Not Another VC Blog — First Round Review
Over the past four months, we’ve been quietly working on a project here at First Round Capital. Today, we’re excited to share it more formally. It’s called First Round Review. In short, our (modest) goal is to build the Harvard Business Review for startups.
You can sign up to receive Review articles right in your inbox here.
If there’s one thing we know about startups it’s that they’re hard to build. As founders, you’re building so many things at once — a culture, a team, a product, a brand, a customer base and a business model. It is often a very lonely job. We’ve seen this reality with the over 600 amazing entrepreneurs we've partnered with on their startup journeys. And we’ve found that while every path is unique, some lessons come in handy over and over again.
At First Round, our approach is different from other venture firms. Rather than building a portfolio of independent companies, we’re connecting a community of entrepreneurs. We believe the best advice about company building doesn’t always come from venture capitalists. In fact, it’s more likely to come from peers and practitioners. Accordingly, we’ve built many tools, events, products and services to help our founders exchange ideas, offer support and share best practices.
When a First Round eCommerce company wanted to learn about using Pinterest to drive traffic they didn’t ask one of our partners — they reached out to our group of 15+ community managers that worked at eCommerce companies in our Community. When a founding CEO wanted to know how to fire someone for the first time, the First Round Community gave invaluable advice. And there are countless other stories about how our Community and Network have moved First Round entrepreneurs forward.
Over the last year, we began to realize that this content, knowledge and insights were different from most other content we were reading online. There is no shortage of media available on startups — every day there are dozens of stories talking about “what” startups are doing — the new funding rounds, new product launches and the latest tech rumors and trends. Yet there are so few stories talking about “how” they're doing it.
So, First Round has an opportunity: to create an entirely new kind of online publication, built for technology entrepreneurs, where they can learn how to build better companies. And they can learn directly from the people actually doing it. Much of this knowledge is still stuck inside the heads of the Valley’s best operators, product managers, engineers, and marketers. Our goal with First Round Review is to curate this knowledge to make great things happen.
We know we’re a venture fund, not a publishing company. But many venture capitalists have published amazing content in their personal blogs before. The difference is that while other VCs have done a great job sharing their personal observations of the market and their personal thoughts on how to build and finance companies, we’re going to be primarily focused on sharing actionable knowledge from the best practitioners — the ones actually in the trenches building. One day there might be a piece on how to interview product managers, and the next a feature on how to build high performance teams with the Chief Talent Officer of Netflix.
And we believe we’re in a great place to do this for a few reasons:
- We don’t care about CPMs or monetization — or maximizing pageviews.
- We already spend a lot of time figuring out new ways to help our companies grow. We build software, deliver services and hold over 70 events every year just to help those within our Community get better — and we can take that experience and learnings and open some of it up to the world. We can give our audience a backstage pass.
- Our network is broad and deep, so we can bring you learnings from the very best, most accomplished personalities in tech.
- We know startups: how they work, how they make decisions, and what they need to scale smart and stay nimble.
The Very Early Results
To get started, we’ve authored a series of articles on an array of topics — some based on original interviews and others culled from never-before published First Round Capital Community events. We were blown away by the response. First Round Review articles are getting a far more positive response than any of my personal blog posts ever did. We are routinely seeing articles get 1000+ tweets, like the article we posted last week on “The One Cost Engineers and Product Managers Don’t Consider.”
While our website has historically been one of the most visited VC websites, First Round Review has clearly struck a chord. We’ve seen a 5x increase in visitors — so there clearly is a need for this content.
Our very first article, titled, “How Etsy Grew their Number of Female Engineers by Almost 500% in One Year” was viewed tens of thousands of times and spawned follow-up articles from The Atlantic, Forbes, Fast Company and Huffington Post.
Since that original article, we’ve shared knowledge from entrepreneurs from companies like: SurveyMonkey, Yammer, Pivotal Labs, PayPal, Asana, Box, Airbnb, Amazon, Twitter, Intuit and tons of others. There are now already over 30 articles on First Round Review — you can check them out here.
What You Can Expect Going Forward
We think that there is a real need for this content — and we’re going to work hard to be the conduit to access the knowledge of the most talented people in technology. Every week, you’ll find a series of articles — lots of original long-form pieces, some Q&A, some guests posts and lots of formats we haven’t even dreamed up yet. Some writing will come from our Community of Founders and internal events, but a lot will come from outside our companies and entrepreneurs as we’re in pursuit of the best knowledge possible.
Ultimately, we hope other venture firms and publishers will join us in creating this type of content as it infuses the technology ecosystem, accelerates positive innovation and helps bright people turn great ideas into reality.
We’ll share a lot more about this project going forward, including the awesome editorial team we’re putting together to take the Review to the next level. In the meantime, be sure to sign up for our First Round Review mailing list and we’ll send all the latest articles right to your inbox.
Read These Next
Six Friction-Free Ways to Help Your Network Help You
“Everyone at some point has gotten a job only because they knew the right person — and those are usually the better jobs.” This is Patrick Ewers, early LinkedIn director and relationship-building expert. Today, he makes his living teaching tech's most successful professionals how to get what they want by forging the right connections. What’s different about Ewers is that the bulk of his advice can’t be found in Networking for Dummies-style guides. It’s designed to be simpler, more genuine and effective at the same time. Case in point: You’ll never hear him say, “Fake it till you make it.” Whether they admit it or not, most people are uncomfortable with the concept of "networking." Whether you’re standing alone in a sea of people at a cocktail party or sending a note to an old colleague asking for an introduction — these interactions are fraught with pressure and anxiety, even for those who have risen to the top. While Ewers’ philosophy does require discipline, it’s all about removing these mental blocks so you don’t miss out on opportunities. His tips aren’t just for introverts either.
The Seven Deadly Sins of Startup Storytelling
So you called a cab, but no one’s showing. The only thing the cranky dispatcher will say is “He’ll be there in 15.” You call back in 15, and he now says, “Driver’s on the way. Any minute now.” Click. It’s cold, it's getting dark, and you’re already late. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an app that let you tap into an unused supply of empty cabs and cars to get you where you want to go, perhaps with a little style? So goes the legendary inspiration behind Uber, a story now encapsulated in a single tagline: “Everyone’s private driver.” When it comes to persuasion, companies have traditionally appealed to the left side of the brain — logic, pricing, specs. Emotion, however, has proven to be the better marketing tool. As Daniel Pink, author of Drive, writes, “Right-brain dominance is the new source of competitive advantage.” Appealing to the right side of the brain allows for deeper engagement by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do this: Tell a story. That said, the way you tell a company’s story is (and should be) quite different from the way you’d tell a story at a party. While the same techniques for success apply, too often business stories fall flat or set unnecessary fires, particularly in the domain of start-ups. You see it all the time. But in my experience, you can’t teach a company how to tell its story — just like you can’t teach someone to have a certain personality. Instead, I’ll give you the big don’ts.
Kawasaki on Why Your Startup is Dead if You Can’t Enchant
Apple's had several near-death experiences. As author, investor and now Google advisor Guy Kawasaki puts it, the company must have a guardian angel. And in the mid-1980s, that guardian angel was Aldus PageMaker. “In the 1980s, we thought we had Macintosh all figured out,” says Kawasaki, who worked on Steve Jobs’ stealth Macintosh task force from 1983 to 1987. “We thought it would be a spreadsheet, database, and word processing machine. We were zero for three. The one bright spot in the entire Macintosh software universe was desktop publishing. Aldus PageMaker invented desktop publishing, and it saved the company.” Few people know this story, not since the post-iPod era dawned. But it’s a prime example of what Kawasaki has coined the “art of enchantment.” Aldus PageMaker had the ability to enchant customers, so much so that it resuscitated a whole other company — a company that has gone on to make customer enchantment core to its design. Defined as the ability to put someone under a spell, as if by magic, being enchanting sounds like something you’re either born with or not. But Kawasaki disagrees. In fact, it can be highly tactical, especially when applied to business. He spoke about it at Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Corner, and has even written a book. So, as we enter the holiday season — arguably the season of enchantment — we thought it apt to bring you the tactics that can make or tank your technology, no matter how good it actually is.