The Startup Sit Down: Mike Lewis, Founder of Kapost Content Marketing Platform
Mike Lewis has a plan to change the way your company creates content. That’s why he co-founded kapost, a content marketing platform that enables brands to produce compelling content and grow traffic & revenue. He also has great taste in music, but that’s a side/personal note, of course.
I caught up with Mike to chat about the kapost inception, why his dream startup would record his every move, and how he thinks entrepreneurs in their 20’s have no startup (delay) excuse. Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time to give us the kapost lowdown. Our KillerStartups fans are looking forward to being inspired! Let’s get started…
What’s kapost all about and what makes it stand out from the competition?
Kapost is a content marketing platform. Many businesses are spending less money on ads and more money on creating their own content. The idea behind that is that you can spend $5k a month in search ads and have a spot at the top of a search results page, or you can spend $5k a month creating content and have links in the search results page. These links are more authentic and over time much more effective. But, as a result, you have many businesses becoming publishers and creating a lot of content. What Kapost does is manage that content for them and provide insight into which content is working. Similar to how a CRM like Salesforce helps a sales team organize and evaluate performance from a formalized business process, Kapost helps a marketing or publishing team organize themselves and eventuate how they are doing from a content perspective.
Tell us a little about where you’re coming from.
I graduated Dartmouth College with a degree in Computer Science. I then started my career briefly as a computer programmer for Sun Microsystems. After a very brief stint there, I joined AOL. My first gig was working directly for their CTO, Bill Raduchel. That was probably the best job any 22 year-old could have. Being a fly on the wall in top-level meetings at a company like AOL at that time was fascinating. Eventually, I became a program manager and managed many of their digital media products such as Video@AOL, which was the largest streaming video service in the world that that time.
How was Kapost hatched, and what really sparked the inspiration?
Kapost was originally a service for media companies. We had a hypothesis that the current structure inside media companies had to change. We had first-hand experience after Toby and I (CEO / co-founder of Kapost) sold our last company to a publishing network.
A few things were happening a few years ago: first, traditional media companies were all trying to get their content online. Second, they were trying to adjust their cost structure and get leaner. We believe that these two factors would lead to a need for online tools to manage an editorial process that was traditionally offline and in-person. Kapost would be an “online newsroom” where the ideas were generated; the content was produced, edited and published. Some of the companies we were modeling our service after were SB Nation, Huffington Post, BleacherReport and some others. Some of our media customers include Time Inc., Mashable and CBS.
Biggest startup surprise (good or bad) so far?
As I mentioned before, we were selling to media companies. The biggest and best surprise we’ve had is that the practice of content marketing emerged and instead of having a product to sell to only media companies, our product could now be sold to anyone who is a content marketer. And anyone can be a content marketer from brand to agency. So the scope of our business turned out to be much bigger than we had originally thought.
One thing you would have done differently?
On one hand, I wish we would have gotten to the point we are now sooner – the point where we’re selling to marketers instead of media companies. However, if we hadn’t spent two years talking and learning from the biggest and best media companies in the world, we wouldn’t understand publishing as well as we do. It’s because of this knowledge that our software works great. As much as I wish we had, I’m not sure we could have sped up the process.
What is Kapost’s success sweet spot?
Content Marketing is exploding right now and Kapost is by far the best, most powerful and most widely used software out there to manage your content marketing operation. In some ways, we are doing for content marketing what BuddyMedia did for Facebook marketing. But, right now content marketing is probably only 5% of the size that it will be in the future, maybe less. What we define as success today is not what we believe will be success in 2, 5 or 10 years. We at Kapost believe we are sitting on top of a huge opportunity.
Do you have any interesting team morale-building/stress-busting techniques?
We do a company retreat in the mountains every year with every employee and their spouse or significant other and families. In general, we have a great culture where we all love coming into work every day. We have a philosophy in our company where we take our work very seriously and want to perform at the highest level, but we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously where we can’t enjoy what we’re doing and joke around.
We also do a lot of collaborative DJ’ing on Turntable.fm.
Favorite tech tool?
I personally love basalmiq. I love wireframing. It provides me the ability to get thoughts out of my head. I was never a great artist, and now I don’t have to be.
What’s your “man, I wish I would have thought of that” startup and why?
Nobody is really doing the startup that I’m waiting for yet. I want a startup to launch a service that will record everything I do. Not just API’s into Foursquare but allow me to import email, telephone and credit card info. I want all my digital files indexed by person I did it with and where I was at the time (person and location). I don’t remember phone numbers anymore due to my cell phone and I want to stop remembering conversations, meetings and what I ordered. The companies Evernote and Timehop are getting close but they aren’t quite there yet. I really can’t wait for this service. I had this idea since 2005. To me, it’s inevitable that it’ll happen someday.
Are you a Mac, Windows or Linux kind of guy?
I love the idea of Linux, but I love the usability and power of the Mac more. At this point, I’m a big fanboy with iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air and AppleTV. In 2012, that’s a great place to be.
3 people we should follow on Twitter?
1. Michael Arrington– and you should read his blog. He is one of the few people who legitimately has something to say and substance beyond the headline. I usually always enjoy his posts.
2. Fred Wilson– Although he’s widely known, I still think he has a great grasp of web products – how they work, why they succeed and where they are going. Very few investors or entrepreneurs can articulate trends, thoughts and findings very well, but he does a great job – and he does it every day.
3. John Borthwick – He doesn’t blog or tweet much, but I admire what he’s doing at Betaworks. It’s sort of the old-school studio model where you have a group of talented folks and you churn out product. People used to do this with albums and films, and he’s doing it with web companies. I think it’s great. Anthony Batt (@djabatt) had the same idea 10 years ago and he’s just now starting to do it at Ashton Kutcher’s company.
And a 4th for fun…
4. Bill Simmons– I’m a big listener/reader of his. To me, publishing and media is changing pretty rapidly. The old school had traditional journalists that are objective and do research to gather stats and then report them. On the other end of the spectrum, there are bloggers who are entirely subjective and shout out their opinions without any facts. There is a middle ground emerging of opinionated folks who have been given access previously only provided to journalists and they can message both an opinion and well-researched facts. Bill is a pioneer there and his insights into sports are great.
What’s the very first thing you do at work everyday?
I cruise through my RSS reader as fast as possible. I’m finding that content is getting worse, so there are very few sites where I have to read beyond the headlines (I’m looking right at you Techcrunch), so getting through a few hundred in less than 10 minutes is possible.
Parting words of wisdom for startup newbies and wannabies?
Just go for it. I have yet to meet a founder who wished he stayed at his former job longer. They all wish they had left sooner. Also, if you’re in your 20’s, you have no excuse. There’s so much you need to learn about your customers and your market that it is impossible to do it all part time. Go live in a basement or on a couch and focus full-time on your idea. Also, don’t be afraid of the pivot. Everybody does it. You’ll usually be surprised and happy where it takes you.
How can the KillerStartups community reach out to you?
Awesome, Mike. Thanks for giving us the kapost scoop and spreading a little (killer) startups love. I’m currently listening to your music on iLikeThisSong.com. First song of the day- Lakehouse by Of Monsters and Men. I’m diggin’ it. Looking forward to the rest of your tunes.
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