Content marketing is the trendiest digital marketing technique.
And venture capital gives great examples of B2B content marketing. Think about the reputation that venture capitalists have built. Both investment funds (the limited partners that invest in VC funds) and startups really trust VCs.
This is what you’re going to find out in today’s article.
As an entrepreneur, you’ll get new ideas for your own marketing strategy. As an investor, you’ll get a glance at what your competitors are doing.
But before sharing the analysis, I just want to tell what you content marketing really means.
What Is Content Marketing?
Here’s how the Content Marketing Institute defines “content marketing”:
“Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”
It’s a marketing strategy based on what Seth Godin calls Permission Marketing. Instead of paying for advertising in order to get the attention of a specific audience, content marketing allows you to get their attention organically.
Here’s how it works:
Customers decide to pay attention. Not because you interrupt them with an ad, but because you’re showing them something they find interesting.
The price for the attention is not the money you spend to get your ad in a medium—like a magazine. But it’s the time and resources you spent to create a valuable piece of content.
In the context of content marketing, “valuable” mostly means “practical” or “entertaining”.
What you should do depends on your industry.
For example, the venture capital industry benefits from being practical, while the fashion industry thrives by sharing entertaining content.
A Short History of Content Marketing for Venture Capital
Venture capital investors started blogging in early 2000s. At the time, it was certainly more a hobby than a way to compete for attention.
Nobody used the term “B2B content marketing” at the time.
Since they were sharing valuable advice for free, some of them started getting lots of attention from entrepreneurs and other investors. This was the beginning of this loving relationship between venture capital and content marketing.
“We’re trying to give you a taste of what we’ve got so you take some of our money.
Don’t you think that fits? All our VC blogs and tweets are the [free] 2.5GB equivalent of Dropbox.”
But with a growing competition, venture capital firms were facing a real need to differentiate from each other. Blogging wasn’t enough.
As marketing strategist Dorie Clark pointed out, a major shift happened in 2013:
- Some VC firms started doing content marketing like professional publications like First Round Capital did with its own version of Harvard Business Review.
- They hired editors, journalists, and content marketing experts. For example, Andreessen Horowitz hired former Wired Senior Editor Michael Copeland and NextView Ventures hired former HubSpot head of content Jay Acunzo.
Does Content Marketing Always Work in Venture Capital?
But it’s not because you hire a professional journalist that things will work out. And it’s not because you have a reputable brand that people will start reading your content.
Sequoia Capital hired a professional editor and tried to launch Grove, a portal for how-to content, videos and events. It somewhat never really took off.
What does it tell us?
Content marketing is not a mere communication medium.
It has to fit with the firm’s positioning strategy—which implies that the firm knows how it differs from other VCs.
Great content marketing doesn’t just get people’s attention. It embodies a particular positioning and makes the audience associate the VC firm with a specific element of differentiation.
Now, you’re clear on what content marketing means.
Let’s see how these VC firms implemented their content marketing strategy through different formats like articles, podcasts, and videos. 
How Venture Capital Uses Content Marketing
Blogs: Write, Distribute, Repeat
A lot of VCs jumped into blogging when Fred Wilson’s AVC blog and a few others got traction. But many didn’t have the stamina to write regularly in order to attract a loyal audience. This is why we’re left with lots of what CB Insight calls “Zombie VC blogs”.
Writing to captivate an audience is difficult and time-consuming. You need a real passion for the art of writing if you want to keep showing up for years.
Why do venture capital investors write?
There are obvious marketing advantages. You prove your credibility by sharing thoughtful ideas. This contributes to building a name for yourself to be top-of-mind of entrepreneurs, tech journalists, and other VCs.
But writing is also altruistic, as it’s a way to help and inspire entrepreneurs. On personal level, it also helps you think more clearly and stimulate your creativity.
As Mark Suster wrote:
“It’s when I can switch from Manager to Maker. I can express and convey thoughts about complex topics that help others peel back the layers of an onion in trying to understand the worlds of startups, technology, and venture capital.”
Many VCs write. So they need to differentiate themselves. You’ll see that all the featured VC writers adopt very different strategies.
Paul Graham: Collection of Essays
Paul Graham’s collection of essays is a must-read. You feel that each essay aims at being timeless. And so the collection looks more like an ever-expanding book than a blog.
Paul Graham doesn’t just share his last new idea about startups. Every essay is carefully thought and discussed with some of the most prominent tech and business experts.
See the long acknowledgement for How to Get Startup Ideas:
Obviously, his writing is about helping but also part of a clever content marketing strategy. You notice that some essays start with a non-intrusive call-to-action that encourages you to apply to Y Combinator.
Here’s an example with Startup = Growth:
Most essays have inspired many many entrepreneurs. And they’re definitely worth reading more than once. Paul Graham’s strategy shows that sharing well-thought ideas make it easier to spread them.
My favorite essay is Life Is Short. It’s the kick in the ass that you need to remind you that nothing will last forever.
More here: http://www.paulgraham.com/articles.html
Fred Wilson: Daily Blogging on AVC.com
Fred Wilson is one of the first VCs who started writing when blogging was still a thing (in 2003).
He takes a more quantitative approach than Paul Graham. Fred Wilson is committed to shipping something new every day. From featuring a new startup to giving precious advice to founders to curating thoughtful content, he never gives up.
One day = One new thought
Writing daily has two advantages:
- It encourages your audience to come back regularly. They know that there will always be something new when they come back.
- The challenge of publishing every day forces you to be more creative. You have no choice. You’re committed to share something new and worth reading every day. 
Fred Wilson shared some insight about his blogging recipe:
“The most important part is to engage. The second most important part is own your online presence.”
- Have a long form blog on a domain that you own and that is permanent.
- Participate actively in the social distribution platforms.
- Build community on your domains.
- Engage everywhere (Hacker News, other blog communities/comments, Twitter, Facebook, etc).
Another ingredient of the “Fred Wilson School of Blogging” is a real commitment to showing up for (13+) years:
“People ask me when I am going to write a book and I laugh at that suggestion. AVC is more than a book will ever be. It is live, it is deep (in terms of total posts), it keeps going, evolving, and ends when I end.”
More here: http://avc.com/
Brad Feld: Thoughts on SaaS, Startup Ecosystem, and More
Brad Feld also started early (in 2004). He doesn’t ship every day but almost.
Brad Feld is certainly one of the most a prolific VC writer with three blogs and multiple books.
Here’s his take on this:
“I write to think.”
Another reason for Brad Feld success is that he started demystifying venture capital at a time where things were very opaque for founders:
“There was so much positive feedback on demystifying this one element of venture capital (term sheets). This time frame — 2005/2006 — web 2.0 was starting. Venture capital was still kind of closed, 1st time entrepreneurs had a lot of questions that were unanswered, and there was still some sort of hand waiving around all the financing stuff and so we took it on.”
More here: http://www.feld.com/
Mark Suster: Talking Venture Capital on Both Sides of the Table
Mark Suster is another committed writer.
What I really like about Mark Suster’s writing is his transparency. He shares stories and thoughts that many would have been reluctant to share.
Here’s an example with What Do Industry Insiders Think Will Happen in VC in 2016?
We can easily say that, like Brad Feld, he has contributed to (1) making the VC industry more transparent and (2) educating entrepreneurs about how to deal with investors.
What’s particular with Mark Suster’s strategy is that he focuses on building a brand name: Both Sides of the Table. The name speaks for itself and highlights a well-defined positioning strategy.
Among the VCs I mentioned, Mark Suster is the only one who switched his blog to Medium. He’s also exploring other forms of content like what he calls Snapstorms, certainly inspired from Marc Andreessen’s Tweetstorms.
More here: https://bothsidesofthetable.com/
Sam Altman: Personal Thoughts about New Ventures, Silicon Valley, and More
Sam Altman succeeded Paul Graham as President of Y Combinator. And reading Sam Altman’s writing makes you think about Graham’s style:
(You can see how their ideas complement each other in this article.)
His writing is much more casual. He’s not here to build an audience. Sam Altman focuses on sharing his thoughts on today’s startup world. He publishes something because he has an interesting story to share, not because he hasn’t written for while.
My fave from Sam Altman is not about business but life: The days are long but the decades are short.
More here: http://blog.samaltman.com/
Ben Evans: Analysing the Future of Tech
Ben Evans is not a VC per se, but works at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.
He has done a great job at building a loyal audience thanks to the quality of his work. In less than 5 years, he went from zero to almost 300,000 pageviews/month. (It’s not the best metric to track, but it shows that Ben Evans got his content strategy right).
Let’s dig a bit into this:
- Every article is the result of thorough analysis. Ben Evans does publish regularly but only when he has something new to write about. Original and well-thought ideas win.
- Ben Evans has a clear positioning. He writes about the future of technology, with a special focus on mobile. If you’re not interested just get out. But if you are, you’re likely to keep his name on the top of your mind.
- He keeps in touch with his audience regularly. Ben Evans leverages the idea behind permission marketing with a weekly newsletter. It’s a nice way to share curated content—what he reads— and to distribute his own content—what he writes.
As Ben Evans points out, building an audience is a massive challenge because:
“The problem isn’t freedom or openness but distribution.”
Everyone can create content. The challenge is to distribute it. How can you make sure that it will end up in front of the right people?
Ben Evans also exploits an unfair advantage. His job at Andreessen Horowitz is to come up with ideas about the future of technology. So there’s a real synergy between his job and his writing.
If you are not familiar with Ben Evans’s writing, get a look at his 16 mobile theses.
More here: http://ben-evans.com/
Podcasts: Interview World-class Guests
Podcasts are another way to do good B2B content marketing.
They’re great for three reasons:
- Your audience can listen to them while they’re doing something else like commuting;
- They allow you to share stories that nobody would have put in written words;
- Recording a podcast episode takes often less time than writing an article.
(Interested in leadership and personal growth, subscribe to Unlock People’s Potential—the podcast I host.)
The a16z Podcast by Andreessen Horowitz: The Future of Tech & Management
The a16z Podcast focuses on two main topics: the future of technology and high-level management advice. (And I think this is what they want to be known for.)
From interviews of thought-leaders to extracts of conferences, the podcast digs deep into ideas on the world of tomorrow.
Most episodes are very technical. When the a16z team talks about tech, they always go into the nitty-gritty. Same when the topic is about management and leadership challenges.
Here’s a pretty good example: Managing Uncertainty — Layoffs and Talent with Shannon Schiltz and Alex Rampell.
More here: The a16z Podcast
Traction by NextView: Early Stage Growth
Traction does a great job at sharing the stories of early stage startups. The content focuses on those first 18 to 24 months of a company’s growth. It shows that NextView addresses a well-defined audience: the “garage-stage” founders.
It has different podcast strategy.
What I really like is its well-edited format. The podcast doesn’t sound like a typical interview. Each episode is a mix of the interview of a guest and Jay Acunzo’s voice-over sharing additional context and advice.
One of my faves is Patrick Campbell’s story about how he started Price Intelligently.
More here: Traction
The Seedcamp Podcast: Uncover the European Startup Ecosystem
Most of the resources I mentioned focus on the US startup ecosystem.
This is not the case here:
The Seedcamp Podcast puts an emphasis on the European tech scene. In each episode, Carlos Espinal, Partner at Seedcamp, interviews the founders, mentors, and investors who have contributed to building the European ecosystem.
This is how Seedcamp highlights its leading role as an early stage investor in Europe and its massive network of mentors, partners, and alumni.
More here: The Seedcamp Podcast
The Tim Ferriss Show: Long-form Interview of VCs
Although Tim Ferriss is not a venture capitalist per se, he invested in many success stories as a business angel. And he got to do that thanks to a clever content marketing strategy based on long-form articles, books, and now a podcast.
Besides the quality of his show, the reason he deserves a spot here is the great interviews he did of some of the most prominent venture capitalists and business angels:
- Marc Andreessen, Andreessen Horowitz
- Phil Libin, General Catalyst Partners
- Chris Sacca, LOWERCASE Capital
- Reid Hoffman, Greylock Partners
- Peter Thiel, Founders Fund
- Naval Ravikant, AngelList
- And, I guess, more to come…
Unlike most initiatives listed in this article, Tim Ferriss makes money out his content. It’s his main job after all. And with nearly 70,000,000 downloads in two years of existence, he would be mad to wast the opportunity to make a few dimes from advertising.
More here: The Tim Ferriss Show
Videos: Record Events and Share Them Online
Y Combinator on How to Start a Startup
How to Start a Startup (or Stanford’s class CS183B) is a series of lectures by Sam Altman and many guests who are part of the Y Combinator ecosystem.
This is pure gold for someone who wants to start a business. There are lots of advice that will help you avoid the mistakes that most first-time entrepreneurs make.
Running this class was a wonderful marketing success for Y Combinator and Sam Altman. I’ve heard of so many groups that were created in order to watch and discuss each episode together. Beyond sharing online content, Sam Altman succeeded to get into people’s offline lives.
The team also did an excellent job at sharing the content in different formats with a YouTube Channel and a podcast.
The initiative is a proof that working on your content marketing strategy with a partner works well. This is especially the case when the two partners have popular names like Stanford and Y Combinator.
More here: How to Start a Startup
Greylock Partners on Technology-enabled Blitzscaling
Following Peter Thiel’s CS183A and Sam Altman’s CS183B, Greylock Partners ran a class called Technology-enabled Blitzscaling (or Stanford’s CS183C).
While CS183B was about starting your business, this class focuses on scaling your business.
This class received less buzz than How to Start a Startup. (I may have missed something but less people seemed to know about it). I actually found out about it on Medium through Chris McCann’s notes.
But with guests like Google’s Eric Schmidt, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, and Airbnb’s Brian Chesky, it makes you appreciate that Greylock Partners and Stanford share this class for free.
500 Startups on Traction and Growth
500 Startups does a great job with video content. And its content marketing strategy doesn’t require a lot of work.
The videos are recording of conferences that 500 Startups organise regularly like the Weapons of Mass Distribution Conference 2015. No need to come up with original ideas, the speakers do the work for you.
The goal is to highlight the credibility of 500 Startups in scaling startups with tons of expertise and a large network of growth marketers.
More here: 500 Startups
Books Worth Reading about Venture Capital & Entrepreneurship
Books are also part of a good B2B content marketing strategy. Consulting firms and so-called “experts” master the art of publishing books to sell their B2B services.
As author Ryan Holiday wrote:
“Books are no longer simply books, they are branding devices and credibility signals.”
Books are a filter.
Everyone can publish a blog article, less people can write a book. So a book generates more significant credibility signals. Write the same content in a few blog articles and people won’t take your expertise as seriously.
Here are some examples of books by VCs:
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters — The philosophy behind the rapid growing ventures in Silicon Valley.
- The Fundraising Field Guide by Carlos Espinal — A manual for the entrepreneurs who want to know more about how to raise money.
- Venture Deals by Brad Feld — A more technical guide to raising money.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz — Practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems a business can face.
(Look up here to find my list of the best books for entrepreneurs.)
Some Pearls of Great Price about Tech Startups
The best examples of B2B content marketing share something valuable to their audience. You see all the examples above aim to help founders build better startups.
Some ideas of content are about being a founder—personal development. Other ideas deal with how to start and grow a startup—business.
It’s often hard to explain why but some ideas take off better than others. Usually, it’s because they fill a gap. The content provides some guidance that entrepreneurs were missing.
Here are some pieces of content that went viral:
- AARRR Metrics by Dave McClure (Digital Marketing)
- Product/Market Fit by Marc Andreessen (Product Development)
- Do Things that Don’t Scale by Paul Graham (Product Development)
- LinkedIn’s Series B Pitch to Greylock by Reid Hoffman (Raising Money)
- Internet Trends by Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (News/Trends)
- The Pmarca Blog by Marc Andreessen (Advice to Founders)
- The Startup Playbook by Sam Altman (Advice to Founders)
- Y Combinator’s Hacker News (News/Trends)
(Hacker News is also the proof that user-generated content works well in B2B too).
These “pearls” show that the major factors that make content marketing thrive are sharing practical, original ideas and doing things differently.
Evergreen content works.
How Do Venture Capital Firms Benefit from Content Marketing?
You see now that there’s a lot of free, high-quality content out there. But why do these investors spend their time sharing this?
Three main reasons:
- They love to help;
- They benefit from a more mature startup ecosystem;
- They’re competing for the attention and trust of startup founders.
If you find what they share interesting, you’re likely to trust them more and even to spread the word about their work.
So content marketing is a way for them to make sure that the day you want to raise money, you’ll have their name on the top of your mind.
Generating a good deal flow is a challenge.
So every marketing initiative is an opportunity to encourage entrepreneurs to think about a specific VC firm. This is why venture capitalists speak at conferences, network a lot, do tons of PR, and share precious advice for free.
Where Is This Content Marketing Thing Going?
Venture capital is competitive because it relies on (1) finding the right startups to invest in and (2) convincing the founders that your commodity—money—is worth more than someone else’s commodity—still money.
This means that great venture capital firms must add more value than just money—network, brand name, support…
At the beginning content marketing was a nice way to show how a venture capital firm could add value.
But here’s the catch:
After almost 15 years of publishing free advice about the rules of the startup game, almost everything has been said. Everyone has access to some of the best startup lessons for free.
Value comes out from scarcity. To stand out, a venture capital firm would have to do things differently: solve problems that haven’t been solved, talk about things nobody talks about, come with a new angle, specialise in a vertical and nail it…
Distribution, the Growing Challenge for B2B Content Marketing
Besides improving the “quality” of your content, you also need to nail your distribution strategy. As Ben Evans points out, this now the biggest challenge in marketing.
The distribution channels that perform the best are the ones that are well segmented, those who are specific to your industry. Clement Vouillon of Point Nine Capital summaries it well:
“Go beyond the obvious content distribution channels (Twitter…) and start to use industry specific channels.”
The right content marketing startegy focuses on what the audience—the customers— wants to read/listen to/watch and where they go to consume this content.
Content Marketing Is Not Only Challenging for Startups but also for Venture Capital Firms
As you see, marketing remains a challenge for the venture capital industry.
Venture capital might be seen as holding the keys for startup success. But they also are businesses with their own challenges and competitors.
Like What You Just Read about B2B Marketing and Venture Capital?
Notes about B2B Content Marketing and Venture Capital
 One Thing to Keep in Mind: Who Is The Customer?
Even though most VCs share content for free because they like helping people, it’s also part of their job.
In an article, Arthur Attwell highlights how startup lovers became customers of a new market:
“This is one, a note to my future self: Don’t call your projects ‘startups’. It’s a semantic trick, but a really important one. Here’s why. ‘Startups’ have become a commodity in an industry of startup conferences, websites, courses, and competitions.”
Be aware that content marketing is an alternative to advertising. It’s another way to get your attention as a customer.
So when you raise money or take part of a startup programme, you are the customer.
 Shipping every is something that Seth Godin has been preaching for a while. Honestly, I’m that close to doing it. Instead, I’m focusing writing every day, but not publishing every day. It works too but makes it a bit less challenging.
My issue is that you cannot write the article you just read every day. So I have to balance shorter and longer forms of content.
 Here’s one thing to keep in mind when reading/listening/watching all these pieces of content: Business is an art.
VCs cannot share more than thoughtful insights. None of them holds the keys to success, even though they can help you to open some doors. This means that all this content is only based on their own opinions.
And sometimes they clash.
For example in a piece called the Illusion of Product/Market Fit for SaaS Companies, Brad Feld highlighted a disagreement between Ben Horowitz and Fred Wilson.
I love the clash because it reminds us that business is indeed an art.
You should go through the content to get some inspiration, not a clear direction.