(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.