What’s it like to build a community-based SaaS platform that focuses on creating top-notch content -- yet is also scalable? We spoke with Michael Brown and Matt Solar, the Co-Founder and VP of Marketing & Community at nDash, to learn more about their recent endeavors and visions for what’s to come in the rapidly evolving world of content marketing.
Boston Content: Tell us about nDash! Who do you help and what kinds of problems do you solve?
Michael Brown: nDash.co is a SaaS platform for marketers and agencies that want to scale the content creation process with true subject matter experts. Readers today can spot a fluff piece a mile away, so we’re trying to help brands publish authoritative content, and that can only come from writers with in-depth knowledge of a particular industry. Conversely, we’re also helping talented freelance writers earn multiple times more than they would at a content mill.
BC: How was the company founded?
Michael: I left Applause (then uTest) in 2013 and started a content marketing agency, which grew from a one-person shop to a full-service, 10-person team in a little under two years. As we grew, the demands of our clients became too much for our in-house writers—in terms of both bandwidth and complexity. One of the biggest challenges was keeping up with the diverse expertise of our customer roster. It’s impossible to have a writer with a deep knowledge of all verticals, so I needed to find a way to cover a broad set of clients -- B2B vs. B2C, clients in entertainment and cyber-security… just massive diversity. Ultimately, we needed to find a way to scale both in terms of volume and specialization.
Having seen firsthand how the successful the crowd-based model can be, we pivoted the company focus and launched the nDash.co community-based SaaS platform that you see today.
BC: How are you doing? (Latest company milestones, etc.)
Michael: So far so good! It’s been just over a year since we launched the platform at HubSpot’s 2016 Inbound conference. Since then we’ve gotten great traction from brands all over the globe, as well as some Boston-based ones like DataDog, AppNeta, Mautic, and ThriveHive to name a few. The community recently surpassed the 5K mark. We’ve added new people to the team, including my former colleague Matt Solar. And lastly, we were named a finalist for the Boston MassChallenge accelerator program. It’s been a fun and eventful year!
BC: What are the top 3 trends you’re seeing in content and marketing?
Michael: A few years back, the term “content fatigue” gained a lot of traction, but it was mostly used in reference to readers. Now it’s all about content fatigue in marketers. They’re exhausted—and it’s not all about the writing. As more content gets published, it gets harder and harder to find interesting content angles, so they’re burnt out from all of it – the writing, the research, the edits, the cadence, the ideation…the list goes on.
In response, marketers are starting to more closely align their operations to that of leading publishers. They’re realizing that content cannot be a one-person or even a one-department job – that just like the NYT, HuffPo and other publications, content needs to come from a larger network of contributors in order to stay fresh on a consistent basis.
Matt Solar: Relationships win. Despite a surge in AI and bots, I think you’ll see a lot of success for the companies that embrace some of the “old-fashioned” methods of success, namely real customer success and support. There’s a reason why LL Bean has beaten Amazon for customer support for a few years in a row. I think you’ll continue to see marketing teams increasingly embrace customer service as an extension of the brand. Some notorious ISPs have sullied the customer service practice and companies will, hopefully, revert to view customer service as a positive experience and opportunity to create a stark raving fan for your brand. Marketers will need to reflect this in the voice of their content -- regardless of its format.
Michael: Instagram and Pinterest have launched the category of “influencer marketing” and validated the importance of the personal brand -- phrases we’re waiting to hear uttered on Silicon Valley. Twitter, Medium, and LinkedIn have encouraged people to leverage and even quantify in the form of followers, their subject matter expertise. Nobody, yet, has addressed this opportunity for content marketing, and I predict you’ll see some jostling for this space in the next few years.
BC: What’s the best advice you can give to content writers?
Matt: First, focus on quality. We have no interest in competing on price with content mills, so the differentiation needs to be in speed (e.g. content turnaround time) and quality. Second, don’t be afraid to pitch companies! Do some research and put together a relevant, topical, and/or timely concept (again: focus on quality). When you pitch, don’t sell yourself short when pricing your content. Buyers in any market use price as an early data point and it can impact their perception of the value of the product. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”
BC: What’s the best advice you can give to companies related to content?
Matt: Kissmetrics recently shared a great post, “How to Outperform Sites Ranking Above You on Search Engines”. In it, they wrote that the takeaway is, “You need to produce better content for the end user than the person above you.” I’d recommend companies be cognizant of their strategy and how it balances quantity, which has diminishing returns, and quality. The strategy doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game, meaning it doesn’t need to be quality or quantity, but you should at least be executing deliberately.
We’ve seen success, both as a company and as a viewer to our customer's campaigns, of sourcing the content creation to the nDash community and focusing their internal teams on more strategic initiatives, such as building more holistic marketing campaigns across marketing and sales, and more personalized efforts for targeted accounts. We put together a content pricing guide, “What Every Marketer Needs to Know About Paying Freelancers” as a resource for getting started.
BC: nDash hasn’t taken any outside funding to date. What has driven that decision and do you envision that will change?
Michael: We simply haven’t needed it as we were able to bootstrap getting a product to market. We’ve been approached in the past and it’s a topic we’ve started discussing internally, but I need more certainty around how we’d leverage the investment and the ROI model and assumptions before we’d move forward.
BC: What’s next for nDash?
Michael: Our mission is to build a product and brand that marketers and writers love. As part of that, we focus on the user experience throughout the lifecycle -- not in the form of adding fancy tech bells and whistles for the sake of challenging our engineering team, but a simple, clean UI through to internal processes and team support. While we do some data analysis around user behaviors the majority of product features come as a result of user feedback derived from real conversations, much like those that Boston Content is helping to facilitate.
BC: Anything else you’d like to share?
Matt: Thank you for letting us participate! We’re really excited to have the opportunity to be part of BosCon’s new growth. There’s so much fragmentation in marketing across tools, responsibilities, and internet resources that it’s great to have a centralized source where so many influencers can leverage each other’s knowledge. We had a great time at the November 28th event, and I know the entire nDash team is already ready for the next one.
nDash.co provides content creation software & services to the world’s leading brands and agencies. Visit nDash.co today to sign up for free and start building your content community.