Each week I am publishing an interview from the book Blog Blazers (in alphabetical order) which can be purchased on Amazon here. The interviews were all done in 2008 and the full list of bloggers interviewed can be found by clicking here.
This week the interview is with Dharmesh Shah of OnStartups
Dharmesh is a software entrepreneur and currently the co-founder and Chief Software Architect of HubSpot, a software company building a revolutionary software platform for Internet Marketing. HubSpot is his third software startup.
Dharmesh is a technologist, more specifically, a software developer. He’s built and shipped approximately ten commercial software products across my various startups. He still programs as it keeps him in touch with reality and makes him a better entrepreneur. Plus, he enjoy it.
Prior to founding HubSpot, Dharmesh founded Pyramid Digital Solutions, an enterprise software company in the financial services sector. Bootstrapped with less than $10,000 in capital, Pyramid went on to demonstrate exceptional growth and was a three-time recipient of the Inc. 500 award. Pyramid Digital Solutions was acquired in August 2005 by SunGard Business Systems.
Since the sale of Pyramid, he has been an active member of the entrepreneurial community in the Boston area and has made several angel investments in early-stage technology companies. Dharmesh has recently graduated from MIT with an M.S. degree. As part of his graduate work, he wrote a thesis focused on software startups. Dharmesh also has a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB).
Steph: What makes a blog successful according to you? Is it traffic, reach, revenue, etc.?
Dharmesh: The most important two numbers I track are the number of subscribers to the blog (via RSS and email) and the daily unique visitors. This gives me a sense for how many people the content is reaching.
Steph: When did you decide you finally reached success with your blog?
Dharmesh: I’m not sure I’m there yet! I don’t think it is binary (i.e. you don’t wake up one day and say “yesterday, the blog was not successful. Today it is.” Having said that, the big milestones for the blog , and what signaled to me that it might become popular, was when there were large spikes in traffic. These spikes occurred when I was linked to by one of the A-list bloggers or made the front page of one of the social content sites (like Digg.com or Reddit.com).
Steph: How long does it take to become a successful blogger?
Dharmesh: For OnStartups.com, it took about 6 months before there was steady traffic and the site started becoming reasonably popular. A lot depends on the topic being written about, the talent and determination of the blogger. Though it took me 6 months, my guess is really good bloggers could likely create reasonable traffic and visibility in just a couple of months.
Steph: Who do you think are the most successful bloggers on the internet today?
Dharmesh: This is a tough one, because a lot depends on how you define success. The bloggers I admire most are those that built a following through their blogging efforts — and weren’t already widely known before that. For example, I love the blogs of Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin. But, they were both famous well before they started blogging. The ones I admire most are those that weren’t really famous before they started their blogs. Examples include Brian Clark, Darren Rowse, Richard MacManus and Joel Spolsky. All of these folks used their blog to build their brand and represent (in my mind) some of the best writing on the web.
Steph: Which five blogs do you regularly read?
Dharmesh: I read lots of blogs regularly (and am subscribed to 193 feeds now, after a bit of cleanup last week). The ones I follow most closely are: TechCrunch, SEOmoz, VentureBeat, and Xconomy. Disclaimer: I’m an early investor in Xconomy, hence I have a bit of a bias).
Steph: Which websites would you recommend for any new bloggers starting to blog?
Steph: Which book(s) would you recommend for new bloggers (these can range from marketing books, blogging books, etc.)?
Dharmesh: I like Bob Walsh’s “Clear Blogging” (but that may just be because I’m in the book). I’d also recommend “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” by David Meeman Scott. This is a great overview book of how marketing has fundamentally changed. [Disclaimer: David is on the advisory board of my startup, HubSpot].
Steph: What is your most successful blog post ever?
Dharmesh: I actually write actively for two blogs: OnStartups.com (about startups) and Blog.HubSpot.com (about internet marketing). The most successful article on my startup blog was “Hindsight 2.0: Lessons From A Failed Web 2.0 Startup” which has been viewed over 56,000 times. The most successful blog post on Blog.HubSpot.com was “12 Tips To Search Google Like An Expert” with over 107,000 views.
Steph: What’s your biggest tip on writing a successful blog post?
Dharmesh: Have an opinion, take risks and always, always, always think about your readers.
Steph: What’s your best advice in regards to content and writing for bloggers?
Dharmesh: People like short articles better than long ones, and bullet points more than paragraphs. We live in an impatient society. If you want to build a popular blog you should face this reality. You can write long, academic and deeply analytical articles, but it takes a lot more talent for that kind of blog to become popular.
Steph: How important do you think are the headlines of your blog articles?
Dharmesh: Extremely important. Particularly in the early days when you’re just getting started. When nobody knows who you are, and your blog is not a recognized brand, the headline is your only chance to pull readers in. Doesn’t matter how great your content is if nobody reads it. Once I have an idea for a blog article, I usually write the headline first.
Steph: Do you spend any money and time on marketing?
Dharmesh: I don’t spend much “hard cash” on marketing. However, my blog runs on custom software that is part of HubSpot (my startup). So, in a sense I am investing in marketing by way of building the software that powers the blog. But, I don’t do much direct advertising or other promotion (except as a tool to learn about how those things work).
Steph: What are your main methods of marketing your blog?
Dharmesh: The social media sites (Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.), search engine optimization and the blogosphere (participating in other people’s blogs by leaving comments). Of these, the SEO investment I’ve made pays the highest dividends. 40% of my traffic comes from search engines now and the number continues to steadily increase.
Steph: Which marketing tactic has surprised you the most in terms of its effectiveness?
Dharmesh: I’m amazed at how effective StumbleUpon is at driving traffic over the long-term. Digg is nice for big spikes in traffic, but it is very binary (if you don’t make the front page, you get almost zero traffic). But, StumbleUpon will send some modest traffic for a modestly successful article. That’s good, because it’s hard to make the Digg front page.
Steph: What are your quick and short five best tips for blogging?
- Start! (most of the would be great bloggers have not started a blog. You could be one of them)
- Write better by reading better.
- Emulate the masters.
- Think of your audience.
- Have fun!
Steph: What is the most common pitfall new bloggers generally fall into?
Dharmesh: The most common is never getting started or abandoning too early because things don’t take off. In the early days, you need to be consistent and be patient. The second is not owning your own domain. Do NOT put your blog on something.wordpress.com or something.blogger.com.
Personal Offer: If you’re reading this, and are still not convinced that you need your own domain, track me down and send me an email. I’ll send you $10 to pay for your first year of domain registration. Offer expires Jan 1, 2009. Quantities limited (let’s say to the first 1,000).
Steph: If you knew what you know now when you first started, what’s the one biggest tip you’d give yourself today?
Dharmesh: I would tell my former self to stop procrastinating and have gotten started sooner.
Steph: What repels you the most from a blog (animations, in your face advertising, etc.)?
Dharmesh: Blogs that are hard to read repel me the most. I don’t mind ads as long as they don’t detract too much from my consumption of the content.
Steph: Do you make any direct money from your blog through advertising, product placements, etc.?
Dharmesh: I am not monetizing the blog currently (other than to run small experiments and learn). I took all of the proceeds of 2007 from the blog and donated them to charity. Will likely do the same again next year.
Steph: What is your best monetization method (Ads, affiliate marketing, etc.)?
Dharmesh: Technically, the fixed block ads are the most valuable, but right now, I’m only advertising my own startup so no direct cash gets generated. The second most profitable vehicle is Amazon Associates (I maintain a suggested reading list page).
Steph: Do you find you get more from direct monetization of your blog or from opportunities that come because of the existence of your blog?
Dharmesh: Hands-down, the value for me is not direct monetization but from the people I come into contact with via the blog and the credibility it builds. A number of the folks I have recruited for my startup originally found me through my blog.
Steph: What’s your most interesting story related to your blog and blogging experience?
Dharmesh: My most interesting experiences are when I meet random people that make reference to an article I wrote (but they don’t know that I was the author). The article that gets this the most is my “Google As Dictator” article. People still bring that article up in conversation and are surprised when Ii tell them I wrote it.
Steph: What’s the one biggest opportunity that came to you because of your blog?
Dharmesh: Not to sound immodest, but I’m at a stage where I’m no longer really seeking big “opportunities” (I’m happily married and have a fast-growing startup). I already have more opportunities than I know how to deal with.
Steph: Any other comments or thoughts you’d like to share?
Dharmesh: I think blogging for business or pleasure is an immensely powerful thing. As more and more people connect online, I think they are going to start seeking targeted content about topics they care about. Everyone should try blogging, because everyone has something to say that somebody somewhere cares about.