Most venture capital firms--with the exception of Andreessen Horowitz and the other giants of Sand Hill Road--tend to fly under the radar, except among scrappy entrepreneurs on the hunt for funding.

But First Round Capital, an 11-year-old VC firm that invests primarily in tech startups, has build its brand through content marketing to attract a following of more than half a million monthly website visitors, and over 100,000 newsletter subscribers, through its branded publication, First Round Review.

That dedicated audience helps the firm build its profile within the startup world--effortlessly growing a huge network of promising entrepreneurs and tech industry recruits for its portfolio.

This isn't a BuzzFeed-style content factory: First Round Review publishes twice a week, and has only two staff members dedicated to content marketing.

So how does the company build the content that fuels its engine? I talked with head of content, Camille Ricketts, about how First Round Review became a go-to online publication for the startup world. (She had far more insights than I had space to include here, so feel free to check out my company's blog for more takeaways from our conversation.)

Kathryn Hawkins: How did First Round Review get its start?

Camille Ricketts: The concept started in the spring of 2013 when First Round was thinking about extending its brand and how to get in front of more brilliant entrepreneurs who would potentially be great investments for us. And content marketing came up as one of the primary ideas that would be easy to execute with a lean team of people.

The blog officially launched in July of 2013, and we really tried to position it as not another venture capital blog, but really as a publication that would be laser-focused on tactical advice for company-building.

And that's really been our credo that we've stuck to ever since: Every single story on the review needs to feature someone who is an actual operator, who's had experiences that they've learned from and had success. And then we'll also feature some sort of actionable advice that can be applied by readers.

That still defines the content today.

What were your primary goals in building the publication?

Our goals were twofold: to first be a benevolent actor in the Silicon Valley ecosystem in terms of promoting really brilliant people, whether they were in our portfolio or not, whether they were in our community beforehand or not. We wanted to find the smartest advice we could and give it a platform.

And then secondly, we wanted to reach more people who are building interesting things, and get First Round in front of them as early as possible.    

You have a variety of "magazines" on the site with different focuses: Management, People and Culture, Women, Product, etc. Are these all intended to appeal to different target audiences? Who is your ideal reader for the First Round Review?

I really argue--and this is something that's been born out of my experience here--that you find the audience that's going to give you the greatest leverage.

So who is your content really, really for? What is the ultimate goal for what you want to do?

And for us, it's that we really wanted bright people out there to see First Round and then talk to us about building a company. The one audience we really wanted to be speaking to was either pre-founders or existing founders.

And all of the content then was sort of designed for them, and very fortunately it ended up appealing to a lot of adjacent markets. And I think that's what ends up happening when you're very focused on very high quality content, you end up having a broader appeal than you would if you're trying to produce things for many different audiences at once.  

You only publish twice a week (on Tuesdays and Thursdays), yet you've been able to grow a massive audience with that content. What types of articles tend to resonate the most with your audience?

By far and away, management stories. It makes a lot of sense to me because management is sort of functional area agnostic. You can be an engineering manager, you can be manager, you can be a general manager.

Everybody is grappling with the same challenges and needs to learn sort of similar content no matter what area they're operating in. So those tend to be very popular.

The number one on the site of all time--I think it's been shared of 80,000 times--features Kim Scott, who is an incredible advisor and startup founder. She is known for running AdWords and Adsense for Google for a very long time.

It's called "Radical Candor - The Surprising Secret To Being A Great Boss."  It provided a very simple framework for people to think differently about how they wanted to be managers, and it got a lot of traction.

How has your content marketing approach impacted First Round's business overall?

Our content marketing has become our calling card for what founders can expect when they do work with us and our partners. And then quantitatively we just look at our audience growing month over month from a prescriber based perspective.

Our reasoning being that the more people that we're reaching from a purely numerical standpoint, the more people of our target demographic we're reaching as well.

Published on: Aug 4, 2016