Content Marketing Tips from Experts at First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz

by Y Combinator10/13/2017

Camille Ricketts is the Head of Content and Marketing at First Round Capital.

Sonal Chokshi runs the editorial team (part of the marketing operation) at a16z.


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Craig Cannon [00:00:00] – Hey, this is Craig Cannon and you’re listening to Y Combinator’s podcast. Today’s guests are Camille Ricketts from First Round Capital and Sonal Chokshi from Andreessen Horowitz. Sonal and Camille both work on content. They make really great stuff. I thought it would be fun to have them come in to discuss and debate their strategies. As always if you want to read the transcript or watch the video, you can check out Alright, here we go. We have a ton of questions about content marketing editorial from Twitter, so I think we’re just going to jump right into them. Okay?

Camille Ricketts [00:00:32] – Sounds good.

Craig Cannon [00:00:33] – Adora Cheung (@nolimits), Partner at YC, asked two questions. First of which is, how do you measure the effectiveness of your content? Sonal?

Sonal Chokshi [00:00:43] – You’re asking me first? I’m like, ask Camille first.

Camille Ricketts [00:00:46] – I was like, oh good.

Sonal Chokshi [00:00:48] – Well, I’m going to give you guys a cop-out answer, ’cause I actually think content measurement’s like one of the hardest things that has not been solved, and I’ve been looking for tools and things for years. And you know, in media you have obvious things like page views and time on site, but I think the number one question is you have to really tie it to what you’re trying to do. And I know that sounds like a really obvious thing, but actually people don’t stop to pause and ask themselves: what are we trying to measure and why? How does it fit our strategy and our goal? And then also, what you measure’s what you’re actually going to bother changing, ’cause why measure something if you’re really not going to do anything about it? And so, things that I value most are things like time on site, engagement and uptake, much more than page views. But of course, it is kind of a nice high when you get a lot of people reading something or paying attention, or listening to something.

Camille Ricketts [00:01:35] – Definitely.

Craig Cannon [00:01:37] – And so, to make that more specific, what is a good time on site that you’re looking for? Do you base it on the word count of an article, of a video, what do you do?

Sonal Chokshi [00:01:45] – It’s not an arbitrary number for sure. I actually have a big pet peeve around word length. I hate when people get into religious debates around length like, “Short is good, long is bad,” or, “People only do this,” and I hate all those rules. Do you guys have word counts on your stuff?

Camille Ricketts [00:02:02] – We don’t have word counts, but we write extremely long.

Sonal Chokshi [00:02:05] – Yeah, so do we.

Camille Ricketts [00:02:05] – And so we get a lot of people saying, “Why are you doing that?”

Sonal Chokshi [00:02:08] – Yeah, and it works though, right? Your long stuff works.

Camille Ricketts [00:02:11] – It really depends on the content you’re trying to share.

Sonal Chokshi [00:02:11] – Yeah, exactly. That’s what hate, is a religious debate around it, because that’s exactly it. What is the amount of length that you actually need to convey the point? It’s more about information density to me, like how many insights are you conveying? Not like per square foot. Are you really packing it in, or are you just meandering for no reason? To go back to your point about the measurement, there isn’t an actual number, because it depends on the length, a 4,000-word piece is going to take 10 minutes to read. But you get a sense, and I know that seems like a cop-out. But you do get a sense, like this is a piece that has high engagement, a lot of people are actually really staying with it, they’re not just flipping in and out. I don’t know what tools you guys use, but I still use Chartbeat even though we don’t have to use Chartbeat ’cause you don’t get that kind of traffic like you do in a media outlet, but it does kind of tell you where people drop off. And I think that data literally informed how I think about writing and editing and how I think about being an editor. Because you really pay attention to keeping people hooked for every turn, at least in the first third of a piece before they’re committed.

Craig Cannon [00:03:18] – Right, so are you mixing it up with pull-quotes, like images, what do you guys do?

Sonal Chokshi [00:03:23] – You guys probably have a better answer on this.

Craig Cannon [00:03:24] – They’re definitely good at that.

Sonal Chokshi [00:03:25] – I was going to say, ’cause you guys have a really beautifully-designed, I really like the look.

Camille Ricketts [00:03:29] – Oh, thanks.

Sonal Chokshi [00:03:29] – No, I really genuinely like the look and feel of what you guys put out.

Camille Ricketts [00:03:32] – When we redesigned the site, we really wanted to focus on readability, because we do write quite long. How can you keep someone reading really engaged? And the types of things that we found to be most effective is subheads, obviously, in order to give people sort of trail markers throughout a piece, so that they can literally skip ahead to the content that they might be looking for in particular, but then also pull-quotes that keep them feeling the voice of the person that we’re featuring. ‘Cause that’s a huge part of the appeal, we think, is that you feel sort of this conversational tone of the person being interviewed. Both of those tricks have made a big difference. And then also, bulleting as much content as we can, numbering as much content. If you give people a sense of how much they can anticipate from a certain section, they’re more likely to read it, because they’re like, “Oh, I feel like that’s going to be digestible.” And so, knowing that people make those types of calculations and feeding into it has been really helpful.

Sonal Chokshi [00:04:27] – I totally agree with you. We don’t use pull-quotes as much because in our content, which is I think a slight difference, is that because you guys do more reported voices, and ours is a first person voice, we don’t do as many pull-quotes. But I do think it’s a great feature, but we totally do the scanning and subhead thing, and I totally agree with you. And in fact, one of the tricks that I love is when you can actually kind of make the subheads tell the story without having to read the piece. But you have to reveal just the right amount to kind of give you the info scent for what you’re getting, but not so much that you’re giving all the goodies away, so people think, “Okay, I can just scan the subheads and not read the piece,” there’s sort of a balancing act there. But I completely agree with you about that, that’s such a great design thing.

Craig Cannon [00:05:07] – Yeah, we kind of break all the rules of English 101, where a paragraph opener, closer, all the stuff in the middle, it’s like no.

Camille Ricketts [00:05:14] – Yeah, exactly.

Craig Cannon [00:05:14] – Paragraphs are like two sentences long for us, like super short.

Sonal Chokshi [00:05:18] – Yes, well in fact, on the English 101 thing, one of my other things is that I know there’s a whole rule in journalism around the inverted pyramid, and I agree. When you edit academic experts especially, they always have a huge build-up before you even know why you’re reading. I’m a big, big, believer in the nutgraf. It does matter to have that, because you need a place to anchor people right away. And for argument pieces I really strongly believe you need an argument nutgraf. The argument is not conveyed by having a very provocative headline and just assuming people are going to read. And I like to have a rule of thumb that I like the nutgraf to come in by the third paragraph. It doesn’t have to be there, that’s one of the journalism rules I don’t mind keeping, actually. But I don’t like the classic inverted pyramid. I actually like nonlinear narratives sometimes that don’t follow like a perfect five point essay. Mess with it, it’s fun to have fun with content.

Craig Cannon [00:06:06] – Yeah, absolutely.

Camille Ricketts [00:06:06] – Absolutely.

Craig Cannon [00:06:08] – Especially when you’re doing volume, right? You can track what works what doesn’t.

Sonal Chokshi [00:06:12] – I will say that sometimes you can tell what works, but I think it’s hard to pinpoint. Just to be blunt, it’s such a hard job.

Camille Ricketts [00:06:21] – You need a lot of data points.

Sonal Chokshi [00:06:23] – You do.

Camille Ricketts [00:06:25] – Just because people responded a certain way to a type of thing you did in a certain piece, you can’t really make a conclusion that…

Sonal Chokshi [00:06:30] – Exactly, that that’s going to apply to everything, ’cause it’s like N equals one logic. It might’ve worked for that piece, but it’s not going to work for every other piece like that. We had this thing happen where everyone’s like, “Oh my God, these explainers work well. “Let’s do more explainers.” But I’m like, “It’s not the explainer that worked well, it’s the fact that it was an explainer with an argument built in.”

Camille Ricketts [00:06:48] – Totally.

Sonal Chokshi [00:06:48] – It’s not just saying here’s how AI works, and deep learning, and machine learning, the argument was why it’s an AI spring, and given that there were so many past AI winters, there was a lens that you have.

Camille Ricketts [00:07:02] – There’s so many variables. It could be the topic, it could be the people that are speaking about the topic.

Sonal Chokshi [00:07:06] – Yes, exactly!

Camille Ricketts [00:07:07] – You don’t really know unless you’ve tried something consistently across many, many, different versions.

Sonal Chokshi [00:07:12] – I have to say, I’m dying to hear your answer on the measurement question, too.

Craig Cannon [00:07:15] – Yeah, no I’m waiting for it, too. I mean, I would ditto all of that. Often I think like, oh this is going to be a good one, and it’s just, meh, okay.

Sonal Chokshi [00:07:23] – Yeah.

Camille Ricketts [00:07:23] – Totally!

Sonal Chokshi [00:07:24] – It’s like how do you know? We have the same challenge. My theory about it is that you get an editorial instinct by just doing it, like pattern recognition, you know the stupid 10,000 hours, whatever rule, you get enough. It’s not so many data points, but you get so good at what you do because you’ve been doing it for a while. But how do you know otherwise that it’s working? I always get this question and never know how to answer it.

Camille Ricketts [00:07:48] – You kind of develop this weird instinct that you can’t even explain it to the other people who are asking you why you made a decision.

Sonal Chokshi [00:07:52] – Yes, exactly!

Camille Ricketts [00:07:54] – I just know that if I phrase it this way, or if I use this subject line in an email that it’s going to get more intrinsic interest than it…

Sonal Chokshi [00:08:02] – Totally agree, that’s why the more results you have under your belt, like if you’re doing your own content effort, the better. Otherwise, people get so caught up in these abstract discussions, and they’re debating their strategy, that they’re not actually just figuring out what works. And that goes to your point earlier about just sort of having enough of those points.

Craig Cannon [00:08:22] – Also, there’s content all over the internet. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. Which is something that I’m like, dude, New York Times knows how to write a headline. You can just do that over. How do you guys measure effectiveness?

Camille Ricketts [00:08:34] – Yeah, I mean, I’ll echo everything that Sonal said, in terms of page views. It’s nice to have as a guideline time on page, very important to us. We like seeing where people have dropped-off from a scrolling perspective. What could we have done better about a segue or a turn in the piece? The other things that I’ll mention is, we pay a lot of attention to social sharing. We actually have the counts listed, and that’s been a feature that’s been very important to us to maintain for the social proof, quality for readers, but also for us to see: did people find this so valuable that they felt compelled to share it with their community? That’s the type of feedback that is extremely valuable for us in our motivation for why we create this content to begin with. And we even have some mechanisms set up on Slack where if anyone that has over 10,000 followers tweets about a piece of our content, we get an alert, so that we can keep tabs on how many influencers in the space are engaging with and sharing our stuff.

Sonal Chokshi [00:09:30] – I verbatim think that’s exactly the right way to think about it, and the way social is important. And I think people tend to think social in terms of social media, sharing, as this marketing word. But actually what you care about is that it’s creating conversations around your content. And as a writer, editor, a strategist, whatever your jobs is, you care about that conversation and where it’s going. And there’s opportunities in some of the misunderstandings, the disagreements. I think the other key about it is that, what you said about influencers, more than 10,000. I like to look at the ratio of how many followers to followees they have. ‘Cause sometimes there are some influencers that are just really focused in how often they tweet so they don’t have as many followers, but they’re very, influential, because they have these multiplicative sort of cascading effects that their followers have 10,000 followers, and 100,000 followers, and it multiplies and cascades, and so I like to look at that differential. I love that you guys have a Slack mechanism, we dump everything into Slack, all of our mentions.

Camille Ricketts [00:10:33] – Oh, that’s cool.

Sonal Chokshi [00:10:33] – Well, it’s kind of a pain ’cause you also get these trolls, all these random people, randomly emailing you for no reason.

Camille Ricketts [00:10:42] – Of course, always.

Sonal Chokshi [00:10:43] – It’s just a tag, it’s not even relevant to the firm. There’s no relevance, they’re just randomly tagging random companies, and so you have no way of filtering that. But I do think that helps.

Craig Cannon [00:10:52] – How do you guys connect with those influencer-type folks? I know you kind of have a focused effort there. Is that just by inviting them on the podcast? Is that by retweeting them, how do you get connected?

Sonal Chokshi [00:11:03] – That’s a good question, I think in our case, and I want to give huge credit to the bigger picture at our firm which is that the content operation sits in this broader marketing group run by Margit Wennmachers, who’s my boss. And she’s really the driver behind building the brand for a16z. I will say that we had this context of this existing brand of influence that definitely helps. Now, we did not have a fully-operational content effort in place, there were definitely individual blog posts and blogs. Ben had his blog, and individual folks had their blogs. We did put it under a more cohesive strategy when I joined and changed our focus on what we do for content. To get to your point about the influencer, they have a whole network of relationships, both as a firm, ’cause the model is around a network of networks, it’s a really network-based model. And the networks are everything from media networks, to Fortune 500 and Global 2000. I think in our case it may be a little different in terms of how we engage those influencers.

Craig Cannon [00:12:03] – If I looked through all the questions people sent in, more often than not they seem to be from early stage founders, right? They’re looking for basically the effective dose. If I’m going to find an influencer, how many do I need, who should I go for? What do you guys recommend when you’re just getting started?

Camille Ricketts [00:12:22] – I think not being shy to reach out to folks. If you see that someone is interested in what you’re doing, don’t let that opportunity go by. Whenever we see someone who might not be in our community already, or who we might not know, tweet about us, we will reach and and just be like, “Hey, how’s it going?” And there’s a few other things at First Round that they can also engage with, our events, our mentorship programs. Part of why we focus so much on content is being able to feed really extraordinary people into those programs as well. We really try to not let those opportunities pass us by.

Sonal Chokshi [00:12:54] – Yeah, I’m going to share a trick that I love, it steals the idea that Kevin Kelly talked about a lot, which is like the whole 10,000/1,000 true fans. You really want sort of the true fans, and you can in every industry figure out who those true fans are. I used to keep these private lists on Twitter of different verticals that I was interested in when I was at Wired. It could be machine learning at the time, or it could be developer influencers, or it could be, you know, I’m really personally into maps and map making. I had a whole list of all the people who are really geeks about maps.

Camille Ricketts [00:13:25] – I love that.

Sonal Chokshi [00:13:25] – And so you can just find all those people by having those lists. So, first of all, I think even culling and putting together a really good list is the first place to start. But my friend, Dan Wang, who I think you know.

Camille Ricketts [00:13:37] – Oh gosh, he’s so talented!

Sonal Chokshi [00:13:38] – He’s so talented, young, great writer, very talented. And one of the things that he told me is that early-on he sort of got the attention of one influencer, who’s Tyler Cowen, and his strategy in his head sort of became, “Is this a piece that I’m writing that Tyler will pay attention to and read?” And he only targeted in his head that, “I’m going to get Tyler to read everything that I write.” And sure enough, Tyler reads everything he writes, shares it, and it’s kind of created this amazing thing.

Craig Cannon [00:14:07] – It totally makes sense, right. You just like build up that fan over a couple pieces, it’s something we need to get better with.

Sonal Chokshi [00:14:14] – At YC?

Craig Cannon [00:14:14] – Mmm-hmm.

Sonal Chokshi [00:14:16] – We’re not as interactive on our Twitter followings.

Camille Ricketts [00:14:19] – Either are we.

Sonal Chokshi [00:14:19] – Yeah. Honestly, bluntly, we use our Twitter feed as more of just updates and sharing, because there is enough other people in our firm who tweet and share, so we don’t need to be doing as much of that under our account.

Camille Ricketts [00:14:34] – We feel very similarly, that it’s more of a broadcast platform.

Sonal Chokshi [00:14:38] – Which I think is fine as long as you admit that to yourself. I think a lot of people kid themselves into thinking like, “Oh, we’re going to interact with our community and grow it this way and that way.” And I actually think that’s a real mistake because then you don’t prioritize or know where to prioritize your effort, Because every content resource, every content operation by definition is resource-constrained because there’s always more you can do, you know, we were just talking about this.

Camille Ricketts [00:14:58] – It’s the number one thing, is that you really have to be like, “This is what we’re going to be very good at.”

Sonal Chokshi [00:15:03] – Exactly, and I think you guys nailed it! When I walked into a16z, I walked in like, I love what First Round is doing with their deeply-reported, well-produced in a very, highly-produced in the sense of it’s not just someone just puts up a post and then there’s no design, no editing, nothing. There’s clearly a process behind it. I think that’s amazing when you find out what you do really well and it hits for you.

Camille Ricketts [00:15:31] – Same with you in podcasts, I mean, you pretty much are THE audio game in town when it comes to the whole ecosystem. Honestly, it’s awe inspiring.

Sonal Chokshi [00:15:40] – But the best part about that is that a partner, I think it was Chris Dixon, had originally said, “Let’s do podcasts,” and of course, you can do it as an experiment, but then it can go nowhere. And in our case, what we realized very early on was we don’t have to actually only do podcasts with our folks, which is great. We love our folks, but we can also, ’cause I missed editing my folks at Wired, like the outside experts. And I used to also be the book excerpts editor. I also missed having all these book galleys that I’d get and no way to do anything with them. And because our whole philosophy is of this network we have, and these collective of voices, not like a single point of view, why wouldn’t we bring all those voices on? And that was sort of what created the podcast flywheel, that sort of let a lot more voices and their audiences, ’cause you’re right, ’cause then in the beginning I had to beg book publishers to get on our podcast.

Craig Cannon [00:16:30] – Oh, yeah, all the time. Until you get going, yeah.

Sonal Chokshi [00:16:32] – But now, it’s like we get hit with too many pitches. We have to say no to most, it’s great.

Craig Cannon [00:16:39] – This is important to keep in mind, right? ‘Cause like First Round, Andreessen Horowitz, are like mega brands, right? Someone who’s just getting started has to think about that. Same with YC, the podcast is basically just getting going, and it takes time to build that up.

Sonal Chokshi [00:16:53] – It does, and you don’t have to do everything.

Craig Cannon [00:16:56] – That’s the question I wanted to get to. Twitter account Learn, Educate, Discover (@led_curator) asked two questions, first question is, which medium are you most excited about? The second question is, how do you choose a medium? You can answer those in whatever order.

Camille Ricketts [00:17:12] – Sure. Yeah, this was a big deal for us at the very beginning. We knew we wanted to do content marketing, we weren’t sure what format was going to resonate the most. At the time, doing long form was not the immediately obvious thing to do.

Sonal Chokshi [00:17:26] – Everyone hates it, I know.

Camille Ricketts [00:17:26] – Right. Most tech reporting also is very snackable, very short. It was kind of a double theory of what is it that our audience really wants? What is something that our ideal reader needs and doesn’t get in the course of their daily lives? And our answer to that was: access to people who are extremely skilled in this particular area who are willing to share their advice. The best way to do that was going to be in text. We didn’t want to offer just obvious advice, we wanted to offer a very full, counterintuitive, detailed, almost manual-like advice. We came up with this guiding North Star that we haven’t accomplished, but it does help me in my everyday work, that we want to be The New Yorker meets the Harvard Business Review. Can you tell beautiful literary stories about people that also provide tactical advice that can be applied immediately? That’s a bar that we will continue to strive for in everything that we write. I’m still really excited about the power of text, we might branch out into other things, but for now…

Camille Ricketts [00:18:29] – Yeah, and to your point, I think focus is like one of the most important things when it comes to content.

Sonal Chokshi [00:18:34] – I think people actually don’t know where to begin with this, and I think what you said about having a guiding North Star is critical. Because the number one thing whenever founders or folks ask me for content counsel, like, “How do we get started?” I always ask them, “What are you trying to do?” I know that sounds, again, so obvious, but you’d be shocked at how people sort of almost feel like their automatically executing some playbook without actually pausing to ask that. Even, frankly, for media brands, when I think of which ones are more successful versus not successful out there, if you ask people within that company “What’s your guiding star?” to steal your phrase, in my world I used to have this rule of thumb, that if you can actually distill it to two words, it works really well. When I was at Xerox PARC, where I did content and community for a long time first, the two wordss were: entrepreneurial scientists. When I was at Wired, the two words were: informed optimism, which is from Chris Anderson. The idea is that you have a lens that then lets you choose what to do, and it plays out at every level. To answer your question about the best format, I think it actually begins with: why are we doing this? What’s the idea behind it that’s driving it? How are we going to attack it? Because I think sourcing ideas is not the hard part, for most people, it’s executing on them. And then having that lens,

Sonal Chokshi [00:19:49] – to your point you guys are sort of The New Yorker meets Harvard Business Review. We have a lens too, then it allows you to then, at a very specific level, go edit the piece, including deciding what format it’ll fit. But more importantly, unless you decide what you’re going to kill. Because a lot of people don’t realize that really good content is like 80% about killing crap.

Camille Ricketts [00:20:08] – It’s about choices.

Sonal Chokshi [00:20:08] – Yes!

Camille Ricketts [00:20:09] – And knowing that you can’t make all of them.

Sonal Chokshi [00:20:11] – You can’t, you have to focus and choose. On the formatting side we do everything, bluntly, which I would not advise everyone to do. But I think, in our case, you’re right, I think text is always going to be there, it’s universal, so text is huge. Voice is great, the key about voice is that you can convey a lot more nuance and trickier discussions in a way that you can’t in text.

Camille Ricketts [00:20:35] – 100%.

Sonal Chokshi [00:20:35] – Right, and so much fun. The trade off, however, is that people don’t screenshot and share. Like when you share a piece, it travels on Twitter, and you see people taking your pull-quotes and your excerpts, or in our case, we’ll see specific snippets. That doesn’t always happen with voice, and so there is a limitation on that front. The rule for us is thinking about it’s not an arbitrary thing. It’s actually really what medium best fits what we’re trying to tell. We have to figure out what you’re trying to tell and then the best medium for it, and I don’t think people should dismiss things like listicles. We do a ton of those, 16 things, 16 metrics, they’re great!

Camille Ricketts [00:21:11] – I think it’s really the quality of the content, are you saying things that are new knowledge that are really inspiring of new conversations?

Sonal Chokshi [00:21:16] – Exactly, that’s all it is, is it good content? Period.

Camille Ricketts [00:21:19] – Yep.

Sonal Chokshi [00:21:20] – And you have to have a very high bar for that.

Camille Ricketts [00:21:22] – Yes!

Craig Cannon [00:21:24] – If a start-up approaches one of you guys, and they haven’t figured out what they’re going for, what are you advising them on the medium? Are you asking them, “What are your customers looking for?” What do you say?

Camille Ricketts [00:21:39] – I will just say that where it starts for, when I am advising some start-ups in our portfolio about how they can produce things that their audience is going to gravitate to, it usually starts with, “What do those audience members want to accomplish in their own lives?” And that may or may not be related to what the product or the company actually does, but if they can somehow provide content that helps people get to that end-goal for themselves, then they’re going to reap the halo effect of being able to be that helpful. Producing high utility stuff is sort of my go-to recommendation.

Sonal Chokshi [00:22:12] – To your point, there’s a match between what the audience wants and how they want to get it. I used to always ask people, “What are the top three things that your audience reads?” Then that kind of serves as a model. They’re a New York Times reader, or they’re a Harvard Business Review reader, or they actually read blogs. They’re developers, they read GitHub, more than they read anything else.

Camille Ricketts [00:22:33] – Where do they live online?

Sonal Chokshi [00:22:34] – Right.

Camille Ricketts [00:22:34] – Are they on Twitter all day scrolling through moments?

Sonal Chokshi [00:22:36] – Exactly, or they don’t ever use Twitter, and they only write on paper. We’ve had start-ups that have customers, especially in government, where they’re conveying information only on paper, in folders that are being passed around department to department. And then you have to actually think about that’s your audience, to your point.

Craig Cannon [00:22:55] – How do you find that out? This is, Presant Argawall (@AgrPrashant) asked this question: okay, so say you have some ideas but how do you actually figure out what your customers, your clients, where are they hanging out, what are they reading?

Camille Ricketts [00:23:07] – A couple things that we’ve done, and some of them just recently, is we hold founder listening sessions, where we’ll have a founder come in and talk to our entire team about their experience and where are the gaps, and what they need to succeed, what are they getting from other firms, or other advisers? What do they really love about what getting from First Round? A lot of stuff surfaces from those in terms of like topics they feel have been left uncovered from all the resources they have at their disposal. There’s that, and then we’re also really fortunate to have a really robust intranet at First Round that connects a lot of our companies together so they can ask and answer each other questions. The team that builds that is just, they’re incredible, and I benefit a lot from it ’cause I get to see which questions appear over, and over, and over again. We give people the option to follow a question, so you’ll see a question get asked and be followed by a tremendous number of people, but there won’t be a lot of satisfying answers that come up, and that’s really ripe opportunity for us to then go find an answer.

Sonal Chokshi [00:24:08] – Yeah, that’s so great. I come from an ethnographic background, where you think a lot about, it started off in education, in the world of education, where you learned by observing. Also, listening and learning, it’s the same kind of philosophy, but you’d actually really go physically in person, almost practically like an embedded journalist, if you think about it. One of the keys, and I counsel companies to do this all the time when they think about content and strategy is, it sounds, again, so cliche and obvious, but it’s actually really true and people don’t do it, which is really talking to everybody you can, become first like a complete funnel for bringing as many info sources as you can. Talk to your sales, if you’re doing it for customer marketing purposes. Talk to the people on the ground. Talk to the customer, talk to whoever you can, and if you can’t talk because you often can’t waste people’s time, you can listen in, and you can also ask people for recordings. I’ve asked our folks, “Okay, we can’t listen to every single conversation, but we can listen into this one.” Or this company’s coming in to get a briefing, I want to listen in because I really want to hear what’s top-of-mind for the CTO of this top 500, Fortune 500 company, to really get how they’re thinking about AI in practice, for example. And then, obviously, you have a whole network of sources or resources outside your firm, and outside your borders, and that’s people who are watching the space, or interested in the space. There’s so many opportunities in this,

Sonal Chokshi [00:25:31] – especially if you live in an environment or a city where there’s a lot of events, conferences. I kind of agree, you should not waste too much time at conferences in general, but you can be very targeted and focused about picking one or two events in a year that are really going to maximize your info flow. I really think about it as sitting at the center of this web of information, and making sure that you’re using all of it to figure out what’s happening. And it won’t directly tie-in, it doesn’t map neatly into it turns into a piece, but it gives you this sort of info scent and this sort of context that when you do go into figuring out a piece, or getting a pitch, or proposing an idea, that you then know how attack it because you know what everyone else is saying, and what’s working, what’s not working. And then you can do a way better job that will get attention versus the 20 other things that people wrote, like the hot takes approach.

Camille Ricketts [00:26:21] – I think that that’s amazing advice. People should definitely follow that. I will also say, maybe piggybacking on that a little bit, I’ve heard about this concept a little bit more recently about customer advisory boards, where start-ups can basically recruit an informal early customer base that is bought in to giving them feedback. You maybe have a Taco and Margarita Night once a quarter and have the opportunity to really talk to them about what it is that they need. Using that, and maybe it’s the people that you meet at these events that you’re talking about, and using that type of thing to listen in and see what bubbles to the surface.

Sonal Chokshi [00:26:58] – Totally, and to your point, you guys do events, we do events, they are like that physical touch-point to get a lot of that type of interaction.

Camille Ricketts [00:27:03] – ‘Cause in conversation people start bandying things back and forth, you end up somewhere that you never thought you would.

Sonal Chokshi [00:27:10] – Totally!

Camille Ricketts [00:27:10] – And yeah, it’s very organic feeling.

Sonal Chokshi [00:27:13] – It is very organic, and in fact, you have to have a lot of patience for it, even though I might not seem this way and this is why I love podcasting, I’m actually quite introverted, I do not like socializing.

Camille Ricketts [00:27:21] – I’m an introvert, too!

Sonal Chokshi [00:27:21] – I don’t like networking, I don’t like networking, like people will email, “Do you want to meet?” And I’m like, “No, I don’t want to meet, I want to edit, leave me alone!”

Camille Ricketts [00:27:29] – Like cocktail parties are sometimes my nightmare.

Sonal Chokshi [00:27:32] – Not my jam, like I’ll go I have an hour limit, I can go for an hour and then I’m done. The last time I think I met you, I think I hung for an hour and I’m like, “Okay, I got to go, I’ve been here for an hour,”

Camille Ricketts [00:27:41] – I really relate to that.

Sonal Chokshi [00:27:42] – I really do, too, and I think the thing is, though, that you do have to let yourself have these sort of serendipitous conversations, but you’re always listening! What is that joke that people say, “Always be selling”? Like in the content world I think it’s really “Always be listening.”

Camille Ricketts [00:27:53] – Totally.

Sonal Chokshi [00:27:55] – You always have to hear, ’cause otherwise you don’t get good ideas, and it was always, when I was at Wired I did do these quarterly lunches with developer influencers to kind of get a sense of what was bubbling up next.

Camille Ricketts [00:28:04] – Oh, cool.

Sonal Chokshi [00:28:06] – You know, like open source communities, ’cause there is this idea that the most interesting things happen in forums like reddit, and other places. ‘Cause to us it was true, by the time it hit The New York Times it’s like, “We’re never going to do a piece on that.” And I have the same philosophy here, too, because we want to be starting the conversation, and if we’re not starting the conversation, then we want to be the one adding a lot of really good value to the conversation. What we don’t want to do is be in the middle where it’s noisy, and no one’s listening to each other, and you have no point in adding any value. And a lot of people in their content efforts, unfortunately, get stuck in that dead zone in the middle.

Craig Cannon [00:28:42] – Totally.

Camille Ricketts [00:28:42] – Definitely.

Craig Cannon [00:28:43] – I think there are all of these channels where there are giant open areas where you can just win and that’s what I’m always about. YouTube is one of them there are all these softballs out there that you can just hit.

Sonal Chokshi [00:28:53] – Yeah!

Craig Cannon [00:28:55] – We pay a lot of attention on the technical side like tracking in-bound stuff. We log search queries on our blog, so we know what people are looking for and you can do stuff that way. You can see what pages people are coming in from, and then you just have to hang-out there, and that’s like the art/science divide, where you just have to part of the community.

Sonal Chokshi [00:29:14] – I’m glad you said that it’s an art/science divide, because that is, I think, the other best piece of advice. You’re so smart to track all those queries, and be aware of them, you have those questions, follow those questions, see where the opportunities are. I think when people take it too far, it becomes crowd-sourcing editorial, which is the worst thing ever. Which I think you have to have a point-of-view, which is why you need like an editor-in-chief, a defacto editor-in-chief in every content effort to sort of drive that point-of-view, even if it’s taking input. It’s not saying like, “It’s my way or the highway,” you take inputs from everybody, but you can’t have this model, which I have seen a lot of people do, because to your point, they’re tryin’ to figure out how to get started, so you empathize. Where it’s sort of like crowd-sourcing everything, and then you kind of don’t know what the point is.

Camille Ricketts [00:29:59] – You do, I think you lose or you limit your creativity if you make your content super data-driven.

Sonal Chokshi [00:30:03] – I agree.

Camille Ricketts [00:30:03] – From like, “Oh well, I’ve heard from this number of people now that they want us to write about this.”

Sonal Chokshi [00:30:08] – Yes, exactly!

Camille Ricketts [00:30:08] – Then you’re totally sacrificing your ability to write the unexpected thing that people didn’t know they wanted.

Sonal Chokshi [00:30:14] – Exactly, what people already know versus what you don’t know that they don’t know. Our biggest hit, and my favorite piece, ’cause I know someone asked that question, was Are We Chappies? You’re not supposed to have favorites, they’re all your babies, blah, blah, blah. My mom used to always tell us when we were kids, “I love my thumb, I love my pointer finger, and I love all my kids equally, but you’re all different,” and now I’m like, I think my little brother was her favorite. No, I’m just kidding.

Craig Cannon [00:30:34] – It’s become clear.

Sonal Chokshi [00:30:36] – Just to say that, but WeChat’s one of my, our piece that we did, Connie Chan, who’s like our China expert, wrote this amazing deep-dive on WeChat. But the thing is it was three months of back and forth, and really talking through like what are the big ideas? Finding what the big idea was and thinking through deeply the approach we wanted to take, we took a very ethnographic approach to telling that narrative. It got chosen, this is probably one of my happiest moments, in the New York Times, David Brooks does these annual Sidney Awards, and it was chosen in the 2015 Sidney Awards as one of the best pieces of long-form writing, and the best part is, it was the first time a non-media outlet had been included in it.

Camille Ricketts [00:31:18] – That’s awesome. Yeah, cool.

Sonal Chokshi [00:31:19] – And so, they actually had to say on the Andreessen Horowitz website, but I’m not telling that story just to brag, I’m telling that story because there’s a point, and the point is that nobody from the get-go, if we had crowd-sourced this idea, would have ever said it made any sense. It was like 5,000 words long, I was actually even scared to put it out ’cause people were saying, “You should split in in two,” and I’m like, “Nope, I’m doing it this why, and here’s why, and I know it.” I had a gut in my bones that this is the right way to do it, and Connie gave me a ton of trust as we collaborated as writer and editor, and boom, it just had this slow swell, and it keeps still coming back, it’s amazing!

Camille Ricketts [00:31:53] – That’s awesome, and what I also really love about that story is just you mentioning how much investment, and time, and effort that required.

Sonal Chokshi [00:32:00] – People don’t see it.

Camille Ricketts [00:32:00] – That one of these stories, it is like a three-month effort sometimes, and that’s totally invisible, I think, to a lot of people, especially those getting started with content who expect it to be a little bit lighter lift, or more instantaneous, but it really takes a lot.

Sonal Chokshi [00:32:16] – If you don’t mind my asking, what’s the average production time for one of your pieces on a regular basis?

Camille Ricketts [00:32:21] – It takes a while, it’s definitely at the very shortest a several-week process, because we don’t just do an interview, we have a prep conversation with the person so that we’re on the same page, everyone knows what to anticipate, we’ve teased-out a topic we feel really strongly about. Then there’s the interview, and then it does take a significant number of hours just to assemble a conversation into a cogent argument.

Sonal Chokshi [00:32:43] – Yeah, this is where I think the advice, again, it sounds like something that people talk about in content marketing, this is where the editorial calendar is so key. Because you will always have 10, to 15, to 20, in our case sometimes hundreds of balls in the air, and some land at a certain point, some you’re putting through production in a very systematic way, others you’re actually just shelving on the back burner ’cause the time isn’t right. And then all of sudden something happens and you’re like, “This is the time to start talking about that topic,” and you can actually push that forward, and I think that’s where it helps a lot to make those trade-offs to sort of balance that out.

Craig Cannon [00:33:13] – I think that’s also a pro tip for getting started. Zach (@zachychan6) on Twitter asked the question, how do you get started doing inbound, so basically like content? Having more than one ball in the air, is actually a really good thing.

Sonal Chokshi [00:33:26] – It is.

Craig Cannon [00:33:28] – Have you read The War of Art, Steven Pressfield?

Sonal Chokshi [00:33:31] – Steven Pressfield’s book.

Camille Ricketts [00:33:31] – Yeah, he talks about…

Sonal Chokshi [00:33:34] – The resistance.

Craig Cannon [00:33:34] – The resistance, and he also talks about starting your book before you finish the current one. That’s what I found with a lot of, even personal creative projects where you’re like, “Oh man, we’re done!” And that kills you for the other stuff because you have nothing going and then you take a month. One of the unfortunate things is you do have to publish fairly often, not every day by any means.

Sonal Chokshi [00:33:57] – You have to have a cadence.

Camille Ricketts [00:33:58] – Right, it’s like being on a conveyor belt in a lot of senses where it’s like, “Okay, well I have to be thinking about the one that’s back here even though this one is coming to fruition.”

Sonal Chokshi [00:34:05] – Exactly! No, I totally, totally agree, and this is why I think the editorial calendar is not just a planning mechanism. I’m going to steal a concept from Robin Sloan, I love this idea of stock versus flow in content, because what happens is you get so caught-up on that conveyor belt sometimes, you end up getting in reactive mode, that you actually forget to go into proactive mode about: what are the stories we’re trying to tell and why? Because sometimes you’re too busy reacting and the ideas you’re getting, or the urgencies, or if it’s a start-up sometimes the sales team is saying, “We need more stuff on this,” you’re not actually doing a divide, like 70/30, or whatever percentage works for you, to figure out how to make sure you do the big ideas, or the big things you’re trying to push forward. And I do think having an editorial calendar and the right tools to kind of balance all this help you make those things so you then know, to your point, you’re not done and then oh crap, what comes next?

Craig Cannon [00:34:53] – Oh, totally.

Sonal Chokshi [00:34:55] – Or also, how do you think about having sort of the day-to-day, quote, “flow,” and then having those big stock pieces, like the three-month WeChat project, or other things like that.

Craig Cannon [00:35:04] – Especially when you’re just getting started, you don’t really know what you’re going to do, if you bite off something that’s crazy you won’t have the energy to do other stuff. If we did an animated version of the podcast that was like an hour-long animated video, and we did one and it was great, we wouldn’t be able to do anything else.

Camille Ricketts [00:35:22] – Right.

Sonal Chokshi [00:35:22] – Oh my God! I am so glad you said that! Everybody totally mis-underestimates how important creative energy is. I just think that’s so key, you have to have the energy down to planning your day, like if you know you’re an editor or a writer that needs a morning, then don’t have meetings in the morning. And the other thing is when you work in a company, you have a lot of fricking meetings.

Camille Ricketts [00:35:45] – Oh my gosh, and people coming up to your desk asking questions, Slack is one of the biggest problems in my life.

Sonal Chokshi [00:35:49] – Really?

Camille Ricketts [00:35:51] – I love Slack, the product, but when I’m trying to write a piece, it’s very, very hard.

Sonal Chokshi [00:35:54] – You try not to get the notifications, yeah, yeah.

Camille Ricketts [00:35:55] – Yeah. But just the realities of the modern office, and the open floor plan, very difficult.

Sonal Chokshi [00:36:01] – It is, but it was a hard, hard transition when I left Wired and came to a16z, and I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t do meetings,” and at one point I literally threw my hands up and sort of was like, “We don’t need to have this meeting, but if we do, can only do it on these days,” and then blocking off the time. Because otherwise, what happens is you have, quote, “the meeting stuff,” and then the creative 24/7, and not only is it bad from a balance perspective ’cause you’re writing and editing late into the night, or very early in the morning, the creative flow, it’s not the right thing for setting-up your success. I actually love a post that YC’s Paul Graham wrote on this a long time ago…

Craig Cannon [00:36:37] – Maker/Manager?

Sonal Chokshi [00:36:37] – Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.

Camille Ricketts [00:36:39] – That’s like a classic.

Craig Cannon [00:36:41] – Yeah, it’s a good one.

Sonal Chokshi [00:36:41] – It’s such a great, it is like a bible for me, I send it to everybody because I actually find that when you’re in the tech industry, drawing parallels between writing, editing, and creative with developers, people actually get it then.

Camille Ricketts [00:36:53] – There is definitely an empathy that exists there, for sure.

Sonal Chokshi [00:36:55] – You have to say, like when you even talk about multiplying your effort, like the coordination costs increase, “Oh, okay, now I get it,” you kind of help people understand it. I would give people advice, if you’re talking to a tech founder who doesn’t have the creative background, then maybe do use the analogy of developers to help you.

Camille Ricketts [00:37:15] – You have to get into a flow state.

Craig Cannon [00:37:17] – You have to make time.

Camille Ricketts [00:37:17] – Which requires 20 minutes, at the very least of dedicated, this-is-the-only-thing-that-I’m-lookin’-at-and-doing sort of time.

Sonal Chokshi [00:37:23] – Yeah, I would say an hour if you can get away with, at least.

Camille Ricketts [00:37:27] – It’s hard to come by.

Sonal Chokshi [00:37:28] – Yeah, 20 minutes is too short, I think, too many distractions and notifications. Do you turn off notifications when you…

Camille Ricketts [00:37:34] – I do, I actually use this program called Ommwriter, have you seen this?

Sonal Chokshi [00:37:38] – No.

Camille Ricketts [00:37:38] – It whites-out your screen so that you can’t see anything else and it’s just like a very crisp piece of paper…

Sonal Chokshi [00:37:45] – I love that!

Camille Ricketts [00:37:45] – Writing down and also, if you have your headphones in, the faster you type the more rain sounds you here.

Sonal Chokshi [00:37:52] – Oh my God, that’s so great!

Camille Ricketts [00:37:52] – The rain is like coordinated and I get into this like very meditative…

Sonal Chokshi [00:37:56] – I will say I’m the opposite, which is I like a noisy environment for writing I like–

Camille Ricketts [00:38:01] – Like white noise in the background.

Sonal Chokshi [00:38:03] – I don’t like being in libraries, I like being in crowded, noisy places, but I also really like, I have 200 tabs open at any given time. But to your point, I will not, I will definitely have to put aside notifications, because that is the most distracting thing when you’re trying to get work done.

Craig Cannon [00:38:18] – It’s the worst. Yeah, I’m totally like 6:00 a.m., Wi-Fi turned off kind of person.

Camille Ricketts [00:38:24] – Oh, that’s awesome!

Sonal Chokshi [00:38:25] – I’m an early morning person too, on the editing side.

Craig Cannon [00:38:28] – Middle of the day I don’t get nearly as much done, which is unfortunate.

Sonal Chokshi [00:38:30] – Yeah, I’m tired by the end of the day, so I just feel like I’m not as good, like I have to look at it with fresh eyes in the morning.

Camille Ricketts [00:38:37] – Yeah, but it’s not just physical energy, but creative energy is like this whole other feeling.

Sonal Chokshi [00:38:41] – Yes, and I’m glad we’re talking about it because it almost seems fluffy on the surface, but if you actually are working in a company, you have to think about it and manage it very creatively, and cleverly.

Craig Cannon [00:38:50] – It’s super-valuable time, right? Like if you’re a knowledge worker, it’s really about getting a couple of good hours in every day, and if you just break it up with all the random email nonsense, you don’t get even two good hours.

Sonal Chokshi [00:39:04] – No, but the problem is that even knowledge workers have a meeting culture, because they have to do meetings to do their job, and for a lot of us, we don’t have to do as many of those meetings, unless they’re like listening and learning meetings or whatnot. I do think we can actually remove ourselves from a lot of those meetings. I mean, literally.

Camille Ricketts [00:39:20] – Yeah, like doing an audit, like do I really need to be here? Conversely, does your content person really need to be here if you’re a founder, right?

Sonal Chokshi [00:39:26] – Yes, yes!

Craig Cannon [00:39:28] – You end up in a really nice place, because we have a somewhat work from home culture here. And what’s great about doing content is that people recognize you as still productive even when you’re not in the office, which I think is…

Sonal Chokshi [00:39:40] – Yeah, ’cause you see the output of your work..

Camille Ricketts [00:39:41] – They can visualize what you’re doing.

Craig Cannon [00:39:42] – Yeah.

Sonal Chokshi [00:39:43] – You’re right, ’cause we actually have a concrete product, that is one thing I love, is that you kind of control the output in that way.

Craig Cannon [00:39:47] – Into it, alright, so, a couple of questions from Bridget Bradford. “What interview strategies do you find most useful?”

Camille Ricketts [00:39:54] – All of our content is interview-based which has applied to very interesting constraint, and also had forced me to get very good at this particular thing because I only get an hour with most of these people.

Sonal Chokshi [00:40:05] – You only do an hour?

Camille Ricketts [00:40:06] – Yeah and I really, I want them to know that I’m treasuring their time so I try to keep it the 60 minutes. But making sure people say the most valuable thing they could possibly say within that context is really hard. The framework that I’ve found to be the most helpful I consider it like a three-tier framework. The first being somebody’s going to throw out just a response to your question. Like maybe it’ll be high level. Let’s say that I’m like, “Oh, you know, how do you manage your time?” They’ll be like, “Well, this is how I sort of structure my calendar.” And then you want to ask one question deeper which is, “What is the specific thing that you’re doing?” which I love that you’ve done that a few times in this interview which is great. Then they have to focus their thinking a little bit more. And then a third level being, “Give me an example of you actually doing that in practice and the impact that it made for you.” And just having people move through that ends up giving me a lot more fodder to work with at the end of the day when I’m trying to piece it together.

Sonal Chokshi [00:41:06] – I love that you have such a structured way of doing that. I love that you guys do that because we don’t do written interviews as much. We do very, very few of them. So big difference in our content there. We obviously do interviews in podcast form and in our case what we tell them is to think about you’re just having lunch with people. You’re sitting at a table and you’re talking about this idea and you’re just trying to get, but the way I like to describe it is that you’re trying to take people along with you on a journey of understanding. They’re coming along with you. So you’re not being condescending like talking down to them. Like here’s this thing you don’t know about.

Camille Ricketts [00:41:37] – Right.

Sonal Chokshi [00:41:38] – But you’re also trying to get them to, like, get why is it interesting, and why should they be into what you’re saying. The other thing that we think a lot about when it comes to the interviewing is, and it’s not like a rule of thumb, it’s not quite as structured. It’s just more like an informal thing that we’ve learned. Definitions and terminology go a really long way in our case because we’re talking a lot about new technologies and new innovations. And you’d be surprised at how people obviously don’t agree on definitions. And so getting people to ground themselves about what they mean by something is a really great starting point because it grounds a conversation with shared language but then it takes people who are listening or reading along on the same journey but more importantly I love it because it gives you more precision. And that helps differentiate between what everyone else is doing because what tends to happen especially in our world is that when you’re explaining innovation, people have this perception of this sort of magic realism, that’s magic that’s happening. And so the more specific and precise the definition, the more it’s demystifying that magic in a good way.

Camille Ricketts [00:42:39] – You’re grounding it in….

Sonal Chokshi [00:42:40] – You’re grounding it in something that it’s like, okay, here’s what it is. I think analogies are super useful. We use a ton of analogies. I’m actually really obsessed with those.

Craig Cannon [00:42:49] – Do you prep those beforehand?

Sonal Chokshi [00:42:52] – Never, no, never. For the podcast, I walk in, because I want this mindset of sort of I’m listening to learn. Now my boss called bullshit on me one day when I’m like, “I walk in and I don’t prep.” And she said, “You prep all the time. You read all the time.” And I’m like, “Okay, I guess I prep in that way.” That is prepping because I think it’s a mistake to also come in and say, “I’m just going to act like a newbie without knowing it,” because you have to know the general space and arc and the argument. I don’t prep. I kind of let it kind of see where things go and sort of pick on threads.

Craig Cannon [00:43:23] – I run into that issue all the time.

Sonal Chokshi [00:43:24] – You do?

Craig Cannon [00:43:27] – The way I would answer that question is like the name of the game is making people feel comfortable.

Sonal Chokshi [00:43:31] – Yeah.

Craig Cannon [00:43:32] – I don’t like to impose hard stop times. I definitely don’t go less than a half an hour. It’s like almost always an hour. But the YC interviews end up on Hacker News, pretty frequently. And on one hand we’re trying to make content for people who are just getting into this. But on the other hand it ends up on Hacker News. And so the amount of comments that are like “Craig doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Sonal Chokshi [00:44:00] – I know, I really think there’s a toxic culture there and that is frustrating and I agree. I get all kinds of comments. I get everything from “don’t cuss” which I get a lot. And I almost feel like are they saying this to the men? But hey that’s a separate thing. And then I get all kinds of other stuff. Some of the tricks that we’ve learned, unfortunately for better or worse, especially when it comes to voice medium, you do have to interrupt because people can’t listen to one voice for a very long time. You have to kind of force yourself to do that. Some of the other things that we do is try to break the script. This is especially true of book authors that come on our podcast because they’re going on everyone’s podcast so we’re not getting them exclusively.

Camille Ricketts [00:44:45] – Using boilerplate language.

Sonal Chokshi [00:44:47] – And they’re just so into their book and they’d been on this book tour that they’re almost repeating the same story so you have to break that. I would say it’s opposite actually where I’m trying to break their comfort zone because otherwise they’re going to say the same shit they say in every other podcast about that book. So when we did Yuval Harari Sapiens, we decided to take a very different tack on his conversation because he’s such an interesting guy but he’s also doing 20 other podcasts.

Craig Cannon [00:45:11] – I would encourage people if you’re doing podcast to like slide into the podcast because I’ve been in other rooms where you’re having an awesome conversation, you’re just hanging out, and then all of a sudden they’re like, “Okay, start the podcast.” Someone just yanks the air out of the room, and everyone’s like, “Hello, my name is Craig. This is where I work.”

Sonal Chokshi [00:45:31] – This is such a true fact and one of things we do is we start the recorder before they even enter and we don’t turn it off until they leave. And of course we’re not putting things on without their permission. But you’re absolutely right. That’s exactly what happens. The minute it’s like, “Okay we’re starting,” there’s a sudden shift of stiffness that just happens. And it kind of warms up energy-wise. And you have to think about this because the key and I always tell like our folks at a16z when we’re working on editing and how to think about it, is you have like five levers. You have energy, you have content, you have expertise, you have examples, you have personal narratives and stories. And you have to pull them at different points at different weights. And if one is weak, there’s not a really good energy, then you really got to amp up the other lever. If the energy is great you can kind of get away with not having a very nice.

Camille Ricketts [00:46:17] – I love that.

Sonal Chokshi [00:46:20] – beautiful linear narrative or script ‘coz you don’t have conversations like that.

Camille Ricketts [00:46:23] – But you have to have some combination of what at least three of them.

Sonal Chokshi [00:46:26] – You have to have some combination.

Camille Ricketts [00:46:28] – That’s super helpful.

Sonal Chokshi [00:46:31] – It’s like a hard earned learned expertise really more than anything.

Craig Cannon [00:46:34] – Well that’s the thing, it’s just like volume. And you can’t be super precious about your stuff. I’ve put out podcasts and like, “Oh this one’s going to be cool,” nothing. And then others where I really like, “Oh this is going to be fine,” and it does great. And, so, yeah, I don’t know.

Camille Ricketts [00:46:47] – I think you can’t let yourself be deflated. I’ve definitely had instances where I was so excited about something, and then it hardly got as many views as something else that was totally out of the blue. And you just can’t let yourself lose your momentum over that.

Sonal Chokshi [00:47:01] – You really can’t. And I know like it’s different for editors and writers because one could argue that we don’t have the same skin in the game because someone could say, well, if it’s my byline, then it’s a different thing. In your case you are the bylines so it’s a different skin in the game. There is some truth to that, I’m not going to deny it. But you’re right, you have to have this attitude that you put the product out and you move on.

Camille Ricketts [00:47:22] – Yeah.

Sonal Chokshi [00:47:23] – And the best fun part is when something’s evergreen and it keeps popping up over and over again. I love when that happens. I mean you have to have some pieces that you might have done like three years ago when you first started that are still surfacing which are probably your best hits I bet.

Camille Ricketts [00:47:36] – Definitely, likewise. And it’s always fun to see that on Twitter, and then you see a whole new conversation bloomer around it. Yeah, that’s cool.

Sonal Chokshi [00:47:43] – That by the way is another one of our metrics of success is that is it evergreen. And I don’t mean like a static library ‘coz that’s really boring but is it something that, it’s just ‘coz we’re not a media outlet. There is plenty of wonderful media outlets out there. We’re trying to do what other people aren’t doing or covering in a way that people aren’t covering it. And so given that you have to think very carefully about what value you’re adding to the conversation. And sometimes news can serve as a time hook, a timing hook, but it’s not the driver to write or do a piece. It’s too reactive otherwise and it doesn’t work.

Craig Cannon [00:48:13] – You just end up on a treadmill.

Sonal Chokshi [00:48:15] – Yeah, exactly, no staying power.

Camille Ricketts [00:48:17] – And there’s so much advice or insight that continues to be really relevant.

Sonal Chokshi [00:48:21] – Oh, totally, in your guys’ case it’s like universal.

Camille Ricketts [00:48:23] – Yeah or the technologies that you’ve talked about in the past that are now coming home to roost. It’s very interesting.

Sonal Chokshi [00:48:28] – Yeah, you’re right, although I will say that I think advice has more staying power for sure because I think some of the tech stuff in some spaces it moves almost too quickly. Like if you’re talking about, say crypto or ICOs, then it does with another topic where you can kind of get away with something more. And by the way my advice for people when they are doing content and those efforts is to think carefully about where you are in the cycle of that particular narrative. And if it is early days, you don’t have to be the first, so then be the one who’s adding a lot of value thoughtfully but then you’re going to have to really have the discipline to actually hold yourself back and wait ‘coz there’s this tendency when people are excited to be, like, but I want to add in, and it’s like great, hold it. Wait ’til we have enough thoughtful things to add. And if we don’t, don’t. You have nothing to say.

Camille Ricketts [00:49:11] – Having that discipline is hard, but it’s so important.

Sonal Chokshi [00:49:13] – It’s really hard.

Camille Ricketts [00:49:14] – Yeah.

Sonal Chokshi [00:49:15] – Like it goes back to that thing about killing. It’s about as much what you choose not to do versus what you choose to do always.

Craig Cannon [00:49:21] – Yeah well it’s especially hard when you see the spikes around the trend, right?

Sonal Chokshi [00:49:24] – Oh I know.

Craig Cannon [00:49:25] – We’ll put out some crypto thing and it will get two, three, 4X what a normal post would get and you’re like, oh, should we just only do crypto stuff?

Sonal Chokshi [00:49:33] – I know, I know.

Camille Ricketts [00:49:34] – One of my earliest posts was about the virtues of holacracy and how to implement this at your own company. And it’s still there on the site. It’s there staring at me.

Sonal Chokshi [00:49:44] – Wow.

Camille Ricketts [00:49:45] – And there were a lot of other valuable gems in that piece but it’s in the title.

Craig Cannon [00:49:51] – Cool, alright, we have a few more questions, maybe actually this is another one for Camille. Darrin Alpert (@darin_alpert) asks, how do you leverage customer stories in marketing your content?

Camille Ricketts [00:50:02] – Yeah, that’s an interesting one for us because it’s not necessarily hitting exactly what he’s probably getting at, because our customers are somewhat non-traditional. Our customers in our conception are happy founders who are getting all of the resources they need to succeed in this particular area. And so essentially, the stories that we do write are all customer stories because we’re saying, “Look at these other extremely talented, ambitious people who have succeeded, you can use these same methods and tools to do the same.” The way that we’re hoping to do that is to show by example that there are successful paths through this journey of being an entrepreneur. And hoping that enough people out there are reading who are aspiring toward this that they are going to think of First Round when they start that journey.

Sonal Chokshi [00:50:49] – Yeah, same case, we don’t have the type of customer stories that you’re talking about, or that this person’s probably talking about, I think that’s more like the classic marketing model. I will give one piece of advice from the editorial point of view which is. always think about how you can tell the narrative in a non-literal way, because what marketers tend to do, and it’s not a bad thing, it makes you very good at your job for marketing, or PR, or communications, or other skills, is you’re thinking very carefully about who are the experts you can put with a person? What’s a fit from the topic, to the speaker, to the voice? But when you’re actually doing editorial, you want to take a twist on that, you don’t want to be so literal where it’s like okay, ’cause if it’s going to be literal then just make a case study, and you can do it that way then..

Camille Ricketts [00:51:33] – And target it at the people that exactly you want to recruit, like, customers.

Sonal Chokshi [00:51:37] – Let it be what it is, exactly. But don’t masquerade it as something that’s not editorial. Or if you’re going to, then make it editorial. Then ask yourself how do I up level it a notch, how do I take a different angle on it, or how do I make it more fresh so it’s different than what everyone else is saying in the same way, because that’s the fight that I’ve had for many years in many companies when you’ve been in content. And it’s like when I was at Xerox Parc, you know it’s Xerox, it was a big company. Like there’s a lot of back and forth around some of the stuff. And you have to take a little bit of a fresh twist.

Camille Ricketts [00:52:06] – I would say just to add on to that that I tell a lot of our founders who are just starting to explore content, that in order for it to really resonate, it needs to be either really useful or really emotional. And by emotional, it has to be like, “I’m crying, I have to send this to my best friend right now,” which is really hard to do and you’re not going to be able to nail that most of the time, so useful is much easier, so really over-indexing on that side.

Sonal Chokshi [00:52:30] – I am so glad you said that, and I would add one thing to that, because I think people who are listening to this who are entrepreneurs and want to do their own content will benefit from that, being useful and then being a resource. Just kind of the same thing, but they’re slightly different, and I think this goes another easy way to get started, back to an earlier question, which is we always counsel people to think about data, data narratives is a great place to start. A, it’s instant differentiation, because you have data that uniquely no one else does, and it forces you to make sure you’re having different things that you’re saying. B, it’s at the core of what your business is, if your business is data-centered, which frankly every business seems to be, tech business seems to be these days. And then C, it does influence how you might hire, because the question then becomes do you start with a data scientist, or do you start with the data type of journalist? The ideal is to find someone who has the skill to find a story, but who can also understand the data. But I think data is a huge untapped opportunity for a lot of content marketers at start-ups. And that’s not being used nearly enough as it should be. And people do it really well.

Craig Cannon [00:53:32] – Tere are all these templates you can basically follow for that. I don’t have to be Stephen King to write a great blog post about data.

Sonal Chokshi [00:53:41] – It can be just a visual even. Not even that many words in it. It can just show through the visuals.

Camille Ricketts [00:53:45] – What the folks at Priceonomics are doing blows my mind. So there’s a lot to borrow from that I think.

Sonal Chokshi [00:53:51] – I think, OkCupid did an amazing job, Mixpanel’s been doing a lot of great stuff in this area.

Camille Ricketts [00:53:55] – I love that team.

Sonal Chokshi [00:53:56] – Yeah me too, I love them, I love them. She’s one of my favorite people in our portfolio. But there’s a lot to be done there. When I was an op-ed editor, I used to always tell people too because the other big thing I care about is writer-topic fit. And that’s the authenticity of the person. This matters a lot for our stuff because it’s first person. So you care very much. Is this the right person for this topic? And this is not a credentialist thing. You don’t have to have a degree in AI to do a piece on AI but it better damn well be earned expertise, or you’ve spent a shit ton of time looking at a ton of data, or you have some insight that no one else has, and then it’s interesting. Otherwise it didn’t have the sort of authority and voice that it needs.

Camille Ricketts [00:54:36] – It doesn’t even have like the energy of the authentic curiosity.

Sonal Chokshi [00:54:39] – Exactly because in your case you can convey that authentic curiosity because you do do an amazing job at getting the voice of the people you’re interviewing but you are the one still writing them.

Camille Ricketts [00:54:48] – Yeah hoping to convey how important it is to this person.

Sonal Chokshi [00:54:51] – Right, exactly.

Camille Ricketts [00:54:52] – And being legitimately curious about how they got to where they are.

Sonal Chokshi [00:54:55] – You’ve got to be so curious, because otherwise people have a real bullshit radar that this is just someone tryin’ to like make a name for themselves. I used to get pitches like, you know, here’s how to be a CEO, blank. And I’m like, “But you’ve never been a CEO! How can you write about that?” And if you do want to write about it then go interview 100 CEOs and get me data that can then give you that, and then play that narrative back and make it, it’s the same kind of thing.

Craig Cannon [00:55:18] – Well, that’s going into like the one pitfall that I wanted to bring up here, and it’s like, “Oh, my God, don’t turn it into a sales pitch.” We see companies do it all the time, they’re like, “Oh, all right, we’re going to get into content, we’re going to do profiles of our users,” and they like have five questions, and each answer is like two sentences long with like no insight, and then they’re like boom, goin’ for this hard sell, and you’re like, no one, like.. Both the person you interviewed doesn’t care, they’re embarrassed because they’re in an ad, and your readers, your users, don’t care at all either, ’cause there’s no insight here. That would be the one thing that I would just avoid at all costs.

Camille Ricketts [00:55:54] – You have to be really delicate about that. That people can sniff out advertorial stuff even if you feel that you’re doing a really good job masking it. It’s tough.

Sonal Chokshi [00:56:06] – I would also say that some of the best and smartest thinkers don’t even know they’re doing it.

Craig Cannon [00:56:11] – Oh, totally.

Sonal Chokshi [00:56:12] – They just are so into what they’re doing that sometimes they don’t even realize it. I’ll sometimes be like, “You know, just sort of said that like it’s an ad for the product,” but pretend like you don’t have to even say the name of the company, or what you do, how would you then explain this, the big picture, why does this matter? It does got back to that whole classic thing of starting with why, like why, why, why do I care? Why should you care? Why should someone else who has no idea what it is care?

Camille Ricketts [00:56:35] – And just keep pushing that why does it matter? And keep pushing that. Again, it seems so obvious, because it’s what we do all the time but that is what it’s about is probing for that and making sure of that, for sure.

Craig Cannon [00:56:45] – I do think so much of the content is set-up to be like, “We’re going to illuminate a problem that is going to solved by our product.” And so if you feel like you’re running into that wall, I would really urge anyone out there to think about all the problems that are not that problem that your users have and what can you do to answer those problems.

Sonal Chokshi [00:57:03] – Oh my God, I’m so glad you said that because that used to be my number one pitch I would get when I was at Wire. Every pitch was an op-ed masquerading. They didn’t even talk about their product but the solution was their product.

Camille Ricketts [00:57:14] – Right, even if they don’t say it. They’re like it’s a big problem.

Sonal Chokshi [00:57:18] – But if you took it up three levels and you said, like, okay take it up a level, then another level. Think of it as like adjacent circles. Like here’s your product, the idea is in that space, and now here is the big industry, and they’re somewhere in that space between big industry and the product, somewhere in there is an interesting idea. And there might not be and then you don’t have to do it I hope.

Camille Ricketts [00:57:37] – It’s an idea to kill.

Sonal Chokshi [00:57:38] – Yeah exactly, kill, kill, kill. I want to keep reinforcing that.

Camille Ricketts [00:57:41] – I think it’s the best advice.

Craig Cannon [00:57:43] – Right, yeah, it’s just not obvious, like what doesn’t make it, but a ton of stuff doesn’t make it.

Sonal Chokshi [00:57:47] – That’s right, that’s why I want to keep pushing this because people outside will never know.

Craig Cannon [00:57:51] – And it’s also knowing that when you’ve already told the story when to say when. With a lot of these people are just like, alright, we’re just going to do it again, do it again, like we’re on a treadmill, we’re going. And to a certain extent yes. Like we get it with YC we’re like we wrote this post two years ago, like this is here. But then, we don’t publish it every month. And so that’s like something we keep in mind.

Sonal Chokshi [00:58:13] – Pacing is key on that.

Camille Ricketts [00:58:15] – Yeah.

Craig Cannon [00:58:15] – Yeah. Yeah, okay cool, so we have a few more, another one from Brigitte (@brig42), how do you see content marketing evolving?

Sonal Chokshi [00:58:23] – I’m an avid WhatsApp user, because I have an extended relative network in India, and I’ve been using WhatsApp for ages. One of the things that’s I love is that there’s this new form of messaging native content, I actually think we think of content as showing up in Twitter, and in text, and in voice. Of course I love voice, that’s the thing that I care most about. Video’s important, clearly. But I think there’s actually a huge opportunity in the future, and I don’t know if we’re ready for it quite yet, for like messaging native content, which is really inventing it from scratch where you’re not just putting, like in the olden days when people used to put a newspaper image on the New York Times website, you have to think natively in the messaging platforms, how can content be shared? Because I see what gets moved in my WhatsApp groups among my relatives, and it’s kind of a fascinating question so I don’t have a thought on it, but I have an open-ended thing that this is an interesting area to me in the future. This is years away probably.

Camille Ricketts [00:59:20] – I totally agree that it’s more thinking around how content flows through social networks in particular. So one of the things that I found most interesting recently is long form newsletters because the traditional thinking has been like, “Do not write a long email, it’s the worst, don’t have multiple pieces of content in an email.” But then I see things like Lenny Letter…. It’s incredible.

Sonal Chokshi [00:59:42] – I keep actually telling everybody we need to do more Lenny Letter-like stuff.

Camille Ricketts [00:59:46] – It’s totally bunked like everything that people thought was the way to do email newsletters. And then Hiten Shah, who I’m like a devotee of, I think he’s so brilliant about content, he has a long-form newsletter that’s gotten a lot of traction. And I think that that’s related to your point that email is a much more personal messaging medium, and you’re seeing content flow through it more interestingly, and it’s going to happen over text, it’s going to happen over Facebook, like what is the way to carry through?

Sonal Chokshi [01:00:14] – I totally agree with you and I love the thing about email because when we… You guys have a newsletter, we did a different type of newsletter where we were just sharing what we’re reading, but then a bunch of people started doing the same thing. We’re like, now we got to kill it.

Camille Ricketts [01:00:25] – I mean I read all of those. Like the newsletters that aggregate.

Sonal Chokshi [01:00:27] – I know and I love those. But then I’m actually feeling like, I’ve said this before but I have this favorite quote from Gilmore Girls where Lorelei Gilmore goes like “You know, I’m going to zig, and then you’re going to see me coming, and then I’m going to zag, and then I’m going to zag again just to keep you on your toes.” And I love that line because that’s how I think about strategy. Like you’d have to change it up. When everyone else is doing the same thing, and I’m also bored of it now. So now I’m kind of like I don’t want to do them anymore. We’re going to do something different.

Camille Ricketts [01:00:56] – When you start feeling that sea change internally, it’s usually time.

Craig Cannon [01:00:59] – Yes, and exactly ’cause you get crowded, but to your point, absolutely I do think that people underestimate the power of email. It’s going to stick around, I don’t care what anyone says, it’s not going away.

Camille Ricketts [01:01:09] – Because it’s really personal. I am going to engage with something in my inbox probably if it actually lands in my inbox.

Sonal Chokshi [01:01:14] – Exactly, yeah.

Craig Cannon [01:01:16] – Well, I think it often just comes down to doing something really well. If you’re the best podcast, the best newsletter, the best whatever, it’s all good. There’s space for winners in every category. But when people just do a mediocre job of almost everything, you’re like, “This is never…”

Sonal Chokshi [01:01:33] – I will add to that though that it’s always a competition. And I don’t mean this in just being a competitive person but more in the way that attention is a competition in the media landscape. And everything is bleeded together. Like whether it’s bled together, whether it’s an email newsletter, or written piece, a podcast, your attention is limited. And so because of that you do have to keep an edge. And so if you don’t have it, I don’t think anyone can rest on their laurels basically. They can’t say they’ve nailed this medium and then they can just like hang out because after a while there will be competition. It’s like classic disruption and it’ll come from unexpected corners. I’m kind of that kind of a person. I’m always paying attention.

Craig Cannon [01:02:10] – But everything’s aggregated, it’s like what we were talking about before, the Andreessen Horowitz podcast competes with Serial. It’s not like I have a separate tech podcasting app and like an entertainment, it’s all entertainment.

Camille Ricketts [01:02:22] – And that listeners are not like, “Now is the portion of my time that I devote to tech listening.”

Sonal Chokshi [01:02:26] – You’re right, exactly. You have a radio voice.

Camille Ricketts [01:02:32] – Oh thank you, likewise. But yeah I also tell start-ups this too where you are competing with all of the storytelling that’s going on out there, so tell us some interesting stories.

Sonal Chokshi [01:02:44] – Exactly, and which, again, is another obvious thing but read first what other people are writing because, believe it or not, there is this hubris where “I’m just going to write this thing and I don’t care what anyone else is saying.” On one hand I love it because sometimes reading too much can actually stop you from adding anything new, because it’s like everything’s already been said. Just like the best readers are sort of like, “I’ll never write a book because there’s so many good things out there, I can’t possible write anything like that.” But the flip side of it is you’ll never know how to differentiate where you’re adding value if you don’t know what other people are saying.

Craig Cannon [01:03:13] – Yeah, and it would get a base knowledge of how to actually sell something. Knowing how Facebook Pixel works, and how to use a Facebook ad, all of these things are useful. I know all these people making great content, but it’s just falling onto like 10 Twitter followers.

Camille Ricketts [01:03:29] – Distribution is over 50% of the game now.

Sonal Chokshi [01:03:32] – Yeah you’re so right to say that. And that’s where the platform matters because I think people make the mistake of thinking marketers love this dream of repurposing. I’m going to repurpose it on every platform and actually no, because what works on YouTube, what works on SoundCloud, what works on Twitter, what works on Facebook, they’re all different things.

Camille Ricketts [01:03:49] – Yeah.

Craig Cannon [01:03:50] – Cool, alright, last two questions, what’s your most, this is from Adora (@nolimits), what’s your favorite piece you’ve published?

Sonal Chokshi [01:03:56] – I already answered this one.

Camille Ricketts [01:03:58] – Oh, and it’s such a good one. Gosh, it’s really, really hard. I will say that there is a piece that stands out for us as a flagship, and I really enjoyed working on it with the source, who is Kim Scott, who is one of these people who is just a majestic force in our industry, and now she’s working on her own company based on the story that initially ran on First Round. I’m not taking credit for that, obviously

Sonal Chokshi [01:04:24] – I know what piece you’re talking about and I loved it.

Camille Ricketts [01:04:26] – It’s called Radical Candor, and it was sort of the progenitor of all the pieces that we then did following it that relied on a framework. A two-by-two, here’s a way to clarify and crystallize your thinking about something that would otherwise be a muddy concept in your life. In this story she’s talking about how to give feedback, which is always a gray area and fraught with tension for a lot of folks, and she really did distill it into this format that gives you permission to give people strong feedback that they can actually use. And it was just this bolt of out the blue. New thinking on management that is so rare. And it just for me became this beacon of what I try to do as much as I possibly can.

Sonal Chokshi [01:05:06] – I loved that piece. And we shared it around among ourselves. We read the follow-up because you did one on gender version of that.

Camille Ricketts [01:05:15] – Exactly.

Sonal Chokshi [01:05:16] – I loved it and I think you nailed it. That what made it work is not just that it was new thinking but that you had a framework because that is what it takes, is you need something to anchor at.

Camille Ricketts [01:05:24] – People now print that out and put it on their wall of their office. That kind of thing.

Sonal Chokshi [01:05:28] – That’s success, that’s a metric of success to me for sure. I love that you said that because I think a framework gives it an anchoring. And I already mentioned that my favorite piece, which I’m not supposed to have favorites, as our WeChat that Connie and I did, but I would say that the thing that, it didn’t have a framework, it was an ethnographic piece. But my favorite thing about that piece that I think made it work is that it captures all the best tips for writing I think actually. If I were to give advice to people because one of the things I used to do at Wired was I had this rule of thumb that I learned the hard way on the opinion section, that you need to have at least three turns of nuance because the classical op-ed is an argument, like “I believe this” and that’s really boring. And then you have another twist like you said, the counterintuitive thing. But then that’s also too obvious to be counterintuitive because that’s also a schtick.

Camille Ricketts [01:06:14] – It’s just taking the converse.

Sonal Chokshi [01:06:17] – Exactly, so then you got to flip it again. And so I used to always think about that. I always look for that in-depth of editing which is why I am also partial to longer pieces. But the other thing is like there’s a lot of show versus tell in the WeChat piece because it’s actually a real, the whole point of the piece is about what happens when a country is mobile native and then leapfrog the hardline era. But you’re using a very specific instantiation. We were even deliberate. I kept probing with Connie like, “Okay but, you’re telling me this story, what’s an example of connecting digital and physical?” And then you get this story about this teddy bear telling stories to a kid, that’s an image you can relate to, and so we’re tryin’ to find as much specificity as possible. And I think that’s my favorite piece because it’s so universal, but so specific at the same time, I love that!

Craig Cannon [01:07:06] – And there’s just not that much of it, right. It’s like you said there are plenty of people who haven’t been CEOs or CEOs of companies that never really did anything, telling you how to be a CEO. The internet is long on that but it’s really short on these specific examples of crazy domain knowledge. And that’s why these like weird niche sites that look like they’re from 1995 still like work.

Sonal Chokshi [01:07:26] – Yeah, they’re long tail, there’s a reason it works, and a long tail can become the head, if you’re really good at it. And you can aggregate the long tail into a head actually, that can be the strategy for your content effort to do that.

Craig Cannon [01:07:38] – Long game. Alright, last question. What do you read in your free time?

Camille Ricketts [01:07:42] – Oh gosh, it’s not going to be at all inspiring to the audience. I read a ton of historical nonfiction. The Wright brothers, \ or Team of Rivals. That kind of stuff. It’s something that I am bonded with my dad over. But it’s also for my writing, a really interesting way that like storytelling gets woven through the rolling out of facts. How can you weave those things together in a way that’s really elegant, and has cadence and momentum. And so it kind of keeps me honest about how to write in that style.

Sonal Chokshi [01:08:19] – I love that. I don’t have a fancy answer. I love fantasy novels and like fiction. I love reading period and I will read everything. And I would definitely describe myself as a ridiculous infovore. And I love Twitter, and I love reading every single thing I can get my hands on. And I have 20 books in my Kindle that’s very mood-based. I organize my books by mood, not by topic. And so I have obsessions at any given time. But the thing that I will universally always read and I love trashy novels. I just feel like you need a little break in your head. And I love entertainment. And I love, I love fantasy fiction. It’s like one of my favorite genres. And I just finished like Sarah Moss’s latest novel and it’s so damn good. I love that stuff. I would like to have some nice message for how it influences my writing but it actually doesn’t, I don’t think.

Camille Ricketts [01:09:07] – That was reaching.

Sonal Chokshi [01:09:09] – It’s true, I love that, I love that. I actually don’t see a direct connection but I will say I do share that philosophy from what’s that woman, I forgot her name, oh Kirsten Dunst in Bring It On. You guys remember that movie, the cheerleader movie?

Camille Ricketts [01:09:21] – Great movie.

Sonal Chokshi [01:09:21] – Oh my God, I better watch this. In Bring it On there’s a scene where they’re trying to win the competition, and they start borrowing influences from jazz and other drama, and other fields, and bringing it together. In theory I think that is a very interesting thing that we should all be able to do. And I do read a lot of things that I think can make you a better storyteller but I don’t see the direct map out yet.

Craig Cannon [01:09:44] – Good writing is good writing.

Sonal Chokshi [01:09:45] – Yeah.

Camille Ricketts [01:09:46] – What about you Craig?

Craig Cannon [01:09:49] – I don’t know how to read.

Sonal Chokshi [01:09:52] – You smiled when I said fantasy. Do you read a lot of fantasy?

Craig Cannon [01:09:55] – I love it. The kick that I’m on right now is physics actually.

Sonal Chokshi [01:10:00] – Oh that’s great.

Craig Cannon [01:10:01] – Which is like, it’s been a weird thing.

Sonal Chokshi [01:10:02] – Have you read Carlo Rovelli’s new book?

Craig Cannon [01:10:03] – No.

Sonal Chokshi [01:10:04] – It’s a follow-up of Seven Principles in Physics which is also an excellent book by the way. And this is about quantum entanglement. It’s so good.

Craig Cannon [01:10:13] – I will read that. Yeah I just found that… actually there’s an interview coming out on the YC podcast relatively soon about gravitational waves. It’s this guy Rana Adhikari from Caltech.

Sonal Chokshi [01:10:25] – Is he the guy behind the LIGO? Oh that’s so awesome.

Craig Cannon [01:10:28] – Yeah, it’s cool, but I realized when, because I met him at a YC research conference, and I knew I wanted to do an interview immediately, and then when we set it up, I realized, “Oh shit I’m in over my head.” That spiraled me into this like reading all his books and listening to his podcasts. I have just been so impressed with how physicists can explain things in a metaphor. They seem to be able to do it with a capacity that exceeds almost every other scientific field. And I don’t know how that happened.

Sonal Chokshi [01:11:00] – I think it’s because it’s that esoteric of a field.

Camille Ricketts [01:11:03] – You can’t visualize it otherwise.

Sonal Chokshi [01:11:04] – This is why you need the analogy. And that’s actually also why a lot of physicists have written about analogies. Doug Hofstadter wouldn’t count in that category but he has that same ilk of person and he wrote that book Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking‎. I love that book, but there’s a lot of stuff I totally agree with you.

Craig Cannon [01:11:21] – Yeah it’s like Neil Degrasse Tyson, Richard Feynman, like all these people and it just works. Yeah that’s my thing right now.

Sonal Chokshi [01:11:27] – I love that, I think there’s a lot to be learned actually from people following how scientists who are writers write. There is just so much to learn there, I think that’s what our tech founders are. They’re just scientists but like different types.

Craig Cannon [01:11:42] – Perfect, well, let’s end it right there. Cool, alright, thanks guys.

Sonal Chokshi [01:11:45] – I also wanted to say thank you for joining the a16z podcast.

Craig Cannon [01:11:47] – Yeah, we should end it with that. We can leave it in. Alright, thanks for listening. If you have some time, please leave us a rating and review. If you want to watch the video or read the transcript, those are both at See you next time.


  • Y Combinator

    Y Combinator created a new model for funding early stage startups. Twice a year we invest a small amount of money ($150k) in a large number of startups (recently 200). The startups move to Silicon