How I raised millions of dollars for our startup from famous investors like Mark Cuban: by blogging a lot

10 Comments 10.30.14

Blogging is awesome, it can change your life, it can change the world and I recommend it as a key way to join the global conversation around your area of interest online.

Other people at startups often ask me how I connected with Little Bird lead investor Mark Cuban, among the many other awesome investors we’ve raised money from for our startup. Our technology finds the most influential people in any industry and helps you build relationships with them, it’s used by some of the biggest companies in the world – but our first fundraising relationships were mostly built the old-fashioned way: by blogging a lot. Blog, blog and blog some more.

This morning I started to respond to an email from Portland’s mega-connector Rick Turoczy asking me to offer some advice about connecting with famous investors to a current member of the PIE startup incubator. I thought it would be helpful to answer the email in a blog post.

Dear fellow startup founder,

The primary thing that has made a big difference for me has been to blog. To write about my thoughts on my industry in a publicly visible way so that my personality and perspective were discoverable.


That’s how Mark Cuban found me, from reading my personal blog, before I was blogging on a big site like TechCrunch. No SharkTank in this case.

One day, years ago, before I had written for TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb, when I was just blogging on my personal site,, I got an email out of the blue, from Mark Cuban, asking me to take a look at some proposed changes by one of his portfolio company’s website. There was an odd link to a Russian-hosted server and I thought “why would Mark Cuban email me? This has got to be some kind of scam.” But it had his email in the Reply to field, so emailed him. “Mr. Cuban,” I said, “I think someone is impersonating your email address and sending this weird link out to bloggers.” “No!” he wrote me back, “that was me! I read your blog and I like what you write about search and RSS, and I wondered if you’d take a look!”

And so I did, and our relationship was sparked. Seven years later I was raising money for Little Bird and Portland Startup Mentor Carolyn Duncan said “just shut up, sit down and write out the names of all the high net worth people you’ve met in your work that you think might be interested and email them!” My wife and co-founder Mikalina said, “don’t forget Mark Cuban!” Sure enough, I never delete a GMail, so I went back, opened the old thread and hit reply. The rest is history, and is detailed in this awesome Wall St. Journal article.

But it was all about my blog posts. That’s how I built the connections that led to investors like Howard Lindzon, Jay Baer and Matt Haughey too. Smart people who work on the internet read blogs. Admittedly, Mark Cuban especially reads blog posts. He’s an active blogger himself, he funded the first blog network in Weblogs Inc. (where I later went on to work for Jason Calacanis), he’s a blog guy.

But sometimes other people read my blog posts, liked them, liked me, then were interested in my work (including Little Bird) and when they saw it – told their famous investor friends they should check it out. Deb Landa knew my blog, then one day when she was visiting Portland and was in PIE, she knew me, asked to see my work, and thought Howard Lindzon would like it. Howard has now been our most helpful investor source of big intros. Dylan Boyd, one of the most-connected people in Portland, knew me as a blogger and told Jay Baer to check out my company. Jay is one of the smartest investors in the world about our industry. Andy Baio knew me as a blogger and told Matt Haughey about my startup. When old-school social media innovators hear Matt’s an investor, they know we’re the real deal. Not all of our financing has come as a direct result of blogging, our biggest investor is now the awesome Oregon Angel Fund – but even they were no doubt encouraged to invest in my social media startup because of my domain expertise.

So blog, is my suggestion! As our great investor Jay Baer said yesterday on Twitter, “Keep putting out great content. It will come back to you tenfold in unexpected ways.” What should you blog about? That’s one of the questions we can help answer at Little Bird, in fact – by helping find the hottest conversations among the leading thinkers in your industry.

How can you do that while busy doing everything else you need to do to create a startup? I really struggle with that now. But one way that social media pioneer Dave Winer does it is this: he answers interview requests with blog posts. Dave helped invent blogging (as well as podcasting, RSS and more) and goes so far as to say “Blogging is a lifestyle, not something you do inbetween things. For a guy like me, it’s the background, it’s what I do when idle, and when busy, it’s what I think about every waking hour.”

I tried to do that here, because this is a topic people ask me about a lot and I’m really struggling to consistently blog while building a startup now with 17 people in it. But that is a big part of what got me to where I am today and I shouldn’t lose it just because my primary focus is now on company building. The best evolution, says Ken Wilber (whose book I would have been reading over coffee if I hadn’t been writing this email – which is fine), combines transcendence and integration. I’ve moved on from my days as a full-time blogger, but I’ve not integrated the best practices from that experience well enough in my new life. Thanks for inspiring me to do something about that this morning.

Let me know if you’d like to hop on the phone or drop by our office to discuss this further.

best wishes and good luck!

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Gary Vee is wrong: the expertise edition

2 Comments 10.21.14

I like Gary Vaynerchuck – I love his new video podcast Ask Gary. But Gary put up an important blog post yesterday titled “Are experts the only people who should put out content?” and he argues that expertise is subjective, that it doesn’t objectively exist. I disagree and think it’s important enough to write a blog post.

Just because he’s seen several ways that people have been wrong about their assessments of expertise does not mean that the concept of expertise is invalid. TL;DR: I believe you can build expertise through consistent participation in global discourse on the social web. And I think that’s pretty awesome.


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Robots attending concerts; what will that look like?

1 Comment 07.26.14

I find robots really interesting, in theory. I think of the network analysis and news research technology we’re building as a team of robots.

But this news that robots have begun attending human musical performances is really interesting.

This from the Intel/Vice collaboration The Creators Project

Damon Albarn, the Blur and Gorillaz frontman, released his first solo album Everyday Robots this April. Fittingly, two special guests were in the audience for a small performance yesterday at Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan). Included in the crowd of fifty were two androids: Otonaroid®, a life-like female, and Telenoid®, a more abstract human form. Both sat front row and waited for Albarn to take the stage as a thunderstorm raged outside.

Below: two different robots listen to the music. Hey you with no arms and legs and a blank stare, down in front!


Here’s the comment I posted there. I’d love to know what sorts of thoughts all this brings to your mind. What do you think about robots attending arts events?

It’s interesting to ask why a robot would attend an arts performance. I know at least some of Intel’s robotics program is very focused on customizable, teachable robots as human servants. What would that look like in the arts?

Will there be a backlash where protesters block robots from entering the ballet, lest they learn the soft things that make humanity special and become more capable of taking control? Or will the robots augment our own ability to appreciate art, like the technology you see on TV during sporting events? If one dance routine has parallels with a previous one in history, would you like to see that highlighted before, after or during the event?

I’ve been watching videos about IBM’s Watson this morning and can’t help but think about these robots leveraging computer vision, natural language processing and ultimately quantum computing – processing data billions of times faster than computers can today. What does a robot like that bring to a musical performance? Will we be challenged to pay attention to the artists instead of the fantastic robots in the audience, much as our attention is so often held by our phones today?

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Why I Think RSS Still Matters

5 Comments 04.25.14

I still remember the first day I discovered an RSS reader, it must have been ten years ago. It left my head spinning with marvel over its power and possibilities. In fact, I told a woman about it on our first date and now that woman is my wife!

The idea is: subscribe once to your favorite sites and you’ll have one place to come and read all their updates when they are published.

RSS hasn’t changed the whole world like I hoped it would, but it has improved the reading and learning of millions of people. These days, after Google shut down Google Reader and hundreds of millions of people get news from Twitter or Facebook, many people question or just never learned the value of an RSS reader.

Here’s a reminder, updated for a social world. I use Feedly every day on my iPhone and recommend it.
* Just the news: RSS readers will display just the news from your favorite sites, no random social updates. Sometimes that’s nice – it’s high signal to noise.
* Don’t miss anything: Because there are fewer updates, you can more easily see all the posts from a site and stay up to date.
* Medium-length scanning:
RSS updates are much more lightweight than a full web page, but meatier than a Tweet. That enables a more effective kind of scanning.

Maybe it’s a matter of taste, I get most of my news from Little Bird, Twitter (I felt inspired to write this because of a Tweet!) or LinkedIn, but give me an evening reading session and I open up Feedly.

I think RSS is a great reading experience. It can expand your learning universe just as much today as it ever could. I still love it very much.


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Pondering the Little Bird brand

2 Comments 03.03.14

Thinking about marketing and branding as I look at applicants for our Director of Marketing position at Little Bird, I’m pondering the following. 1 claim, 3 planks, keep it simple. (Simple is a challenge for me sometimes.) That’s one framework for thinking these things through, what others do you like? I’d love to know.

Claim: Little Bird will help you discover and create new business opportunities on the social web.

3 planks:

* Find the most influential people online in your market. Little Bird’s graph analysis (analyzing peer connections, not general popularity) is the smartest, most objective, flexible system you’ll find.
* Engage with those thought leaders and their hot content – so you can know, and show you know, what’s at the cutting edge in your field.
* Do it all at scale, fast: on your mobile device, for any topic, before any meeting.

Where’d you learn that? A Little Bird told me…

Little Bird is: Smart. Useful. Fast.

Maybe that’s still not simple enough. I just thought I’d post here and work out loud.

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Klout, the Mashable of Social Influence Measurement, Gets Acquired; What I Think This Means for Social Business

7 Comments 02.11.14

Disclosure: I am the CEO of Little Bird, which is a more effective, interesting and genuine social business technology than Klout. That said, I use Klout every day, they paved the way for our customers to start thinking about us and I wish them nothing but the best in their new hard-earned home. The following post is filled with metaphor, followed by quick thoughts on owned, earned and paid media. Here’s a more plain spoken one on our company blog: Klout and Little Bird, the difference in 3 sentences.

Klout, which is the Mashable of social influence measurement, is reported to be nearing acquisition by big corporate social platform Lithium Technologies, according to the very smart reporters at Re/Code.

What does this mean? Perhaps it means: get your Klout critiques out on the table now or forever hold your peace. Perhaps it means congratulations, Klout team, you may not have become “the credit score for the future” but you did build something worth $100 million and you’ll no doubt continue to make a big impact over at Lithium.

Lithium is a formidable social platform, they acquired Radian6 competitor Scout Labs years ago, they serve big brands really well, they have a super smart chief data scientist in Michael Wu and now they’ll have Klout’s technology and data. It will be really interesting to see what they do with it. I bet it’s going to be really cool.

From my perspective, I think the news means this: the current Klout model for relating to social media is flawed and businesses need something better. We’re building something better right here at Little Bird.

Klout is Dirty

If you’re a serious social media user, you probably know that Twitter can change your business but blogging can change your life. The deeper you get into social, the more connections you make, the more you learn and the more opportunity to lead or fast-follow comes your way.

Klout is shallow and social runs deep. Old school businesspeople look at the teeming global real-time conversation on the social web and what do they see? They see a handful of popular people and wonder how much it would cost to buy their advocacy and ride their coat tails to big social media mindshare. And that’s almost all they see.

futwThat’s all Klout has offered for most of its history: an artificial velvet rope to put around the popular kids at a party and offer them free stuff in hopes they’ll talk about you.

But rock and roll isn’t about 1950′s DJs getting bought off to play the big record companies’ would-be-manufactured hits. Rock and roll is about new sounds building new communities and changing the lives of the people it touches.

Social media is like rock and roll. To get it, you’ve got to really listen to it.

That’s what we do here at Little Bird. We find the topic experts and influencers that other experts trust, not just the popular kids at the party. Then we help you really listen to them, to capture the real value of social media – including but not limited to genuine earned advocacy through engagement. Not bribery or petty cash.

Here at Little Bird we believe that influential people online are most valuable because they represent where the future will be created. Engage with them now and you see it, heck you can co-create it with them. Market trends, key insights, sales and business opportunities – this is the what the finest minds on social media have to offer – not just access to the audience they’ve built. You can get that too, though, if you listen and engage with them effectively!

Below: It’s all about the inbound connections, not just the outbound popularity. Anthony Iannarino has a Klout score of 74, pretty good but no Beyonce. But if you’re looking for experts in a topic like B2B sales – Little Bird will tell you that the B2B sales community knows Anthony is out of this world. Will he talk about your brand? Maybe, maybe not. Is he worth listening to and getting to know? Yes he sure is!

In business terms:

* Earned media: Klout has just begun with its pivot last week to try to help you get into conversations, to engage with great content and to earn some growth in social capital. Prior to that new home page, Klout did nothing for earned media.

Little Bird does more and better work to help you engage not just with good topical content, but with the people you can develop relationships with who are discussing it. Earn that new media, businesses! We’ll help.

* Owned media: What does Klout do for your owned media? Not much. It might tell you who the most popular people are who re-shared what you already wrote. You’re on your own to create your own original media though, and Klout does a terrible job of discovering credible people to co-create it with.

Little Bird gives you a big boost in owned media optimization, by serving up inspirational trending conversations from inside and outside your existing community online.

* Paid media: Klout is an odd form of paid media. It’s probably appropriate for B2C markets, to let popular people from the internet test-drive a new car or get a voucher to visit a big city for free. But for B2B markets, paid media is most appropriate with absolute transparency and advertising.

Little Bird customers use our data to learn not who to pay-off, but who to target reputable advertising towards. I think that’s a much more proven way to do it.

Ok people at work, looking to do business on the social web: come on in, the water’s fine! Don’t just throw money and gifts at the natives. Come join us and enjoy all the wonderful things that these networks have to offer.

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

The Whole New Klout, Now for Content Marketing: 3 Bad Things & 3 Good Things

4 Comments 02.06.14

Influence measurement startup Klout unveiled a major new feature today, so big they call it The New Klout. It’s the new home page; they’re all in.

What does it do? It suggests hot links related to your interests so you can easily find things to share online. When you share good stuff, you build social capital. Klout being one measure of that. (Disclosure: I am the CEO of Little Bird, which is much, much cooler than Klout. I use Klout too, though.)

I like the idea behind The New Klout; in fact we do something similar at Little Bird. But at first glance there are three big shortcomings I see in The New Klout. We’ll see how long these last for, they’re smart people and I can imagine the feature will improve dramatically over the coming months. I bet the new site will become mobile soon responsive too.

All critique of Klout aside (it’s based on keywords, it can be gamed, it’s about nothing but the size of your megaphone, it puts a hard number on soft human interaction, etc – or at least all critique in parentheses) the New Klout is pretty cool.

Here are three things it doesn’t do, though.

  1. You can’t really pick your own topics – you have to select from a list of pre-created topics.

    Sure, you can type keywords into the search box, but lots of topics just don’t show up. I ran a report for someone tonight on Little Bird to discover the most peer-validated experts on ITC4D (Information Technology for Development) in Africa, then track the hottest content among them. You can’t do that in the new Klout – but you can’t subscribe to content for ICT4D, or for Oil and Gas, HCM, talent management or quantified self for example. I guess it’s aimed for B2C markets.

  2. It only finds content to share, not influential people to engage with. You can barf out great links all day, but if you’re not engaging in conversations with other influential, reputable, relevant people on social networks, you may as well be one of those social media consultants who buys hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. If a bear shares a great link in the woods and nobody’s there to hear it, does…?
  3. The sources seem pretty mainstream. A lot of links from Forbes, TechCrunch, the top sites that everybody knows. One thing that’s super cool? The Hidden Gems feature. I don’t know how Klout determines that my audience (I don’t like to call people that, that’s their word) hasn’t likely seen a link, but it’s a cool idea. That’s cool thing number 1.

  • Cool thing #2 is the ability to train the system to show you more or less content like a particular item. It’s unclear whether that means show me less from this topic, source, keywords, or what – but trainable things are good! I would like to do more of that.
  • Scheduling the sharing of content is cool. Look out, Buffer. Buffer has been experimenting with recommended content to share too, I saw people say on the twitter. We’ve got support for Buffer publishing in Little Bird as well. Scheduling means you can jump in to whatever system you’re using, find great content, put it in a scheduler and then be publishing insights all day long.

That’s my take on The New Klout for Content Marketing. I wish our charming and much larger rivals the best of luck with it. I hope they move the whole industry forward. And now I’ll put my head back down and get back to work on building our own technology for capturing value from the world’s most influential people online. (Hint: we believe it’s not about getting free stuff and new followers – it’s about learning new things and discovering new business opportunities.)

Here’s how we do it, right now.

The Overview page of our whole report on this topic:

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.