All Entrepreneurs Should Blog
(this post is inspired by this week’s Startup Edition topic, Why Do You Write?)
Last week, Keith Rabois re-started an old topic on Twitter by implying that successful CEO/entrepreneurs don’t blog regularly. That tweet spurted into a threaded conversation on Twitter, and ignited a separate discussion of over 100 comments on Hacker News. For background, Keith said the same thing in 2011, as reported by Jordan Cooper in this post, Keith Rabois Says Great Entrepreneurs Don’t Blog.
Chris Yeh followed-up with a post titled Should entrepreneurs blog?, citing Dharmesh Shah and Rand Fishkin as the quintessential founder-bloggers. And there are other regular CEO bloggers such as Jason Cohen and Matt Blumberg. Mark Birch also chimed in with Successful Entrepreneurs Do Not Blog?
My viewpoint is that blogging should be an essential part of running a startup, because sharing what you are learning benefits others. There is no evidence that blogging increases your chances of failure. You owe it to the ecosystem to give back by sharing your knowledge.
It would be hard to find an entrepreneur who won’t admit being influenced or helped by someone else’s Blog in the past 5 years. You’re getting help for free, so why not help others now?It would be hard to find an entrepreneur who won’t admit being influenced or helped by someone else’s Blog in the past 5 years. You’re getting help for free, so why not help others now?
Entrepreneurship is not an easy thing. There is no book for it, and there may never be one. Blogs are where you can learn.
Blogging is marketing by another name. If a CEO thinks that marketing isn’t important to their company, then that CEO ought to grow-up.
My recent experience running two startups was somewhere in the middle of regular blogging, and I regret not having blogged more often. At Engagio, over 14 months, I wrote 25 posts, the majority being product related. At Eqentia, over 3 years, I wrote 26 posts, split between product and thought leadership. But since I started Startup Management in July, I have written 77 posts so far, in the space of about 4 months.
I used to keep a list of topics to write about, but most of them didn’t see the light of day. So, my first piece of advice is, don’t have a long list of topics. Have 3 at the most, and don’t add a new one until you get one out. Incubating a list for a long period doesn’t increase the chances of getting a post out.t not having blogged more often. At Engagio, over 14 months, I wrote 25 posts, the majority being product related. At Eqentia, over 3 years, I wrote 26 posts, split between product and thought leadership. But since I started Startup Management in July, I have written 77 posts so far, in the space of about 4 months.
The question is not whether entrepreneurs should blog or not. Rather, we should ask: How can we get more entrepreneurs to blog? How can we make blogging not a chore, but rather a pleasurable task that carries a lot of value?
The first dilemma that founder-ceos face is to find time to blog. They fear spending 3-4 hours on a blog post, which is the kiss of death.
But to think that blogging is a distraction from running a company is not necessarily a defensible statement. Not finding time is more of an excuse than an explanation. The time invested in blogging is returned many times over, if it’s done regularly, genuinely and with a purpose in mind.
So, here are some thoughts that might help turn blogging from being a time-consuming burden, to something more reasonable.
Blogging as Therapy
It’s a break from the frenzy. Really. It gives you time to regroup your thoughts, and gain perspective. It makes you more self-aware of what you know or don’t know, what you are struggling with or learning, and how you can influence others or the market. Blogging is communicating. Think of it as one of your communications strategy channels. Therefore, it’s part of your job.
Blog in Your Mind First
Have you ever starred at the screen with 3 lines written and a mental block preventing you from proceeding further? That’s because your idea was not well formulated. It’s not because you can’t write. You weren’t ready to blog about that topic. Skip it, and wait until you are passionate about something, where the words will flow from your brains to your fingers faster than you can type. First, play the idea in your mind, and see if it sticks. For e.g., when I decided to write this blog, my thoughts were: “Blogging is a necessity for startup CEOs. They owe it to the community to give back.” That is the main message of this post. The rest supported this argument.
Make it Conversational
Don’t make your blog post like a research paper. It’s not. It’s the start of a conversation with your readers. Blogging is not an essay either. OK, we all love Paul Graham’s essays, but these probably take him weeks to complete, including getting them peer reviewed. Make a key point or two. Explain further and leave it as it is. Stick to a standard format if it makes it easier. Example: 2 opening paragraphs, 3-5 bullets, and a closing paragraph.
Ask Others for Topics
If you are running out of blogging topic ideas, ask your employees, or have a blogging suggesting box or email. What should I blog about?
Blogging occasionally and blogging regularly are two very different things. The ultimate bloging cycle is daily, but that’s very difficult to achieve. Second best is 3 times per week. If you blog once a week, you can spend more time on it, and end-up with a pretty good post. If you blog once a month, it could be an amazing post. The more frequently you blog, the less spectacular your posts need to be, because your advantage becomes frequency, not just content quality. If one of your posts isn’t stellar, so what? You’ll have a better one the next day. It’s like having a bad bottle of wine. You solve that by having another better one the next time.
You’re Winning Mindshare
Every time you blog, you amplify your reach, and your mindshare increases commensurably. You’re spreading your good content on the Web, and by virtue of who you’re reaching, your mindshare will increase, and if your company brand is attached it, it may become bigger than your market share. Joel Gascoigne of Buffer is the perfect example for that. He has been blogging diligently, and it makes Buffer appear to be bigger than they actually are.
Don’t Sweat it
The more you sweat it, the more you will hate it, and the more time consuming it becomes. Blogging should be fun and spontaneous. You are typically communicating ONE idea that you strongly believe in, or that you have expertise in. There will come a point when a blogging routine becomes an addiction, and it starts to flow naturally, effortlessly, and naturally. When you reach that point, then you will do it more regularly, but if it feels like pulling teeth each time, you’re not going to be happy, and you will be dreading it. So, start small and train your writing muscles.
Train your Writing Muscles
You get better at blogging by blogging. It’s like training to become an athlete. You only get there by doing it. You don’t have to be a great writer, but you need to develop your basic writing muscles. There is a certain discipline involved in blogging. Start less ambitiously, and write a paragraph or two, and gradually add more content until you feel it’s right.
What to Write About?
Here are some generic suggestions on what to write about:
- Thought Leadership. This is really important especially at the beginning of your venture. Every startup has a thesis behind it, a hypothesis, a philosophy, a belief, or some set of trends and rules that the founder believes in. These can be powerful drivers for helping others understand why you are doing what you’re doing. I call this the “anchoring post”. Plant your flag with this anchoring post, and let it drive discussion, visibility and feedback.
- Your Product, New Features. Day in and day out, you’re adding new features, or taking some out. Keep communicating why you’re doing that.
- Your Customers. Most of your customers and users love to be written about, especially when they are innovating with your product and deriving value from it.
- Your Market Issues, Trends. That’s an easy one. You’re the expert in your field, and you read a ton everyday. Voice your opinion.
- Managing, Scaling and Growing Your Startup. This is the crux of your operation. What are you learning daily? What is working, or not working? As a startup CEO, your life is rich with events, surprises, good and bad ideas, ups and downs, wins and losses, challenges and successes. Take one of these ideas and write about them, as they happen. Don’t wait. If you learnt it today, write about it tomorrow (without revealing any confidential parts of course).
In sum, Blogging is communicating. Blogging is marketing. Blogging is therapy. Blogging is a responsibility. Sharing your knowledge, lessons and practices is a good thing.
Startup CEOs should write and share their experiences, because this field doesn’t have enough lessons or best practices to lean on. Think of the next founder that could benefit from some hard lesson you have just learned.
I think the absolute statement – both directions (CEOs should blog; CEOs shouldn’t blog) is non-sensical.
Here’s a nice list of many CEOs who blog – https://followerwonk.com/bio/?q=CEO%20blogger
I have no idea if any fit Keith’s definition of “successful” which, if you plow through the responses to his tweet at https://twitter.com/rabois/status/397075060499812352 finally is defined (by him) as “Companies that change the world, IPO or return 10x to all of the investors.” I’m not going to argue with his definition of success (he gets to define it however he wants) but it’s important to realize that this is a relatively small subset of all entrepreneurs.
Wow. That FollowerWonk list is amazing. I had no idea it was so extensive. Thank you for sharing.
I agree that the pro/con argument doesn’t make sense. I think blogging is a personality related thing. It’s not directly related to success or failure of the CEO or company. It’s related to whether the person would like to communicate externally or not.
Agreed. I believe broad generalization like this (CEO should or should not blog) is not that useful. However, I do agree that being a CEO/founder can be so draining that it is almost impossible to find the time to blog.
I blog regularly. If you look at what I write, it almost always falls into one of the following categories:
1. Talks about my company (self-promo)
2. Blog posts that are useful for me to refer to in the future (time saver). For example:
I can’t tell you how many times I forwarded the above blog post!
3. Makes my idea more concrete. For example:
Many of these blog posts are something that I want to communicate internally (and of course I would add more colour when I send it around internally). If I can benefit others by sharing my thoughts externally, that’s great. But this is not the main purpose.
Now I remember that I have written a blog post on this topic before. I should have saved myself a few minutes by just posting the following blog post here than typing the above 🙂
Loved this statement,” You owe it to the ecosystem to give back by sharing your knowledge.”. Wish Apple, Google n Microsoft had the same opinion 🙂
But these companies have lots of engineers, product managers and other professionals that blog.
You’re doing a great job with that, and probably one of the few startup CEOs in Canada who does it regularly.
I know it’s very difficult to find the time, but if one believes in something, they typically find the time.
I think the thought leadership and lessons learned ones are the most interesting to read, generally speaking.
Keith’s point is that CEOs shouldn’t have time to blog. Based on my personal experience, it is hard to argue. But I think in some cases blogging can just another distribution channel for internal communications that can be shared publicly. I personally don’t really have to “find time” to blog. So I don’t think there is any conflict in our respective point of views here.
The thought leadership and lessons learned ones can be time consuming. I wish I have time to do more on these topics, but my priority goes to running my own company. The ones that I share publicly usually are those that I want to share internally anyway.
Put it another way: IMO CEO can and should blog because there are clear benefits. But the CEO should only do so if he/she wants to. There are ways to do so in a very time efficient manner. If blogging becomes a time sucker, then something is not right.
“IF” the companies gave back to the ecosystem, there’d be no need for patents. That was my angle.
Got it. Thanks.
We agree. Finding time and making it a priority is a dilemma.
If it helps them increase their business, connect with existing or new customers, they ought to blog. Sometimes a blog can help with cognitive dissonance with existing customers.
Yes. The point I was trying to make, and maybe it didn’t come across as strongly, is that Blogging is part of Marketing Communications now. If well done, it can be powerful in cutting through the noise to get awareness and attention.
Then, there’s the 2nd point which is to give back. No, they don’t have to share lessons, but they can gain a lot of social capital by doing so.
Timely post William, I have been getting into the writing habit. Its been valuable. Writing it down forces clarity in thinking. A blog post converts ideas into a clearly communicated hypothesis that can be challenged and iterated over time in a collaborative manner. Don’t have time? You wrote an email to your board, team, customers at some point recently that has concise thinking in it. Edit it, adjust for context, get someone on your team to help, publish.
I had not seen Keith’s comment until now, and it blew my mind. I think I fall closer to your side of the fence than Keith’s, although isn’t it all a matter of personal preference? Other than your comment to give back to the community (which I completely agree with), most of the other benefits you discuss are reflective in nature. If blogging helps me clear my thoughts, why not do it? If I find writing stressful, then I don’t think blogging is going to be all that helpful.
For me personally, I enjoy writing. I hope I always do. I don’t do it often enough as you suggest, but I frankly don’t even stress over that. I write when I want to and/or when I have time. When a big idea hits me, or something I want to remember/memorialize for myself.
I’m thinking that perhaps Keith meant that no startup CEO blogs to build their brand – which I can be more sympathetic to. Building a brand takes a LOT of time and many years – you need to be in for the long haul. So does building a business. So, you have to have time and patience for both which could be biting off too much.
Bottom line – there’s only so much time in the day and entrepreneurs are constantly over-achieving. It’s important to put blogging in the proper context and if you feel it helps you achieve your business or emotional goals, you should do it. I know I will continue to…..
Great. It does take some training to become good at it, and I realize that not everybody has that talent, but if you do, then write! thanks.
Good points. I have struggled to blog as a startup CEO, because operational priorities took over, day in and day out; so I wrote this post with a bit of hindsight. If one thinks of blogging as communicating, then that was my context for its necessity.
This is good stuff William.
I like what @allen_lau:disqus mentions in #2 point below about blogging providing value to other entrepreneurs and people in the startup ecosystem. Creating value is important, the mindshare thing will blow you up in ways that no amount of marketing or product can. It also goes a long way towards the other thing your post made me think of: telling a story. The reality is that the story matters. You can provide a pitch deck that shows all the right numbers and still get turned down because silently people are wondering “but what is this all ABOUT.” Of course they won’t say that, they’ll say “does it have legs” etc… Same problem but in a slightly different way for users that see / use your platform or product. There’s plenty of cog sci research and lots of examples that prove this (the email exchange btwn Paul Graham and Fred Wilson re: Airbnb comes to mind).
This is good stuff William.
I like what Allen mentions in his 2nd point below about blogging providing value to other entrepreneurs and people in the startup ecosystem. Creating value is important, the mindshare thing will blow you up in ways that no amount of marketing or product can. It also goes a long way towards the other thing your post made me think of: telling a story. The reality is that the story matters. You can provide a pitch deck that shows all the right numbers and still get turned down because silently people are wondering “but what is this all ABOUT.” Of course they won’t say that, they’ll say “does it have legs” etc… Same problem but in a slightly different way for users that see / use your platform or product. There’s plenty of cog sci research and lots of examples that prove this (the email exchange btwn Paul Graham and Fred Wilson re: Airbnb comes to mind).
Having said that, the rule of do something right or don’t do it at all clearly stands. If a CEO / founder makes time to share their thought process it goes a long way towards telling the overall story, but poorly executed ideas and junk content are more harmful than silence.
Feel free to delete this one. Reloaded Disqus and it posted partial.
Exactly. There is a quality factor that enters the picture in writing, just like anything. If you write well, thoughtfully and in an original/authentic manner, people notice, and you benefit.
I do believe that every startup founder should write an anchoring post that sets the stage for their startup’s creation. Why did they found the company, what they believed they were solving, etc… The real story.
That’s valid…because, if you don’t, eventually someone else will and you might not like the story as much.
IF you find you can’t find the time to blog ( or have issues making the time), then make an appointment with yourself and schedule that time to make it happen! You’ll be glad you did!
Yes! Compartmentalizing/Blocking time is a good trick. I agree you need to turn everything off for an hour or so, and just do it. Writing well is not a good multi-tasking type of activity.
exactly. better to write your own story and let other riff on it, vs. them writing it and you defending what’s not accurate.
Turning it off is certainly the challenge, sometimes. My friend Kevin Achtzener from youremakingme.com introduced me to Time Blocking a couple of years ago. Its a great concept. I actually interviewed him for a podcast about the topic. http://toastcaster.podbean.com/2012/11/05/toastcaster-38-time-blocking-101-for-toastmasters/
Thanks for the link. I will check it out.
As a start-up CEO, blogging has been important to me. I get to step away from the frenzy, focus on writing (which I happen to love), communicate clearly, and educate myself and my community; all good and positive. Blogging is indeed “a pleasurable task that carries a lot of value.” Thanks for sharing!
Exactly. It’s a break and work wrapped together.