I Write What I Live

And this is my blog. Turn it up and rip off the knob.

Is it important for a VC firm to have a content strategy? I believe the answer is yes, and here’s why.

Content helps you grow your authority and reputation which leads to a better standing in the industry and consequently, access to better deals.

Just ask Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures who’s been running his popular AVC blog since 2003. If that’s not convincing enough, consider Brad Feld. He and his cohorts have turned Boulder, Colorado into a startup mecca in no small part thanks to Brad’s writing efforts and numerous podcast appearances.

Alan Brody, the author of the must-read Are You Fundable and a fixture in the NYC startup community had this to say:

Blogging puts VCs at the heart of the Startup experience. They become in tune with the marketplace, engender trust and connect with the best entrepreneur prospects.

Brody added:

If you have money, you will always get deals. But if you have the right mindset along with the money – and communicate it – you’ll get those once-in-a-lifetime deals, the unicorns.

With that said, there can only be one more objections…and we’ll cover that next.

I’m Too Busy

The problem with blogging, podcasting, and YouTubing is that executing a content strategy of any sort is time consuming and tedious.

You might say to yourself. “Self, some people are gifted creatives with plenty to say, but that’s not me. Ergo, content is not something I should be doing.”

Don’t worry. I’ve taken that into consideration. However, if you are a gifted content creator like Brad Feld, Alan Brody, or Fred Wilson, all the better.

I will tackle the issue of content strategy as if I’m writing this for a very busy VC with no time to spare and absolutely nothing to say.

So, to summarize. For a VC firm to even consider it, the content strategy must be:

1. Effective
2. Easy
3. Effortless

In considering this strategy, I’ve also taken into account the content landscape. In other words, is there an audience for what I’m about to propose? And the answer to that is a resounding YES!

Let’s get started.

Showcase Your Portfolio

Choose your weapon. It could be a pen, a microphone, or a camera.

Regardless of the medium [writing, podcast, or video], a VC firm will have a portfolio of startups each working on something interesting.

In each startup, there are men and women who are passionate and who are experts in what they do. These men and women make for great conversationalists and can offer a wealth of information to the general populous.

Does this strategy meet our stated requirements? You bet.

Interviewing such people is an effective way of bringing attention to the VC firm itself. It’s easy in the sense that you don’t have to think of “what content should I publish today”. And it’s effortless since the interviewees do most of the heavy lifting, intellectually speaking.

Showcasing the startups from your portfolio meets all three of our stated requirements.

Who’s doing this?

Open View Partners out of Boston does this very effectively, and they’ve even expanded the field by making their blog accesible to startups who are not in their portfolio.

Here’s a video Open View did with my cofounder Dan Cristo.

Showcase the Hopefuls

How many meetings does an average VC take with perspective startups?

For most VCs, that number is in the 100s per month, and each meeting is chock full of drama, tension, hope, desire, and priceless information for future founders. Why not record those meetings?

Of course, not everyone will feel comfortable being on the show, but that’s ok. Some startups will be fine with it and that tells us something about them, don’t you think?

lori cheek

What does this strategy look like in practice?

Think Shark Tank but with little bit more friendly guidance, and a lot less staging.

Does this strategy meet our stated requirements? You bet.

It’s effective in showcasing your VC firm as transparent, a quality highly valued in today’s startup culture. It’s easy since it’s part of the VC’s workflow already. And it’s certainly effortless in the sense that you don’t have to think of content to create, the content comes to you.

Above: Lori Cheek pitching sharks. Cheek’d removes “missed” from missed connections. 

Be the Soapbox

Many startups don’t have a blog nor do they want one. A content strategy can be a distraction and there are valid reasons for a startup to skip it altogether.

soapbox_webBut every once in a while, one of the founders may have something to say. The solution? Your portfolio of startups should know that they can submit content to be published on the firm’s blog.

It would help if this was frictionless for the content creator. For example, a UX designer at startup X doesn’t need to know how to use WordPress or obtain a username/password in order to publish content on the firm’s blog. Just write something up in Word and email someone@VCfirm.com

If you make it that easy, and if you make it known, you’ll get plenty of takers.

And if that content can then be shared by all employees of all startups in your portfolio [see next section for more on that], plus syndicated to INC, HuffPo, or a similar content outlet, then all the better for everyone.

Does this strategy meet our stated requirements? You bet.

It’s effective at raising the firm’s profile since content is being published and shared [see next section for more on that]. It’s easy since you don’t have to write it. And it’s effortless since we don’t have to come up with the content itself.

Be the Hub

What if a single article on your firm’s blog could onboard a thousand users for one of the startups in your portfolio? How far would that go in ensuring that your investment in that startup pays off?

hubLet’s play with some numbers.

Say you have 10-20 startups in your portfolio. Each startup has 10-20 people. That’s 100-400 people who could act as sharers of the content published on your firm’s blog.

400 people sharing 1 article across Twitter, Facebook, G+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn equals 2000 shares. And those are only first-degree shares. Some of those 2000 shares will get re-shared several times over.

Multiply that by the number of articles published per week. Say, one article per day Mon-Fri, and you get 10,000 guaranteed weekly shares.

Also, consider that these are not just any 400 people. The startup ecosystem is tightly nit, so you’re content will spread like wildfire under these circumstances.

Why would employees at startups share other people’s content?

Because they know that when you publish their content, the other startups will share it in kind.

You could even formalize your status as the hub by creating a Triberr tribe.

The 5th Strategy

Your content strategy could be the fuel your portfolio startups need in order to be successful. In fact, a mere associating with your firm could virtually guarantee the startup’s success. And that is a great position for a VC firm to be in.

There is a 5th strategy you need to be doing, and a 6th strategy which you should be avoiding like the plague [this 6th strategy also happens to be the go-to strategy for most firms].

You’ll have to email me to find out exactly what those are.

The problem we face when learning something new is that it’s often taught by experts who have no recollection of what its like to be a novice. Furthermore, being an expert doesn’t make you an expert teacher.

I’ve found that learning JavaScript is no different.

Learning a new language -programming or otherwise- can be daunting. And as a total n00b I’m looking for quick, easy wins that will motivate me to continue learning.

However, these quick and easy wins are really hard to find. So when I do find one, I like to save them for safekeeping.

Why knows, maybe you’ll decide to take a learning journey into JavaScript with me.

N00b to Coder in 60 Seconds

Your browser has a handy-dandy calculator you can pull up quickly do perform simple (and complex) math problems.

Step 1: In Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, right click anywhere on the page and select “Inspect Element”. In Internet Explorer, press the F12 key.

Note: You may need to enable “Developer menu” in Safari

Step 2: Click on the Console tab [see image]:

JavaScript Projects

Step 3: Type your math question next to >|

Example: 10+10 and then hit enter.

Use * for multiplications and / for divisions.

Completed!

The result will be revealed thanks to the JavaScript engine that’s running under the hood of every modern browser. This is the same engine that’s used to calculate a 10% discount on orders over $25.00 when you shop on Amazon, for example.

Related: Freddy Krueger Is Scared To Build The Next Twitter But You Shouldn’t Be. Because Codecademy.

Hat tip to Source Decoded Youtube channel, which is where this tip came from.

This article almost didn’t happen because I was having so much fun learning how to code on Codecademy.

For the past few days, I’ve been coding my butt off. Why? Two reasons:

1. Tech startups are ruled by engineers, and as a non-technical founder I’m constantly at a disadvantage. Read on, I’ll explain;

2. As a self-respecting blogger who runs his own WordPress site, I am always tweaking the theme to make it look just right, but there are limits to my tweaking ability.

So I decided to dust off my coding mittens and break a decade-long vow of celibacy when it comes to all things HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. What I discovered was nothing short of astonishing.

Intrigued? You should be.

My Goal

My goal in this article is simple. I want to convince you that learning how to code is not only easy but a biological imperative.

I’ll get to the easy part in a bit, but I want to make the case for the biological imperative first.

Over the last year, I’ve been invited to speak at a bunch of startup events locally here in New York. CoInvent, Priori, and Startupalooza, to name a few.

Hands down, the most common question people ask me at these events is how I -someone who is NOT a coder- have managed to build a tech startup?

What has become obvious to me is that there is a surplus of ideas and a deficit of skill. And there are only two ways to fill that gap.

Partner with someone who has a complimentary skill set [which is what I did], or learn a new skill.

And this leads us to one simple conclusion. If learning how to code is easy and you have a surplus of ideas, then why aren’t you learning how to code?

Sure. Finding a technical cofounder is an option, but many have tried and failed in this endeavor. Besides, it’s not all roses even if you succeed, I’ll explain in a minute.

Seems to me that a much better option is to sit down, bite the bullet, and learn how to code. If you don’t, your ideas will die while someone else’s ideas become the next Twitter.

But I don’t have 10,000 hours!

We’ve all heard that “10,000 hours to expert status” Gladwellism. But let’s face it. Who’s got that kind of time, so why even bother trying?

I think what has prevented me from starting my learning journey is this gnawing feeling that I must be an expert in order to bring my ideas to life.

Add to that the wide-open landscape of soooo many different programming languages, options, and integration points; it’s enough to scare the pants off Freddy Krueger, and that guy is super scary.

Krueger

With the benefit of hindsight, I’ve come to realize that expert status is not needed in order to build a tech startup. You just need to know enough to build an MVP [Minimum Viable Product], monetize it [hopefully], at which point you can hire someone who did spend 10,000 learning how to code.

So, how many hours is needed to launch your own tech startup, you ask? Well, I did some math and came up with a number. You will need approximately 100-300 hours.

If we average it out to about 200 hours and say we spend 2-4 hours per day learning how to code, we can reach the necessary level of expertise in 2-3 months.

And if we add a few shortcuts into the mix, we can cut this down even further.

For example, if we use Admin kits, front end and back end frameworks such as Bootstrap and Laravel, and take on a freelance project or two in the process, we can get there even faster.

Are we going to reach expert status in 3 months? Nope. Are we going to reach a point where we’re able to cobble together the next Yahoo, Twitter, or Amazon?

It’s possible. Take a look at Yahoo when it first launched.

yahoo-then-homepage-social-media-goodhousekeepinguk

Twitter, Google, Facebook, and the rest didn’t look much better either. Take a look at some of the other sites before they were famous.

websites - before they were famous

What do they have in common? Modest beginnings, thats what. Trust me, you can do this. All you need to do is get started.

It’s Your Idea. Own It.

Here’s a simple truth. Tech startups are ruled by coders.

In his book I’m Feeling Lucky, Douglas Edwards, the 56th employee at Google, tells a story about Google engineers ignoring their managers and deploying features they felt like deploying. The engineers had total disregard for what the non-engineers had to say.

This culture of engineers doing whatever they felt like doing was persistent at Google and took a long time to eradicate.

Would you be surprised to learn that this is the norm and not the exception?

I speak from personal experience when I say that as a non-technical founder, I constantly have to “sell” the engineers on the idea that X is a good feature. Conversely, an engineer can deploy a feature and see if it’s any good without the approval from anyone. In fact, they are encouraged to do exactly that.

So, let’s say you’re one of the lucky ones who had managed to find a technical cofounder. It’s very likely that you will end up with someone else in control of your idea. The technical founder will be able to do whatever s/he feels like doing to your idea, while you’ll have to “sell” your technical cofounder on the latest feature you came up with.

Theme TweakerThis is the norm, NOT the exception. Is this what you want?

You may be better off learning how to code.

The Theme Tweaker

Hi. My name is Dino and I’m a theme tweaker.

My coding mittens weren’t completely off in the last 10 years. I like to crack open a nice WordPress theme and add a few custom CSS elements as much as the next guy.

This theme I’m currently using is heavily modified and there’s still much more I’d like to do, but I didn’t know how. Until now.

After completing the HTML/CSS Codecademy course, I’ve learned so much more about things I can do…I can’t wait to apply it.

Basically, in a couple of hours I’ve gone from someone who can kinda sorta tweak a setting here and there, to someone who can discover where the tweak needs to be made and how, in a fraction of the time it used to take. And things that used to confuse me, now appear simple.

Thank you, Codecademy.

What Didn’t Work For Me

I test-drove about a dozen learning methods, and I’m here to tell you what works and what doesn’t.

I have access to countless books on the subject of web dev, but that’s not my preferred learning style for this kind of skill, and here’s why.

I normally love reading and listening to books, but something like web development is very much a hands-on type of skill. You can read a hundred books about it, but building even just one site will be a much more effective way of acquiring the skill.

So, the book learnin’ was out. What else is there?

I tried several video learning methods. Lynda, Pluralsight, TutsPlus, and few others. They were ok but had their own shortcoming.

Let’s start with the cost. None of the video tutorials are free, that goes without saying. But if you think that after spending a few hundred dollars you’re in the clear, you’d be mistaken.

For example, the instructors were demonstrating using paid tools that I simply wasn’t willing to spend money on in order to find out that I don’t like the tool or that there’s a free alternative.

PHIL HEATHBesides, I’ve learned the hard way that buying expensive exercise equipment doesn’t make you a world class bodybuilding. If it did, I’d be Phil Heath by now.

Another problem with the video tutorials is that the instructors had access to development environments that I wasn’t willing to set up on my machine at this time.

Not only do these environments take time and know-how to set up, but they end up eating up your memory and processing power and can render a machine unusable for everything else. Not to mention that setting up a dev environment is cutting into my precious coding time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t know how to set up a dev environment, but at this early stage it’s very important not to be intimidated, discouraged, or delayed while there’s learning to be done.

A Chance Discovery

Finally, after spinning my wheels for a couple of weeks, I chanced upon Codecademy.

As someone who’s spent 6 years teaching and developing technical curriculum, I could tell right away that Codecademy was my ticket. And just in case you’re wondering, the answer is no, I’m not being paid to say this.

Codecademy removes ALL barriers to entry. All you need is a browser and an Internet connection. So if you’re reading this then you already have everything you need. There’s no need to set up your own development environment, and no need to install additional tools.

Another impressive thing about Codecademy is that it has removed failure as an option entirely. The way it’s structured ensures that anyone can go through the course, and if you do, you WILL learn how to code.

Did I mention it’s is entirely free? Ya, I know. It’s a great time to be alive.

What about the selection? Well, selections galore, my friends. HTML, CSS, PHP, Ruby, JavaScript, jQuery, and bunch more, plus API integrations aplenty.

You could spend a couple of months on Codecademy and end up with a skill set that’s in high demand that would enable you to leave King Joffrey’s guard for a much better paying job. Sorry….too much Game of Thrones. Did you see that thing with Cersei? OMG, I cant even.

Anyways…go sign up for Codecademy and give birth to that idea that’s been rattling in your brain.

learn to code for free with codecademy

Mike Brooks and I do a weekly podcast interviewing TED speakers about their journey of delivering the most important talk of their life.

It’s called Road To TED and you can subscribe to it via iTunes or Stitcher.

The latest episode features Dorie Clark. She’s an author, branding expert, speaker, and perhaps the best conversationalists I’ve ever had a privilege of dining with.

I hope you’ll have the time to listen to the interview conveniently located below.