Awesome People - Ep 113
ghost writing, content, podcasts, executive assistants
Hi founders and fellow VC Friends!
We deliver awesome people to your inbox. These are the people you need to know —the marketers, sales gurus, engineers, and ops wizzes — who give your startup superpowers 🚀. The best part is, everyone is hireable.
Please meet David Johnson-Igra, Your Content Marketing Consultant ✍️
I met David in 2019 while helping Floodgate with marketing and content. At the time, David worked at Outcast, a top Silicon Valley tech PR firm. Even though he was a big-shot “Senior Director,” he was always humble and got his hands dirty 👏.
While working with Floodgate, he strategized, developed, and produced Mike Maples Jr's "Starting Greatness" podcast. The podcast got 1M+ downloads in two years and ranks in the Top 1% of all podcasts.
Side note: Starting Greatness is definitely worth checking out! Mike interviews some of Silicon Valley’s most legendary entrepreneurs and thought leaders, including Marc Andreessen, Reid Hoffman, and Tobi Lutke. They candidly discuss life before success, the struggles, and the real real.
David has ghostwritten op-eds for C-Level executives at Adyen, Amazon, Box, GitHub, Meta, and OpenAI, appearing in Forbes, TechCrunch, Wired, Fast Company, and other tech outlets.
One little-known fact about David is he’s a former music blogger and contributor to SF Weekly, The Rumpus, and VICE. He’s also gotten barbershop cuts with B.o.B. and photobombed Wolfmother.
You can hire him to develop your executives’ content strategy, build your blog strategy, manage your content, ghostwrite, and meet your podcasting needs.
Want an intro to David? Respond to this email, and I’ll connect you!
He was gracious enough to share some pro-tips with us here ✨
You need a good story to build a strong brand
Steve Jobs dropped out of college, started his career as a video game designer, pilgrimaged to India, and discovered Buddhism before founding Apple.
Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) retreated to a cabin in the woods, waded through heartbreak, and then wrote and recorded his debut album, For Emma, Forever Go.
Marc Andreessen experienced the early aughts of the internet while studying at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign before developing Netscape.
You get the idea. Authentic, embellished, or fabricated—no matter how you perceive a story, it is the backbone of a connection between a customer and brand/leader.
Underlying the origins of any great story are three pillar approaches—which I’ll explain and highlight based on my work with Mike Maples Jr. for his podcast, "Staring Greatness."
Great stories strike a chord with readers
You want your readers to remember you. High-quality brands tell great stories. Storytelling is a long game. We’re not talking quick, demand-gen content.
To develop memorable stories, you must understand your readers’ needs. Ask your reader:
What are the problems you need help with?
How do you currently solve this problem? What does or doesn’t work about your solution?
Where are you seeking input? What channels?
Your goal is to understand what’s missing and add value.
When I helped Mike develop his podcast, we aimed to engage early-stage entrepreneurs. He intimately understood early-stage founders' questions about building a startup because he lectured at Stanford and Harvard Business School. He had years of testing and refining different stories. Many of the podcast episodes repurposed his best lecture materials.
Talk to your audience and test your content to see what’s memorable. You’ll be surprised by what you learn.
Your content needs to stand out in a crowded room
It's difficult to reinvent the wheel, but that doesn't excuse mirroring your competitors. You can differentiate via content formats (blog, podcast, video), methods (length, tutorials, Q&A, etc.), tone/voice, and story angles/perspective.
Here's some tips on how to start:
Review your competitors' approaches — track the content labels, format, guests, topics, keyword rankings, and social shares.
Compile notes on all your competitors and look at them holistically. Try to identify patterns across your competitors' approaches (topics, mediums, narratives) and identify gaps. As I mentioned above, your job is to add value where there are gaps.
As you produce content, always provide a critical lens on how you can differentiate your content. Easy wins are rethinking the perspective, format, tone of voice, length, and channel (social, owned, earned).
When developing the Starting Greatness podcast, we audited comparable podcasts and found that most were 1:1 Q&A with founders and were 45-60+ minutes long. To differentiate, we did three things:
We chose a unique format. We published a curtailed Q&A interview (~35 minutes) alongside an additional, shorter "Lessons of Greatness" episode (~5-10 minutes) that featured key insights derived from the Q&A.
We included tactical details of how/what startup founders should do early on because we found most competitors just focused on the heroism of success. Accordingly, when we developed our "Lesson" episodes, we asked ourselves, "Does this provide a listener with clear instructions?"
We selected theme music that stood out, similar to a spaghetti western or action film score.
Know your audience and evolve your strategy based on feedback
A focused content strategy helps you build a memorable brand and narrative. So, how do you stay the course?
From your customer discovery, outline three to four customer pain points and topics that speak to each issue.
E.g. Pain point = Raising capital
E.g. Topics = Investor outreach, investor relations, types of capital, deal structures
For each topic, you should have an additional three to four subtopics that you can explore. This will serve as your narrative framework. You’ll prune this list as you learn what resonates with your readers.
E.g. Subtopics = Narrative design, pitch decks, lead lists, warm intros
When you set out to write content, initially label each piece (to avoid hindsight bias) with a topic and subtopic(s). Later, when you review the performance of your content, see what labels resonate best with your audience and refocus your efforts.
In the case of my work with Mike — early on, we narrowed our audience to very early-stage entrepreneurs. This informed the topics and subtopics for each guest and the “Lessons of Greatness” episodes. For example, in an episode about storytelling by Nancy Duarte, we focused on how early-stage founders could develop better narratives for their investor pitch decks.
Building a memorable story and brand takes time, consistency, and focus. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly achievable by anyone. Good luck!
Want an intro to David? Respond to this email, and I’ll connect you!
As always, please let me know if you have any questions or want an intro to David!
Founder of Awesome People Ventures & Talent
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Awesome People Continued 🤩
Caylin, Your Product and Content Marketing Expert — she’s done everything from writing AWS’s SMB Hub to launching Akash System’s new website under a tight timeline. She’s known for her ability to distill complex topics into simple, digestible content. You can hire her for your positioning, messaging, content, website copy, blogs, virtual events, and execution of marketing activations like targeted mail merges.
Antoine, Your Product Leader — he advises companies like Strapi (Series B Saas company backed by Index), Multis (crypto corporate finance company backed by Sequoia), and Ki Insurance ($500M raised in a joint venture with Google). You can hire Antoine as a product advisor or senior product leader. He works best with companies that have early PMF and are post-product, think Series A+.
Seth, Your Full-Stack Marketing Expert — he has led the marketing launches of more than a dozen DTC and Digital Health brands. He’s helped companies across health and wellness, financial services, e-commerce, and real estate grow from launch to over $100M in revenue. You can hire him to build a strong strategic marketing foundation and execute a complete DTC or B2B growth plan.
Want an intro to David, Caylin, Antoine, or Seth? Respond to this email, and I’ll connect you!
P.S. Do you need a top-notch Virtual Assistant 😇?
I get asked A LOT about Virtual Assistants and Remote Executive Assistants. The most popular service across the Awesome People Community is Athena. They work with founders of 1,000+ companies, from early-stage YC companies to 30+ unicorns. They also work with world-class leaders like 10+ NYT best-selling authors and A-list podcasters with a combined 250M+ downloads.
So, why does it feel like everyone has a Remote Executive Assistant? They give you a TON of leverage, and you can delegate the gnarly stuff you don’t want to do. My Virtual Assistant manages my calendar, makes pre-briefing notes, keeps my CRM up to date, tracks deals, and so much more — she even loaded up this newsletter in Substack so I don’t have to worry about formatting mumbo jumbo 🤣.
If you’re considering a Remote Executive Assistant, it’s worth an intro call to learn more. Athena has kindly offered to give you your second month free when you sign up with this link.
P.S.S. The Founder Library Chatbot is 🔥
I’m not just saying this because we made the chatbot 😅, but because I use it daily. It’s really good for answering founder questions and linking to quality resources. Today, I asked, “What are the most common mistakes startups make when hiring their first marketing person?” and the answer was spot on 👀.
Check it out and tell me how we can make it better 💕!
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