How VCs can use data to establish their expertise and brand to attract dealflow, co-investors and acquirers.
After the Quantitative VC lessons on using data to expand your network and preventing deal FOMO (fear of missing out) which both suggest outreach to companies and investors, one of the questions that came up from several of you was about how you can actually display and showcase thought leadership especially when doing so is not necessarily part of your day job.
This is really a question of how do you build your brand.
And so we’re going to focus on how we can use data to showcase thought leadership and build your brand. We’re going to help you kickstart 4 to 8 blog posts using data really really quickly.
It is worth noting that our focus on brand building below looks at mostly external brand building (with entrepreneurs, investors and acquirers). These same principles can also be used for brand building within an organization. So while the lesson revolves around blog posts and tweets, you could just as easily use these principles to develop presentations that you’d share internally with senior management or partners at your firm to develop your organizational brand.
Before we get into the meet of the lesson, some initial thoughts:
- “But I don’t have a blog” – In talking with some of you, there was a concern that “I don’t have a blog”. That’s fine. With platforms like Twitter or Medium or Tumblr, being a content producer has never been easier. So let’s get rid of that excuse, shall we?
- Verticalize – If you want to establish thought leadership, it’ll be tough to do so by going horizontal, i.e. cover lots of different topics well and be someone people care about. And going horizontal and covering a broad range of topics is really only possible if you are famous or have a track record to back it up, i.e. this is the provenance of Fred Wilson, Marc Andreessen and Bill Gurley within VC circles. So instead of going horizontal, I suggest going vertical. Go deep on a topic (industry is probably best) and be “THE” person on that topic. The role model in my view for this is Jason Lemkin who through his writing and development of SaaStr has become the VC investor that SaaS entrepreneurs know. If you have a question on SaaS, Jason’s SaaStr blog will often be the first place you consult or it will come up high in Google results. He’s now doing conferences and the like related to SaaS and all have become possible because of his efforts around SaaStr. Can you say dealflow?
- Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook – This relates to the above. Gary Vaynerchuk (VC, social media guru) has a philosophy on this which is very appropriate which he dubs “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook”. It is in his book but essentially, it boils down to this — If you want to stand out, you should start by giving (jab, jab, jab) and then make the ask later (right hook). His philosophy is mostly oriented at folks selling something but VCs are selling themselves so it’s just as appropriate. Jason Lemkin gives away a lot of very useful, free content. As a result, he’s built up a brand and can make requests of the community he has built. And sees dealflow from entrepreneurs that have found his content useful.
- Don’t focus on being right – Hunter Walk of venture fund, Homebrew, had a good post on the topic of being a VC and blogging and one thing he said is really important to keep in mind. And that is that we often hear from VCs that they worry about writing or sharing ideas because they worry about it being totally buttoned up and “right”. Here’s what Hunter wrote:
No, the issue is often the need to be right. To feel 100% confident in what you’re putting out there and aggrandize the post to encompass the whole history, theory and current state of some topic. Wow, what a mindfuck. My advice is to not worry so much. Instead of writing the definitive post, just pick one aspect and riff a bit. Share what you know, what you think and see what happens.
- Distribute, distribute, distribute – If you write 6 or 8 posts about some vertical topic using some of the strategies below, you should not assume anyone will see them. Distribution is key. Hunter’s post discusses letting go of the need to be right which is key but equally important is doing the work to distribute your content. You can learn from non-VC bloggers on how to distribute your content. I’ve included some basic things in this post as well as some gurus of distribution, but as it’s a big topic unto itself, my review of distribution is not exhaustive.
- One & done doesn’t work – We often see VCs spend a lot of time on a single blog post where they do a detailed market map of some space or some very thoughtful writeup of something which they self-publish or guest post on a place like TechCrunch. These are great to get things going and help build an initial audience but if you want to become a thought leader, you have to keep pounding on that theme – again and again. Again, if you look at Jason Lemkin’s SaaStr blog, you’ll see that he was “an overnight hit 5 years in the making”. This is hard work.
So now we know this is hard work. How can we kickstart our efforts?
Strategies to Build your VC Brand
In the example to highlight these strategies, I’m going to assume you’re a VC who is very interested in bitcoin and related applications. As with all prior examples, you can apply this to any other area you’re interested in. So if you want to look at companies focused on oncology or file storage or drones, the principles of what is detailed below remain the same.
To get to blog posts or tweets, there are 4 steps:
- Create your list – this will take you 5 to 30 minutes
- Get your graphs – this is where the magic happens
- Blog and tweet away – tweeting is easy. Blogging can take more time. You can also embed these in internal presentations, senior management presentations (for CVCs), conference presentations, etc as mentioned above.
- Stay Current – this part is easy, too
Once you’ve done the above, turn in your homework 🙂
There are step-by-step instructions below followed by a video that also shows you how to do all these steps as well.
Step 1 – Create Your List
In this example, everything you want to do can be done in Excel if you have the data. We’ll show you to avoid using Excel with CB Insights, but if you don’t have access to CBI, Excel will work but will just a take longer.
Building the list in this example means building a list of companies related to bitcoin. I’m going to show you how to do directly from a company’s profile or via deal search. You can also do this via Similar Companies or Company Search so there are many ways to attack this and just depend on your preferences.
Method 1 – Create or add to a list via Search
If you want to demonstrate thought leadership on Bitcoin, you’ll first want to build a list of companies that fall within the bitcoin and related areas.
Adding companies one-by-one can be tedious so you’ll use Deal Search to identify these companies. Since you’re interested in bitcoin, you’re going to look at all companies that have the word bitcoin, cryptocurrency or blockchain in their descriptions using the Keyword field on Deal Search.
Once you’ve run this search, you can select the results you find interesting or select all of them and…
…create a private list as shown below and hit confirm.
Method 2 – Add to an existing list from a company profile
Over time, you’ll want to keep your list current. You can of course do searches and add new companies via search but you can also do that when you’re on a company’s profile.
So for example, if you’re on the BitPay profile, you can add them to a list by clicking on the down arrow in the Follow button as below. If there is a list already created, you can add Bitpay to that list or you can “Add to a new list”.
If you click “Add to a new list”, you’ll be asked to name the list as below.
You can name it whatever you like and in this case, the list has been named “Bitcoin cos” and you’ll now see a private list on the profile. You can think of lists as Tags. You can add a company to multiple private lists if you’d like.
Step 2 – Get Your Graphs
This is where you can save a lot of time. Analyzing this list in Excel takes time. Pivot tables, vlookups – all that fun stuff.
But with your list created, you get a number of analytics off-the-shelf that you can use as fodder for your blogging, tweeting, presentation and general thought leadership efforts. To get to these graphs, go to the You tab in the navigation menu and go to Private List Analytics and then find the list you want. In this case, it’s the “Bitcoin Cos” list.
Once you’ve clicked that, you’ll be taken to a series of visualizations about the companies on your Bitcoin Cos list as shown below. You had to touch zero Excel to build these. They’re available automatically once you built a list.
Here’s what you’ll see. The magic is in the menu to the left.
This left side will serve as the basis for your tweets/blog posts. I won’t go into all of these but focus on a few here. Many are self-explanatory.
#1 – Social Graph
The Business Social Graph is a network graph of every company in the Bitcoin space, in this case, and their investor, acquirer and competitor connections. It will help you see relationships between companies, investors and competitors in a very visual way. Here’s what it looks like for your Bitcoin cos list.
The first view is of the ecosystem as you’ve defined it overall. This view is zoomed out.
You’ll see I’ve highlighted an area with a lot of activity. We can then zoom into that area to see what companies, investors and acquirers are active here. Some of these areas of a great deal of activity may be indicative of hot areas in the market. Here are a number of case studies of how folks use the Business Social Graph to understand emerging trends, track competitors, and understand the strategy of corporations.
#2 – Financing Trend
This will show you the financing trend to your list over the last 2 and 5 years. Making sense of the market and how much activity in a specific vertical is something that many folks have not seen especially if you have picked a tightly defined vertical. Sharing this and talking about trends you’re seeing or technologies that have you excited is a great way to establish your thinking about the space.
#3 – Financing by Stage
How is investment breaking down by stage in terms of activity and average deal sizes.
#4 – Most active investors
This is a list of the most active investors in the space. A post highlighting these investors and their investments is a quick “growth hack” to get in front of them. You better believe they have Google Alerts or something set up for themselves to keep track of mentions.
You should also use the networking guidance provided earlier to reach out to these investors to expand your network.
Here’s the video that walks through the above in a couple minutes
Step 3 – Blog & Tweet Away
Tweeting is easy. Take the images and tweet them out with some info and cc: other players in the space you want to get to know. Blog posts take a bit more time, but the data analysis is done. You need to contextualize it.
Use Medium, Tumblr or if feeling ambitious, set up your own wordpress blog.
Take several of these graphics and throw into PowerPoint and PDF it and make it a report you can send to entrepreneurs or investors or acquirers.
Important – remember to reference CB Insights or @cbinsights when you publish data and your insights 🙂
NOTE: These same principles can be used to develop your brand within an organization. You could take the same graphs and visuals and share in a partner or senior management presentation as well. I’ve focused mostly on external brand building but these principles are just as appropriate/relevant for doing that within an organization.
BTW, just writing a post or sending a tweet or assembling a report is not where it ends. Distribution is key here. Here are some tips on distribution
Distributing your ideas
I’d recommend spending 1/3 of time on writing and 2/3 on distribution especially to start.
- Use Twitter – take images of graphs and tweet them out. And tweet them out several times.
- Email investors and startups – Reach out to every entrepreneur and investor you found from earlier lessons with each post you write. They may not reply to each one but if you keep hammering your thesis and ideas, eventually they’ll come to think of you on this topic. Drip marketing is the term used for this ongoing cadence/sequence of messages.
- Share with media – Media folks often need data and sources when writing articles. You want to be the first person they think of when writing about bitcoin or whatever the topic is. There are PR tools to build this list quickly but they’re expensive and overkill to start. Initially, just go to Google News and find everyone writing about your topic and figure out their email and start sending them your stuff.
Distribution is a whole other ball of wax so I won’t go into too much detail here, but ask me if any questions. Distribution is where the magic happens. It’s also what gives you momentum, i.e the first time you get a media mention or a tweet or response from someone will give you more confidence you’re on the right track.
If you want to learn from some masters of content and content distribution, study these guys.
Step 4 – Stay Current
Once you’re writing up posts or sharing tweets, you can also track the Bitcoin space for new deals. Keeping people on top of what is happening in the industry with brief snippets of commentary is one way to do this. So tracking financing and M&A activity in the bitcoin space is one way to do this. It will keep you informed and give you fodder for things to write about as well as ensure you’re reaching out to entrepreneurs and investors of interest.
Build a feed of all bitcoin transactions and create a feed on your MyCBI page and also get those deals sent to you via email. Here are detailed step-by-step instructions written out with screen shots on how to build a feed. We also covered that in the lesson on Deal FOMO. Once you’ve done that, your MyCBI page will update you as new bitcoin deals happen. You can also schedule these results to come to your email.
Now – it’s your turn to start building your brand using data. Do the above and put together a blog post or presentation or start tweeting out statistics and send a draft over. We’ll take a look and also give you some distribution tips on who to reach out to.