It’s been just under a year since Andreessen Horowitz launched Future.com, a digital publication gathering together musings, analysis and guidance from the venture capital firm’s staffers and network.
Publishing isn’t new to a16z. It’s been steadily creating content and building a robust editorial muscle for years, via podcasts and essays on entrepreneurship.
Future is the next step of the company’s content evolution. When it first announced Future.com, a16z said that it would build a standalone media property that will be “the go-to place for understanding and building the future, for anyone who is building, making, or curious about tech.”
A year later, here’s what brands getting into content can learn from a16z.
Don’t ask permission
Even before it was open for business, just the very announcement of Future caused a backlash across the industry. Because of a16z’s history both working with and without the tech press – which is covered here in an excellent piece by Eric Newcomer – the launch of Future was heralded with criticism from those who saw this as yet another attempt by a brand to circumvent or destabilize the Fourth Estate.
If a16z was going to “cover” technology in the way it wanted to, then where would it leave fair, journalistic reporting on an industry that needs it? This seemed to be the main argument from media types on Twitter. The firm’s effort at essentially publishing various essays about tech was taken to be something much more than that. (In fact, it specifically said it didn’t plan to do any social or political “commentary” and would not be doing anything resembling journalism.) And arguably, the growth of in-house branded editorial is a good thing for true journalism, which can go back to doing what it does best – and should in fact be taken as an opportunity to respond by charting its “own path” versus simply amplifying what brands say about themselves, to paraphrase Anna Wiener.
Future’s announcement came at a time when other tech company execs were publicly pushing back against the tech press, accusing them of groupthink and negativity, and a16z’s effort was pulled into a broader narrative around access and “going direct” to consumers.
It’s not uncommon for brands to wonder what the reaction may be to their planned publishing forays. For many companies, there can be hesitancy to embark on a new type of content journey because of the fear that it may be taken to mean something it’s not. Fear of how the press, or clients, or investors, or, more generally, the Twitter masses, may react can not only just hold back more ambitious efforts, but also generally just dull them. Interesting stories may be passed over, or never even take shape because of a general fear of what other people may say.
Use your network
Brands embarking on content efforts often get held back by how logistically difficult it can seem. Hiring someone to run a publication, finding staffers to write it, knowing what to write about, and feeling confident about creating content consistently can feel like a daunting effort, and one that, in our experience, holds many back.
One of the things Future has done particularly well is to use a16z’s (vast) network to create content. At the outset, a stable of outside contributors was tapped, including names like game developer Jade Raymond, NASA researcher Betul Kacar and Marvin Ammori from Uniswaps Labs. Now, everyone from portfolio company CEOs to other VCs to just people a16z knows, seemingly, contribute to the site regularly, making it well populated with varied types of content, from opinion pieces to analysis to guides designed for entrepreneurs.
Brands have an advantage in that most of them have deep networks in the form of their customers, clients and even employees, both current and former. Publishing is an all-hands game – and a wide variety of contributions should be welcomed and encouraged.
Don’t let convention dictate publishing schedules
The early criticisms of a16z’s plans later devolved into tactical ones. For example, many kept a close enough eye on Future.com to point out that the company didn’t really seem to be publishing “that often,” or to point out that creating content must be harder than they thought since they weren’t publishing every day, for example.
A16z never said it would publish daily, and putting aside the fact that this was a strawman argument at best, it’s a good example of one place where brands can and should deviate from supposed accepted norms around how often content should be published.
Brands may be adopting the habits of newsrooms, but daily production isn’t necessarily even needed – particularly not when the goal of brand publishing is ideally to reach the right audience, not a big audience. For them, a weekly or monthly cadence may even be more valuable and engaging. Brands often find the task of doing something “daily” daunting. But as long as the content is created consistently and is valuable and engaging, volume matters less than they think.
Don’t avoid topics just because others got there first
When it comes to media, there aren’t that many new ideas. And particularly on topics, there probably are already other people – traditional press, solo creators, other brands – covering what a brand may be thinking of focusing on.
But good media brands differentiate on execution, not just what the strategy deck says. How a topic is approached, specific angles that are used, and different contexts that are brought in can all serve to differentiate a piece from others. It’s not like there aren’t other people covering, broadly, “the future of technology.” But intersecting that topic with other cultural contexts, and cutting it with topics like biology, work, productivity, infrastructure or gaming has been a powerful differentiator for Future. Brands looking to get into content would be better served by, to some degree, ignoring what’s already out there and focusing on what they can add.