Writing VC content (if you’re not Sequoia, First Round or Open View)
There are two reasons for VC content marketing. Most, focus on the first one. But it’s the second that really matters. And while the reasons are similar, each led to content with distinctly different flavors. This is an advantage in deal-making – and one that regional or mid-sized firms, in particular, should keep in mind.
Reason #1: Why VCs do content marketing (more common).
Competitive deal environments require VCs to showcase something other than cash. Network strength, geographic expertise, verticalization, operational or go-to-market chops, and stage expertise are all worth profiling. It’s pretty simple: If VCs don’t talk about what they do, then founders won’t know.
There’s the human element of content too. When founders read and listen to you, there’s familiarity. They read about your wins and toe-stubs. Investing is a human partnership, and content builds trust.
Reason #2: Why VCs should do content marketing (less common).
While clicks and likes are a byproduct of content marketing, they aren’t the purpose. The reason VCs should market is to develop a precise identity.
When you know who you are, where you want to go and what you do exceptionally well, everything is easier.
With an identity, there’s freedom.
You are free to say no to bad-fit deals. You stay in your sweet spot. Your networking and research and conference attendance is intentional. Because you’re focused, you rapidly get better in an obvious way.
When you’re positioned specifically, you do more of the same thing. Then, you notice patterns that lead to expertise. Your firm develops specific insights and a killer-instinct in a narrower vein. Your teammates know they know more than others about something. Founders gravitate toward that confidence.
But without a precise identity, positioning weakens.
Your team will “chase” opportunities. Your pitch and story changes, while positioning bends to what you think founders want to hear. No longer do you appear the expert. You’ve lost the differentiating insights that make you attractive to founders – whatever those are, like market, stage, product or business model expertise.
Some VCs roll their eyes. The idea of identity precision sounds soft. Here’s the litmus test: ask entrepreneurs to tell you in 2-3 sentences who you are and what you do.
Chances are, answers will be all over the map. Maybe your early deals gave false signals to the market. Lawyers, bankers and partners hear something through the grapevine and hold it as gospel. (“Oh, those are the Series A, AgTech guys.”)
Now try with your own team. Does everyone internally communicate a consistent message?
If a team can’t articulate an identity, outsiders have no hope. Your value prop degrades externally in a game of telephone. One or two individuals removed and its indiscernible.
In his book The Business of Expertise, David C. Baker says:
A VC needs an identity that positions and defines them so specifically that founders see few viable substitutes. For mid-sized firms, this is the only real way to compete against big brands in frothy markets.
Of course, some founders only care about valuation or brand cache. But others are more sophisticated. They (or at least their lawyers, board, advisors, etc) understand that expertise requires repeated work inside similar environments. When you can courageously position, showcase consistency in some arena, apply pattern-derived insights and weave them into your positioning story, you win.
Identity and advantage are linked. Figure out what you know and what you do well. Emphasize these things. If you’re just starting out, look over your experience as an operator or write down some takeaways from your first deals. These will form the basis for your pitch.
As Jack Welch says,
Writing content when you’re not Sequoia.
Lots of promising regional or mid-sized firms look at content powerhouses and give up publishing before they start. Only a few coastal brands have the horsepower to rev blog, case study and podcast content at the magnitude of the $1 billion+ funds. But if these firms own industry storytelling, there’s a gaping hole…the missing middle of VC thought.
Small firms resign themselves to an annual portfolio letter and the occasional conference panel. The problem is: every VC disproportionately knows something relative to its competition.
It might be nuanced, but it’s something. Don’t fall prey to the curse of knowledge and minimize what you easily understand. As Chip and Dan Heath write in Made to Stick:
At some point, a founder will need what you know. And they’ll be Googling to find it.
Take control of the narrative that begins in your office and extends to founders and partners. Establish an internal thesis and emphasize it through the content you create.
4 Tips for Publishing Content (when you don’t know where to start.)
- Don’t be overwhelmed by all the topics you can cover. You don’t need to re-write a Beginner’s Guide to Term Sheets article. There are dozens of those. What you write should connect to your identity.
- Consider where your expertise based on what you routinely do. It could be related to an industry (like, robotics) or it could be a functional skill (like, hiring sales teams for sub $100M ARR SaaS companies). Round up your thinking into a series of best practices pieces.
- Don’t let an empty editorial calendar psyche you out. Instead, create content leverage. One idea should spawn multiple pieces of content. Perhaps you do a pan-portfolio review and share “12 Learnings, From 12 AI Companies, In 12 Months”. This can be a recap piece, but then turn each learning into its own podcast, article, case study or white paper.
- Use founder questions as content fodder. What questions are being asked regularly by your portfolio companies? Or, what questions should be asked more regularly? If you’re routinely offering certain advice in board meetings, chances are, others founders are stumbling over the same things.
Owning a precise identity and staking a market claim is scary stuff. Yes, you’ll become irrelevant in some deals. But in others you’re the obvious choice. If you, your team or the market can’t peg you specifically, consider content to re-build your positioning.