Public Writing and Community Building

I realized this morning that many of the biggest changes in Startups and VC over the past ten years (2004-2014) have come about in part because of public writing and community building.

I would put the YC and 500 Startups movements in that camp, and the emergence of vibrant startup hubs in NYC, LA, and Boulder, and the juggernaut that is A16Z.

If you want to make a splash and create  something new, writing publicly and building a community around that is one important part of the playbook.


Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    It’s one way to be the Billy Graham of capitalism. Being transparent allows others to pick up the tools and use them.

  2. LIAD

    I’m sure that’s in someone else’s play-book too. They’ve got a blog. Short domain name. Post religously every day.Can’t remember their name though.

  3. Anne Libby

    Vacation brain FTW! Enjoy your time off.

  4. William Mougayar

    Aka Content Marketing.The amount of pull and visibility it creates is amazing.

  5. Alex Wolf

    Think out loud. Disqus.

  6. Amy Gross

    Absolutely! I couldn’t agree more! 🙂

  7. Donna Brewington White

    So gratifying to see LA on that list. You told me it would happen.Are there really though that many VCs who are creating communities through writing publicly?What I’ve appreciated about VCs like you, Suster and Feld is that while you have been highly influential in a particular region your public writing helps to invigorate the startup community at large. And it seems to make a difference that each of you engages in the comments.BTW I’ve been thinking of sending you an email but will just say it here — especially since you are partially unplugging: Almost daily I am acutely aware of the debt of gratitude I owe for how much I have learned in the past few years at AVC. You (and this community) have helped to make my dream of being a viable resource to startups a reality. A heartfelt thank you!

    1. awaldstein

      Well said!!

    2. William Mougayar

      You know Donna, there’s a secondary benefit which is to be part of this community. So many times, I’d walk into a tech meetup or event (both in Canada and the US), and people recognize me and say: “You’re William, from AVC”.

      1. awaldstein


      2. Rohan

        Haha. I’m sure they do.. 🙂

      3. fredwilson

        Big smile!

      4. jason wright

        when did you first arrive here William?

        1. William Mougayar

          October 2008. And have been here every day since then. I’m close to 10,000 comments here pretty soon – not that I’m counting…Disqus counts them 😉

      5. Donna Brewington White

        You are a celeb William!I was on the phone recently with a transplant from NYC to LA and about 5 minutes into the convo he said “Oh wait, you’re the Donna who is the prolific commenter on AVC!”Didn’t know quite how to take that. 😉

    3. Kirsten Lambertsen

      “You (and this community) have helped to make my dream of being a viable resource to startups a reality. A heartfelt thank you!”Love it!

    4. fredwilson

      You are very welcome Donna

    5. JamesHRH

      I agree. In particular, a16z is sort of an all fronts publicity offensive ( great videos, blogs, tweet storms, books ) but less community – not that it has not worked.Plus, they have the goods.YC & 500 Startups & Techstars all have a great vibe, but can you just hang out there? There is a central purpose and its commercial in nature…..are there EiR’s at pitch days or cats like me, scouting groups I could contribute to? Asking, not rhetorical.Those examples are just so authentic – the founders of those groups also have the goods when it comes to contributing to the ecosystem – that the community just seems like an extension of who they are.You can’t fake community it seems, just like you can’t fake authenticity ( not for very long anyhow ).

  8. Steven Lowell

    The history of change in the world always involved thinkers, doers, and writers who injected confidence and motivation into a movement.Thank God too because I’ve been writing for 25 years and for the last 7 years have been a paid blogger with success in growing communities.Not exactly as important as Patrick Henry, but it’s a living.

    1. Richard

      How does the paid blogging world operate?

      1. Steven Lowell

        It works like any other industry: work hard, stay committed, always try to improve, and earn respect so people will pay to keep you in business. It helps to be an expert in a specific industry, so that a company can say you write for them.Does it always pay well?No. Lol

  9. Rohan

    Good morning from Chicago, Fred and fellow AVCers – I must say it is really nice to get this early in the morning.

    1. William Mougayar

      Welcome to the US Rohan!!!

      1. Rohan

        Thanks a lot, dear William! 😀

        1. pointsnfigures

          Welcome to Chicago Rohan. I am sorry that we have foggy weather here for you. If you want to meet up for some coffee, happy to meet.

          1. Rohan

            Hello – I would love to meet. :)I am actually going to be around in Evanston for the next 2 years as I am starting graduate school at Northwestern’s Kellogg school. Shall we do this via email? I am on [email protected]

          2. Jeff

            My phone won’t let me sign into Disqus. You are going to wear the purple! We should meet up soon. Could take you to 1871.I am a Booth grad and know Linda Darragh up at NU. She runs their entrepreneurship program

          3. Rohan

            Hi Jeff, purple indeed! I would love to meet. Happy to reach you via email if that works?Linda Darragh has been shaking up the entire entrepreneurship curriculum here from what I hear. So, I’m looking forward to meeting her!

    2. Donna Brewington White

      Welcome dear Rohan! Can’t wait to meet you in person soon!

      1. Rohan

        Same here – FINALLY!

    3. JamesHRH

      Chicago is a great place. You’ll make it better I am sure!

      1. Rohan

        Ha. Let me know if you’re around in the next 2 years, James! 🙂

        1. JamesHRH

          moving back to western canada – will see less of the windy city sadly.

  10. Barry Nolan

    Places like AVC, A16Z, Suster, YC are exceptions. Same too for indie bloggers – Marco, Jared, JL Gassée. Words of insight and integrity, published and publicly dissected. Nospin – just strong opinions, loosely held. As a reader, you leave better off.(As a humorous aside, a VC on this side of the pond, disclosed to me with the gravitas only ‘an insider has’, that AVC is written by a team, and not Fred.)But there’s a big downside to public writing. It’s innocuously termed “Content”. Content is the (un)intended reaction to Google’s algorithms, and the desire to be found. Teams and technology have risen feed the content machine. Much of it drivel. The more the better. Keep shovelling. And in case you were sleeping, we now have services to drip-feed it into your news streams.Some of the worst extremes are manifest in the press’ click-bait. Reference the ugliness of the NY Daily News managing editor congratulating his team for the superb SEO’ing Robin Williams death. In death, you live on in SEO land.And increasingly I see it in startups. As soon as the “Director of Content” ishired, a never-ending need to publish dilutes their voice into a stream of wankery.

  11. Richard

    One of the great contributions of tech over the last 10 years has been its openness and transparency. Its part of the meme of highly engaged users. The same engine of growth factor that USV focused on when making investments in individual companies.

  12. diymanik

    Ryan Hoover did a great job of this with his intro post for Product Hunt.

  13. leigh

    Building community is hard. People want easy. The only reason i started a blog or got on Twitter was because of my startup. I was very uncomfortable with it at the beginning. My first ever comment was here on AVC. The value I’ve gotten out of it is so way beyond marketing. My participation in online communities that I care about, continues to shape and form the way i think. It’s the value of never being the smartest person in the room.

    1. William Mougayar

      Yup. People under-estimate the stepwise progress that actually happens. It’s almost never an overnight success by any stretch.

      1. LE

        Leigh: Building community is hard. People want easy.William: People under-estimate the stepwise progress that actually happens. It’s almost never an overnight success by any stretch.One thing that separates the winners from the losers in many things is attitude. Losers (for lack of a better word) can’t really make a connection between something that is not concrete and that might lead to something else but is loosely defined. They don’t have a general feel for “opportunity” they tend to be doubting and say “what’s the point” it probably won’t work. And, in fact, many won’t even understand the point if it is given to them on a silver platter. In other words more of “oh that probably won’t work”.I was given an invitation to a Wharton Club event in NYC (as an alumni). I can’t go to it but I sent it to my daughter who is newly in the city to attend. My thoughts were “she might make some contacts and/or might meet someone to date”. It took one second to figure out that the “opportunity” was well worth the time she would spend (for either reason). So I offered to pay for it and also told her to try to bring a friend (knowing that it would make it less uncomfortable..)Hustle is quite important in many things.

    2. LE

      Building community is hard. People want easy.To repeat something that I say from time to time that’s also why there is opportunity. Barriers to entry are good. Difficult or hard is good. Keeps the pain in the ass bystanders out.I think of this relative to the sharing economy. In some cases it’s simply to easy for someone else to compete with you if it’s just a sign up. Or a web page.Back in the day my first business was brick and mortar. Wasn’t trivial to rent a space, buy equipment and do all that was needed back then. And land business. That was good though kept out many competitors.

      1. JamesHRH

        I know a great entrepreneur who is a former indept coffee shop owner. He might not call it community, he would call what he did caring for customers ….. but his best story is about a school principal who ‘became his best salesman’ because they remembered his drink & what he chatted about the day before, etc.People come first, that is for sure.

    3. SubstrateUndertow

      But then again, transforming things that once were difficult into no-sweat-easy, isn’t that the-job-to-be-done by technology in general.Can’t we assume that within 20 years toolsets for constructing/participating/moderating better purpose driven communities will be much easier, much more accessible ? (RIP Google Wave!)Like inserting pics or video into quick casual messages is today. Nobody thinks twice about doing that anymore because is so easy now.

    4. JamesHRH

      Caring is completely underrated and not talked about at all.Passion ( ‘follow your passion’ – gag ) is caring for your self (big whoop).Caring for others (there are many, many condescending things people say who have this focus, most of my favourites use the phrase ‘little people’ – gag ) often goes hand in hand with being ineffective.PMarcA has it w ‘contribution’. Contribution = caring about people & caring about impact.Community building is not a contribution that floats my boat, but ” I’m a loner Dottie, a rebel.” 😀 –

    5. Drew Meyers

      I firmly believe that every single one of life’s magical moments originate with community.. it’s actually the core mission of my startup, to enable true community wherever in the world you might be.I wrote about this exact topic the other day:

  14. Bruce Warila

    Completely agree. I tell entrepreneurs all of the time, that if you can’t write about it regularly, you probably don’t have an idea that influencers will promote for you. Today, you almost have to be able to blog your way to success. (My attempt to write about this –

  15. JimHirshfield

    You can say that again!

    1. Vasudev Ram


  16. Twain Twain

    I write about Human-Machine Intelligence on Google+ and have met people interested in that topic who send me all sorts of useful perspectives and links.As well as VCs writing about startups like AVC, Mark Suster, Brad Feld and A16Z team, it’s the Stackoverflows and Hackernews which are great examples of relevant, quality writing enabling strong community ethos.

  17. Mike Chan

    Agreed, creating content and building community is extremely important. Personally, it also has therapeutic effects. Being able to express my thoughts and emotions to the world and receiving feedback from people who have been through similar situations has been really valuable to me. Double win!

  18. JLM

    .It is not just the writing, it is the exchange of ideas–disparate ideas.When ideas freely wrestle, better ideas are the result.This––is a particularly fertile salon of ideas. Not just for the red meat thrown to the lions by Fred but for the to-ing and fro-ing of the comments and the ideas contained therein.Take a bow, y’all. OK, that’s enough. Good end of summer to all.JLM.

  19. Matthew Perle

    As a consumer rather than producer of public writing, I’ve found it very useful as a tool for understanding and evaluating people. I found my last job and current partner through their public writing and can’t praise it enough.

  20. Brad Dickason

    I could not agree more, and very few people/groups do this really well.On my current project (a game), I’m encouraging:-Forum Posts instead of private e-mails-Public chat instead of private IRC or Skype or Hangouts.-Blog posts any time new artwork/decision/interesting code approach comes about-Public issue tracking and responses to bugs (via Github)And above all else…-Open source nearly all codePublic writing is step one, public interaction with your community is step 2, public contributions from your community is the holy grail (ihmo).

  21. Emil Sotirov

    And then there is the “Fred Wilson” lesson about VC as discussed yesterday by Andrew Parker:”The lesson here is that venture capital is less about identifying great investment opportunities and is far more about getting access to those opportunities. Knowing that this handful of companies would become interesting in 2010 is not what makes a great VC. It’s convincing the entrepreneurs in all these companies to partner with you on their journey; that’s the battle.”http://thegongshow.tumblr.c…

  22. JamesHRH

    I think the breadth of impact of both blogging & community is over stated. For every Gary V there are 10,000 bloggers who are talking out loud in a hurricane.AVC is a very, very rare occurrence.Even great people like Mark & Brad have a sliver of the readership / commenter participation.Your average broadsheet site is a cesspool of comment hate; most other vertical sites have the same issue.It’s the bartender & the crowd that sets AVC apart, IMHO.

    1. awaldstein

      Disagree.Not that avc is a corner case (which it most certainly is) and that few rise to the top, but that only the superstars benefit.Simply not true. Many businesses, from wine bars to consulting services, from Saas solutions to local apps are built on community as their core connector to their customers.There are businesses in the fitness world that use only Instagram as the pipeline to their customer base. You don’t need 1M followers to make that happen.So sure, Fred is an exception as it this community. And there are many speaking to themselves. And certainly people like myself blogging infrequently rarely get over 10K reads to a popular post.But to say that only the very top is influential and game changing is not how I see it in businesses I touch.

      1. LE

        James: I think the breadth of impact of both blogging & community is over stated. For every Gary V there are 10,000 bloggers who are talking out loud in a hurricane.Is true.Fred: If you want to make a splash and create something new, writing publicly and building a community around that is one important part of the playbook.Is true.Arnold:There are businesses in the fitness world that use only Instagram as the pipeline to their customer base. You don’t need 1M followers to make that happen.Is true.However, in real life there are paths that you can follow which are clearly defined and lead to a more certain success “Get into Medical School” “Get into Harvard Business School” and so on. By clearly defined I mean you know the course you have to take and you know the grades you have to get. You can even come pretty close to predicting possible acceptance based on history.And then there are things that will succeed or fail depending more on effort expended, luck, timing and a host of circumstances that really aren’t clearly defined. And no book to follow. This is, in fact, how business differs from so many other things. There are things to read and answers on specific things but for sure no play book that can or ever will tie everything together because so many decisions are nuance and seat of the pants and “just depend”.I think if James was reacting to anything it was the “If you want to make a splash and create something new, writing publicly and building a community around that is one important part of the playbook.”. Because that’s like a simplistic “find a good lawyer” or “you need a good marketing person” or “make sure your employees are empowered”. The devil is in the details, not the general ideas.

        1. SubstrateUndertow

          The devil is certainly in the details but those devils never get tamed without containment within an appropriate general framework ?Earth-wind-fire-waternever sorts those devilish detailsbut the atomic table does

        2. JamesHRH

          Nice post,What I mean is:People who make a splash do everything.They don’t need encouragement.If you need encouragement as a founder, you are toast.

          1. awaldstein

            Honestly, everyone needs encouragement.

          2. JamesHRH

            I will buy everyone likes encouragement and most of us need it.Pager, Mayer, Zuck, Gates etc. – need seems a little strong there 😀

          3. sigmaalgebra

            “Encouragement”? Hmm …In K-8, I was a disaster: (1) Of course the girls were interested mostly only in older boys or no boys at all. (2) My school kept the boys and girls apart. (3) Dad never got me into sports, and I was no athlete so had little to do with the boys. (4) My talent and interest in most of the K-8 material was low, e.g., as is common for boys that age, my handwriting sucked, i.e., was ugly. For children’s fictional reading, I had no interest (once for Christmas I got a book on how TV worked and just inhaled it in about an hour — so, THAT’S how it works, simple). The teachers thought I was a very poor student. My 8th grade arithmetic teacher gave me a D and warmly advised me never to take anymore math (I understood the material effortlessly, immediately, but my arithmetic accuracy sucked due to my poor handwriting skills), Net, socially, athletically, academically, etc. I was dumped on.But in the 9th grade, there was algebra. Suddenly, for no particular reason, easily, I was the best student in the class. In that grade, the girls were gorgeous, but, the ones in my class, who had been such good students in K-8, struggled terribly. “Encouragement”? Essentially none. I just did it — call it ‘self motivation’. At the end, the teacher sent me to a math tournament; that was the first ‘encouragement’, ever in school.Tenth grade? Sure, plane geometry — more fun than should be legal. The subject was terrific. The teacher was about the nastiest human I ever knew. ‘Encouragement’ from the teacher? She wouldn’t give such to anyone, and I didn’t want and wouldn’t accept anything from her. I ignored her and the class, slept in class, and taught myself from the book. Exactly once I participated in class, asked a question. She had the class struggling for 20 minutes or so without getting an answer. So, I gave the answer, and she got angry. Gee, I didn’t know she wasn’t working the harder problems in the back of the book! On the state test, I believe I came in second in the class. At the end, I nailed her a second time, on another problem. I was good at the subject, but it was ‘self-motivation’ where ‘encouragement’ had nothing to do with it. Indeed, my successes just made the teacher angry.Math is a good subject for my approach: Mostly the work is just between two ears, and off the paper of a good book is about the best way. Then, if a student can prove the theorems, tough for the ‘system’ to stop them; can argue about some discussion question in history or literature, but super tough to argue with a correct proof. If, in addition, can find and prove significant new theorems, still better — then there’s not much that can hurt. “New”? Can’t find it in the library yet. “Significant”? Solves a problem, real or stated in the literature.Computing? If the software runs well, tough to argue with it. If lots of users like the software, still better.’Encouragement’ can be nice, but it’s not really necessary. Besides, making progress toward ‘success’ can provide a kind of ‘encouragement’ all its own!AVC is a lot about business startups and, thus, also about the founders. Such a founder should be able to do well without much external ‘encouragement’.For such a founder, math and computing have an advantage because in those two subjects a founder, all alone, has a good shot of knowing when, at least in technical terms, they are correct or not.I’ve seen some students work hard and do well apparently mostly due to a lot of external ‘encouragement’ (both carrot and stick) from parents, etc. Then sometimes when the external encouragement, guidance, leadership, direction, etc. are gone, so is the students’ work — bummer.

          4. Joseph Mustonen

            I really like the way you are aware of things and the way you can express them !

      2. JamesHRH

        Curious – how many of those businesses have bricks & mortar?

    2. SubstrateUndertow

      Isn’t that the glass-half-empty ?Sure maybe we’re all”talking out loud in a hurricane”that nicely frames the new environmentthe glass-half-full is that that whole new environment”is rocking like a hurricane”like an inexhaustible wind farm for powering up interconnections

  23. ShanaC

    Going to say something controversial:I don’t think writing publicly actually creates community at all. Communities are a highly artificial model to describe a set of various behaviors and beliefs of a group of humans.Content online is just a hook to gather people around, display, and modify behaviors and beliefs. That’s it.When someone writes publicly, they are just displaying a behavior and a belief – they don’t ipso facto build community. The actual act of building the group may have to with outside behavior that has nothing to do immediately with the content displayed (eg:bring people to the content, talking to them about the content and themselves, making them feel good about their thoughts about the content. letting them preen* about the thoughts to define belonging to some group)*not a good or bad thing, just defining a behavior.The radical notion of the internet and its relationship to content has to with its conception of space. But that’s a whole other issue…

    1. Russell

      As someone who was a community organizer in the past (if memory serves me) it would be interesting to get more of your thoughts on this Shana!

      1. ShanaC

        sure! shana dot carp at gmail, but I have an even better person for you to talk to who is not me if you want an intro 🙂

    2. Drew Meyers

      “they don’t ipso facto build community”bingo. there is a hell of a lot more to community building than just writing

  24. jdileo

    Hi Fred, my name is Joe DiLeo. Your post is exactly correct and the point made is a powerful one. It is indeed a wonderful thing that the decade of writing, blogging and tweeting has facilitated entrepreneur’s from around the world to learn from, observe and discuss the logic of thought leaders.Not least among them, AVC!

    1. Russell

      As a first time commenter on AVC I’m sure @fredwilson:disqus would welcome you in person if he weren’t off grid and on holiday!! On his behalf, welcome to AVC!!

  25. Casey Schorr

    Fred, when referring to “Boulder” I’d suggest considering using “Colorado” or “Denver/ Boulder” instead, as Denver is experiencing an echo-boom much larger and faster than what’s going on in Boulder. For example, SendGrid, Rally Software, Craftsy, Galvanize, Ibotta, MapQuest, Inspirato, iTriage, HealthGrades, Swiftpage, etc. all started in Denver or have large offices here (often times, even companies started in Boulder have a Denver office rivaling their Boulder location due to population density on the Front Range and the fact Millennials much prefer living in Denver vs. Boulder).Anyways, thought you should know the startup center of gravity in Colorado is moving, quickly, to Denver. Which is interesting in of itself, as Boulder was the hub for so long.

  26. Semil Shah

    If I didn’t find Chris, read his blog, and then discover this blog, and then write myself, I am not sure I’d be in the sector and pursuing my interests. Thanks to you both for the inspiration.

  27. Boss Hogg

    I find this very interesting and would like your further thoughts on this. Intuitively, this makes sense. Practically, I get immersed in my projects and stop writing. I rely on Twitter a lot because I find most of my points can be made in one or two tweets. Is it worth blogging some of those points more just to . . . blog?

  28. Drew Meyers

    Sad I forgot to check avc yesterday, and missed a great discussion about community building, my favorite topic

  29. Just Wondering

    YC, techstars startups have gone way too far on communicating polished 5 or so minute presentations that hide so many of the real issues behind the startups…YC, Techstars and others have encouraged this (so much focus on the pitch) not to better communicate, but to increase likelihood of funding often for companies that don’t deserve it.Communication is good — but it should be fair, honest and direct.

  30. Mariah Lichtenstern


  31. Joseph Mustonen

    New here : Feeling it out

    1. fredwilson


  32. Mona Chipman

    Am just considering the concept of public writing. By nature I am quite opinionated and would like advise on the best way to go about it. Thoughts please ?

  33. fredwilson

    I will do that. Just figuring it out