Can You Make Money Blogging?
The answer to that questions is of course you can. I still love Howard using that question to announce the sale of Wallstrip. And that also points out that blogging pays its dividends a bit less directly than straight publishing. Sure you can run ads on a blog, as I do, but if you want to make big money, you have to use your blog to do something else.
First and foremost you need to build an audience, build trust with them, deliver on a regular basis for them. There’s no way people are going to come back again and again if your blog doesn’t enlighten, entertain, and inform.
Jason Calacanis has expertly used his blog to launch two businesses to date, Weblogs and Mahalo. If you click on over to Jason’s blog, you’ll see a picture of our friend Jeff Jarvis, who used his blog to build a very profitable "guru" business. Jeff is also launching several new ventures and I hope and expect he’ll use his blog to help launch them.
Which naturally leads me to the venture capital business. I stumbled into blogging as a tool to help me, my partners, and our portfolio companies make money. The model works great. There are a bunch of venture capital blogs out there these days and many are great reads. Everyone knows of my fondness for Brad Feld’s blog. But you might not know that I read Susan Wu and David Beisel regularly. Susan and David are two super sharp up and comers in the VC business whose opinions I have come to respect by reading their blogs.
Which leads me to this post by Donna Bogatin taking a shot my occasional shilling for my portfolio companies. I don’t think Donna likes Twitter based on my read of her posts on the subject. That’s not surprising. There are certainly plenty of people who have a strong dislike for Twitter. I take comfort in that in a contrarian sort of way.
Shilling for portfolio companies is one of the things I do on this blog. My readers know that. We try to avoid that on the USV blog. We reserve that for think pieces, announcements about new investments, liquidity transactions, and an occasional bit of important news about one of our companies.
But I don’t just shill for our portfolio companies. I’ve shilled for YouTube, Flickr, and recently new companies like disqus and search crystal. If I like it, I’ll talk about it. It shouldn’t surprise you that I like the companies we invest in a lot and I’ll talk about them a lot.
It’s also true that you have to balance that kind of post with other posts. If it’s something you do occasionally, it’s not a bad thing. If you do it too much, you’ll hear about it from your readers and/or they’ll simply leave. I am sure that many readers have left this blog over the years because they were tired of hearing about delicious or TACODA. That’s the risk of shilling for your portfolio company.
But if you have a well read blog, you’ve got an advantage, just like Jason’s, in launching and building a company. My post on Twitter’s new features led to posts at TechCrunch and Donna’s blog among others. We see a lot of entrepreneurs who want to tap into that. It’s a competitive advantage. It’s not going to win us a deal over any other firm all by itself. We have to do a lot of things right to win a deal, including prove to be compatible with the founder and team, pay the right price, and do our homework on the company well. At the margin, the exposure this blog can give a startup company helps quite a bit. And once the investment is won, it continues to help.
So in the venture business blogging helps. Sometimes it helps a lot. It did with delicious and I expect it will as well with Twitter.
And back to Twitter. I don’t know Donna. But if she was in East Hampton last night, and if she used Twitter, we might have been able to meet after the movie. That would have been neat. She’s got a great blog.
well… here’s the thing… Donna just got value added to her otherwise relatively less frequented blog. She engaged in a conversation, and you, Fred replied.She should give us readers a bit more credit, if we are able to start companies and create products and fund them to success… perhaps we also have the deconstructing abilities required to tell when Fred is advancing his pawns. (honestly I hate the “shill” word, there’s something dishonest to the word, and of course that is not the case here)To be frank, don’t have a big faith in Twitter, but engaging in the conversation and learning what others saw (to the point of having given them hard money !!) should be a good lesson for all of us, no matter whether Twitter ends up being a great success or not.So my little unsolicited advice to Donna is… let your blog focus on substance, engage in constructive conversations, and intelligent readers will follow you.They sure as hell know Fred is enthusiastic about his companies and they sure as hell know candy might damage their perfect young white teeth.
Donna’s been on a downhill ever since she went out on her own. I still keep on reading her blog, most of the time thinking she “just does not get it.” Writing attack posts is a new low – and here’s the funny port. She does not actually have a blog! She does not accept comments, so IMHO, all she has is a string of opinion pieces, not a conversation.
I like the fact that you shill for the companies you invest in and appreciate your transparency in doing so. I suspect others do it all the time, but just don’t let their readers know. What I like most about the way you do it is your genuine enthusiasm — it’s enthusiasm versus boosterism. More often than not, you come off sounding more like a fan than an investor. And you demonstrate the same level of enthusiasm for the music you like. As a result, I’ve learned about more than one interesting venture (Twitter, Wallstrip, last.fm, etc.) and quite a bit of music (Arctic Monkeys, Jens Lekman, etc.) by reading your blog and some good restaurants by following you on Twitter. You’ve earned my trust as a reader. So, keep on with your enthusiastic and open love affair with the companies, innovations, and music that rock your world.
People read blogs they find interesting, informative and exciting. That’s why people read a vc. True it has plugs for USV portfolio companies as well as Fred’s musings on personal items such as musical taste or a lower Manhattan development project, but that’s completely OK – a vc is Fred’s personal blog! The bottom line is that people are comfortable (or even interested in) all of that as long as we don’t feel like we are being “tricked” or fed a singularly personal and biased agenda (unless, of course, that is the stated purpose of the blog – in which case it’s fine to project such an agenda).Keep the content fair, honest, interesting and relevant, regardless of whether you are invested in it or not, and I will continue to read every day!
So it’s like anything else, you need money to make money.
Sorry I’m confused — can one make money blogging? You can get great PR and marketing standing on a busy corner in manhattan handing out free samples, but that doesn’t indicate whether its a good use of time to become a street vendor.My impression is, with extremely rare excpetions, the advertising revenues availabl even to the best, most popular blogs, provides a tiny, uneven living at best.No?
I think Fred’s point about Wallstrip is that it made millions selling out, not through advertising. And that his blog gets him better companies, so it also makes him money, though not directly. So these are examples of blogs making money. If the question is asked more narrowly, does blogging make significant money from advertising, then I suspect the answer is, only with the really popular blogs, like TechCrunch, Om, Engadget, etc. I am sure there is a whole second and third-tier of blogs making some money from advertising, enough that their authors consider the investment worthwhile.
You can make money blogging, but counterintuitively for most… you can’t make money blogging if the sole purpose of your blogging is to make money.Think about it.
Thanks for the shout out – I really appreciate it.And I heartily agree that we should blog about the things we care about, though I wouldn’t necessarily call it ‘shilling’. Shilling strikes me as something insincere. We wouldn’t invest in the companies we do if we did not believe fervently in their value and mission.The best writers have long given the advice to “write what you know.” After all, what we know is our competitive advantage, and we might as well use it. If not our portfolio companies and the work/hobbies/passions we immerse ourselves in, then what else are we going to write about?
You’ve just expressed my dislike for the “shill” word better than I did.And then Lessig explains the reason why:http://lessig.org/blog/2007…
allright. i will eliminate “shill” from my blog vocabulary going foward. i agree, it’s not a great word.
If you’re looking for a more palatable synonym, how about “pimping”? 🙂
wouldn’t that be somewhat innapropriate ?like in pimping Susan ?:-)
Yes shill is a word used by attackers so correctas to making money blogging, it really depends. a a core business, too tough for me, but as a tool to reduce costs and increase awareness for your brand…it’s a moneymaker
This is the first time I’ve heard of the term ‘shilling’ outside the context of a British coin. I would think that many business related blogs that are started to attract more people to the business website probably don’t make much money from advertising. However, I’m hoping my blog makes some money from advertising in order to have a little more to invest in R&D and marketing. Since I write about entrepreneurship, family life, blogging, and technology it’s my goal that potential customers/partners will get to know me and the company through our blog thereby making it just a tad easier to close some deals.
I hope that someday I can build a business that has as many haters as Twitter. If only you could get David Krug to hate it, you’d have a sure winner.
I’m an idiot….David Krug rocks. I meant Paul Krugman of the NYT. Sorry to Krugs everywhere.
I appreciate insight into other investors’ thoughts around the companies they choose to back, and the industries where they choose to be active. Please keep such posts coming! Their transparency encourages dialogs, to the ultimate benefit of entrepreneurs who choose to internalize and/or engage in that dialog. A a VC, I also welcome the chance to participate in such exchanges, driven by my posts or others’ posts, as a way to enhance my own understanding of a market, of a technology, or of the people in/around them…
Hey Fred,Glad to see you giving props to David Beisel. There is a huge entrepreneurial movement happening in Boston – and David’s been a big part of that. His Web Innovators Group (Webinno) has been the only game in town to connect with other entrepreneurers. Here’s a link to that group if anyone is in the Boston area: http://webinnovatorsgroup.com/