Lessons Learned From Writing For Forbes
Back in October 2017, I was given the opportunity to write for Forbes.
My column centers around profiling college students and recent graduates pursuing entrepreneurship.
After writing fifty-six articles (and counting) for the prominent online publication, I'd like to share a couple of observations from over the past two years of crafting these stories.
Lesson #1: I have become a better writer.
My most recent story, "Fireflies.ai, An MIT And Penn Voice Transcription Startup, Raises $5M From Canaan Partners To Automatically Take Meeting Notes," was unique for one key reason. As I explained on my personal Facebook page, Fireflies.ai was the first company that I wrote about when I was writing on college tech startups on LinkedIn.
Re-reading my first story is a trip down memory lane, but more so a reflection of my evolution as a writer. Comparing the two pieces reveal the following: my writing is more direct, concise, and insightful. When I first started writing, I was really concerned with capturing a sense of time. By talking about the personal history of the founders. I attempted to frame their startup strictly as a natural evolution from their life experiences.
It was my first attempt at establishing a narrative framework to build my stories around the founder's background. It's similar to how most cover-page stories of popular startups are told, through a historical perspective of the eyes of the founder.
I was emulating what actual, successful (or just gainfully employed) writers were doing. It took me about a year to depart from that to form my own narrative structure: problem, market, product/service, and team.
I've found my own "problem-driven" narrative to work exceptionally well in forming the core details of the story. However, there are some more details that I should work to include in the story to make it more compelling. A few examples would be the history of the problem being solved and a more granular breakdown of the market and its customers.
Lesson #2: It turns out I'm a "generalist" when it comes to covering tech startups.
I've written on everything from biotechnology to blockchain. I'm fortunate that I have gotten the opportunity of writing across a variety of industries and disciplines. I've always taken it as a challenge to cover a topic that I hadn't before, especially in subjects that I have no prior background.
While being a "generalist" has exposed me to a variety of different businesses and industries, I'm ready to narrow my focus on a few specific industries. Why? I want to become more of a "specialist" or expert on topics that I am passionate about and where there is a lot of innovation and change occurring.
Lesson #3: I can become a Venture Capitalist. In Someways, I already am.
This lesson is much less evident than the others, but maybe the most important one out of all of them.
My writing for Forbes is has created a direct path to becoming a VC. If anything, it's laying the foundation for me becoming a great one.
I can't speak too much to this point yet, but my writing has given me great practice in being a VC already (at the associate level). Not to mention the fact that I already got an opportunity to be a VC at Rough Draft Ventures. Few people see the parallels between tech journalism and venture capital. Those who do recognize one of the best VCs of our time started out as a journalist covering companies like Apple.
Last thing on this point here: my timeline for becoming a VC has accelerated.
Lesson #4: Access Is Leverage.
This lesson is another important one too. By writing for Forbes, I get access to a lot of cool startups, accelerators, and VCs, I wouldn't have otherwise. I've built up an excellent reputation based on my previous work, and it's now compounding at a rate faster than I can handle!
It's a good problem to have, honestly. I'm learning how to properly leverage this access into other forms of value that will be useful to myself and others who need my help. VC is primarily a game played on access to capital and the right people (founders, service providers, etc.). It's good to know that I'm working on increasing my advantage in this vital area.
Lesson #5: Less is More.
One thing I definitely got wrong was the need to agree to more stories to write. Don't get me wrong, I love writing. Still, I have recently realized that saying yes to too many founders negatively impacts the amount of time I can spend on each story. On top of that, I've been late getting these stories out on time, as I promised.
The truth is is that I felt like I still have to prove myself by writing a high volume of stories again. I've been treating the Forbes articles as a commodity when they are a premium. I've already proven myself given the quality of the stories and the feedback I get from them.
It's not good to be continuously late on stories, because it shows you not keeping your word. I don't want that to be the case for me anymore. Yes, I have a full-time job. I should have realized that I don't have the capacity (and, more importantly, the financial incentive that other reporters in this space do) to write 7+ stories a month anymore.
By not getting these stories out on time, I'm doing a disservice to the founders I've agreed to publish their work on Forbes.
I'm sorry, and I am doing everything on my end to keep my word and do better in the future with founders I will work with.
Lesson #6: It is much easier for me to speak with founders than investors.
I've noticed I effortlessly get along with founders who I profile. A conversation with a founder flows naturally for me. I take it for granted, but I'm really happy that that is the case.
Investors, on the other hand, are a different story. I largely chalk it up to my inexperience speaking with them. I have only recently started asking for quotes from them for a story, so of course, I don't have much prior experience (other than my time at RDV) interacting with them.
The more I chat with them, the better I'll understand what they care about in a conversation in-person or correspondence over e-mail. I should just give it time. Nothing to worry about here.
Come 2020, I'm going to build on these lessons to become an even better writer and continue building on my foundation to becoming a VC. Here are the things I will do going forward:
Limiting the number of I write per month come 2020: starting January 1st, I will only publish two stories per month. That means the burden is on founders to contact me early, preferably months in advance, to inquire about the possibility of me writing on them. (They can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.) I want to be able to take more time on the stories I agree to write and flesh them out with greater technical and financial details for my readers. This can and will change in the future once I settle on an improved narrative framework that I like. This can and will change in the future once I settle on an improved narrative framework that I like.
Handpicking startups based on location: given my penchant for LA, I really would like to spend more time covering LA tech stories. However, that doesn't mean I won't cover startups based out of other major tech hubs like SF or Boston. It means for my outbound reach, I'll be personally hunting to LA tech startups. Inbound wise, I'm happy to consider any startup regardless of location based on my availability. So please still reach out to me if you're in SF, Boston, NYC, or anywhere else in the country!
Becoming a "specialist": I won't be writing on just any startups anymore. I'm going to focus on the following areas: aerospace, social media, Fintech, gaming, and productivity. That being said, I will always consider writing on startups outside of this niche. Still, those five I listed before will get priority.
Building out my mailing list: This is the last and most important point I want to layout. I've found it increasingly important as a writer (and even more generally as a content creator) to "own one's audience," or more accurately, own the distribution of your content. I cannot continue relying on Forbes or social media platforms to distribute my content for me. I have to be able to do that myself. If I can, I will have an unconquerable advantage as I won't have to rely on any brand or platform to distribute my content. I can be platform-agnostic, which is my ultimate goal. Building my subscriber mailing list will help me form the core of my base for people who are interested in my Forbes writing. Also, it will serve as a conduit for other forms of content I plan to share on the mailing list for the future. My mailing list is called Founder to Founder, and you can signup here at f2f.substack.com. I publish on a bi-weekly basis for founders to get the best advice from experienced entrepreneurs on how to build their businesses.
That's all for now! I'm excited about my writing in 2020. It will be my biggest year yet!
Soda P.S. - Last lesson: People severely underestimate the power of narrative.