My friend Nicolas Colin has an excellent new article out titled “Content-Driven Strategy,” in which he makes a convincing case for thoughtful content as a means of demonstrating and shaping the strategic direction of businesses. Nicolas would know: a robust content-driven strategy has been foundational to the success of The Family—the early-stage investment firm he co-founded with Oussama Ammar and Alice Zagury in 2013. What started out in Paris, The Family is expanding rapidly throughout Europe, with offices in London, Berlin, Brussels, and more surely to follow.
What’s special about The Family in my mind is that they’re investing not only in some of Europe’s most promising early-stage companies, they’re determined to improve the environment around them. The Family is on a mission to change the way people think and behave in the European startup ecosystem, and a strong content offering is central to that endeavor. This public good is something that all entrepreneurs on the continent will benefit from—portfolio company or not.
I am a strong believer in content as a means of developing my thoughts, stimulating discussion, and attracting potential collaborators. It forces me to state explicitly what I think about a subject, how I arrived at that conclusion, and what the limitations of my argument are. It is the best way to expose how well-developed my ideas are and it forces me to think harder and do my homework.
Many entrepreneurs and investors do take content seriously, but the vast majority don’t. That’s a missed opportunity. And no, “the top ten ways to do X” or “the top five reasons your boss is an asshole” doesn’t count. That’s not content, it’s clickbait. Unfortunately, as an HBR editor once told me, that kind of stuff drives traffic. That’s too bad. I think we can be bigger than what the digital advertising industrial complex wants us to be.
The Family has something to teach us Americans on this front, and Nicolas’s article lays out the many reasons why producing content adds value. I encourage you to read the whole article yourself (as well as The Family’s Scaling Strategy series), but below is my summary of Nicolas’s post.
Producing content is a powerful incentive for working on the issues in-depth. When you have to speak to an audience or write a paper, there’s no room for approximation. Everything you learn creates more value in the long term by building on itself.
Content is good marketing. It makes a company known and attracts people from every part of the ecosystem. It’s also a good opportunity to build a network: building trust, attracting those who are interested, and repelling those with whom you won’t do business with anyway.
Content is aligned with the key role played by information in the digital age. By producing your own content you can frame the discussion, attract reactions and rebuttals, and shape the way people think in your industry over time.
Producing content is also about decision making. The best way to convince yourself of an idea is to teach it to others. If it holds up when presented to an audience, and against rebuttals from the most critical among them, then it will become so solid and so obvious that it will serve as a rock for building further ideas. This is why great researchers are also teachers. One of the key advantages of producing one’s own content is that it deeply ingrains your investment thesis in your mind and body, sparing you the painful task of constantly referring back to the plan.
Teaching your own thesis is a reality check on your own limitations and promotes learning. As recently explained by software engineer Adrian Kosmaczewski, “teaching will make you more humble, because it will painfully show you how limited your knowledge is. Teaching is the best way to learn.” As Charlie Munger once said, “the more you know the limits of your knowledge, the more valuable gumption is”.
Teaching one’s thesis is that it puts you ahead of potential competitors. Those who teach new things will always be ahead of those who are satisfied with following. And if you are willing to touch on polarizing ideas, far from revealing your secret sauce, your content will help you keep potential competitors at a distance.
There’s what you disclose and what you keep for yourself. A company’s public communication should be on its thesis and strategy. But you can keep the details of the virtuous circle that is carefully crafted to tighten your strategic fit just for yourselves.