Jessi Craige, Editor at First Round Capital, has a “pretty full-stack role.” She conducts interviews, writes, and edits for First Round Review. She also strategizes, crafts social media posts, and does assorted content and marketing work to support the rest of the company. The Review was created in 2013 by the company’s first content hire, Camille Ricketts (who now heads up marketing at Notion). Jessi finds that the established publication is an interesting challenge, especially for the tech sector, where everything is usually trying to get off the ground. Camille built the audience with her “coffee meetings at scale” interview series. Jessi’s goal is to further that success and adapt The Review so it can reach new heights.
Does The Review fall under content or marketing at First Round?
If you’ve worked in-house at a tech company, you’ll find that venture funds are organized a little differently. So there’s an investment team that sources and evaluates companies. Then there’s an operations side, or platform team as it’s often called, which supports the companies we’ve invested in, builds our community, and then my piece, which is awareness and brand building.
The Review has always been a scrappy team of two, one editor and one writer, and then a handful of freelancers we lean on. My colleague Emily Stanford and I are the only people working on marketing and brand, but we get so much exposure to the other sides of the business, and we get to learn a lot. The team that’s supporting the companies works with founders every day, so they hear questions on what they need help with and what’s most challenging. It’s a really good hunting ground for what our audience is looking to learn about.
Within the two-person team, is Emily the one working with the subjects in order to create the articles?
Camille set this in motion and we’ve stuck to this playbook because it works pretty well: it’s more of a divide and conquer strategy. The idea would be that you own your pieces end to end, and we’re there to support and edit each other.
Our general process is that we identify people we want to interview or work with. Then we do a pre-call, which is really important for setting the context of what we want to talk about and finding the idea. Sometimes people have a very specific idea. If they don’t, it’s a lot more explorative brainstorming work to try and hone in on what they’re really passionate about and excited to talk about, which is also interesting to our audience and different from what we’ve published before.
Then we send over the interview questions ahead of time, then we do an hour-long interview. We record it and have a really great in-depth conversation, and then we go and write the piece in a third-person profile. It’s just an interview, but we don’t want to do a Q&A, transcript-style piece. We want it to feel like you’re hearing directly from them and that we’re extracting all their experiences and framing up their advice in the most helpful and clear way to readers.
Once a piece is done and we’re ready to ship it, then we lay it out in the CMS and promote it on social and in our newsletter. As the editor, I’m deciding which stories we’re going to do, who we’re going to interview, how things should be framed, but then I still get to dive into the actual writing as well.
Do you find the subjects from the company’s partnerships? How do you identify them?
One benefit of the Review’s longevity is that I get inbound pitches every week. And article contributions, which we do use sometimes, but we’re playing a very active editing role to make sure they’re positioned correctly for our audience.
We also get a lot of introductions. Our partners are always out meeting founders and incredible leaders. We’ve done almost 500 articles now, so we also get many recommendations from folks who’ve previously been featured. We incorporate outbound outreach as well, identifying people we want to feature and finding a way to get to know them.
Do you have any advice as to how it got to the point where you have people coming to you? Is it that your content strategy was always about brand awareness, and that’s fed back into the content?
I think it’s that, and just focusing on making sure the subjects who do partake have a really great, valuable experience. A lot of times we hear, “I always get these same questions asked to me in coffee chats or in mentorship meetings, and it’d be so great if I just had an article that I could send it to someone to read first. Then we can dive deeper and I’m not repeating myself constantly.’”
But obviously we get so much value out of it, in that they’re sharing their experiences and their wisdom, and opening themselves up to a much broader audience than they could meet one on one.
Did the idea for the management book lead you back to your archives to find the right content, or were you keeping track of older content already?
We’ve done a must-read series for a while. We look across our archives, find six articles, and it could just be a section of an article that relates [to the topic]. We package that together in a way that feels like a new piece. Some of them perform really well, which is very interesting for me as an editor. It’s a much lower lift than interviewing someone for months and doing a whole piece. It’s a little more in our control editorially speaking, but also valuable for our audience.
The idea was that there’s so much in our archives that people still love and are still returning to. I hear all the time, “Oh, I’ve got this article bookmarked,” or about the Give Away your Legos piece from 2015, “I read that all the time.” That’s what’s interesting about having a more evergreen strategy, things can last a long time. For the book, we thought about just packaging them together in a different way, in a physical way, especially because our articles are long, they do feel very substantial. Putting 10 5,000-word articles together is like a book, it’s a lot of content!
It was an experiment, but it did really well and it seemed to resonate. So we’ve been looking at how we can do more. There’s so much inspiration in this space. Stripe Press is obviously incredible and so beautiful. Intercom does really interesting things with books and guides, as does Holloway. It’s an exciting thing to explore. And instead of just curating, maybe there is room in the future to do new material, repurpose things in an interesting way, or do new things in a new format.
With a publication that focuses on the company, it’s easier to identify what brand story they’re trying to tell. Since yours is focused on external voices and ideas, what’s the brand story and how does it connect back to the business of First Round Capital?
One of the First Round partners, Phin Barnes, is always saying that venture is a product that a founder buys with their equity. It’s a different way of thinking about it, because venture firms are giving founders money. But in reality, as a founder you have a choice, you could take money from many different sources. What can we do to make sure that, when you are starting a company, First Round is on your list of investors to talk to? If we’re in a competitive situation, how can we make sure that you feel like you already know us and think of us as a valuable partner?
In terms of how we specifically go about telling the brand story and connecting it back to our business, there’s a couple things that stand out. One is longevity, First Round has been around since 2004 and The Review’s been running since 2013, so we’re established. Two, we’ve tried to shine the spotlight on other experts and leaders. And then three, we’ve focused on building the brand of the firm, not just individual partners.
The overarching goal is being your most valuable investor. We think a natural extension of that is being the most valuable resource to the entire tech and startup ecosystem. If you start a company and you’ve already had incredible interactions with us, whether it’s reading a Review piece, or going through our mentorship program, or attending one of our community events, then the score will take care of itself. We’ll see more companies and founders because of the brand we’ve built.
If The Review is the most valuable destination for company-building advice, then we shouldn’t really be talking about ourselves. We should be talking about the people who have the answers to those company building questions. That’s really my goal, that you don’t feel like we have an agenda, we’re just trying to share the best advice with you.