When I founded BlazeMeter, I decided to postpone venture funding until I had determined my initial product and market fit. I was stringent when thinking about what that meant: in the end, I would need to have a real product with real customers to get financed. But, customers were buyers I had no prior connection to. So, I needed a way to connect with them and establish BlazeMeter’s name in the marketplace.
Our performance testing product is designed for developers, operations staff and DevOps. This means that our customers are highly technical and distrust marketing fluff. They can sniff it out from miles away. Yet they are eager for information about the open source platform that BlazeMeter is based on, but not always interested in buying a product. Some of them are simply trying to answer the question of whether to buy our product or build it themselves using an open source platform. And, that’s okay.
But, to capture our potential customers’ attention, it was obvious that we needed to create information that would be intrinsically valuable to their business. To do this, I used blogging and content marketing throughout the bootstrapping and seed-funding process to pique their interest and, ultimately, earn their business. And, it worked! After starting bootstrapping in 2010 and receiving seed funding in 2011, BlazeMeter became cash flow positive after just 18 months of operation. All of this happened prior to any Series A fundraising.
Based on this experience, I’ve laid out some top tips for how you can blog your way to Series A with smart content that provides valuable information and generates leads for your business.
Smart content is king
The Web is full of dumbed down-content marketing, which is never effective. People are thirsty for smart, quality content; and, if you get that right, you’ll earn authority on Google. That pays off.
To be clear, content is not a lead generator in the beginning, but rather a brand generator. It tells people that you have what it takes, while doing wonders for your SEO. The research shows that people expect most companies to have a blog these days and that the frequency of your blogging does affect customer acquisition. According to Hubspot, 92% of companies who blogged multiple times a day acquired a customer through their blog.
But, don’t waste your energy wondering why your smart content isn’t leading to an immediate sale. Those leads can – and will – come later.
Writing is a variable cost
When you’re boot strapping or in lean startup mode, you can’t afford to hire a full-time content person. You should plan to work with whatever skills your founding team and developers have. Writing for developers can be done on-demand (I call this on-demand burn), essentially acting as a variable cost, expended only when needed. We decided to create great content for developers with oDesk, an online freelance workplace, which had the right people with the right skills, and we’ve never looked back.
Don’t waste your energies on getting the smart content out and wondering why it didn’t lead to a sale. It doesn’t, but it still is worth it. When we began generating content, its impact wasn’t noticeable in terms of SEO (as measured by our major search word). It took patience. Twelve months down the road, we got to the first page and the first search result for that word. Yet our first attempts at content generation did get us engaged in early customer dialogue. We also knew we had to manage our expectations – without doing a PR launch of the company, acting in “semi stealth” – we couldn't reasonably expect to get anywhere near the first page of the Google search, and that’s OK.
PR boosts SEO, not business
The same approach applies to dealing with the PR launch of the company. When we launched the company, the press ran dozens of company mentions, creating a traffic spike. Some call the period after a PR-driven traffic spike the “trough of sorrow”, but even at the top of the PR spike we weren’t making any business. A PR boom is great. It got us smack into the Google first page results we had dreamed of getting into for over a year. But don’t confuse that with lead generation. My board was thrilled when I got all this PR coverage. They asked me how much business I got. The answer was zero. They were disappointed. I was not. The PR boom did a great job for our SEO rank. At last, we were on the first page.
Blogging for leads
There are success stories, and then there are failures. BlazeMeter’s was a success because we followed the lean-startup methodology. That process never ends, we still blog ferociously and we still want to provide valuable information to our market. Today, we can stand on the shoulders of our previous content marketing and, at long last, our content is starting to equal leads.
(Image source: litreactor.com)