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Camille, based in San Francisco, is always looking for new ways to spread the word about First Round's programs, investments, and initiatives to reimagine venture capital. She pioneered the First Round Review to deliver incredible stories and actionable insights to entrepreneurs.

Previously, Camille shaped content strategy for major microfinance nonprofit Kiva, and managed public relations for electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors. Before that, she worked as a journalist, covering green technology for VentureBeat, and culture and lifestyle for The Wall Street Journal in New York and London.

Camille holds a BA in history from Stanford University, where she served as Editor in Chief of The Stanford Daily.

You can follow her on Twitter: @camillericketts

She will be live on May 30 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which she will answer as many questions as possible.

  • JL

    Janessa Lantz

    over 1 year ago #

    Camille, thanks so much for doing this AMA.

    I'm a huge fan of the work you've been doing on First Round Review. My question for you is around how you settled on the FRR content strategy. You've mastered the expert interview format and I'm curious on why you landed there as a starting point. Is it something you're just naturally good at? Was it clear that this was the right format for FRR? Were you considering other strategies?

    From the outside looking in, where FRR ended up is so obviously wonderful. It would be interesting to hear a bit of the backstory on how you got it to where it is today.

    Thanks :)

    • CR

      Camille Ricketts

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi Janessa! Thanks so much for the question. Our team landed on the strategy by 1) psychologizing our audience a bit, 2) thinking through how to differentiate what we were doing and 3) experimenting with variations on our thesis.

      First, we really considered the audience we wanted to reach. We knew we'd be successful if we could grow First Round's brand awareness among brilliant pre-founders. What do these people need? What would have a lot of utility for them? Clearly they'd love advice from people they didn't have access to. So that became our aim.

      Second, we looked at the other types of content venture capital firms were producing. A lot of them were (very awesomely) putting out opinions and market trend pieces from the partners themselves. I admire a lot of these strategies, but to do something different, we thought about highlighting the operator side of the equation. At the time, that was distinctly different from everyone else in our industry. I think differentiation is key, even though it's probably the toughest component.

      Third, we experimented with how to extract and relay this knowledge. We started out writing articles based on what operators shared during speaking events like our summits. We determined there was an appetite for this type of exclusive, tactical knowledge, but that we could super-charge it even more if we based articles on interviews, where we could focus even more on eliciting specific advice. So we ended up doing that, and then from there learning even more over time about how to run these articles to surface the highest utility insights.

      Hope that's helpful! Thanks so much!

      8 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        over 1 year ago #

        Boom - this is gold!

        Can you talk more about the process of psychologizing your audience?
        Did you conduct any surveys or other kinds of research to answer questions on needs?

    • CR

      Camille Ricketts

      over 1 year ago #

      Psychologizing your audience doesn't have to be some big ordeal. I can see how surveying would be interesting if you have a group of very loyal customers, or pre-customers helping you finding product-market fit. I would definitely ask them what kind of information they need. I think that's the key, it's not the content their WANT to see... it's information they feel they NEED to succeed. Where are the gaps they see in front of them, standing between them and their definition of success, or the metrics they want to maximize. How can you help them fill this gap? Really, you're looking to provide utility, utility, utility. I think where a lot of content strategies misstep is providing customer stories, or trying to demonstrate value without considering what their customers' goals are and how they can help with that first.

  • JD

    James Dunn

    over 1 year ago #

    What piece(s) of content that you developed for FRR would you say was the most innovative?
    Can you talk about how you've developed this content piece and advice you have for others on doing so?

    • CR

      Camille Ricketts

      over 1 year ago #

      This isn't explicitly for FRR, but one of the most innovative pieces of content First Round has put out is the State of Startups Survey (http://stateofstartups.firstround.com/2016/). It started 2 years ago as a total experiment. We were literally curious whether any entrepreneurs would respond to a survey that required 10 minutes to discuss their experience being a founder. We were pleasantly surprised when 500+ founders filled it out, and even more delighted when the tech press covered some of the insights the survey generated. The first year we ran it, over 1.5M people ended up viewing the slide deck we put together showcasing the survey results. We knew we had something interesting on our hands, and I think several things boosted it to that level: The insights we highlights were non-obvious. We cross-referenced a lot of the data we collected to find trends no one else what discussing, or that illuminated new information about diversity, etc. And it was extremely data driven. I think right now there's deep appetite for data-driven content, and anyone who cracks that nut in a way that's new and compelling will win.

      If you're looking to do your own landmark content piece similar to this, I'd again recommend psychologizing your audience to a pretty detailed extent. Who is your ideal audience member? Where do they work? What do they do? What information would have a ton of interest to them? What would they share at a cocktail party? What would they tweet to look smart to their colleagues? Okay, how can you develop a piece of content that empowers them to do those things and look damn good? How can you make it quantitative? How can you surface this information in a unique way that others haven't explored yet? I'd take the time to answer these questions and see what type of piece you come up with.

  • RM

    Ronny Max

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi Camille. Huge fan!

    With so many blogs, FRC stands out. In addition to great people and story telling, I'm amazed how well you identify the key points and strength of each person. Can you tell us more about the process?

    Thanks. Ronny

    • CR

      Camille Ricketts

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi Ronny— Thanks so much for the question! Figuring out how to interview better has been the more vital skillset I've cultivated here (or at least one of them). When you meet someone amazing, you know they'll have good wisdom to share, but they won't always have a specific sense of what's interesting or how to talk about it. In particular, they often don't know how to illuminate what's different or unique about their talents or approach to their work. So we've developed a couple tools to help with this.

      First, we use what I call the three-tier approach to interviewing: I find that when you ask someone something, they start out by sharing a very general insight. The Review is all about getting people to share specifics. So you want to follow up immediately by asking them to be more specific about the HOW of what it is they just said. Like if they say they hire the best people, how do they do it? If they say they have a great interview process, how did they design that? What questions do they actually ask in interviews You want to get as granular as possible until they share something actionable that readers could do that day to follow the advice. Third, ask for examples of that piece of advice in practice. If someone shares a tip or piece of advice, ask them to share a time in their career or on the job when that really worked for them, or when they made a mistake that could have been prevented by that tip or advice.

      Second, I ask a lot of questions to help them find something unique to talk about. Here are the three I've found to be the most effective:
      • What's one thing you've done in your career or job that helped you succeed, and that very few other people do?
      • What's a system/process/habit or framework you've created for yourself to help accelerate your work, career, personal goals?
      • What's a mistake you see get made all the time, even by very smart people? What have you learned from that to handle that thing the right way?

      I hope this is at least a good place to start! Thanks!

      • SC

        Sandy Cao

        about 1 year ago #

        I know I'm 5 months late to the party - but I'd LOVE to know what the third tier is to this three-tier approach!

  • JD

    Jon Donatello

    over 1 year ago #

    Hi Camille,

    How does your experience as a journalist influence how you approach content marketing?

    • CR

      Camille Ricketts

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi Jon— Great question. This also feeds into why I often recommend former journalists as the best possible content managers/strategists for companies looking to get into content marketing. Journalists know how to produce a lot of writing, coherently (with narrative) really fast. Plain and simple. It's a requirement of that job. Anyone who's succeeded in the industry pretty much knows how to do that. It's am muscle that requires exercise, and they're the pro athletes.

      Beyond that though, journalists end up with muscle memory around how to ask questions that yield a lot of nutritious information, and a nose for bullshit. Even in content marketing, there's a lot of bullshit risk. It's easy to end up publishing a lot of puff, low-utility, self-promotional, uninteresting crap for the sake of volume and speed and SEO. Do not do this. You will damage your brand equity and end up losing customers/users. Journalists see through things to get to what's new, what has implicit interest to it, what creative angles on rote information might be. They are some of my favorite people, and I can't underscore enough how relevant their skillset is to success in this area.

  • JA

    Jenna Abdou

    over 1 year ago #

    Thanks for being here, Camille! In your nearly four years doing interviews for The Review, what have been the most beneficial changes you've made to your interview process and style to capture the essence of a person's story/expertise as well as find the hidden gems that make them special?

    • CR

      Camille Ricketts

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi Jenna! You always ask such incredible questions. Thank you for this one. (For those of you who don't know, Jenna Abdou is a rising star in the content marketing world.)

      Two tweaks to our process have made a wild/tremendous/crazy difference — I apologize if you already know my answer, Jenna:

      1) Adding a pre-call: Instead of just going straight into an interview, the Review team (that's me and my phenomenal colleague and teammate Shaun Young) will schedule a 20-30 minute "kickoff call" with any subject we're talking to. We use this time to either choose a topic that's at the cross section of what our readers need to learn and what that subject is passionate about — or hone a topic they already have in mind to make sure it's contrarian/unique enough or offers a system/framework our audience hasn't heard before. It gives us a chance to set expectations, give our subject a sense of what they can anticipate from the process, and gets everyone excited about working together. This made a HUGE difference when we started doing it. Email won't suffice. Get coffee. Get on the phone. Get a sense of the person and how they talk and what they want to share. Some people talk fast. Some people ramble. Some people are very short in their responses and won't give examples without being coaxed. Know what you're going into before an interview to design the best path forward.

      2) Sending questions in advance: After we do a pre-call, we'll use the notes we take to create 5-6 of the most important questions we want answered during the interview. One thing we discovered that was VERY helpful with this, was asking questions that formed their own narrative arc. Where does the story begin? Make that the first question so you get all the context or all the information about why readers should listen to/trust this person? How would you want to end the piece? Maybe with a look ahead to what more can be done or trends that will impact their advice. Make that the last question you ask. That way, the conversation you have based on these questions will more or less map to the way you want to write the story, which makes it profoundly easier to digest an interview transcript into a finished piece.

      Sometimes you'll get interview subjects who write notes or take the time to answer question in advance. THAT'S AWESOME. Always ask them for their notes even if they're messy. They'll make it even easier to write the piece and make sure you're not leaving thoughts on the cutting room floor. Sometimes a subject will only just glance over them. Even when that's the case, their responses are MUCH better, tighter, relevant and helpful. I'm continually surprised how much better interviews are when the person has a sense of the questions in advance. Game changer.

      Hope that helps! And thanks so much for being so supportive and helpful to me and Shaun over the years. You're an incredible member of this community.

      • JA

        Jenna Abdou

        over 1 year ago #

        Wow!!! Thank you so much, Camille! I just saved all these notes and can't wait to try these new strategies. I really appreciate you taking the time to write them out and for sharing what Shaun and you do at The Review with all of us. It's so thoughtful and your genuine desire and commitment to supporting others makes a big difference.

        In particular, I never thought of playing close attention to a person's communication style during the pre-call - That is a huge game changer and will help the conversation flow so much more seamlessly. Especially helpful for podcasts.

        Choosing 5 - 6 questions that follow an arc is a great tip. I often find myself with 15+ questions targeting various topics which makes it challenging to concisely describe what each episode is about. Hugely helpful - Thank you! I'm excited to try starting podcasts with where the story begins - That's an excellent question and a much more organic way to have guests introduce themselves on the show.

        I'll report back with all of these tactics :) Thank you so much!!!!!!!!

  • SB

    Sean Blanda

    over 1 year ago #

    It can be tempting to try lots of different tactics when starting a publication. So how do you balance staying patient with switching tactics that aren't working?

    • CR

      Camille Ricketts

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi Sean— Absolutely. This is INCREDIBLY challenging. And I think it's even more so for folks who feel like they have more than one audience to appeal to. I've heard from a lot of content strategists (especially at marketplace companies) that they need to be writing for a couple or even three different types of people. This can be nearly impossible, and I actually recommend against creating silo'd content for different audiences. Instead, you want to find that one type of content you can do REALLY well that will provide a lot of value for the most influential audience you have to serve.

      I think it's very helpful to have a central thesis/bar that guides ALL the content you produce. Basically, no matter what you experiment with or try out, you will always adhere to that guiding principle. For us, that principle is in our Manifesto: http://firstround.com/review/manifesto/ Everything we write will include advice/actionable tactics that can be applied immediately to help a reader improve their company or career. Every story has to live up to that promise. The other things we do can be flexible and can change over time. But that has to remain true.

      I think if you come up with something central and hard and fast like that, then experimenting or pulling different levers won't make your content feel inconsistent or changeable. It will feel reliable and inspire confidence. Which is important, because I think a lot of the experiments you choose to run need to be tried for a while before you'll get any meaningful data. You can't just try out a type of email subject line or a type of format once, see less traffic and declare it a failure. You want to extend its run time and see what happens. Hope that's helpful!

  • SB

    Sean Baeyens

    over 1 year ago #

    Hey Camille,

    Really love your work at First Round Review!

    I was wondering if you could share the process you use to create, publish, and promote the articles. I'd love to know more about how you maintain the same quality across each post while (I'm assuming) having different people work on each article and getting a wide variety of raw material to work with from interviews:

    Specifically, I'd love to know:
    - How big is your team and what responsibilities does everyone have throughout the process?
    - Where do you focus the majority of your time?
    - What are your required check points along the process and what do you look for?
    - How many days before publish do you start an article? Do you work with strict or flexible deadlines?
    - How are hand-offs communicated between teammates during this process? Do you have one CMS that is the source of truth throughout the process?
    - Any big learnings or shifts in your process that have helped along the way?

    Sorry that turned into like 70 questions...

    • CR

      Camille Ricketts

      over 1 year ago #

      Hi Sean! Thanks so much for all of your awesome questions :) I'm sorry I'm responding right as I run out of time on this AMA. Happy to discuss further. But to quickly provide answers:

      1) Our team is 2 full-time people, me and my spectacularly talented colleague Shaun Young. We do all the interviews and write the vast majority of stories ourselves. We work with two incredible freelancers to supplement what we can do ourselves, and we have two photographers in SF and NYC to help elevate the look of what we write. Shaun and I both go through the same process in parallel. There's no division of labor.

      2) Our focus is on surfacing UNIQUE insights. So much of what we do - who we choose to interview, how we develop topics, how we interview, how we write, is all driving toward how to provide advice no one has ever heard or read before.

      3) We have a few milestones in our process. We make contact with or are introduced to an operator who has had a lot of success. We have a pre-call with them to decide on a topic that will yield original and high-utility advice. We send them questions in advance. We then have an hour-long interview we record. We get that transcribed by Rev.com, then we write the piece. After that, we'll send it along to the subject for edits and to augment any parts where we need more information. Then we publish and promote. So there's a very distinct step-by-step operation we walk through each time. At each of these steps, we ask ourselves: Is this advice that readers will be able to apply immediately to feel like they are doing better? If no, we retreat a step to get back on track.

      4) We have articles in all phases we're working on all the time, so there isn't a set timeline. Often our subjects will have things come up, or their scheduling will be challenging. So we might initiate a piece weeks or even months before it gets published. We stay really nimble by using Trello for our editorial calendar. Instead of having dates attached to every story, we know exactly which phase of the process they are in, and which stories are most likely to move faster or be more easily expedited. We make sure we have at least one story ready to go per week.

      5) We've streamlined by not really having a lot of handoffs in our process. I think handoffs are often where valuable context gets lost, so it's important to have the same person on our team doing the interview and writing or editing the piece. There's so much that gets communicated (especially in person) in interviews that might get lost otherwise. You might know what someone meant, but it's not reflected in the transcript. You might get a better sense for how to organize the writing etc. So I'd say, limit these sorts of transfers.

      6) Definitely check out one of the threads above on tweaks we made to the interview process in particular. We had several landmark learnings that revolutionized what we were doing.

      Hope that's a good start, and happy to follow up with you individually! Thanks so much :)

    • AA

      Anuj Adhiya

      over 1 year ago #

      Haha - that tends to happen when you have rock stars like Camille on for AMAs :)

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