Once upon a time, in 2010, Joe Coleman was living in Las Vegas, looking for a way to develop quality content for PR and marketing for his successful internet company, CashCrate. He contacted his longtime friend Shane Snow, a Columbia School of Journalism grad who was writing for Wired magazine, living smack in the middle of a pool of talented NYC journalists, all looking for work. The two soon realized that they had identified a set of complementary needs. They brought in Shane’s colleague, programmer Dave Goldberg, to help them brainstorm a solution. Thus was born Contently.
Contently is essentially a storytelling platform that connects brands with qualified journalists. In addition to providing an ingenious matchmaking service, it also offers a workflow tool that helps organize editorial decision making and scheduling of assignments at the highest level, and a vehicle for writers to pitch their best ideas to receptive editors. As a bonus, while harnessing creative talent to meet the specific requirements of businesses, Contently also offers an opportunity for all parties to benefit from the latest evolution in content driven SEO.
This kind of writing is a far cry from the soulless amalgamations of keywords catering to Google’s old search engine parameters, cranked out by the content farms of (what are hopefully) days gone by. The prime goal of Contently is to help brands create content that connects them directly to an audience of their choosing. Of course this has a positive SEO impact, but the main point is to develop terrific narrative that really speaks to people. Imagine that. Hand crafted copy to support unique brand development. I see only winners here.
In fact, writers who work full-time through Contently’s marketplace seem to be enjoying a higher than usual standard of living, earning on average 40% more than other freelance journalists. That’s huge news for those of us creatives who don’t clock in as 9-5’ers. Moreover, it speaks to the intelligence of a curation process that understands the need for original, quality work and the willingness of clients to pay for something valuable.
Coleman got his start in business development at an early age. Originally from Arizona, he grew up in Idaho and attended middle school with his friend Snow, where they both cultivated early identities as “dorky, math club, computer club” (read: unpopular) guys. When they were 16, they decided to try their hand at directing their smarts to an income producing venture. They created fungrams.com, an early greeting card site complete with gifs and cheesey greetings, and made a few cents each time one was sent.
The company did fairly well, but succumbed to the dot-com crash of 1999, as well as the exigencies of having a high school social life (read: becoming popular). However, Joe’s appetite for internet innovation had been set in motion, and it would not be long before he tried his hand at his second business.
He attended the University of Idaho as a philosophy major, where he learned to write well and think critically (liberal arts students take note). Afterwards, he started CashCrate.com, a site where 4.5 million consumers currently earn money for trying out new products and writing surveys, and retailers and market research firms pay to have access to them.
CashCrate took Joe to Vegas for a couple of years, where he effectively managed a small team. In total, he ran that company for about five and a half years – his first business to break $1 million a year in revenues. But the turning point came in 2010 when he was looking at how to build better trust with his audience and improve his company’s presence online with quality content. That’s when he reconnected with Shane, and the idea for Contently was born…
For the first four or five months, the trio bootstrapped the company with a little personal cash, raising their first seed funding in July of 2010, with a second round in January, 2012. Now their team of 14 works together out of their NYC office, and their site hosts over 8000 journalists. About two years in and coming off a recent growth spurt, they are currently focused on reinvesting in development power and other internal improvements.
As for challenges, they have been numerous – everything from raising venture capital to hiring the best people possible. But as Joe told me, “the challenge is the reward,” and he’s been so grateful for all the experiences.
His biggest personal lesson in all of this has been humility, “…because when you’re in this process you’re tested so much. You’re forced to co-exist with so many people, from co-founders, to investors, customers, and you routinely mess things up and do things wrong… getting to a place with yourself where you realize it’s ok, and it’s human nature… I think that’s really important.”
Contently’s focus on long term growth and development has allowed them to create a truly innovative platform with a potential to have what I would term a positive, disruptive impact on the field of content development, both for clients as well as professional writers. Not bad for a couple of former math dorks… you might even call it a happy ending.
Listen to the full interview here:
Deborah Oster Pannell is a writer who specializes in the arts, culture, special events and creative & innovative projects of all kinds. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, shesaysyes.wordpress.com. Currently she is preparing to launch Project Mavens, a content branding firm. On Twitter @projectmaven.