deeply research the issue and write an opinion piece on the decision and its impact on users or the industry. Make diagrams, charts, and other visuals when applicable.
- If others have written about the issue or shared how they were impacted by a decision the company made, reach out and ask to interview them about their experience and perspective. This can be an informal interview. Ask to record and make sure you get permission to quote them.
- Salesforce stages an “End of Software” protest at Siebel’s Annual conference and follows up with an “End of Software party”
Early content marketing will focus on thought leadership and engineering stories. As a founder, your experience is inherently interesting to many. Topics that cover technology decisions, company culture, tooling, and commentary on industry news and trends are all good topics to consider. For some companies, tutorials and how-tos will be beneficial.
One of the best places to source content is from the friction you experience in your daily work. Instead of setting aside time to think about blog post ideas, document your most frustrating work moments. Take note of heated discussions and debates within your team and community. The best fodder for exciting content is when you feel like you’re running into a wall on an issue or have an ah-ha moment. These experiences are authentic; chances are you aren’t alone in whatever friction you feel.
High-level content topics:
- Opinionated perspectives on how or why to do or not do something
- Sharing technical decisions (process, problems, outcomes)
- Interviewing and including commentary from experts and influencers in your industry
- Commenting on industry trends or news
- Storytelling with data
“Building in public” is a storytelling angle that provides a steady stream of content based on sharing how you are building your product. This angle is particularly useful once you’ve reached a steady drumbeat of product updates and releases. The “Building in Public” angle is a technical content play that exposes how technical decisions are made and implemented.
Content that falls under this category addresses the following:
- Describe the problem and criteria for implementation.
- Describe different avenues you explored as the potential solution.
- Describe the process of implementation. Will it be done in multiple stages? What roadblocks and challenges did you run into?
- Explain why you landed on your solution. What tradeoffs did you need to make?
The goal of the “Building in Public” angle is to appeal to a technical audience (like Hacker News). This audience may be your primary user and/or it may help with recruiting both staff and contributors to the open source project.
“The Startup Journey” is a “learning in public” angle that shares the experience of building a company and the experience of growing as a founder. It humanizes your business and gives customers, investors, employees, and audiences something to connect with emotionally. Being transparent about your startup journey builds trust and community as people who resonate with your story will invest time in your community and product. “The Startup Journey” angle is an emotional content play that shares the story of building a company from scratch.
Content that falls under this category may address the following:
- Explain the company’s vision and mission and how you are planning to get there. This content can be repeatably updated and iterated. It shares how things are changing over time.
- Explain how you developed specific policies that are available in your public handbook when they deviate from what may be normally expected.
- Share big company milestones and tie them back to the overall mission and vision.
- Share a monthly roundup of your top contributors and give thanks. Explain how their contributions have made an impact.
The goal of “The Startup Journey” angle is to appeal to your community and potential customers in a relatable way. It helps your audience see your business as more than a product and connect on an emotional level.
The “Take a Stance” angle is a thought leadership angle that promotes a specific opinion about the industry, technology, or common practices. It establishes you as a forward-thinker with strong opinions about what direction things are moving in your industry, or what new technology/practices are worth pursuing, what’s outdated, and why. The “Take a Stance” angle is an opinionated content play intended to spur discussion.
Content that falls under this category may address the following:
- Recently released technology and why it’s good or bad.
- Challenges strongly held beliefs about commonly accepted ways of doing things.
- Proposes a new or alternative way of doing something.
- Offers a critique with proposed solutions to a commonly known or felt issue.
The goal of the “Take a Stance” angle is to gain wide attention from a very broad audience. It’s a way to start gaining name recognition and initial marketing traction.
Try to include supplemental images and media in your blog posts.
- Include graphs and charts to visually represent any data you are presenting.
- Include tables to visually identify any comparisons you are making.
- Include screenshots of relevant software or code.
- Include videos if they provide supplemental information or context. Make sure to summarize the content of the video within the article.
Don’t use stock imagery in your blog posts. It comes across as unauthentic and incredible. It’s better to include no image than to include a stock image. Screenshots showing what you are referring to in the blog post are good alternatives to stock imagery.
OCV hosts a blog post title workshop twice a week. Founders are expected to pre-workshop blog post titles before their bi-weekly call with the General Partner.
Titles should include 2+ nerdy keywords. Some examples of nerdy words include names of competitors, names of complimentary software, coding languages, popular open source projects, and trendy engineering concepts. Here are the most common elements of great blog post titles:
- Controversial opinions
- Exciting takeaways
- Numbers and percentages
- Names of companies or projects and names for trendy concepts
Avoid generic and clickbait blog post titles. The character count should not exceed 80 characters.
Titles that are specific and make a statement do better than titles that are lofty and generic. Avoid overly simplistic blog post titles like “Autoscaling 101” or “Choosing the best software for your needs.” The title should give away the most interesting key point of the article.
Generic title (boring)
Specific title (interesting)
Kubernetes autoscaling 101: How to choose the best solution for your needs
Event-driven autoscaling saves 60% of cloud costs compared to HPA
The downsides of SSO
Centralizing your sign-ins with SSO decreases your attack surface and increases your attack vector
Backups, versions, and project restoration: how all these pieces fit together
FreeCAD’s handling of backups and versions doesn’t serve users, Ondsel fixes this
Examples of excellent blog posts:
- JSONnet is the perfect solution for real-time monitoring with Ceph dashboards
- Here's how we resolved an ancient flamewar by slowing the conversation down
- Using Ceph for local storage is an anti-pattern that kills performance
- When forums suck: The high cost of cheap conversation
- FreeCAD's Copy+Paste is a hot mess
- Mining for gold in the issue tracker
Examples of how to improve titles:
Better (More specific)
Best (Crux front and center)
A pricing framework for startups
Good, better, best: A pricing framework
Your premium product offering should cost 10X more than the entry-level option
Open source business tips
How we run our business on open source software
Why we’re ditching Google Docs for Next Cloud
AI: Gaming uses
How to use AI tools to create engaging games
Make game assets 5X faster than Unity with Stable Diffusion
Building a software startup
Managing a hyper-growth startup requires rapid growth
Growth solves everything: How to achieve 20% WoW user growth
New companies need to work hard to get their content in front of their desired audience and build that audience. Publishing on third-party sites, cross-posting to various social publishing networks, leveraging industry influencers, sharing content on appropriate discussion forums, and pitching press are just a few ways to start distributing content to gain attention.
The strategy is going to look different for each company but start by asking yourself a few simple questions:
- Does my project have an active community, and do I have good standing there? If the answer is yes, leverage this. Share content with your community on forums and ask them to contribute through guest posts, tutorials, or video content.
- What specific publications are my customers reading? Make a list of the top three and develop a few pitches specifically for publication on their site. Reach out to OCV’s Head of Content for assistance pitching publishers.
- Who are the biggest influencers in the industry, and do I have any mutual connections? This could be someone with a YouTube channel, a large social media following, or a well-known speaker.
- Are there industry-adjacent companies with reputable blogs I can guest publish on? Think about companies that could be potential product partners in the future. They should be speaking to a similar audience.
Consider publishing to third-party sites that allow cross-posting. Cross-posting is when you publish an article on more than one site. Include a link back to the original article on your website. Cross-posting on a third party site gets your content in front of a relevant audience while you build up brand recognition and a social media following.
Share links to content on community sites like Hacker News, Reddit, and any other forum relevant to your business. Follow the contributor guidelines for each forum. Don’t spam these spaces.
Hacker News is a link-sharing site run by Y-Combinator that focuses on computer science and entrepreneurship. The primary guideline for submitting content to Hacker News is “anything that gratifies one’s intellectual curiosity.” Content that goes viral on Hacker News can generate tens of thousands of website views. This is an excellent way to gain the attention of the developer community.
Hacker News is a community, so please familiarize yourself with the guidelines before participating. Anyone can create an account, and you gain karma points over time through participation. Users earn karma points when their submissions and comments are upvoted and lose karma points when they are downvoted. Users need 30 karma points to flag a submission and 500 karma points to downvote. Karma points do not affect submissions. Creating genuinely exciting content with a great title is the best way to get your submission upvoted.
“Self-promotion” on Hacker News means sharing your own content, it does not mean the content itself is self-promotional. Avoid being shadow banned by the moderators by regularly sharing content that is not your own.
Getting your content organically shared on Hacker News may be challenging without much social media following. It’s OK to post links to your content on Hacker News, but it’s better when someone else posts. Here are some general tips for contributing to the Hacker News community:
- Regularly share content that is not your own. A good ratio is 5:1. For every 5 articles you share, one can be your own content.
- Look at the homepage daily and interact with content that is interesting to you by upvoting and participating in the discussion thread.
- Search for topics that are of interest to you and read the discussions. This may spark new content ideas for you to write about.
- If a discussion is happening on a topic you are an expert in, contribute to the conversation.
- App Developer Mag
- CIO Dive
- SD Times
- The New Stack
- Washington Post
- Business Insider