You probably know them well.
If you’re not already subscribed to a number of them yourself, you’ve seen pop-up messages—on any number of sites—that urge, beg, plead with you to sign up to receive them regularly. Not every company uses them the right way, but those that do reap incredible rewards from their creations—even if the payoff isn’t direct or immediate.
Yes, newsletters are absolutely everywhere today. And whereas they were once simply a delivery mechanism for pieces of content, they’re now a valuable asset on top of which companies can build a strong foundation.
Mattermark CEO Danielle Morrill, for one, knows the benefits of newsletters well. Her company, which researches and organizes business information, is renowned for the newsletter it delivers to subscribers’ inboxes each day. The Mattermark Daily consists of both original content from the company’s blog and a hand-curated list of featured posts from various investors, founders, and media members covering the startup ecosystem. The company’s efforts have clearly paid off, too, as the subscription base for the Mattermark Daily currently exceeds 80,000, according to Danielle. (Investors of all types and stages, startup founders and employees, and tech media are all counted among them.)
But it wasn’t always such a hit—they had to start somewhere and build with intent to attract subscribers en masse, after all.
To do so, Danielle didn’t wait for people to come into contact with Mattermark and enter into the top of their funnel. Instead, the company simply started contacting people directly, sharing real value in the form of useful or interesting content for investors.
“If you’re going to just contact people, what do you have to say?“ Danielle asked in a podcast interview with NextView this past fall. “If you can say, ‘Here, I made something for you,’ it’s so much better than, ‘Hey, I want something from you.’”
Mattermark has committed itself to delivering content that will be worth the reader’s time each day, regardless of whether the company itself produced said content. Morrill likes to feature content from around the startup community that might not get significant traction otherwise, but not just any piece of content can make it into the newsletter. Mattermark has a specific process that its newsletter curators follow in assembling the list of featured articles each day.
“If you can say, ‘Here, I made something for you,’ it’s so much better than, ‘Hey, I want something from you.’” – Danielle Morrill, CEO of Mattermark
According to Danielle and Mattermark Daily curator Nick Frost, here is their process for creating a killer newsletter:
First, Establish Primary Principles for Content Curation
Their key, upfront decision was to only list articles that the Mattermark team can read all the way through without getting bored or distracted . This remains a primary principle today.
The thinking goes: If their team can’t finish an article with which Mattermark is associating its brand, how could it expect its readers to get all the way through? This reinforces Danielle’s early commitment to delivering quality content in each newsletter—if she can’t read the article herself, it gets left on the cutting room floor. (She admits in the podcast that this can be difficult, since those same people might be relevant prospects or great customers for Mattermark … but simply don’t write things worthy of curation into the Daily, which aims to surface the very best VC or startup content that day.)
They next decided that, rather than simply curate a bunch of links, they’d write short, succinct, “Zagat-style” summaries under each link in the newsletter. For instance:
The goal with this practice, Danielle said, is to ensure a reader understands the basis of the article without clicking the link. (Another thing to note: As with most newsletters, the links direct traffic to websites other than Mattermark’s. Danielle and Nick have always been fine with this; the company simply values the association of Mattermark with great content and the value it provides. In doing so, they’ve become quite the taste-makers in the startup and venture worlds.)
Second, Create a Content Discovery Process
Once their mission and curation principles were in place, they can move faster and keep up with the daily demands to ship the newsletter without getting stuck debating what to include. But the next challenge is obvious: How do you keep up with all the content published around the startup world each day?
Here’s their approach:
Sites to Discover Content from VCs:
- Medium – Venture Capital
- Featured posts in CrunchBase Daily, StrictlyVC, and Dan Primack’s Term Sheet
- RSS feeds for VC blogs , subscribed to via Feedly
Sites to Discover Content from Founders:
- Medium – Entrepreneurship, Startups
- RSS feeds for founder blogs, subscribed to via Feedly
Sites to Discover Both:
- Scanning Twitter or building Twitter lists
- Crowdsourcing: Just letting people know that you are curating content for a newsletter and directly asking for content to be considered for a feature can be helpful to your process.
Third, Finalize the Curated List Using Consistent Limitations
For the Mattermark Daily, the total list generally features five to seven posts from VCs and a similar number from entrepreneurs and operators. Internally, Mattermark has established that this number is entirely up to the curator. (Nick and others on the team generally curate the Daily, although they occasionally have guest curators. I had the pleasure of curating the newsletter last year.)
One guideline that is always in place is that the most prominent story usually features an accompanying graph or related image. They limit one image per email as a rule.
To other startups or investors with an interest in creating a newsletter, begin there: What is your mission? Why would anyone read this? (Spoiler alert: It won’t be because they want news about YOU.) Next, devise a process and stick to it over time.
While Mattermark’s specific process won’t necessarily work for everybody, the Daily’s success is due to their principles and process. They’ve documented both, and they’ve stuck to each over time. As with any content-focused initiative, the foundational mission and initial dedication to high quality is a must to find success. Mattermark started there, then committed to producing the best asset every day for their audience, building trust with them to grow the company’s reach, influence, and, yes, customer base.
For more resources on growing an audience for your startup, explore the Marketing and Growth section of the NextView platform. Or listen to the full episode of Traction with Danielle Morrill, CEO of Mattermark.