Founder’s Chronicle: Shane Snow of Contently
What is Contently and how did you get started in the field?
Contently is a marketplace that connects experienced journalists and creatives with publishers. On top of the marketplace is a layer of online tools for freelancer management, content scheduling and revision tracking. Contently works with agencies like Weber Shandwick and Federated Media, as well as brands like Facebook and Allstate to help them manage and optimize content marketing initiatives. Media companies also use Contently to manage freelancers and contracts.
We initially started with a simple marketplace but quickly moved into tools as more and more of our customers were brands willing to pay good prices for talented journalists, yet they needed more in terms of infrastructure and process than existed in current software.
How can individuals in the marketing/advertising industry (i.e. agencies, CMOs) use your Contently to create either more impactful end-results or enhance in-house performance?
CMOs and agencies use Contently to ease pain, save time and reduce costs when working with freelancers,— whether these are journalists they source from our network or a company’s own contacts. Rather than taking freelancers through the typical corporate procurement process meant for vendors, companies can make Contently their system of record for freelancer and publishing management; Contently automatically takes care of reporting, taxes, freelancer payments and contract management in the cloud.
Also, because Contently’s network has thousands of vetted, professional journalists, CMOs and agencies can reach out to and commission work from talented reporters and storytellers for campaigns at a fraction of the time it typically takes to recruit and negotiate, without the sketchiness and uncertainty of Craigslist or outsourcing sites such as Elance.
What is your view of where Contently currently stands in the marketplace today? Where do you see your Contently in three years? What problem are you solving?
Contently is already the dominant company in this space. Its network is expanding from text journalists to other types of content creators, so look for cool updates very soon.
40 percent of the creative workforce will be freelance in the next few years (up from around 30 percent now). Contently will be the home base from which freelancers work. On the other side of the publishing process, brands, agencies and media companies are trying to either become publishers or reinvent their publishing operations using freelancers and content marketing tools. Contently is helping them connect with and manage talent as well as other aspects of the publishing process.
As an entrepreneur, what impact has branding had on your venture’s success so far? How do you approach marketing? With whom do you collaborate to get your message out to your target audience?
As a startup, branding can be your most important asset in terms of raising money and winning customers. Our branding and marketing approach has been through thought leadership: creating compelling content (using Contently) for our own magazine, The Content Strategist, and producing guest spots in media outlets. Through this and a focus on great design, we’ve positioned our brand favorably from the start and leveraged it to become the leader in the space.
What entrepreneurial ideas and start-up lessons can advertising professionals apply to creating breakthrough work?
The way to save the most time and money as an entrepreneur is to test concepts up front before you invest in them. The best way to test concepts is not via focus groups or surveys (people often will say one thing but do another), but rather through guerrilla experiments. I think advertising can learn from the “Lean Startup” movement by making use of experiments and turning successful ones into advertising experiences.
Many advertising professionals find themselves interested in entrepreneurship. What advice would you give to someone with marketing skills interested in starting a new venture?
When starting a business, knowing something will sell is more important than knowing you can build it. Use your marketing skills to determine what entrepreneurial ventures can actually get traction before you jump into creating them.
Thought leaders in marketing regularly reinforce the idea that agencies (and other marketing-oriented organizations, too) should collaborate with startups. Do you agree? Why? How would you like agencies to collaborate with your organization?
Agencies should collaborate with startups, but not just for the sake of doing it. Some startups are garbage. But there are some very interesting, forward-thinking startups out there that will put those who are first to latch on way ahead of the game. Being the first to Twitter, for example, meant your company rose with the tide and could position itself to win a lot of business.
Agencies that are looking to do content marketing or sponsored content programs can not only use Contently’s platform and network now, but have an opportunity to inform new features for their businesses. We’re growing like crazy, but we’re still agile enough to build a lot of awesome stuff very quickly.
Shane Snow is a tech journalist and entrepreneur in New York City. A co-founder of Contently, an online marketplace for journalism talent, Shane and his co-founders were recently named among Inc Magazine’s 30 Coolest Entrepreneurs Under 30. Shane has written for Mashable, Wired Magazine, Fast Company and other outlets on the subjects of technology, science and entrepreneurship.
The Founder’s Chronicle is produced in partnership with The YEC.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.