SuperMentor Steph Hay (AKA Poison Ivy) is known at 500 Startups for her content expertise, UX skills, and giant hair. By day, as co-founder of FastCustomer, Steph works to rid the world from ever having to wait on hold again. By night, she co-organizes the DC Lean Startup Circle and learns Ruby so she can one day finish CakeRock.

A thread in my inbox: “We have a lot of ideas on topics to write about that are relevant to our industry. But how should we go about producing content? Hire a copywriter?”

Two primary follow-up questions I’d ask:

1. Do you want to find the messages that convert users to buyers?
2. Do you want to establish yourself as an authority on certain topics?

To which you’d likely answer “Both.” But how to achieve each relies on different goals, people, tools, and timelines.


To directly convert users to buyers using words alone, I mentioned trying an adwords-based test as a starting point. That 3-step process yields only one thing: a short-list of words or phrases that make people click.

With that data, you now have a jumping-off point for producing more content like it on a landing page that we can tweak to get conversions up.

But at least you’ll know that content-wise, you’re using the terminology users need to see to arrive on the page in the first place.

This route is all about the sprint: finding the individual words that directly drive users to you, then using analytics-based UX design to close the deal. Whee!

People involved:
-AdWords Expert (for placing/managing ads)
-Copywriter (for coming up with the language to test in ads, status messages, email; then for optimizing the landing page once the most-clicked messages are nailed down)
-Social Media or Email Marketing Expert (for testing messages in the best way possible across social media platforms or email)
-Visual Designer (for designing the landing page once you’re got the most-clicked messages nailed down)
-UX Designer (for optimizing the landing page to test/iterate for maximum conversions)

Tools involved:

-Facebook, Google, LinkedIn ads (for testing clicks; limited by daily ad budgets)
-Twitter or Facebook updates (for testing clicks/shares; limited by network)
-Email (for testing subject lines to opens, and opens to clicks; limited by list size)
-WordPress (for landing pages if w/o a front-end developer)
-MixPanel and/or Google Analytics (to track click-to-conversions)
-Other tools you’d recommend? Tell me!


It’s all about running fast — content can be up and iterated upon in a matter of days, discovering the messaging that makes people click immediately thereafter, then building and refining landing pages until the magic content-then-UX formula is discovered.

Then blow’d up.


Startups-as-thought-leaders is a great way to:
-Get invited to conferences and speak on panels
-Create a repository of SEO-friendly landing pages
-Be the go-to expert for press
-Close deals with customers who need to see papers to say “yes”
-Create newsletter fodder (which make for nice investor updates, too)
-Direct inquiries to posts that answer common questions
-Keep super fans engaged over the long-haul

But if none of these are pressing goals, then your time and energy (and runway) might be better spent on the first approach of finding conversions fast.

This route is all about the marathon: STRATEGICALLY finding the topics people care about, then using consistent production of content on these topics to establish credibility over time.

People involved:

-Content Strategist (who likely is also an excellent writer)
-Social Media Strategist (to be consistently researching topics)
-Product Manager or Business Analyst (to keep posts relevant to business efforts)

Tools involved:

-A CMS or blog platform on your domain that isn’t a complete bitch to use and also includes some way for users to share posts easily via social media and email
-Email list (for distribution of said posts, either as published or on a specific timetable)
-Whatever text editor is preferred (I’d suggest a Google doc if doing collaborative writing) but IA Writer is badass.


Building thought leadership over time takes planning, regular research, a confidence in voice and direction, consistent publishing, and — above all else — an audience of users who give a shit about what you’re saying.

But if you (like 37signals or can achieve this goal, it’s gold.