Reflections on Six Years of Content Marketing in a Bootstrapped Startup
Posted by Bob Warfield on September 6, 2016
I just put the finishing touches on one of my biggest content marketing efforts to date, an ambitious article called, “Beginner’s Step-By-Step Guide to Making CNC Parts.”
All told, it took almost two months of part-time effort and was as much work and words as a small novella. I don’t expect to win any literary prizes with it, but I do expect it to help a good many CNC (Computer Numeric Control, the field my business, CNCCookbook, is serving) Beginners to launch their journey into the world of Robotic Machine Tools that make things for you.
Writing the article has left me feeling reflective about the CNCCookbook journey. It’s become one of the biggest if not the biggest CNC-related blog on the Internet. I’ve accomplished marketing goals all by myself that a lot of top marketing people would love to recreate.
CNCCookbook has been a magic business for me in the magical world of CNC. We live in an age of 3D Printing, which gets most of the Hype, but also of CNC in general. Computer-controlled machine tools that are even more sophisticated than those that put Men on the Moon are available not just to businesses, but also to hobbyists and small businesses operating out of their garages.
I recently interviewed Zach Kaplan, the founder of Inventables, for the CNCCookbook blog. In the inverview, Zach remarks that there are some 300,000 manufacturers in the US today, but he thinks within 10 years there will be over 3 million manufacturers. This amazing growth will be fueled by the power of these entry-level CNC machines such as the X-Carve CNC Router that Zach’s company, Inventables, sells.
I think Kaplan is probably conservative, and that we’ll get to that 3 million manufacturer mark much sooner than 10 years. We live in an unprecedented time of opportunity with desktop CNC to help us make products and the Internet to help us market them.
I’ve interviewed many small CNC businesses that got started from nothing and are doing very well. A great example would be the little Iowa company of one Brad Martin that makes bottle openers in the shape of grenades. It’s called Tactical Keychains and affords Martin a nice living where he is growing steadily and is his own boss.
X-Carve is VC-Funded, while its chief competitor, Carbide3D (another outfit I’ve interviewed from time to time) was crowdfunded via Kickstarter. My own company, CNCCookbook, was created with no external capital, just my own sweat equity. Those are really the rungs on the evolutionary funding ladder–VC, Crowdfunding, and now Bootstrapping.
Lately, I’ve noticed motion away from conventional VC by a number of savvy entrepreneurs. They’ve realized that the economics are not that great when they take Venture Money. Certainly nowhere near as good as the economics for the VC’s themselves.
Companies like Atlassian, Github, SurveyMonkey, and Mailchimp have shown that you can grow a company quite large without ever taking any capital. VC Jason Lemkin writes that the cost is 4 more years to reach a given size.
Personally, I think 4 years is a pretty small price to pay for the lower risk and superior economics that are possible when you bootstrap. I’ve had plenty of experience with Venture Money–CNCCookbook is my 8th Startup and VC’s were involved with the other 7. I wish I’d embarked on CNCCookbook and the Boostrapping path 10 years ago. I’d be that much further ahead on a journey that looks like it has no ceiling.
Today, I take home more cash than I have taken home from any of the VC companies. That doesn’t count stock option money, but it’s still pretty darned good when you consider I’ve been an executive for two companies that made it to pretty decent sized public firms. I was able to do this all by myself–I have a few part-time employees, but have gotten here largely through my own efforts.
I owe my success to my ability to write software, but just as much if not more to my ability to do Content Marketing. It’s been my magic bullet, and it works something like this:
- I give away valuable content about CNC, the market I’ve chosen to be in.
- People find the content via Social Media, Search Engines, and Referrals as other sites link to CNCCookbook.
- They visit, consume the content, enjoy it, and pass on the word. I can’t claim it’s viral, but it’s pretty darned good.
- As they become regular readers, they’re exposed to content about the kinds of CNC problems my software solves. It’s fairly low-key, and I try to avoid ever being spammy. Eventually, those customers that have the same problems take a free trial of our software. If they like it, they buy it, and I get to repeat the cycle for others.
If you’re wondering about the details of all that, I haven’t written about it much, although I mean to at some point. For now, the best you can do is visit another of my web sites, which I call Firehose Press.
Firehose Press is an odd site. It’s a blog where I haven’t written a single word of the content. That’s right–not a single word. Instead, it contains clippings from every marketing article I’ve ever read that influenced me on my CNCCookbook journey. Y ou’ll see there’s a lot of them. But, it’s your opportunity to take a personally curated tour that will let you follow in my footsteps. I’ve distilled out the best material for you.
Give Firehose Press a casual browse. If you’re interested in how to market a Startup Business, you will almost certainly find something valuable there. After all, it’s from some of the best minds in marketing.