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How I reached 30k+ LinkedIn followers and 10k+ newsletter subscribers - and what I would do differently today
DDVC #38: Where venture capital and data intersect. Every week.
👋 Hi, I’m Andre and welcome to my weekly newsletter, Data-driven VC. Every Thursday I cover hands-on insights into data-driven innovation in venture capital and connect the dots between the latest research, reviews of novel tools and datasets, deep dives into various VC tech stacks, interviews with experts and the implications for all stakeholders. Follow along to understand how data-driven approaches change the game, why it matters, and what it means for you.
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What an incredible week: Firstly, the Data-driven VC community has grown to 10k+ subscribers in less than 9 months (262 days to be precise🤓), and, secondly, my LinkedIn account crossed 30k+ followers. Thank you so much for your continued support via likes, comments, shares, DMs, guest posts, features, podcast/keynote/panel invites, and so much more.
Looking back at a bumpy 7+ year professional online journey, I learned all content creation, audience building, and personal branding lessons the hard way and got increasingly frustrated that none of the role models in our industry shared their insights publicly. It feels that while everyone knows about the importance of establishing a personal brand, few leaders openly speak about it as they seemingly want their activities to come across “more naturally” and “less intentionally”.
But let’s be honest: Who posts on LinkedIn just for fun? Who writes a blog post for themselves? Nobody. It’s all about engagement, feedback, leads, deal flow, and the resulting discussions with like-minded people. Clearly, all of this is intentional.
Celebrating this week’s milestones and following my “building in public” mantra, I’d like to answer a bunch of questions that I have received in the past months by sharing my personal content creation journey, major learnings, and what I would do differently today. My journey in 5 phases:
Phase 1: Starting as a passive observer
Year#1: I joined LinkedIn in July 2016, almost 7 years ago, mostly to grow my professional network, keep in touch with relevant people, and passively follow their content. I probably logged in every other week or so, mostly to send and accept connection requests. No interaction with content whatsoever and I only published one post for the full first year (which received an incredible 2 likes). As for most beginners, this was a share of external third-party content.
LEARNING#1: It’s easy to sit and watch from the sidelines but takes courage to play the game on the field. Don’t waste time observing but become active from day 1.
Year#2: In the second year, I became slightly more active and posted a mind-boggling 8 times.. OK, tbh not much more than in the first year but it felt like I’m already spamming the world, ofc again, with all third-party content or reshares from other posts which achieved 2-26 likes per post. Topic-wise, the first two years were super random with content about people or companies that I had a direct relation to.
LEARNING#2: Every beginning is difficult but everyone started somewhere. Keep going, it will eventually pay off.
Phase 2: Posting more actively, expanding focus, and adding my own content to the mix
Year#3: In the third year, I published a total of 28 posts on LinkedIn which received 1-79 likes per post. While I continued to post third-party content, I started adding a personal touch to the mix by sharing photos (like here on a Munich Founder vs. Investors Hockey night or here for a CPO meetup).
Moreover, I wrote my first article on Medium “Why we invested in DeepCode” to share the results of our investment research and conviction for ML-based coding (ahead of the Copilot wave 👋🏻). Medium was a great home for my write-up, yet the “platform” did really badly in distribution (at least for me). Therefore, I took my Medium post and distributed it via LinkedIn and Twitter.
LEARNING#3: Content creation and distribution are two different but equally important parts of the equation.
Year#4: Following the activity ramp-up in the previous year, the fourth year was mostly a continuation of what I’ve done before with a total of 21 posts that received 8-1,173 likes per post. Besides my “related people/companies” and personal touch posts, I started to post a lot about AI, data-driven innovation, and productivity - both third-party content and also my own write-ups like “Deconstructing the AI Landscape”. Seeing my first post go viral (at least for my standards) with more than 1k likes and my follower counts hitting the magic “500+” on LinkedIn was the first time I saw the compound effect of my activities.
LEARNING#4: We tend to overestimate the impact of our activities in the short term but underestimate their compound effect in the long term.
Phase 3: Higher farther faster - diluting myself
Year#5: After finishing my Ph.D. on “Machine Learning and the Value of Data in VC” and having spent several years in VC, I asked myself what the future of VC might eventually look like and what it would take to become successful. I posted my thoughts in a Medium article “The Future of VC: Augmenting Humans with AI” and received incredibly positive feedback. As part of this article, I also came to the conclusion that the personal brands of individual investors will become highly important.
As the VC industry becomes more efficient, two “access components” will become core: capital availability (which VC is able to pay the highest valuation) and VC brand (firm brand + personal brand of the individual investor) — besides personal fit (which will remain key)!
As part of this thought process, I started to analyze my own personal brand and tried to understand all contributing factors. I split it into different components like my investment track record, original content, media features, podcasts, keynotes, panels, and a lot more. It became clear that online content in all its forms was the easiest short-term lever for me, thus I thoroughly analyzed the data points that I had previously collected via my online activities.
I found (very obvious in retrospect..) that broader, more generic topics (such as startup ecosystem, VC trends, macro economy, etc.) resonated with a wider audience and thus received more engagement, whereas more narrow topics (such as specific investment theses) resonated less.
Following the engagement data, I started to drift more toward generic content. While I published 50+ posts in year#5, achieved a range of viral hits with a few thousand likes (some even 10k+ likes per post), and grew my followership to 10k+, it took some open words from a good friend telling me that I started to dilute my personal brand with too many unrelated topics where I partially had little credibility.
LEARNING#5: Stay true to yourself and continuously ask “What do I want to stand for?”
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Phase 4: Refocusing
Year#6: Following a friendly intervention, I went back to square zero and started to approach the whole personal branding topic in a more structured way.
Firstly, I created a sheet and listed all topics that I was professionally interested in such as AI, dev, data, productivity, startups, future of VC, etc. Secondly, I added columns for evaluation such as “number of my previous posts”, “engagement in my previous posts”, “my credibility”, “penetration by others”, “potential volume (niche/generic)”, “relevance for my target audience”, etc. Finally, I ranked all listed topics across all columns on a scale between 0 to 10. Hereof, I summed up all scores per topic and ended up with three top-ranking ones: “AI”, “data-driven innovation”, and “Future of VC”.
Bringing it all together, “Data-driven VC” as a concept was born.
LEARNING#6: Sharpen the saw and be intentional about your online activities. Simple frameworks can help to find your sweet spot and stay differentiated.
Besides refocusing my content, I spent significant time with the distribution side and learned a lot about social media algorithms and growth hacks. More importantly, I thought for the first time ever about dependency and owning the distribution. What would happen if LinkedIn or Twitter would disappear or banned me tomorrow?
I would likely need to start from scratch again. This being said, I researched alternatives and came across Substack, a platform that would replace Medium as the home for my articles while at the same time having distribution baked in and providing full ownership over the distribution channels.
Phase 5: First signs of an actual community
Year#7: On 11th September 2022, I launched the “Data-driven VC” newsletter on Substack. Looking at a wide spectrum of successful Substack creators, it became clear that consistency is key. Hence, I decided to publish a deep-dive piece once a week and add a short wrap-up episode at the end of each month. Once published via Substack, I distribute every article via LinkedIn and Twitter with short teaser summaries.
Although I kept the number of LinkedIn posts similar to the previous years, the content has shifted a lot. Firstly, it became more narrow with a focus on AI, data, dev, and productivity - all closely related topics. Secondly, I decreased third-party content and increased the ratio of my own original content. As a result, I started seeing overall fewer likes but more thoughtful and deeper conversations via comments and DMs evolving. Less is sometimes more.
LEARNING#7: Sharing third-party content is great for broad engagement and likes whereas recurring creation and distribution of original content is great for deeper conversations. Newsletters (and podcasts) can act as a catalyst for community growth.
Only through continued focus on a few selected topics, I was able to foster conversations that go beyond a simple like or “very insightful” comment. In the past 9 months, I feel that I finally connected and got great value from you, my audience. Your valuable messages helped me challenge my thinking, get new ideas, and find new opportunities within or related to my niche. The recent launch of the “Data-driven VC Landscape 2023” is just another example and the pipeline is filled up with new ideas.
7 years into the journey, I’m incredibly excited that my LinkedIn account has grown to 30k+ followers with 10M+ views and thousands of comments and DMs per year, and that my Data-driven VC newsletter passed 10k+ subscribers with a total of almost half a million reads in less than 9 months.
Having learned all lessons the hard way, this is how I would start all over again today:
Research: Start with proper research and use a content strategy framework (like the simple one described above) to identify 2-3 suitable niches. Be crystal clear on your goals and what you actually want to get out of your activities (e.g., better deal flow, new customer leads, conference/podcast invites, etc.)
Explore: Join the most important social media platforms (for professionals I recommend LinkedIn and Twitter) to grow a distribution machine with third-party content in the selected niches. Don’t waste your time as an observer but become active right away. Post regularly but don’t spam. Only change one degree of freedom at a time, e.g., post on the same days at the same time and change the topic or keep the same topic and change the time of the day etc. Take 6-12 months to test and learn, and make sure to track the data.
Analyze: Crunch the data (likes, comments, DMs, etc.) to understand which niche works best for you and how you can maximize breadth and depth of engagement. Identify the leaders in your niche to see what you can learn from them.
Create: Publish original content via a newsletter, podcast, or whatever format seems most suitable to yourself and the content area you’re targeting. Collaborate with other thought leaders in your niche to achieve a win-win.
Grow: Listen to and incorporate feedback, speak to your audience, and play around with growth hacks to maximize reach. Don’t reinvent the wheel but learn from others. Keep going, consistency is key. Showing up every day will make a difference to 95% of others who fail.
This is it for today. I hope you enjoyed this open and transparent yet different-than-usual piece on my content creation journey even though it’s obviously less related to data-driven VC. Let me know what you think and leave a like or comment in case you want to learn more about content creation workflows (yes, you can easily fit it into your busy schedule if done right), LinkedIn growth hacks, newsletter best practices, and more.
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If you have any suggestions, want me to feature an article, research, your tech stack or list a job, hit me up! I would love to include it in my next edition😎