Talking Innovation: An Interview with Scott Maxwell from OpenView Venture Partners

Joe Pulizzi: Few venture capital firms are experimenting with new media and content marketing to the degree you’re doing it at OpenView Partners and OpenView Labs. Tell me how that came about.

Scott Maxwell: We focus on companies within two specific sectors and a specific stage in the investment cycle. Since those companies can be anywhere in the world, we have difficulty finding them. We did a lot of research and made a lot of phone calls to identify and reach out to target companies. What we now do with content marketing is flip that dynamic, helping our target market find us and understand who we are.

The content marketing strategies we use on the OpenView Labs site came about because I read your book, Get Content Get Customers. The ideas you talked about really resonated for me, and we began encouraging our portfolio companies to adopt content marketing.

It wasn’t long before we realized that if we were telling our portfolios’ companies to use content marketing, then we needed first-hand experience ourselves. We began with a company blog.

Then we introduced the OpenView Labs website, where we blog, publish videos and podcasts, and produce a series of e-books. OpenView Labs has been a great proving ground for us, helping us experiment with content marketing so that we can guide our portfolio companies to do the same.

J: There are so many sites dedicated to venture capital and tech startups. How do you stand out?

S: Our audience is very narrowly focused. We are writing about ideas for expansion-stage software and technology companies only. The set of issues they face is fairly unique.

One of the important roles we play for that audience is not only publishing original content, but also curating all the content that’s out there on the web and filtering it to find the best examples for our audience.

J: Most people don’t think of financial services as very advanced in new media. What in your own background led you to embrace content marketing and digital media within an industry that’s usually thought of as a laggard?

S: The best way to describe myself is somewhere between an engineer and a teacher. I began my career in the ’80s as a mechanical design engineer, designing robots. I went on to get a PhD in mechanical engineering in order to become a professor.

The academia career didn’t happen because, in truth, with my background there were so many commercial opportunities for me. I went to McKinseyto hone my business skills, and then spent a lot of time in financial services, first for Lehman Brothers and then Putnam Investments.

I ended up moving to venture capital because a friend asked me to join him. For me, venture is the perfect intersection of technology and financial services. What’s more, it’s an engineer’s dream to test out ideas and to experiment—and both of those qualities are highly valued in venture capital. Essentially, we are engineering businesses.

As far as why my background translates to having insights about digital media in particular. I would say that I’m not a digital evangelist by any means. I really just like and pursue what works. I’m willing to take a new idea, test it out, experiment and see how it fits together with other ideas.

J: Your content marketing team for the OpenView Labs site is small, but I happen to know they are very media-savvy. Tell me how you identify and attract the best talent.

S: We are especially good at recruiting tech-savvy employees because of the channels we use to find them. Our LinkedIn searches, for example, help us identify individuals who are extremely active in tech, not just those who say they are. It’s an important distinction.

J: In this issue we are talking all about Content 2015. What do you think the field will look like in three years?

S: What we really need is a lot more automation and more prediction in marketing and digital media. Currently there is a huge amount of manual work involved in posting blogs and identifying others to follow. All of the “plumbing” of the web will need to become more automated over time.

There are companies who are already providing solutions to this problem, such as, but we still need a lot more intelligence built in to all the social media activities we engage in so that companies can scale their social media and content activities.

The question I also hope gets answered in the coming years is how to achieve one-to-one content marketing. What I mean by that is, if your company is targeting various markets, and each of your target companies has multiple user or customer types (e.g. IT versus human resources), how can you deliver the right content to the right person at the right time? It’s a complex but very important problem to solve.