A Q&A with Written co-founder and CEO Josh Kerr. The Austin-based startup, which licenses archived blog content to brands for marketing campaigns, completed a $1 million Seed funding round earlier this month from LiveOak Venture Partners, Floodgate Fund, and Angel investors. It was founded in 2012 by Kerr, Jeremy Bencken, Connor Hood and Marc Smookler.
SUB: Please describe Written and your primary innovation.
Kerr: Sure. Our main innovation is our business model. We’re completely flipping content marketing on its head in a way that will be really disruptive to the industry. Currently, content marketing is broken. It doesn’t work. Marketers continue to pour tons of money and time into creating authentic content to post on their blogs, promote through their social channels, and amplify with tools like Outbrain, but the results are hit-or-miss. Content marketers never know what will work and what will flop. So, they simply throw more content at the problem in hopes that sheer quantity of articles and blog posts will force an engaged audience out of the woodwork.
But content isn’t the problem. There’s already a ton of great content around the web that has a loyal and engaged audience. It’s simply a matter of connecting those audiences to the brands that are relevant to them. That’s where Written.com comes in. We license content from top bloggers for use by brands. That way, brands gain an instantly engaged and loyal audience while bloggers get to monetize some of their content that would otherwise be left idling in their archives.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Kerr: We’re a two-sided market. On the one hand, we’re focusing on brands with content marketing budgets, who are frustrated with hit-or-miss returns and uncertain ROI on content marketing. The other target market is the pool of bloggers creating great content. The value prop to bloggers is that they can monetize content they’ve already written and gain authority on Google Page Rank.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition, and what differentiates Written from the competition?
Kerr: To be honest, there aren’t any companies doing quite what we do. To my knowledge, we’re the first ones to license existing blog articles and transfer the content and the audience to brands for use in their content marketing campaigns. We have a few indirect competitors in the content marketing space, including content amplification services like Outbrain and content-gathering services like NewsCred.
Outbrain shops your content around to generate traffic. Written.com, on the other hand, brings the audience and the traffic to the brand. No further promotion or amplification needed.
As for NewsCred, it’s great for people who have an audience already, but need more content. Written is for anyone whose primary concern is building an engaged audience.
SUB: You just announced that you’ve raised $1 million in Seed funding. Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?
Kerr: Every brand is on the hunt for meaningful engagement with their target audience. They buy AdWords, pay for display ads, and initiate email and content marketing campaigns that include original content, sponsored content, native ads, etc. The list goes on.
Increased competition, ad blindness, inability to target and low success rates are just a few examples of the challenges that marketers face today. They’re looking for new ways to develop their audience. Brands are looking for what Written.com does, even if they don’t know it yet.
SUB: How do you plan to use the funds?
Kerr: The funding will be used to expand our business development efforts and continue to build out our blogger network.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Written? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Kerr: Written.com started with an idea. Jeremy and I are both passionate about the fact that writers bring tremendous value to our society, and yet they don’t get paid to reflect that value. We tossed around the idea and rallied a few of our startup friends, including Marc Smookler and Connor Hood, to figure out what we could do to make the work that bloggers do more valuable.
We started by looking at existing blog content that was already successful in terms of traffic and engagement. Then, we talked to several brands to see if they’d be interested in licensing the content to benefit not just from the words on the screen, but from all of its attributes. Nearly everyone that we talked to initially became a beta customer, and they are still with us today.
SUB: What were the first steps you took in establishing the company?
Kerr: We started by speaking with brands about the idea to gauge their interest and to make sure that we weren’t assuming they had grievances about content marketing when they didn’t. We worked on several pilot customers to test out our tech and we also brought on advisors and mentors that we knew and trusted to help guide us.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story or meaning behind it?
Kerr: Written.com refers to the fact that we leverage pre-existing content—in other words, content that has already been written. It’s self-explanatory, really.
SUB: Do you have plans to seek additional outside funding in the near future?
Kerr: Our future fundraising plans are still to be determined.
SUB: What have the most significant challenges been so far to building the company?
Kerr: One of the hardest things we’ve faced in building a two-sided marketplace is striking the right chord with both of our target audiences. Brands and bloggers have very different goals and perspectives, and we have to balance their differing interests in order to appeal to both of them, without alienating either side.
Brands, of course, want the ability to target and engage their ideal audience, so messaging to them isn’t hard. But without bloggers, we don’t have a business. We are strong advocates of bloggers, and the brands that work with us know that the relationship with the writer of their content is of paramount importance. With this in mind, we’ve managed to create a marketplace of mutual benefit and respect.
SUB: How do you generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Kerr: We work one-on-one with brands to identify and analyze their desired audience and then we go out and find existing content with their target audience. Then, we handle the licensing process and manage the brand and blogger relationship throughout. Finally, we help brands integrate the new content into their existing marketing platform. Brands have a variety of options including a content and audience license in which we redirect the content and its traffic to your site, a page rebranding where the content stays on the bloggers’ site, but the brand takes over everything else including branding and calls-to-action, and a syndication license where the content can be published on your site, but does not come with the accompanying traffic. Each option comes at a different price point and depends on the quality, page-rank and traffic of the piece of content.
SUB: What are your goals for Written over the next year or so?
Kerr: Over the next year, we are working to build our blogger network to the point that we can automate the marketplace so that brands who don’t need individualized consulting from the Written.com team can browse content relevant to their brand, and license or purchase it themselves.
Another one of our future goals is to focus on education. We plan to offer a full suite of tools, tips, seminars and more that marketers need to best leverage Written.com’s products and services for their business goals.
It’s also reasonable to expect that we’ll continue to expand into other aspects of a brand’s marketing program as well. In fact, some of the brands we are working with are already considering how we can apply our audience development strategies to areas outside of their content marketing campaigns.
Written – www.written.com