Why Not Reverse Inbound Marketing
Ryan Hoover (product director at PlayHaven, and founder of Startup Edition) had an insightful post, Five Successful Startups That Started As Blogs. He talks about how Mattermark, Silencer, Groupon, App.net and Ghost got started merely via a blog post or series of posts that went viral, struck a cord with and audience, and prompted their founders to start a company around it.
Ryan says “blogging first” is a “viable tactic” that lets you validate your ideas with your audience by gathering early feedback and refining your targeted segment accordingly.
Two weeks ago, Rand Fishkin had a parallel set of advice on his Moz blog, via a post titled “7 Unlikely Recommendations for Startups & Entrepreneurs. His advice appeared a little unconventional at first sight, but if you don’t have a product yet, Rand advises to consider doing “Marketing First; Product Second”. Rand continues:
“If you build a great product and find that the market you thought would love it isn’t biting, you’re up a creek…But, if you build a marketing machine first,… you have a captive audience that’s returning again and again because you’re producing something of value (usually content, thought leadership, educational resources, unique data, or free tools).”
Of course Rand knows what he’s talking about, because he admits that “Moz was built on the back of a blog”. They literally had no product for the first 18 months, but Rand was able to assemble an impressive audience of 10,000 marketers who were reading the blog daily, and that was critical in guiding him to get the first product off the ground.
According to Rand, other companies that were also started that way include Copyblogger, 37 Signals, Dribble and Maptia.
AngelList also started that way, with roots in the VentureHacks blog that Naval Ravikant and Babak Nivi ran.
Also, Adii Pienaar (founder of WooThemes) is a prolific blogger from South Africa who used his blog to germinate his second startup, PublicBeta.
My friend, and wine and marketing blogger Arnold Waldstein started theLocalSip, a wine store tasting venture after the idea grew from his wine blog that later became theLocalSip’s business blog.
In hindsight, Startup Management also falls under the same category. It’s mostly a blog that is building an audience, and we’ll see where it leads.
Planning the Accident Has Benefits
Talk about the rise of the accidental startup as an emerging pattern, with blogging as its enabler!
If there was a pre-MVP stage, it is the Blog. And Rand Fishkin thinks it might even lead you to an Exceptional Viable Product (EVP), i.e. a better MVP.
This is like doing Inbound Marketing in reverse, because you are building the audience before the product. The other side benefit is you will already be an inbound marketing expert by the time your product is out, and that’s great for attracting customers and users.
If time is on your side, start blogging early, and expose yourself and your ideas to your potential market. You don’t know where it might lead you. Even if you don’t have a team, maybe your vision will resonate with someone out there, and they will reach out to you. Before you know it, you might start building a company with a team around it.
Great way of looking at things.
I blog – probably quite badly in the view of 99% of the known universe (but this one went well http://blog.kwiqly.com/2011/12/boiler-energy-saving-is-like-running.html)
I started blogging before we started shipping – but my reasons weren’t quite like those you suggest. And I suspect my reasons are nearer to yours or Arnolds at http://arnoldwaldstein.com/wine.
Don’t we blog because we love to express ourselves and interact and learn, share and appreciate – that is what got me started and it has helped us in early marketing but more as a side effect.
Luther (the famous protestant) got all tangled up between whether Christian Faith or Works matter (both are arguable from NT texts). I feel we sometimes do the same…
Do we profit from blogging because it shows our deep enthusiasm and expertise, or do our deep enthusiasm and expertise lead us to blog as a way of giving back?
I am not sure you can tell, I am sure it is valuable, and I am not sure that the answer matters – what matters is enthusiasm, expertise, interaction and happiness to share – Everyone wins.
And that is how I feel when I read an @randfish post – he WANTS to help
I think you and all the others mentioned in this post fall near to that tree.
Yes, engaging with and finding that community as a result of blogging is wonderful. A lot of good things happen, as we know well from AVC where we are a bit spoiled.
The thing is it takes time and repetition.
Thanks for thinking of me William.
I think the correlation is stronger that a direct causal relationship actually.
Leaders of successful companies are inspired, deeply opinionated and expressive. A very very small percentage of them blog but its a perfect medium when all the pieces come together.
For myself. I started blogging about marketing and wine on the same day. Near when I started consulting for a living. My marketing/web blog was all about how I think about building markets. My wine blog was a personal passion. That being said there is a connection between wine and wealth and over 80% of my meetings start with a reference to a wine post.
Re: wine and theLocalSip–they come together around the principal theme in all of my marketing thinking–that community is unstoppable when your latch onto it. We shall see but progress is good and the community is finding a strong pace of growth.
One piece of pushback. Advising people to blog is like telling people to play basketball. Not everyone has it in them. Not all who will be successful business people either. It’s one way for a very small segment.
Thanks for the post!
“Not everyone has it in them.” While I agree that not everyone has good writing or marketing skills, I think everyone has passion round at least one thing, and will only get good by just doing it.
Like basketball, if you don’t just start playing, you never will get good.
Maybe your right Avi. Passion drives certainly and blogs are a perfect vehicle for driven opinion.
And a great tool for driving community for certain.
I just haven’t seen in practice that this plays out.
Might be interesting to to take the top 30 commenters on Fred’s blog and see how many have a blog that has over a couple of hundred posts logged regardless of time frame.
My bet is that it is quite small but want to be wrong.
That would be rather interesting to see. William, you’re in pretty good touch, can you ask him?
Community is odd, it probably depends on how controversial opinions are. I write daily, but focus on business and steer clear of politics. While I get a good number of readers, I have found the overwhelming majority of them comment in twitter, FB, or direct email. I ended up disabling comments.
I’m not arguing that expression isn’t positive or William’s intent not a good one.
I just know how difficult it is.
Thanks for chiming in.
Heh, you know how alcohol or cigarettes have health warnings? Movies about successful entrepreneurs should come with similar warnings!
Funny….starting is easy for certain. Talking about starting even easier and there is a whole lot of talk.
Net positive generally, just noisy.
I pinged Fred about a community blog roll for top commenters btw.
I agree that it’s not for everybody, and should have made this clearer. It’s an option.
Thanks for theLocalSip backdrop.
Yes, it’s not for everybody, but as you implied, if you don’t give it a try, you don’t know if you’ll be good at it.
Let’s see what happens tomorrow on the AVC post. I think it’s related to this.