I recently had the pleasure of talking with Alex Theuma, the co-founder of SaaScribe. For those not familiar, SaaScribe is a fast-growing community for SaaS founders, practitioners and evangelists. Over the course of my conversation with Alex, he was able to provide universal insights on what it takes for individuals and companies alike to succeed in building communities and executing successful content marketing strategies.
Here are the highlights of that conversation.
The SaaScribe story:
Matt Buckley: Why SaaS? What drew you to the space and made you decide to build this community?
Alex Theuma: Prior to SaaScribe, I had ten years in enterprise software sales. As enterprise software morphed into SaaS, I started to see all of these new SaaS applications, like MailChimp–it piqued my interest. I started to read TechCrunch and watch Bloomberg, and saw that this space was exploding. It seemed like the place to be.
I read everything that was out there, from the likes of Jason Lemkin or Tom Tunguz. What I found was that the content was being written by these extremely intelligent VCs targeting founders, some of it was going over my head. It also wasn't as neutral as it could be. I saw an opportunity for me to create a publication which would be neutral with content driven by the community rather than by the voice of one person, and one that was accessible whether you knew much about SaaS or not.
MB: When did you decide to leave your day job and go “all-in”? How did you know it was time to do this?
AT: When SaaScribe started, I was working full-time, and I had just had my first kid in February. In fact, the first post went out the day after the birth of my child (I had written it before, not while my partner was in labor). The advice that most entrepreneurs get, the advice that I saw, is that you should wait until you have replaced your old salary with your new project before you leave. I didn't do that. Six or seven months down the line it was no longer sustainable to do both.
"Wait until you have replaced your old salary with your new project before you leave" - Alex Theuma
But we got a lot of really positive feedback in the early days so that helped. I was lucky enough to have a bit of runway to allow me to make the decision to go full-time but my salary had not been replaced. I did have the courage and my conviction that we would get it right and figure it out. Of course, taking it to the wire is never an ideal situation. I probably wouldn't advise other entrepreneurs to be as risky as I have been.
How to build a content strategy and community to match:
MB. Starting a blog is a long-term commitment. What was the tipping point when you could see that you were gaining traction and how long did it take to get there?
AT: It is a long-term game and it takes a hell of a lot of time to get things right. Fortunately, we actually saw some really good traction after about two months. That was a good, early confidence boost. I think a lot of people have an idea, but don't realize how much time it normally takes to get results. After they only get ten, twenty, thirty visits per day they might give up and say this is not working, that's when you need to persist.
MB: Content promotion is a big piece of content marketing today, what have you found to be successful?
AT: In the early days we started with social. When you're a new blog you might think that just by posting it on Twitter and LinkedIn will be enough. The result is that perhaps your network will see the post, but that doesn't drive much traffic and it takes time to build.
Forums and influencer outreach both work for us, but I try not to overuse either. They are best used in moderation. Forums are crowded these days. Some people are on forums every day with every post, that takes the value of your biggest and best posts. If you have an epic post, one that you want to be seen over and above the others, and you've been overusing the forums you'll see that the epic post is not going to be shared as much as you would like.
"Forums and influencer outreach are best used in moderation, save them for your epic posts." - Alex Theuma
I have also seen some great results from influencer outreach. I have written some strategic pieces, such as The Top 5 SaaS Professors of Customer Success and by naming people in a list and reaching out to them to say "Your name is in this list, would you mind to help promote it?" most people will do that and that will drive a lot of people to your site. Once again, this is something you should use sparingly, it's not something we do on a regular basis.
MB: How do you measure the success of a post?
AT: Initially, I used pageviews, but that's a vanity metric as I'm sure many people reading this interview know, but I liked it because it was the "big" number. As I've learned more about content marketing, pageviews are no longer important. At the moment we use social shares as the main metric. One measurement I'd like to improve and use more is subscriber sign-ups. Another one we would like to see increase is discussions and comments, so I'm looking at ways to improve that.
MB: How do you manage content production? Any tips or tricks?
AT: In the early days, I didn't have an editorial calendar. From one week to the next I wasn't necessarily sure what our next post would be. I would have a guest post appear in my inbox at 11 pm and then I'd have something to go out with the next day. That's no way to run a blog.
I highly recommend Dan Norris's book Content Machine. It went through the systems, frameworks and processes you need and verified that I was doing some things right, but also pointed me in a direction to improve on others. The other thing I've been able to do is create a team of guest contributors. I also scout new writers by using platforms like Medium to see who has written popular posts then email them explaining that what we're doing and ask if they'd be interesting in contributing a post, which I've had success with.
The tools that make it all possible
MB: Are there any tools or technologies you rely on to make this system work?
AT: I use Trello to document ideas for posts. So if you're stuck thinking, "what can I write or publish next week?" you'll have ten or twenty ideas to choose from. CoSchedule is another one of my favorites because I can use it within WordPress. It's my editorial calendar and social sharing platform.
Is Slack evolving into the next big marketing channel? It might just be...
I've also been experimenting with Slack for marketing. It is a great forum for exchanging ideas, and to connect with influencers. You can quickly message someone if you're in the same public channels. I recently started a channel called SaaS Founders Club. There are now founders from across the globe that all want to learn from one another that can share ideas about subjects ranging from metrics to pricing to customer success.
Reflecting on the last year
MB: What is the single best piece of advice you could give someone who is working to grow a blog?
AT: I'm going to give you two. The first is just f*****g do it, JFDI. If this is something you love and that you'll continue to do if you're good at it, then JFDI. My second piece of advice is to be patient. It takes longer than you think, and you may not make money out of it right away. Do it if you love it. That said, if you love whiskey because you've had a few glasses before but don't know anything about it, perhaps it's not the best idea. If it has been your passion for ages and it's been something you've always wanted to do, I'd encourage you to do it.
Entrepenuer advice: just f*****g do it, JFDI! If it's something you love and that you'll continue to do if you're good at it, then JFDI. - Alex Theuma
MB: If you could go back to day one what would you do differently?
AT: I wouldn't do things differently, and I made a lot of mistakes. It was a learning process. In the early days I was putting out six posts on a Monday because I thought that was the number we needed. Some of them were news, some were really just hyperlinks–I wasn’t adding any value and those posts were ignored. Through experimentation, writing fluff, syndicating posts, focusing on quantity over quality, if we hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be the publication that we are today. We made a lot of mistakes and you learn from those, and we have.
So what's next?
MB: What’s next for SaaScribe in 2016?
AT: I started running SaaS meetups in London, Dublin and next year we'll expand to Berlin and maybe some other locations. The podcast has always taken second place to the blog, and that is changing. We were one of the first to do a podcast focused on the SaaS industry so many people know SaaScribe through the podcast first and written content second. That’s been interesting to see, and will result in more focus on the podcast next year.
Finally, we’ll be putting on a conference in Dublin, SaaSstock 2016. It will be for early stage B2B SaaS founders and investors. We want to talk about how EU companies can build category leading global businesses. I’ll be working with Tribal VC, Notion Capital and the Dublin Commission for Startups to organize it. That’s going to be a major undertaking next year.
SaaStock is coming to Dublin in Summer of 2016, check it out!
Thanks to Alex for his time and insights, we're looking forward to seeing what 2016 has in store for SaaScribe! If you haven't subscribed to their newsletter yet, I highly encourage you to do so here.