Behind every great brand publication is a dedicated brand publisher.
A great brand publication doesn’t happen overnight. Just ask Shaun Young, Editor at First Round Capital, who runs the company’s highly covetable brand publication, “The Review.” L&T’s CEO Cooper Pickett sat down with Young to discuss the ins and outs of his work to build a community of entrepreneurs around a cohesive content marketing strategy.
Cooper Pickett: It seems like The First Round Review is primarily focused on creating and nurturing a community of entrepreneurs. Can you expand on this and the overall goals of the publication?
Shaun Young: That’s right. Though I might amend that to creating and nurturing an entrepreneurial community. It’s a nuance, but an important one, as our readership does include founders, but also those throughout an organization who seek new and better ways to help their companies excel. They share that entrepreneurial cycle: build, break, learn, share and repeat.
That aside, the overall goal of the Review is to encourage the osmosis of startup know-how. As we say in our manifesto, there is powerful, untapped knowledge stuck in technologists’ heads, who rarely have time to share what they’ve learned. Our objective is to redistribute hard-won lessons and tactics that’ll transform how other company-builders create.
CP: Why do you think so many First Round companies are committed to brand publishing and content marketing?
SY: In a recent Review article, we talk about simplifying the purpose of a startup to one act: the transfer of belief. From co-founder to co-founder. Then from co-founders to their startup. Then from the startup to the market. That’s also what’s behind brand publishing and content marketing: that transfer of belief. And that happens through storytelling.
Those who can tell their story in a complete, compelling way have an outsized shot at winning. But it’s not just about excellence; it’s about basic performance. It’s a core skill for any founder, as her ability to connect through storytelling underpins every pitch to investors, close of potential hires or big update at an All Hands.
Specifically on content marketing: the organizations — First Round companies and beyond — that do content well see it as the top way to cultivate a long-term relationship with customers. People don’t typically choose to buy or engage after one touchpoint. If executed well, content marketing can make a brand accessible and omnipresent, giving people more chances to interact — and build relationships — with it.
CP: What’s your editorial process? How does an article on The Review go from idea to final product?
SY: My Review partner Camille says it best: content marketing is a team sport. While there are just two of us working full-time on The Review, we have a supportive community around us. We get most of our leads from First Round partners, colleagues, past Review subjects, and our founders. They know our goals and are reliable filters, but we still vet potential subjects.
We have a kick-off call to hone in on a topic. Ideally, we want subjects to guide the topic, so that they bring the depth and enthusiasm needed for a long-form article. We also keep in mind what will resonate with our readership and prompt them to try out tactics. Throughout the call, we zero-in on non-obvious and counterintuitive insights that we tease out in a longer interview.
Up until recently, Camille and I wrote every article, but we’ve started working with a few talented freelancers who have a penchant for the long-form, tactical format of The Review. We do finishing touches with Review subjects and, once the article is finalized, we publish and promote through our newsletter and social channels.
CP: Do you have a favorite First Round Review post? Why is it your favorite?
SY: This is a tough one! We spend a lot of time on each piece, and there’s a certain amount of attachment you develop to each story. Another day, I’d might tell you about Adam Grant, David Loftesness, Nate Weiner, Bethanye Blount, David Barrett or a handful of others I could list.
But today I might say the post with Looker founder Lloyd Tabb. At the time, a First Round product manager flagged a post on Network, our online platform that allows our founders and their teams to swap company-building tactics. Lloyd had written a mini-post that classified his engineers as superhero archetypes — a system that helped him better manage and magnify their abilities. I reached out to him and before I knew it, we were talking about strengths of Aquaman, the failure mode of The Flash or what inspires The Spielberg.
When he spoke about these personas, you could tell he was thinking of specific people. There was admiration in his voice and he agonized to get their nuances just right. That mix of passion and precision floors me. It’s hard not to run through walls for someone who cares like that.
CP: How does The Review benefit First Round’s overall business strategy?
SY: At a high level, First Round’s goal is to build and serve the strongest community of entrepreneurs. As an early-stage VC, that means not only our current startup founders, but also future ones. And to build a robust community means connecting those current and future founders with experts, advisors, and founders who can help their companies grow.
That’s the broad role of all of First Round — and The Review’s no different. We hope that, in our canon and readership, we engage and reflect these groups — and signal our ongoing search for the brightest minds to help all company-builders. That’s why we not only feature our founders, but industry veterans and rising stars outside of First Round. Each week is another chance to reinforce that brand value and continue our search for great technologists.
CP: What advice do you have for companies wanting to start a brand publication?
SY: Contently CEO Joe Coleman really nailed the answer to your question in his content marketing commandments. A few of my favorites from him: Don’t expect magic overnight; plant the seed and be patient. Make sure you have an audience — then learn everything you can about them. Be consistent — no really, we’re talking regular drumbeat. Coleman drops gems in that post.
Beyond that, I’d say that the beginnings of a publication start long before the blinking cursor. There’s a great debate happening in your company or industry. Find the counterintuitive stance and amplify it. There are others that can learn from — and want to join in — that conversation, if they knew about it. Your gift is access to that exchange. Give over and over again.