How the Contently marketplace found super-growth by adding software

Today I have the story of a founder who built a marketplace, but what makes this guest so interesting is that his company added software in addition to the marketplace.

And it was the software that helped his company grow 10x.

Joe Coleman is the founder of Contently which empowers brands to produce and manage high quality content marketing programs.

Joe Coleman

Joe Coleman

Contently

Joe Coleman is the founder of Contently which empowers brands to produce and manage high quality content marketing programs.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I do interviews with entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. My goal is to find entrepreneurs who have interesting stories that are still not mainstream but should be studied by real entrepreneurs. That’s the goal here behind Mixergy.

And today I’ve got a story of an entrepreneur who built a marketplace. We all know marketplaces and how effective they can be as business models, but also how challenging they can be. We’ll talk about why that it is in this interview. But what makes today’s guest so interesting is that in addition to a marketplace, his company added software. That software helped their business 10x, maybe even more. We’ll find out the specific growth rate from it, but it really helped them get big.

The founder’s name is Joe Coleman. He is the founder of Contently. They empower leading brands to produce and mange high quality content marketing programs. Frankly, if you’re reading great content from a major brand, there’s a major chance that brand worked with Contently to get that content up to you and you just didn’t know about it.

All right. This whole interview is sponsored by two companies that by now you probably do know. The first is the company that will help you hire your next great developer. It’s called Toptal. The second is the one that will help you get on the phone with your customers so you can close more sales and grow your business. It is called Acuity Scheduling, but I’ll tell you more about both of those later. Joe, welcome, man.

Joe: Hey. Thanks for having me.

Andrew: You know what I feel like? Shane, your cofounder, Shane Snow, is the guy who’s usually out there and you’re usually the guy behind the scenes. It feels like that’s intentional. Why is that?

Joe: Yeah. I think it’s a good question. I think our roles as we founded the company kind of naturally evolved into areas where we’re strongest. You’ve met Shane. You’ve interviewed him. He’s awesome. He’s a very special guy when it comes to–he’s a special guy in general, but particularly in the media and content marketing space, he’s great. He’s one of the best thought leaders in the space. He’s been a big asset for the company. When we think about who’s out there publicly talking about Contently, telling the Contently story, he’s a really good guy to do that.

Andrew: He even did a post on Tim Ferriss’ blog about how he ate nothing but Soylent for a bunch of days, right?

Joe: Yeah.

Andrew: There’s a guy who’s really good at it. I have to be honest, Joe, I always wondered about you. I said do you ever sit back and say, “Dammit, Shane is stealing all of the attention. I’m here too, why is no one paying attention to me?” Now that I’ve only seen you for literally two to three minutes before the interview started, I get the sense that you don’t like the limelight, that you weren’t especially happy to be doing an interview with me, but you’re doing it as kind of a favor to me and my audience, right?

Joe: Yeah. I think that’s kind of true. I certainly don’t crave the limelight. The thing I like most about running the business in a CEO type of gig is the ability to take interesting ideas and things and take them to market. So that’s where I’m strongest. It’s where I’m comfortable. It’s not that I dislike doing interviews, but I am definitely more on the introvert scale, say, as opposed to Shane, who’s super extrovert.

Andrew: I know you guys created the marketplace for content creators, and I know you also supercharged the business by going into software. As a person who likes to take products to market, is there something you’re especially proud of that I haven’t listed in this two-item list of things that have helped you guys get super-powered as business? What’s one more thing you’re especially proud of?

Joe: I think one of the things I’m especially proud of, something we did early was we kind of had the foresight when we were trying to crack the chicken and egg problem of marketplaces, which is you need the supply. So, in our case, originally it was just journalists we started out with. Then you need the demand, which in our case was big brands. It’s really hard to figure out which of those come first. So how do you build a supply if you have nobody to buy the content? How do you get great brands if you have no creatives to actually write the content?

So one of the things we did early is we built a product for journalists that helps them manage their clips online. Basically, we noticed that when people came to Contently, they never had a good way of showing off their work. It was always a bad WordPress site or a LinkedIn page. So one of our early investors was this guy, Scott Belsky from Behance. Behance is a product for designers that helps them to create their own portfolio in a really easy, nice looking way.

So we basically saw the opportunity to create something similar for journalists. It allowed us to build a really good reputation in the market because we started to get journalists using Contently as their professional presence online with this portfolio product. It’s really been in many ways the engine behind the growth in the creative network. It’s what’s allowed us to get to 100,000 professional creatives around the world. So I think that’s cool.

Andrew: I didn’t realize the significance of that. So a journalist who wants to show off her writing would have one place to show it and a place that would represent her well because it looked good and it was easy to read through. I see. All right. You know what? Well, before I ask my next question, let me ask this–revenue, where are you guys today?

Joe: So we are in the mid-kind of eight figures in terms of revenue. You mentioned it up front. Our model is a little bit unique and interesting in the sense that we have a marketplace on the one side and then we have a software product that the people use and buy.

So we have two main streams of revenue. We have the recurring SaaS software piece, which is in the mid-eight figures, and then we have the marketplace piece, where quite a bit more money flows through the marketplace in terms of brands that are sourcing content. We take a smaller percentage of that. But just as a good benchmark, we paid out a little over $20 million to freelancers last year through that marketplace.

Andrew: What’s bringing in more revenue? Is it the marketplace or the software?

Joe: It’s the software. Dollar for dollar, it’s really hard to beat SaaS margins. Our customers spend on average more money on content, but our take is quite a bit lower because we like to pass as much of that on as we can to the freelancers. The business is primarily SaaS from a revenue standpoint, but a good chunk of it does come from the marketplace.

Andrew: Shane in addition to doing an interview on Mixergy did a course here where he taught people how to grow their businesses and he said, “One of the things I want to leave everyone with is sit down and think about how to 10x your business.” I said, “How did you guys do it?” He said, “We used to charge 15% of every transaction, and we wanted to figure out how to grow it.”

I said, “Shane, why didn’t you guys just grow your percentage to 20% or 30%?” He said, “Look, first of all, we don’t want to keep taking money from journalists. Our goal is to help journalists earn more money. Second, if we start getting greedy with this and start upping our percentage every time we want to make more money, they’re eventually going to cut us out. So we had to come up with something new, and that’s when we came up with this software idea,” right?

I want to get actually into this later on in the interview as we go through your story. Why don’t we go back a little bit and understand you. You’re a guy who has been an entrepreneur from the beginning. In fact, at age 12 you did something with worms. What was that?

Joe: Yeah. I grew up in Idaho with Shane. He and I went to middle school together. A lot of people fish in Idaho, including me. I did a lot of fishing growing up. One of the things that you need when you go fishing is bait and a lot of people use night crawlers for that. So I don’t even remember–I think it was probably based on a suggestion of my dad. He suggested that because we were on a farm with lots of land, we could actually harvest worms ourselves.

Initially we were selling them to a bait shop for like $2 a pound or something like that. Then we decided, “Why don’t we actually put them in this self-serve worms store and let people come and buy them and take a better margin?” That’s what we did. It was $0.75 for a dozen worms. It was a fun experience. Kind of thinking back, you would basically take a 20 or 50-gallon barrel and put this stuff in it that would make the worms suffocate, so they would have to come to the top of the ground. You would just scoop them up.

Yeah. It was a pretty serious type of a venture. You would go to sleep and see worms in your eyes because you’ve been staring at them for so long. So that’s sort of how I got my entrepreneurial start, I guess.

Andrew: I get the sense from Shane that he just loves to write. I’m getting the sense from you, just from my research, that you have this entrepreneurial instinct in you, am I right? Do you still to this day see lots of different business opportunities that if you weren’t working on Contently that you’d be starting?

Joe: Yeah. That’s exactly right.

Andrew: What’s one of them that’s popped in your head recently?

Joe: Just the other day I was thinking about creating a platform for political activation. I think the recent election has got a lot of people thinking about politics no matter what side you’re on. Thinking about the people that care about politics, how many of them have actually contacted a Congressman or Senator or someone like that to share their opinion. I think the number is fairly low.

Andrew: Yeah.

Joe: If you ask the average person, they know they can do it, but it’s just not something they’ve considered and it’s kind of hard to do. So, for me, I think there are a lot of people are maybe more interested in politics than they think and sort of have strong opinions about issues and things like that. But the gap between them and the way the system works currently in order to get your voice heard is just kind of weird. There’s no real sort of outlets for you and me to go in order to make our voices heard as citizens apart from the standard Senators’ websites and things like that. So it was just a random idea that popped in my head.

Andrew: Is it a challenge not to pursue all these ideas?

Joe: It is. Prior to Contently, I started two other serious businesses before this one, but I’ve had more side projects and random things that I’ve been working on that I can count over my career. It’s one of those things that gives me energy, thinking up new things. Even though today I don’t do any programming or development, because our company is big enough, it’s something that I really love to do and get in there and created the ideas. So, yeah, it’s hard. I don’t have the time to do it these days. All of my attention goes on Contently and a kid I just had, which is sucking up a lot of my attention.

Andrew: I was just checking out FunGrams.com in the internet archive. What was FunGrams?

Joe: Yeah. FunGrams was an online greeting card site created in late ’98, early ’99. A friend of mine–it was actually a strange situation. I was 16 and this guy I met was in his mid-30s in Kentucky. He and I met playing poker online. One of the things that we kind of came up with in terms of an idea was this idea of what we called Fun Pages. Really what they were was like really bad looking greeting cards. You can check them out on Archive.org. I would go and design them myself.

It consisted of–basically the ingredients were like some kind of interesting pattern background, Comic Sans fonts with witty sayings in them or something like that, whatever you could come up with off the top of your head, tons of animated .gifs and then midi music files that immediately played upon hitting the webpage.

Andrew: I’m on one of those pages right now. The title is–again, using Comic Sans, as you said–“Spring Showers,” and then there are dancing raindrops on it and then underneath that, “Bring Summer Showers,” and now I see dancing flowers, “Welcome Summer!” And then there’s a button on the button that says, “Press here to welcome your friends to summer.” I clicked it, it went over to one of my past sites, MailBits.com, which is–

Joe: That’s right. Yeah.

Andrew: Which is what allowed people to send it to their friends. When someone sent it to their friends, we encouraged them to join one of our mailing lists and when they did, we made some money and we paid you guys for that referral. There were a bunch of businesses that did that. Do you remember how much money you made from all this? I remember Shane telling me his mom thought he was a drug dealer or something because he was bringing in so much from that affiliate commission.

Joe: It was a lot. For Shane and I both, it was a unique, weird situation because, again, we grew up in a kind of rural part of Idaho where people were farmers and certainly not that tech savvy, especially back in the late ’90s. I remember my best month ever making around $90,000 between MailBits and this company called Z Media, and there were a few other companies out there. Yeah. I got a lot of interesting looks and questions going to the bank and cashing those checks as a kid.

Andrew: $90,000 as a kid. What did you do with that money?

Joe: I had no idea what to do with it. Fortunately, I stayed pretty grounded. I bought a Nissan Pathfinder that I liked, and that was like $20,000. And then I bought a skateboard or two and some new videogames. But otherwise I just put it away. Actually what ended up happening, I don’t really know how to describe it other than it kind of sucks. It’s an experience I appreciate now. I had all this money sitting there. I had no idea what to do with it. My parents had no idea what to do with it. They’re like, “You should go invest it.” Good on them for helping me out.

We went to the only brokerage in town, which was this Merrill Lynch branch. I still remember the meeting vividly to this day. The woman I met said, “You should definitely be investing this money.” This was in ’99. She’s like, “Tech is really hot. You’re young. You have an opportunity to make a ton of money.” There’s one stock in particular that I remember her pitching to me, which was JDS Uniphase. The ticker was JDSU. She joked that it stands for, “Just don’t sell us.”

Andrew: Oh wow. Okay.

Joe: Anyway, so I ended up investing the bulk of the money that I made through Merrill Lynch back then and then subsequently losing the vast majority of it in 2000-2001 when the dotcom crashed. That stock, JDSU, when I bought it, it was like $150 and post-crash, it was like $0.10 or $0.15.

Andrew: Wow.

Joe: It was pretty remarkable.

Andrew: How did that affect the way you think about money now as an adult?

Joe: I don’t honestly know that it did very much. I think that my experience having money when I was young, I learned to value other things in life. Even today, having money isn’t my primary motivator for doing anything. I think if you ask my wife, she would say that I’m very irresponsible in the sense that paying bills and spending money here or there to buy moving help or I don’t know, just little things is something that I’ve always done and it’s something I like to do, but I’m not–we’re not all kind of gratuitous with our spending. I think for me, I’ve always had this confidence that I can kind of make money when I need to.

Andrew: Yeah.

Joe: So, for me, it’s not about becoming a multimillionaire and doing anything crazy with the money, but I think I do feel a sense of security that kind of no matter what happens, I’m very confident that I can take care of myself and my family, which is kind of a cool feeling.

Andrew: That is a superpower. That is the thing that allows us to take risks and come up with creative ideas and to not–do you still–strangely last night I woke up in the middle the night and I said, “I’m going to let my kids down somehow because somehow we are going to go bankrupt.” I’m not getting anywhere close to bankruptcy. I still worry about it. Do you still have any of those types of worries? I’m waiting for the day when that goes away.

Joe: Yeah. I think it’s a natural fear that I we all have. I don’t know. I sometimes think about it. I think for me, the thing that’s been difficult is my companies prior to this and my side projects prior to this, they were much smaller in terms of the size of the companies and I think what was at stake. They were all bootstrapped.

With Contently, of course, much larger operation. We have well over 100 employees now. We have a ton of great customers. We’ve raised over $20 million in venture capital and other forms of capital. So there’s so much more at stake here. I think every day I come to work sort of dealing with that is considerably more challenging than dealing with a smaller company. So you do tell yourself stories about how if I fail or get fired, then I’ll be ostracized from the entire community and nobody will talk to me again. Even though you know that’s not true, I think the mind tends to go there.

Andrew: One of the reasons why I brought up your old Fun Page business is because I was linked on it and we sent you guys a bunch of revenue. Nobody knows that the business exists because it was kind of powering other people’s businesses and because the name is gone, essentially.

Joe: Yeah.

Andrew: I was thinking about that in relation to your business. I wouldn’t have known you guys existed in the beginning except that David Cohen helped me a lot. I used to ask him for referrals to interviews. We did a series on Techstars. But you’re not that well known even today outside of your world.

Like for example, I listen to Kara Swisher. She at this point now is identifying who the most important people in tech are. She doesn’t talk about you guys. She’ll squeeze Uber into every conversation, but she won’t bring up Contently. You guys, does that ever bother you? Do you ever feel like, “Hey, we’re here too. We’re a real business. Why is no one paying attention to this but instead they’re paying attention to the latest VR company that raised money but hasn’t created a product?”

Joe: No.

Andrew: It doesn’t bother you at all?

Joe: It doesn’t bother me. I think the thing we need to do as a company and we have done is to build a good name and brand in the space. So brands that are looking to build and scale content marketing programs know about Contently. We’ve created–we’ve done our own content marketing and created the biggest publication on the internet about content marketing.

We have a great brand. Marketers know us, and amongst our competitive set, people know, have a lot of good brand recognition for Contently. So that’s all I really care about. I think one thing that kind of dovetails with that is we’ve been doing the business six years now and for a couple of those years, two to three years, content marketing was a hot thing and we were getting more general buzz and write-ups and things like that in places like Inc. and random publications.

Then the next hot thing comes along and it changes from content marketing to VR or something data-driven or whatever it is. I will say that it’s interesting running a business in those two phases. It’s easier to do certain things when you’re in the phase, when you’re in a really hot space. Even things like hiring and all of that are a little bit easier. Certainly fundraising and things like that are easier.

But you know, where are today is the business is maturing. The space is matured. It still has a long way to go, but it’s matured a little bit. I think I actually prefer it. I think it’s an environment where you just sort of get down and build the business and don’t let any of that stuff distract you, which frankly I view some of that PR and those kinds of things as if it’s not focused on the brand.

Andrew: All right. I want to find out what’s going on with content marketing because I’ve noticed that too, that it used to be the hot thing and now it’s not getting talked about and I’m not sure why. Is it that it’s not as effective? Let’s get into that in a moment and then also how you came up with the idea for Contently, how you launched it and grew it. First, let me talk about my sponsor.

My sponsor is a company called Acuity Scheduling. I interviewed this guy, Nathan Barry, the other day. I know Nathan was for a while there struggling with his business, maybe making like $2,000, $3,000 a month and it was kind of languishing to going downhill. He said, “You know what? I have to really turn this thing around.” I said, “Nathan, what did you do?” He said, “I decided I was going to talk to every potential customer that I could.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because I want to sell to them directly so I understand why they’d be interested in my business and what my business could do for them.”

Now, Nathan has this company that allows people to do email marketing and he said, “I’m going to talk to every content creator I can, every blogger and understand why they’re signing up for other people’s email software, how I can get them to sign up for this.” Through those conversations, not only did he start to make sales and he said, “It doesn’t take that much to grow a business when it’s just a one-man operation,” but he also understood what his customers wanted. He created a lifelong bond with some of them.

That’s the power of getting on the phone and talking to your customers. If you’re listening to me and you want to try it, what you might do is send emails to people saying, “Hey, do you want to get on the phone?” And then it won’t work because they’re not going to get on the phone with you because it’s too touch and you’ll think, “Andrew and Nathan are full of it. It doesn’t work.” Or what you could do is go to Acuity Scheduling, upload or connect your calendar to it, pick the times that you’re available and you’ll get a simple link that you can send out to people who you want to get on the phone with and that’s all there is to it.

So then you send an email to someone saying, “Hey, I think my software can help you. Can I get on the phone and show you how?” Here’s a link with my availability. They click the link. They pick the time that makes the most sense for them. They immediately are asked for their name and phone number and you’ve got everything you need in order to make the phone call with them. You make it easy for them so they are more likely to get on the phone with you.

If you’re out there and you haven’t talked to your customers either before they bought when they’re trying to decide whether to buy from you or after they bought, when they’re trying to decide whether you’re the right solution for them, you owe it to yourself to at least try this. Nathan did this and he said it turned his whole business around and to this day, he’s got a $6 million a year business that he bootstrapped from scratch. To this day with all the pressure, he’s still making phone calls to potential customers and talking to them. That’s what you should be doing.

Give it a shot. Go to AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. They’re going to give you a bunch of free time so you can try this on your own and see how great it is. I haven’t even gotten into all the features of it, like you can ask questions before people book with you. You can charge if you want to if you’re using this for consulting. You can integrate it using Zapier and all these other integrations into whatever workflow you have.

So they’ve got a lot of features. For me, the most important one is you get to talk to your customers in a way that makes it easy for them to say yes to getting on the phone with you. Go check them out. I’ve been talking about them for years. You won’t ever know until you’ve experienced it for yourself. Check them out at AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy.

Content marketing–this is a question that Kara would ask. I’ve really been enjoying her lately. Where is it going? What’s going on with content marketing?

Joe: It’s a good question. It’s a loaded question, right? It’s a very broad question. I think the term actually “content marketing” is one that tends to almost muddle the conversation more than it helps in terms of what marketers are actually trying to do. When we look past the term “content marketing,” we think about it as using high quality, value-driven content to build relationships with an audience of stakeholders.

So, for marketers, stakeholders are the customers looking to add value and educate and kind of build those relationships over time, which makes the purchase easier, but we even have customers that use us across other teams in the organization. So, corporate communications, Coca Cola is someone that uses us for things like investor relations to create content and tell stories that help them connect with their audience.

So, when we look past that term, that’s what we’re thinking about. I think content marketing initially became a big thing that people talked about, really because of how digital marketing evolved. You initially had the creation of martech as digital channels proliferated, things like email marketing. In the early days, you had platforms coming out for that. Social media marketing obviously has been a big one, relatively recently over the last ten years or so. And then other forms of marketing as well–obviously like CMS and the ability for brands to produce their own blog and their own content.

I think what happened was around 2011, 2012, marketers got to the point where they had all these different digital channels they had built out. In some cases, they had spent a lot of money to acquire an audience through likes and follows and things like that. Then they reached a point where they weren’t sure what to do with those people.

So the promise of content marketing as people talk about it is the ability to–it’s sort of the natural evolution of digital marketing to not just build those audiences, but through content and communication, build relationships that add value to your business. So I think the content problem is something a lot of marketers experience. They realize to continue evolving their digital marketing programs, they needed an easy way to produce high quality content at scale that could spread across other different channels and engage their audiences.

Andrew: I’m sorry to interrupt. But I guess I kind of thought that what was going on for a while there was all the action in social was on blogs. And if you could create a good blog post, then people would come and find you using Twitter and Facebook and then you would have a place for people to put their email address and then you could continue the conversation on an ongoing basis. Again, you’d need writers for the blog post and the email. And eventually, someone would buy from you.

Joe: Yeah.

Andrew: I feel like a large part of that went away when blogs stopped being the center of social media content and Facebook posts became the center and Instagram posts became the center and Snapchat. Now I’m hearing some really interesting stories about people growing their businesses on Snapchat. So that’s where I feel like the sexiness of it went away. Am I right?

Joe: You mean the sexiness of . . .?

Andrew: Content as a marketing platform.

Joe: Maybe there’s somewhat of that. So, frankly, I don’t think the sexiness of it has gone away. I think when you look at where the industry is, particularly on things like the Gartner Hype Cycle, for any new emerging technology where you have lots and lots of hype and the space goes like this and then it sort of crashes a little bit and then you get to a point where there’s more rational discussion.

I think it’s something that started to be addressed and content marketing is something that is a newish term, but the concept is not new at all. Brands have been creating their own content for a really long time through in-flight magazines and custom publishing and things like that. Today I think solutions have evolved in the space to the point where it’s still a really big issue, but brands have their approach a little bit more ironed out than they did back when they had to adapt to the rapidly changing digital environment.

You are right. Part of it was they suddenly had all these other channels where their audience was going and they had to find out how to connect with those folks. Don’t forget though that the way they do that is still through content, even if it’s shorter form content, things like videos, images or what we see a lot is brands producing owned content on their blog or their publication and then promoting it through social channels, so getting it in front of their audience on Facebook and other places and driving it back to their owned publication, which is where the real value is, we think, long term for brands.

Andrew: I’m curious about whether you think your model would work for whatever the new content system is in the future. We should get into that later on in this conversation. But if social is the future, is there room for someone to create a social–actually, social is the now, it’s not even the future, is there room for someone to create a similar business for writer of social content? If photography becomes the next way of expressing, is there room for someone to . . .

Let’s get into how you started this business because I think that’s interesting. It wasn’t that you said, “I have this idea.” You said, “I have this problem.” The problem came to you when you were running your previous business, CashCrate. It was an affiliate referral program. What’s the problem that you had that led you to create this business?

Joe: So the problem was essentially that we were trying to continue scaling user acquisition. This was back in 2008. Like you said, the business had gotten a lot of traction from referral programs and things like that. We were always looking for new ways to bring users in. At the time, guys over at Mint.com were building a really great business on the back of content. So they had this blog called Mint Life, where they were writing about personal finance and all these topics that were not even related to finance but were interesting to their audience.

I think the team over there was really ahead of their time in the sense that they had kind of figured out the economics of publishing content. They knew for every post they put up, they would get x-number of visitors. A wide number of those people would convert into Mint.com users and they could tell it was a very profitable thing for them to do.

So our business was in a similar category as Mint. We basically said, “Let’s go try to do our own content marketing and see how it goes.” I was very naïve at the time. But basically what I did was go to the marketplaces I was familiar with to find freelance talent, so places like oDesk and Craigslist and Elance and places that are great for finding overseas Russian developers, which is sort of what those marketplaces specialized in. We looked for writers. Long story short, ended up finding some, couldn’t get anyone to produce content that even we wanted to read on our team. All the content we thought really sucked.

Andrew: Yeah. That’s painful.

Joe: Yeah. We realized the people who were writing the content weren’t experts in any way. They were just random freelancers we found. So, fortuitously, Shane my cofounder had just graduated from journalism school at Columbia here in New York. He was writing for Wired and a bunch of different publications. I initially went to him and said, “Hey, I’m doing this content project. Can you hook me up with some great journalists and creatives to help me out?”

And of course Shane saw the problem from the other side, which is there are all these really talented creatives that can’t find work in traditional media and needed to manage their careers as freelancers. So it was a good opportunity for me to say, “Hey, I’ll move to New York. Let’s start this company.” It was really the right time for Shane and I and then our third cofounder, Dave, who’s our CTO. So that was the genesis.

Andrew: How did you know this was an idea worth moving to launch? How did you know this was the big one?

Joe: Yeah. It’s a good question. I think when we started the business, one of the reasons we had some strong success is we were ahead of the curve. So, at the time, content marketing wasn’t really a term a lot of people were talking about. In fact, the flavor of the day were the content farms like Demand Media and Associated Content that were effectively commoditizing content and gaming search engines.

So, when we looked at what we were trying to do and where we thought the value was in content, we realized it had to be high quality content that actually delivered value to audiences. Frankly, we just, like many other entrepreneurs you may talk to, I think we just implicitly or inherently understood that this is going to be a big thing. For me it was very helpful that–I remember actually telling Shane worst case if we create this business and nobody wants to use it, I’ll use it for my company.

Andrew: So it was such an important necessary thing that–it would solve such an important problem for you that you would use it yourself.

Joe: Exactly.

Andrew: That would be worthwhile. But you didn’t do any market studies. You didn’t call up any people. You just said, “I need this. If we could create it for me, it’s going to be great. But I bet there are other people like me out there.”

Joe: Yeah.

Andrew: The original business model was going to be what?

Joe: Originally it was a straight marketplace. We were going to build a big network of creatives, which we’d done. Then we were going to take a percentage of all transactions in the marketplace. That was the model for the first few years that were around. We took a small percentage of each transaction, and then when we saw this content marketing thing coming and started talking to a lot of big brands that were investing heavily in content marketing, we realized we had a lot of other challenges we knew we could solve with software.

That’s when we stepped back and said, “Hey, if we build software on top of the marketplace that helps brands not only connect to great talent but also manage their content marketing programs at scale, we think we could be really successful here.” That’s what we did. We were then able to go into brands with that combined offering of talent and technology that helps them do content marketing well and I guess the rest is history.

Andrew: I’m looking at the early version of the site. Here’s the headline, “Super Simple Content Creation.” I would click a button and create my project and my guess is since I don’t think I have full access to this part of the process is I would just say–I guess I would fill out a form and say, “This is what I’m looking for. I need someone to create this kind of content.” And then I’d get a bunch of writers and evaluate their work. Is that how it would work back then?

Joe: No. It was actually designed to be simpler. The way we still think about the business today is the connection process needs to be as frictionless as possible for the brands and the creatives. So it was maybe a little bit more kind of like Uber and how that works, which is as best as possible, we’re going to make the connection for you and you can change it if you want.

But based on your needs, we want to be able to facilitate that connection that is quite a bit easier than the traditional marketplace model where you have to search and sort and look at bidders and things like that. That’s what we’ve done today. Part of the value we bring to the table is the ability to make smart recommendations for who should be working on your project.

Andrew: I see. So you guys are going in and helping me find the right person?

Joe: Yeah. Exactly.

Andrew: Kind of like how later in this interview I’ll talk about Toptal, my sponsor. The first thing they do is get you on a call with a matcher and then they help you find the right developer. But you know what? I’m looking at a different marketplace, something called WordGeeks.co. It’s created by Bronson Taylor, the guy who created Growth Hacker TV a few years ago.

It’s essentially a marketplace for writers. He suggested that I create a marketplace using his software for Mixergy. My first question to him was, “If someone buys a service, what’s to keep them from cutting me out after the first order?” He said, “People would just like you, Andrew, and they’re not going to do it.”

I know that he was kind of beta testing a response, but that’s not the right answer. Why wouldn’t someone cut you guys out of the process back then?

Joe: Yeah. So the reason people don’t cut us out and it’s one of the reasons we’ve focused on the category of customers we did focus on is kind of twofold. One is the value we provide through the technology. So, if we were a pure marketplace and all we were facilitating is the connection, brands probably would cut us out.

Andrew: But in the beginning you were.

Joe: We were.

Andrew: So did brands cut you out back then?

Joe: It may have happened in the early days, but not at a scale where we actually thought about it as a serious threat to the business.

Andrew: Why do you think? Why do you think you weren’t cut out all the time? People try to do that on Upwork, which used to be oDesk, right?

Joe: Yeah. It’s a good question. By the time our business and our model evolved to the point where we were able to make really smart matches between creatives and brands, we had not only the technology piece, but we also had our customer base was largely big brands. So when you think about a big brand like AmEx or Coca-Cola, procurement for that brand is a nightmare. Actually finding and bringing freelancers on through your procurement system is super unfun.

So what we found actually was we had the opposite problem, which wasn’t a problem at all, is that we would do a deal with a big brand and they would actually load their freelancers onto the Contently system because not only could they manage them through our technology, but we would also handle the payments for them and the 1099s and all that stuff acts as a bottleneck for them on the corporate side. So we added value there that the traditional marketplace probably wouldn’t.

Andrew: I see. For another 15%, it’s worth having you guys handle all that.

Joe: Totally.

Andrew: Frankly, we’re not as big as Coke here at Mixergy, but I would pay 15% just not to have to deal with all that, the 1099s, the paperwork back and forth, such a pain in the butt.

Joe: Yeah.

Andrew: We use HelloSign for stuff like that and it helps, but it’s still a whole process we have to manage.

Joe: Right.

Andrew: Okay. And your first set of customers, they weren’t the enterprise customers, were they?

Joe: It was a mix, actually. So, in the early days, I still remember our first customer was a startup called Music Pitch, which was interesting enough creating a marketplace for jingles for your company, so you could go and get a jingle. The first deposit into our SIF software was for $35, which wouldn’t get people a very good [inaudible 00:37:42].

As the business grew, we actually landed Mint.com, which was part of the inspiration behind the business as one of our first big brand customers and Intuit there. We actually started working with a lot of media companies, people like CBS. We still work with a lot of media companies to help power sponsored content programs. But back then, you had media companies thinking about Contently as an easy way to staff up editorial programs with freelancers without having the overhead cost of having a team physically located wherever they needed these creatives to do coverage.

Andrew: I see.

Joe: So we had big brands. We had small companies. We had media companies, and we made a firm decision about two and a half years in to focus our efforts on the big brands almost exclusively.

Andrew: I see how you got some of the writers and I know at the time it was hard for writers to get work, so they would be more open to a platform that would give them work. What I’m curious about is how’d you get your early customers?

Joe: Yeah. So what we did was first of all, just through our own networks and through friends, we started out working at General Assembly, a coworking space here in New York when it just started out. So we found some people that could use the service then, even other startups of ours that could test it for us.

The other thing we did was–and this is where Shane added a ton of value in the early days–was he had relationships with people like Mashable, who were really big back then. He could write a guest post about something digital marketing related and in his byline, he would be called out as the cofounder of Contently.

Just through that, we were able to get enough traffic and then registrations for our service that we could sell to that the business started to get some good early traction with customers and then we got things like referrals and then our own content marketing started to take off, but that was actually one of the biggest ways that we grew in the early days was through our own kind of content marketing by posting on third-party sites.

Andrew: All right. You told our producer that one of the things that helped you guys was getting into Techstars, that it professionalized you. I want to come back in a moment and ask you about what you mean by professionalize. But first, I should talk about my sponsor, which is Toptal. You as a marketplace person have some insight into why investors like Toptal. Before I get into the ad, what is it about Toptal that investors like?

Joe: I think that broadly speaking, what you’re seeing in the marketplace kind of segment is you’re seeing a transition to higher quality, higher end services and I think you’re seeing marketplaces thrive that make it super easy to connect with the demand on the other side with great relevant connections. So, that’s not the easiest thing to do and I think it’s the reason why early on, you had marketplaces like oDesk and Elance thrive was because they could get these people in one place and then it’s on you as a customer to find the right people and sometimes you lucked out, sometimes you didn’t.

But I think what Toptal is doing and other successful marketplaces in the space are doing is realizing that you can actually solve the marketplace problem for higher end talent and labor, not just sort of commoditized services. To the extent that you could do that and perfect the matching and the pairing process, there is a lot of growth in segments like that. Contently is an interesting analogue on the professional creative services side, but I think that’s kind of what’s going on.

Andrew: It is interesting. I feel like I n the early days of the internet, everyone thought I’m going to put up a website and then step back and that’s it. The website will do everything. I remember early entrepreneurs saying, “I couldn’t believe I had to hire a salesperson. This is a webpage. People can just put their credit card in there. What’s wrong with people?” Then they understood because they were customers of other people’s companies that sometimes you need to talk to a human being and sometimes you can’t articulate in a form what you’re looking for.

So just like standardized products started to get salespeople and phone numbers and real human interactions, I feel like the same thing happened to marketplaces over the last few years. You guys are maybe the first business that I know of–I can’t say you’re the first–but the first business I know of that said, “You know what? It’s not just going to be a free for all marketplace where we’ll just make it easy for people to list themselves and easy to go and buy the people we’re listing. We’re not going to create an Amazon of people,” which is what Upwork and now–they used to be called oDesk–that that is the way things happened.

And on the lower end, it does kind of make sense. You just want a cheap solution and you’re willing to grind it out to deal with maybe 5 to 20 people who are not very good because you’re looking for a bargain, kind of like eBay. But on the high end, you need to talk to a person, which is why the first thing anyone who’s going to sign up Toptal is going to experience a matcher conversation. You go in, you fill out a form and they get you on a form with a matcher. The matcher understands what your business is about, not just what you product is, but what are the quirks of the business.

They’re very proud of the fact that if you work using a specific thing, like maybe you’re on Slack all day. Maybe you have something else you do to communicate, this person who you’re going to hire needs to fit in not just with the software needs you have, but with the cultural demands you guys have on your company. And then they go find you that right person. They make the introduction. They often find the right person after one try. But for us at Mixergy, it took two tries to get the perfect person.

And then once you do that, you’re ready to roll often within days. You pay Toptal so you don’t have to deal with the 1099s and the hiring and everything like that. They take care of the developer. One of the things they pride themselves on is being selective, really picky about the top people that they want in their network. That’s why their name is called Toptal, top as in top, the best and tal as in talent.

If you’re looking for a developer, challenge them. Go to them at Toptal.com/Mixergy. Get a call with one of their matchers and challenge them. Say, “Here’s my need. Here’s what I’m looking for.” And I know that a lot of people think it’s not for them because of their unique needs. It’s not for them because they need multiple developers. It’s not for them because they have just one project. It’s not for them because of this. I had that. I said, “It’s not for me because I’m on WordPress.” It turns out, that they have developers to fit just about every need.

So challenge them. Go to this special URL where you’re going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours. Think about that. 80 hours of developer credit and that’s in addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks. Go to this URL. It is Toptal.com/Mixergy.

All right. So Techstars–what’s one thing that you guys got from being in Techstars?

Joe: I think the biggest thing we got was access. So starting a new company in New York, I was obviously brand new to New York. I had no real connections out here. Shane had his connections that came through J-school and sort of just some folks that he had met here. We were a new company. Nobody really knew us. So what Techstars did for us was it got us exposure. It helped us to meet potential customers and meet potential investors.

I honestly don’t know if–I don’t think the experience is sort of the same today for other companies in incubators. There are just so many of them. At the time, incubators were still sort of hot and kind of exclusive. It’s not to say there aren’t high quality companies coming out of these things, but as a Techstars company, we got a lot of attention in New York and we really needed that because that’s where a lot of our first customers came from. We met some of our investors through Techstars.

So the thing that I will always look back on and am grateful we did was as a company, I lot of people use incubators to come up with the idea and you’re like workshopping the idea and talking to smart people. When we went into Techstars, we knew the idea and we stuck to the idea.

Because we were a little bit further along and we were already generating some revenue, I think the value we got out of the program was way more than a company that was at the earliest stages trying to workshop an idea and talk to smart people. So that’s how we really took advantage of it.

Andrew: You told our producer the next big milestone for you was talking to Scott Roen. Is that his name?

Joe: Roen, yeah.

Andrew: Who’s Scott Roen and why was it so helpful?

Joe: It’s funny. I actually just saw him. He’s at Blackrock now. But he was one of our earliest partners and customers. Actually, I would really say he’s one of those rare marketers or people at big brands that truly get startups and are willing to take risks on early companies. Before us, he had dealt with some friends of ours through the Techstars program.

So what happened was we met Scott through the Techstars program. He at the time was overseeing a publication called Open Forum, which is a big publication for small business owners, really groundbreaking in many ways. I think when he was running it–

Andrew: Why? What was it about Open Forum that was so special?

Joe: I think what was so special about it was that he had genuinely created–and I say he, there were obviously a lot of people involved with that project–what they had done was they had generally created a competitor to traditional media publications. So two million small business owners were going to Open Forum maybe instead of or in addition to places like Inc. Magazine to learn about small businesses.

It’s so cool because that’s what the democratization of publishing and digital media and the internet, that’s the promise of it. It’s really hard to do, but when you can do it like Open Forum did at AmEx, you realize so much value out of that.

Andrew: Because they didn’t even need to go through that funnel I described earlier, where you come to an article, you see a button, you enter your email address after you click it and then they email you and then you sign up for an American Express card. It’s on the site. You kind of identify American Express as the company that’s meant for small and midsize businesses because of the articles that are there and the people they’ve got. I remember Guy Kawasaki was a big blogger for a while. He said, “Forget it. I’m blogging only on Open Forum.”

Joe: Right. And obviously they paid him some pretty good money probably to do that.

Andrew: Yeah.

Joe: That’s what it’s about. It’s about building the relationship. So not necessarily trying to pull any direct conversions and making sure that people see a piece of content and then sign up for a credit card, but establishing that trust and relationship.

Andrew: So you said to Scott, “Look, I want to work with you. You get the future as we envision it.”

Joe: Yeah. So it’s one of my favorite stories. I think what we did for them was they were working with a different agency partner. Scott was seeing the traffic grow to Open Forum very quickly. He had a lot of diverse, different types of business owners. One of the ones he talked to me about was restaurant owners. He wanted to create content specifically for that segment. He was dealing with the problem that a lot of marketers face, which is it’s really hard and really expensive to get custom content programs off the ground.

So, through his agency, he was hearing it was going to take him nine months and they were going to have to build a team of creatives in all these different cities in order to tell these stories that he wanted to tell for the restaurant owners. So, we did it for free initially. In two weeks, we were able to produce ten awesome, high quality profiles of restaurants across the United States.

So tapping into business journalists in the Midwest and random locations that could go tell these stories for Scott. In two weeks we got it done. It was then that we established that AmEx relationship, which today for us is one of our largest customers, but also saw very clearly the value of what Contently could offer and bring to the table versus traditional solutions that tend to be much less efficient, much more extensive and just sort of harder to deal with. That’s where we saw the 10x improvement on the current model and it became pretty clear.

Andrew: In the beginning, you guys were also thinking of traditional publishers, the CBSs of the world as being your clients. It turned out they weren’t. Why not?

Joe: Yeah. It’s ironic, I guess, a little bit. We had this decision point when we decided to focus on big brands. What led us there is we were talking to Mint.com, who at that time I think had been acquired by Intuit, about using Contently to fulfill content for their blog. Then we were also talking to CBS about a really cool project that I wish we could have done. It was for CBS Local.

They came to us and said, “We have all these local markets like Las Vegas, Atlanta, all these midsize cities and we want to have a presence there, an editorial presence where we’re creating content specific to that city. But we don’t want to have the fixed costs of creating a team in each of those cities.” So they were going to use Contently to build teams of journalists in each of those local cities and then commission the content through our marketplace. Just like an awesome use case for Contently and I was really excited about it.

The problem was when we got down to actually doing a deal, they wanted t pay so little for the content that we couldn’t even actually attract good journalists to come do the work they wanted to do. They were offering to pay somewhere around $40 for piece of content. Meanwhile, Mint and Intuit were saying, “If you can get us a great blog post, we’ll pay $400 for it.” Again, it was one of those moments where it was so clear to us what was happening in media and where the money was in this space.

So, for the benefit of our business, for the benefit of the journalists we worked with and for the big brands we were working with, we basically said the media space is a very tough nut to crack. It’s a hard market if that’s who you’re selling into. We still do some of that, like I said. We have a number of big media companies as partners of ours, but our 95% of the business is not brand direct and that was a very intentional thing we did based on that experience and other similar experiences.

Andrew: I have conversations about this stuff with Wil Schroter of Startups.co a lot, that he believes that content on its own and content backed by advertising is mostly doomed to fail. It just can’t pay enough for good content and it can’t earn enough to sustain itself. So his approach is he wanted to buy a bunch of SaaS companies or productized service companies like Zirtual, like Launchrock. He’s got a bunch of those.

He says, “This is where the real revenue is.” Then content becomes what drives people to the software that we sell. And that’s what we can show our reputation on and we don’t have to bend the rules for anyone because we don’t care about advertisers. It seems like that’s what you’re finding too and it feels like that’s the future of content.

Joe: I think so. One of the very interesting questions early on was kind of an ethical concern. So, if you’re a journalism and you write for AmEx, are you going to be barred from writing for traditional media publications like the Wall Street Journal after you do that? That’s kind of how people viewed the space was if you do brand work, like advertorial, you can’t go and then do impartial editorial work.

So we got ahead of that. Having Shane, again, as part of the business, was very helpful. We created a statement of ethics for brand journalism and content marketing that we posted very publicly and said this our stance. It really turned out to not be a big deal at all. It was because content marketing and brand publishing by its very nature is incredibly transparent.

As a brand, you want to have your brand associated with this content. If AmEx was producing content about, “Here’s how to select the best credit card. By the way, the AmEx was number one on the list,” people can see right through that. Readers can see right through that. So, in order to be successful, you need to be authentic. You need to create content that delivers real value. Yeah. You’re able to create those relationships with customers that maybe help you not have to worry as much about advertising like Wil found out.

Andrew: So when Shane wrote the book “Smartcuts,” I said, “Come, we have a Mixergy Premium here where we teach on Mixergy Premium courses for entrepreneurs. Teach Smartcuts for entrepreneurs. Tell us how we can use it to grow our business.” That’s where he talked about and taught the 10x thing.

I talked to him about how you guys as a team came up with it and he basically said, “Look, we have this idea. Let’s stop talking. Let’s test it. Let’s do a one-month test. Let’s see if we can put together a few features in this project management thing and sell it for $1,300 a month and see how it works.” It turns out it worked out well because people were comfortable paying for software $1,300 a month, especially project management software.

So then where he left it with us is he said, “What other features can we add to make this thing worth more than just $1,300 a month.” That’s where we left it with him. Catch me up. How do you figure out what other features? Now that you know the general idea works, that people are willing to pay for it, what’s your process for figuring out what features they would be willing to pay more for and that they want?

Joe: It’s such a great question. In fact, we just hired a CMO, a big time CMO, a really important hire for Contently and she brought us through this course called Pragmatic Marketing. It was the first kind of course that we had gone through about an organization as an organization that talks about the linkage between product and marketing and how to test things and take things to market and just such an important skill set to have as a company.

The thing that always struck me was in the early days when you’re just starting out, you have the Lean Startup. You have materials out there that help you quickly test and iterate on ideas and that’s exactly what we did as three guys. When the company reaches a certain scale, you can’t do that as much anymore. It’s much harder. A lot of it has to do with you have big sales teams out there talking to customers. It was actually the thing I liked about this course was it seemed like a grownup version of the Lean Startup. It’s a methodology for taking products to market and figuring out what customers need.

Andrew: What is it called?

Joe: It’s called Pragmatic Marketing.

Andrew: Pragmatic Marketing. Can you talk about what it is and give an example of how you guys use it?

Joe: So we literally just did it a couple weeks ago.

Andrew: Okay. So you haven’t gotten to use it yet.

Joe: We haven’t quite gotten to it yet. But it really reinforced a lot of what we’re doing. Part of it was defining product managers as true product owners. So not just responsible for figuring out what features to build, but also responsible for making sure they get taken to market correctly, that you see the kind of revenue impact you want to see from the product. Somebody needs to own that. If you have PMs working on building features and some other unrelated set of people supposed to be taking it to market and monetizing it, it just won’t work.

So I think it’s a very sort of long-winded answer and it’s a completely separate conversation in some ways, but I think the number one thing still remains talking to customers, figuring out what their current needs are, what are their pain points and then you have to balance fixing things and building things they know they need versus executing on what you think is the vision for the business and what sort of is coming next.

Andrew: Can you tell me how you did that? I’d love to come back in maybe a year or so and ask you about how Pragmatic Marketing changed the way you did it. But when you’re going back to customers and understanding what their pain points are and knowing then which of their pain points you should be solving and which ones you should postpone, how did you do it in the beginning?

Joe: I think the way we did in the beginning and even still today, quite honestly, is no matter how big your team is, you tend to have limited resources in terms of what you can spend time on. So you talk to customers, they tell you what they want. They talk about the biggest problems. Two things you’re looking for, one of them is patterns of similar requests across multiple customers.

So, particularly in enterprise, it’s easy to get sucked down the path of building features specifically for one big customers, which can kill your business. So, you want to see something that will be broadly applicable to the market. The other thing is to really ask the question, “Is this going to prevent people from churning or is it going to allow us to sell more stuff?” A lot of times you’ll ask yourself that about a feature and you’ll kind of realize that if we don’t build this, people may want it, but they’re not going to churn. If we did build it, we don’t think anybody’s going to buy more stuff from us.

Andrew: I see.

Joe: You have to kind of prioritize.

Andrew: Do they want this so much they’re willing to pay for it is the ultimate validation.

Joe: Yeah. Right.

Andrew: I see. Is there one feature you built that you didn’t validate that way?

Joe: I was going to say or they want this so much that if we don’t build it, they’ll leave.

Andrew: Right. So, is there one feature you built that helped you realize we absolutely need to make sure it’s financially validated before we proceed? Is there one where you made a mistake on it?

Joe: Yeah. We made a lot of mistakes. I think for us in the early days, building out our social offering and we’ve iterated on it since then, but our social offering is something we built just kind of because customers were asking for it and it was something that we thought we needed. You can think about it very logically and think about social as being a content channel.

But we didn’t do our homework in terms of talking to our customer set and really talking to them about how they would actually use it. We found that we spent time building this product that didn’t get a lot of usage and looking back on it, you’re like, “Duh, we didn’t really have as much validation as we thought we did that this was something that was important.” And then we went back and revalidated it and built something slightly differently for social.

Andrew: What was the first thing you built for social?

Joe: So the first thing we built for social was very simple sharing mechanisms for the content, so being able to click a button and share the content you created on Contently on Facebook or different channels like that. Our customers didn’t find it tremendously helpful.

Andrew: And the problem you were trying to solve was you wanted to help get more viewers, more readers for the content that was being created. Okay. So why didn’t they find that helpful?

Joe: I think because it was limited in functionality and then also customers in many cases had another social platform they were already using like Hootsuite or something like that. The functionality we created was nice, but it wasn’t really worth coming to Contently to do versus their existing platform.

So they would much rather have had either an integration into the new system or a functionality that was more closely related to the creation of individual premium assets. So maybe not just being able to create the piece of content, but be able to create the status updates and social content that accompanied that content so you could create one content package.

Andrew: That’s what they needed.

Joe: That’s what they needed.

Andrew: I see.

Joe: That sort of thing is what we–

Andrew: How did you understand that’s exactly what they needed or that’s ultimately what they needed, I should say?

Joe: What’s that?

Andrew: How did you understand that that’s what they needed? What was your process for understanding that?

Joe: It’s just all about usage. I think first it’s validating the idea with a set of customers and talking about what they need and sort of deciphering as best you can about what this product should look like. Then it’s implementing an MVP in market which we still do today. That’s actually a very important question because if you under-build, people won’t use it because it sucks, even though if you take another step or two, they may actually use it because it’s worthwhile now.

Andrew: I see. Yeah.

Joe: So we would build the MVP, figure out what usage looked like, make sure it was worthwhile and then continue to iterate on it and that’s exactly what we did for that and for a lot of the new things we were taking to market.

Andrew: I’m fascinated by this topic and maybe we can come back and do more on this. But the reason I’m fascinated by it is in the old days, you used to hear that the Four Seasons was great at customer service. You should take good care of your customers because you spent so much money and time getting them. Why not keep them loyal so that you keep getting them coming back as opposed to going out and getting new people? The way to do that was to just give more service, more attentive service, pay more attention to them.

Today, it’s keep improving the software for them, right? I know how to give someone better service. I can kind of tell whether we’re doing it right as an organization or not, especially if I’m running something like the Four Seasons. It’s harder to figure out what’s the new feature you need to do to give your customers a better experience to keep them around. You often don’t know that until you’ve invested a lot of money and then if you’ve gone in the wrong direction, you’ve wasted your time, you’ve wasted your money and you’ve created a bad experience for your customer, which is ultimately the opposite of what you’re looking for.

So I’m fascinated by this. The one person who stands out for me as the person who figured this out using a process was Andy Rachleff, the former Benchmark venture capitalist who’s now running Wealthfront, who said, “We’re not doing great with this product. If I were an investor, I wouldn’t be investing in my own business. That’s a problem. How do we make it better?”

He said, “Nobody in the company feels comfortable talking to their customers. I’m going to talk to our users. I’ll understand what pain points we’re not solving, and then I’ll come back and we can create a product.” I feel like that is the ultimately, the understanding of what people are looking for.

You’ve done that. You’ve done a lot. I really am so excited about your company. I’m bummed that more people hadn’t discovered it. I would love more of the mainstream media to cover you guys. Frankly, I’ve heard about Travis at Uber five billion times. I’ve heard about all the companies that are out there 23 billion times.

I feel like your company and others are really making a difference. They’re really growing. They’re really building significant workplaces, significant businesses and they’re not well known and I’m really proud that here at Mixergy I can have a forum where I could share this story and others like it with my audience.

All right. The website for anyone who wants to check it out is Contently. It’s Contently.com. Why am I spelling it? It’s in the show notes. I will also tell you about my two sponsors. They are Toptal.com/Mixergy and AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy. Joe, overall, how was it now that you’re like the front man for the business?

Joe: It’s great.

Andrew: The media guy, right?

Joe: You mean the interview, right?

Andrew: The interview. How was doing the interview?

Joe: It’s fun.

Andrew: Good, right?

Joe: It was awesome.

Andrew: The only thing you don’t have that Shane has is like the hair. He’s got really cool hair.

Joe: He does have cool hair. He did get it cut a little while back, which we were obviously worried about as a business given that his hair had so much pull with potential customers.

Andrew: Right? It’s part of his image, the whole icon as Mashable I was looking at as you were talking about Mashable is his hair.

Joe: Totally. Yeah.

Andrew: Other than that, you know what I love about you as an interviewee? You have clear examples and you have a very methodical way of thinking. You’re not just like scatterbrained, which can work for some people, but it does not make for an easy to follow story. I’m proud to have you on here. Thanks so much. It’s good to talk to you, Joe.

Joe: Thanks for the opportunity. Appreciate it.

Andrew: You bet. Thanks. Bye, everyone.


  • Great interview and amazing to see the growth of Contently.

    I remember years ago, Andrew, you were promoting GrubwithUs.

    I met 6 other great Mixergy listeners/startups in NYC for a great dinner (grub) and met Shane (jealous of his hair).

    They were still working on MVP at the time and it’s nice to hear the other cofounder and how far they’ve come.

    Great interview ~ Mike

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