Venture capital firms have historically wanted little to do with media and content-based operations from an investment standpoint, but a growing number are now interested in building their own.
- Some are expanding existing content arms into broader general-interest newsrooms. Andreessen Horowitz put a stake in the ground this summer with the launch of a new publication called Future, which it said will publish informational content that dovetails with its own investment priorities and view of how technology relates to the world. The move sparked discussion (and mockery) from the media world about what it considered as an attempt to compete or undermine objective journalism.
- Others are using their expertise to create quasi-aspirational service journalism, such as First Round Review, which says it intends to become “the HBR for startups” by creating a publication specifically designed to help entrepreneurs build better companies and “learn directly from the people actually doing it.”
- Elsewhere, the newsletter-writer-turned-investor trend has gathered steam quickly, with examples including Packy McCormick’s Not Boring Capital, Atelier’s Li Jin and Lenny Rachitsky. Those creators have found their writing and social audiences can act as a magnet for investment opportunities and are attempting to capitalize on them.
- There are also others who are building funds on top of existing content arms. At LightShed, there’s been an evolution from media to money, with the February launch of LightShed Ventures Fund I. The fund will invest primarily in seed and Series A rounds, but the idea is to build on the company’s research reports, as well as well-regarded podcast and interview series. The content, in this case, acts as a ”megaphone,” that can “amplify ideas and strengthen… brand and mindshare.” Harry Stebbings, host of The Twenty Minute VC, did the same with the launch of a fund back in 2020 that expanded on the enormous brand he’d built with the podcast.
As we’ve covered previously, the impetus for many brands to invest in publishing and content likely has little to do with a desire to undermine journalism in most instances.
But for VC firms specifically, robust publishing operations have the potential to be particularly transformational for their businesses. A growing number are exploring the idea that media and content is — or should be — a significant core competency. In a field where differentiation and perspective is becoming more important by the day, content provides a vehicle to:
- Reach and engage audiences outside the sphere of “traditional” media. Audiences now get their information from a variety of sources, including individuals. Clubhouse, despite its fate as a magnet for every flavor of hustle-culture trope, was simply a powerful demonstration of the continued democratization of publishing and fragmentation of audiences.
- Fund content that isn’t supported by media business models. Media companies often lack economic incentives to explore topics, themes and issues in detail, and VC firms increasingly spot an opportunity to help fill the gaps. Recent examples include Cipher — a new publication from Bill Gates-led investor network Breakthrough Energy — which aims to go deep on the technological advances required to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
- Capitalize on VC’s history of translating perspectives into content. What’s new is what began as GPs who happened to be clear, persuasive writers with perspectives on the world is now expanding into full-fledged departments, with editorial directors, staff writers, newsletters, video interviews and podcasts and most of all, owned audiences.
- Generate interest and inevitably increase deal flow. It enables venture firms to advertise their perspectives and court founders and demonstrate expertise.
- Attract and retain talent by clearly and publicly articulating their values and viewpoints, while simultaneously demonstrating their ability to raise individuals’ profiles and further careers via their platforms.
- Demonstrate perspective while creating it at the same time. For VCs focused on a specific, future-first view of what the next few years will look like, publishing is a way to forge a narrative path. If nobody else is writing about an issue or topic, that presents an opportunity to explore new ground. Ontological examinations of certain disruptions or innovations are VC bread-and-butter, and can make for compelling topics.
Where to begin
The best VC publications do more than simply provide takes or opinions, or perhaps least effectively, “curate” smart reads — they can be the behind-the-scenes behind innovations or technologies, or simply the backbreaking work of building a business. They can go the service route like First Round Review, or be more straightforward case studies on specific investments. For more sophisticated writers or those with more expertise and experience, analysis of big-picture trends can also work.
For those focused on specific niches, such as direct-to-consumer startups, it can also be an opportunity to build their version of a trade publication for those industries. This can be particularly powerful for complex or otherwise wonky categories, where VCs can bring expertise on what went into a deal. This is no different from brand publishers who own a wonky category, particularly noticeable in areas like crypto or fintech. A narrow area of focus akin to B2B publishing can be particularly relevant for VCs.
There is no pressure to be unbiased or journalistic — brand publishing is marketing at its core and therefore can fund content only relevant to the company’s interests. There are also no pressures to maximize page views or drive traffic. There is no need to spend a lot of money gathering background — VCs, due to the nature of the business they’re in, naturally spend a lot of time and money on deep expertise in niche areas. It solves an important part of the publishing equation: What do we write about?
Finally, as with any brand publishing, the strategy — including a strong editorial mission, understanding of an audience and clearly articulated goals — must come first, ahead of any talk about newsletter cadence and video production ideas.