Most early-stage startups spend money on paid acquisition right away. It helps them get in front of prospects, and the binary nature of it—people either convert or not—can help founders know if the product is resonating. Over time, many of these companies shift resources to content marketing as they slowly wean themselves off performance marketing.
But Alex Kracov, founder of customer collaboration platform Dock, did the opposite. He believed he could get to $1 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR) with a good product, a strong personal network and grit. So he decided to invest in content marketing and SEO as a pre-seed startup, knowing it would take a year or more to pay off.
“Building a startup is a 7-10 year commitment,” says Alex. “If you need paid ads to get $1m ARR, you aren’t setting yourself up for scale. That’s why I wanted to invest in content marketing very early.”
Here’s an inside look at how Dock rolled out its content strategy.
We’ve never met a content team that isn’t strapped for resources, and, as a pre-seed startup, Alex had to be incredibly thoughtful about his marketing investment. Spend too little, and he wouldn’t get the quality writing he needed to attract readers. Spend too much, and he wouldn’t get the volume of content needed to start gaining traction in search results.
He ultimately pursued two long-form guides per month plus a small template library. The goal was to create 3,000-word posts on high-impact, evergreen topics (like this massive B2B sales guide)—the stuff that was highly relevant to his target persona and closely tied to Dock’s product, which is built for sales and customer success teams. He embedded templates into these guides to help readers visualize how Dock could solve some of the challenges outlined in the posts.
Some early posts like Client Management: Your Guide to Happier Clients and Mutual Action Plans: Ditch the spreadsheet & win more B2B sales were built for SEO but also forced Alex to hone his vision for Dock’s messaging. What’s the company's voice and tone? How do you address customers? How do you talk about the product without losing readers?
It’s nearly impossible to know exactly how you’ll handle important questions like this before you have an article to write or edit. But the calibration period only lasted a few weeks, and then Dock was able to settle into the twice/month publishing rhythm.
Early-stage founders are way too time-constrained to spend much time writing blog posts. In many cases, though, a few posts directly from the founder set the tone for the company’s content strategy for years to come. Intercom’s Des Traynor famously wrote 93 of the company’s first 100 posts, sending them on a trajectory that established Intercom as one of the best content brands in the world.
Alex chose the topics, wrote content briefs and decided to hire freelancers to handle the writing. This is where Superpath came in. Our marketplace matches SaaS companies with vetted freelancers and provides an editing service. It’s an easy, fast way to get up content up and running. Alex wanted to spend about 5% of his time on marketing in the company’s early days but still wanted a full-fledged content operation rolling within the first 90 days. His vision, paired with Superpath’s execution, made it possible.
Before launching Dock, Alex was the VP of Marketing at Lattice, where he built a massive media arm and established a thriving community. That experience hardened his belief in content and made it easier for him to start a new content program from scratch. He had a firm conviction about content and knew precisely how to get it off the ground.
Once matched with a freelancer, the process looked like this:
And that’s it. Alex set the vision, Superpath and our team of freelancers turned it into reality.
Everyone knows that content marketing is a long-term investment. It takes time to rank yada yada yada. But a seed-stage startup needs something back from it nearly right away.
Alex recognized that the most important thing about content is to start early. Adding backlinks and growing domain authority can pay huge dividends later, and he wanted “later” to arrive as soon as possible. In the meantime, he capitalized on the content for short-term gains in two main ways.
While thought leadership content is the typical way to approach branding, high-quality SEO content can accomplish some of the same goals. It’s a chance to show and tell people that Dock is on a mission and knows its subject matter exceptionally well. (Case in point: How to Move Upmarket. The Guide to Enterprise Sales)
Alex pointed out that the product-led growth trend sometimes means many people are involved in a sale. Since folks can try the product themselves, they can spend a lot of time on freemium tiers and advocating within their organization. It means that even self-serve sales cycles are long. He wants to get Dock on people’s radars early and often.
Dock isn’t bothering readers with pop-ups and other intrusive calls to action. Instead, he drives people towards a free trial and retargets some readers. The blog topics are mostly middle of the funnel, meaning they are created for a particular persona and focused on the product. This means that the readers, while anonymous, almost certainly fit the bill as target customers. Take MEDDIC Sales Explained: A Simpler Way To Qualify Buyers as an example. The topic will be interesting to salespeople but won’t attract a general audience as top-of-funnel content would.
Alex retargets them on search and social with copy designed to drive them toward a trial. Retargeting makes it feel like a company is everywhere, even though the ads are personalized to specific individuals.
As Dock grows, Alex feels confident that he won’t need to wean the company off expensive paid ads a few years down the road. Many companies don’t invest in content until performance advertising is so expensive that it’s the only option.
Since kicking this off, Dock raised a seed round and hired its first full-time marketer, a content lead. Content is starting to rank, with a few pieces in the top three search results and plenty of others moving up from page two. The future is bright, and Dock is only just starting.
To follow along, check out Dock’s Revenue Lab and follow Alex on Twitter.