In one of my recent posts, I got this little snarky comment on Hacker News:
Hey hotshot. How about less blogging and more work on your darn company?
They used to really get to me. I used to try to think ahead about how I might get trolled so as to avoid it – as if that were possible. It’s not. Trolling is just a reality of an internet where anyone is allowed to post anything. If you want to push your message out to many people, there will inevitably be some whose sole intention seems to be to get a rise out of you. It’s like trying to avoid getting honked at while driving in rush hour in New York.
But this one actually made me smile. First and foremost, I responded courteously to the troll. It’s the most effective way to disarm them. But it also got me thinking, is it really in the best interest of my company for me to be blogging? I know I love doing it, but is that enough?
We made the decision here at 42floors that anyone can post on our official blog if they write something that’s valuable to our users and it doesn’t have to be directly related to commercial real estate. Our users are in large part startups looking for office space. I don’t write about commercial real estate here because frankly not a lot of people want to read about commercial real estate. We have an extensive educational center with well-written posts about commercial real estate, but the primary driver of traffic there is SEO.
This blog is mostly about startups. That’s what I know and that’s what I like to write about. It’s not work for me and I don’t hire people to help. I love writing and startups are the subject (right now) that I’m best at writing about.
But if I were to be totally objective about this: What is the actual value of our blogging to 42Floors?
So here we go…
How blogging helps my startup
Blogging drives traffic
My posts get anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 views with some duds and some homeruns. While the conversion rate of people who read my blog, and then search for commercial real estate on our site is admittedly pretty low, it’s definitely not zero. Most of our users in the first 12 months were tech companies searching for office space. And for our company, which has a high value per transaction, getting tens of thousands of users at the top of the funnel is actually pretty helpful. We also noticed for a long time that a huge number of our first time users searched for “42Floors” on Google. That means they already knew about our company, most likely from a combination of good PR and blogging.
Blogging got us our initial users
I separate it out because getting the first users is both incredibly hard and incredibly valuable. I was blogging about 42floors as a startup before we even launched the product. After our YC demo day, I drew a graph of our tour requests (our primary metric) that went up into the right, and I made it my personal mission to make sure that our actual metrics matched that graph. And because we didn’t have money to spend on marketing, my best tool was writing blog posts. For those of you who remember my public job offer to Dan Shipper, it should come as no surprise that it happened during a time when every user counted. And that post generated 100,000+ views. Which generated enough tour requests to drive our metrics that month. Big win.
Blogging got us our initial investors
When we were getting 42floors off the ground, a few investors reached out to me after learning about our startup through the blog. Several told me that they used the blog as part of their due diligence effort on me. Because there’s so little data in the early days, they had to bet on me. And having already read my blog, they had formed opinions on our potential.
Blogging helps us hire
I write about hiring quite a bit. It’s one of my most important responsibilities in the company and I’m able to talk about our approaches to hiring in a way that reaches the very people that I would like to someday hire. Most of the people who have joined us in the past year already knew me through my blog. They had followed the 42floors story long before we met.
It even provides a great filtering mechanism because the people that reach out to us, having read this blog, generally already want to work with us; and those that don’t like it will obviously never apply for a job here. We’re not for everyone, and it’s nice that people self-select.
My team likes to blog
I encourage, but never require that people write their own posts on the 42floors blog. Darren Nix wrote an incredible piece on a sneaky tool being used to steal people’s information. It got 700 points on Hacker News. Because we don’t restrict our blog to just product updates, it gives everyone on the team an outlet for their own creative efforts. Ben’s post on his design process was his first ever blog post that engaged the startup community and it was incredibly well received. It was an added pat on the back for him after he had worked so hard designing our mobile app.
My board members like the blog
I am incredibly candid in my writing. When shit’s not going well, I don’t try to hide it. My investors called me up after I wrote that post wanting to know how they could be helpful and applauded me for my efforts to fix the problems we were facing. They like backing an entrepreneur that is engaged in the startup community because they know that networking, hiring, serendipity, and so much more flows through. We often discuss noteworthy posts and they encourage me to keep writing.
Blogging rocks for SEO
As Darren always tells me, a link is a link is a link. Our blog posts have been syndicated on Inc Magazine, PandoDaily, Business Insider, LifeHacker, and many more. We’ve had 10 of our posts go viral, where they inspired follow-on stories, all of which linked back to 42Floors. Our overall SEO results are far better off because we have so many high quality links from high PageRank sites.
But more than anything, I blog because it brings me joy. When I don’t enjoy it anymore, I’ll stop. Here’s my response to the latest troll on Hacker News:
I blog because I love writing. Writing startup stuff for the HN community gives me purpose to that writing. It’s a sweet bonus that many of our users are on HN, but that’s not actually my top motivations. It’s just because I like doing it.
And I wanted to thank all of you for reading what I write. Please keep reading. Please keep commenting. And yes, please keep trolling…
Discuss on Hacker News.