Several weeks ago I spoke to a partner at Andreessen Horowitz (also known as a16z), the prominent, Silicon Valley venture capital firm.
He explained to me that his firm takes more of a "marketing" as opposed to a "sales" approach in attracting entrepreneurs to their funds. For people that know the firm, this may seem obvious.
When I started working in tech, the best venture capital firms did not take this approach. Their investments were driven by rooms full of young associates cold calling entrepreneurs to find the best companies. a16z has taken a different approach and has focused on getting entrepreneurs to come to them.
The way that they’ve accomplished this is through the production of great content — blogs, social media, podcasts, videos, etc.
The quality of their content is phenomenal. The a16z podcast has been a favorite of mine for years. One of their founders, Ben Horowitz, has written a best selling book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, that has become an indispensable guide for people starting a company. They’ve also recruited partners that were great at producing content long before they joined the firm. Chris Dixon, now a partner at the firm, was a major inspiration for me to start writing this blog. He no longer blogs independently but you can find his archives here. I also followed Benedict Evans closely long before he joined the firm back when he was a mobile analyst in Europe and writing great stuff about tech. Now he's a partner at a16z. He’s arguably become the new Mary Meeker of tech with his annual State Of Innovation Talk.
a16z made a brilliant move by recruiting these two guys. I'm sure they're great investors in their own right, but I know for a fact that they're incredible content producers.
Case in point: when my company started talking to a16z about taking an investment from them I was very excited; not because I knew the firm well, but because I had an extremely high opinion of them that was driven by their content before ever actually meeting or speaking with anyone from the firm. That is the definition of great content marketing. High quality content that doesn’t ask the consumer for anything, but passively improves the perception of the company or product.
I just started reading Seth Godin’s new book, This is Marketing, and in it he reminds us of the right way to do marketing:
Seth has been saying this in one way or another for almost 20 years (at least since writing the Purple Cow) and it’s a great way to think about content production. If a16z’s content went away, a lot of people would miss it. That’s a great standard.
Most marketers are producing some form of content these days. But very few are going all in. At last check, a16z sees about 2,000 qualified inbound pitches per year, only to make 20-40 investments. So going all in is clearly working for them.
Marketers don’t necessarily need to hire the top thought leaders in their space to create content. But it’s worth thinking about what going all in would mean for your brand and asking yourself if anyone would miss you if you were gone.