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Interview with a Successful Startup Founder

Being Early in the Market & Raising $8M as an AI-Generated Content SaaS

Jeff Coyle
Jeff Coyle
October 19, 2021
Category of startup
Marketing
Country of startup
United States
Revenue of startups
No Data
Interview with a Failed Startup Founder

Being Early in the Market & Raising $8M as an AI-Generated Content SaaS

Jeff Coyle
Jeff Coyle
October 19, 2021
Category of startup
Marketing
Country of startup
United States
Cause of failure of the startup

Jeff Coyle co-founded MarketMuse, a content strategy and intelligence platform that helps teams create the best possible content. They've raised $8M in 8 years and are heading into a growth phase while scaling up their marketing and sales teams.

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Hi Jeff! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

Hi, my name is Jeff Coyle and I’m the co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer for MarketMuse. I’m based in Jacksonville, Florida but grew up in New Jersey.

MarketMuse is a content strategy and intelligence platform that helps teams create the best possible content they can in the eyes of search engines and their audience. We aim to set the standard for content quality. 

Our patented AI collects and analyzes your content, prioritizes your best opportunities based on authority and ROI and generates initial drafts, and builds industry-leading topic models so you can always write the best content on any topic.

Currently, I am focused on strategic growth projects for the company. I’m driving the expanded use case of our natural language technology product, First Draft, and a recent acquisition of GrepWords, the largest keyword database on the market that offers topic intelligence to help teams confidently measure their market.

First Draft is an AI-generated content solution that enables marketing teams to create content and build complete customer journeys at scale. The language model builds the generated output based on the associated MarketMuse Content Brief outline, a detailed content outline with unique knowledge graphs for each subheading. 

We then apply another layer of expertise by feeding the AI model a select number of additional 1-3K articles on the topic, further training the model to become an expert before the generation is created. This enables us to produce comprehensive, high-quality, long-form content through our model.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I was focused on my consulting business before I met Aki Balogh, President & MarketMuse co-founder. I focused on SEO and content strategies to help clients solve technical problems and gain an advantage in search engine results. Previously I led the Traffic, Search, and Engagement team for seven years at TechTarget, a leader in B2B technology publishing and lead generation.

I helped Aki drive the direction of MarketMuse based on my experience in the search field. I was responsible for the SEO strategy for dozens of websites at TechTarget. It takes hours to do the keyword, competitive, and link research required for a single article, no less for an entire network. I saw the potential in MarketMuse immediately around creating a single place for someone to automatically audit their site, identify gaps, seek opportunities and scale high-quality output -- and that’s what MarketMuse does today.

We’re excited to get deeper into AI-generated content. We’ve been building and honing our model for a few years and believe this will be a game-changer for scaling content. It won’t replace writers, but instead, it will augment their process, especially for the less creative content types. Imagine writing descriptive product material for an entire catalog in a matter of hours instead of weeks writing by hand. The use cases for this industry are truly game-changing.


How did you go from idea to product?

We ran a significant pilot with a publisher across several of their domains. All of our use cases and personas were represented with this publisher to validate our workflows and get a deep understanding of the impact across the entire content process.

I’ve been a practitioner my entire career, so I also knew my process’s pain points and bottlenecks very well. However, they weren’t frequently discussed or documented. 

The idea of data-driven content optimization, strategy, and planning was not common in 2014, even though Google made a dramatic change to its algorithm in 2013 that required a mindset shift. 

We focused a lot on educating the market. I also brought in several peers from my network to leverage their feedback and perspectives. We also spoke often with our customers to make sure we met their needs.

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

We’ve relied primarily on word of mouth and our inbound marketing engine. We built up our blog, optimized conversion rates, and launched an educational webinar series. We pride ourselves on educating our audience first, whether they choose to work with us or not, so they receive some value from us that impacts their strategy.

MarketMuse Landing Page

We also often participate in in-person and digital events like webinars, podcasts, Twitter spaces, etc. Over the past year, I have been a guest on over 50 podcasts on the topic of AI, content marketing, and SEO strategy. These are wonderful ways to connect with our audience as they research and work through their pain points or seek advice on content strategy. This is that educational piece again -- it’s so important to offer your expertise through content and build credibility if you want a chance at converting your audience to customers.

We saw a dramatic burst in Q4 of 2015. We honed our sales process and tapped into our network to drive opportunities. Word-of-mouth then started playing a more significant role. Since we were proposing a novel concept, people were interested in learning more. Nothing can replace the moment you see people experience the ah-ha moments of your platform, and the wheels start turning on the possibilities ahead of them.

We know our audience very well. Our Premium offering is compelling and gives you an advantage, but it’s not for everyone because it’s an investment. We’ve created products that work for all budget sizes (even $0) and work closely with the organizations we know are an excellent fit for our Premium offering -- then we grow together.


How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

We are heading into a growth phase. We have an aggressive product roadmap that we’re hiring to ensure we can achieve. We also have a bold revenue goal for the next few years, so we’re scaling up our marketing and sales teams as well. I really can’t wait, it’s going to be very exciting.

We recently launched a free package that has exceeded all expectations. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, and I’m so glad to see that come to life. We have a free package, a self-serve package for those who wish to pay monthly and have unlimited benefits, and a Premium annual package for larger websites, networks, and agencies with large inventories and data requirements.


Since starting MarketMuse, what have been your main lessons?

The goal of the business should not be about outcomes or exits. Goals should be around building a fantastic product that solves a real business process and building a team that you trust, are confident in, and bring skills that you don’t have or are better than yours. If you’re too focused on the exit strategy, you lose sight of why you’re in business in the first place.

We are a lean team, so we rely on a lot of technology to help us save time and make better decisions. Madkudu is one technology that has completely changed how we approach our leads and funnel. They created a model based on our closed-won opportunities, and any new lead that comes in is scored against that. There’s no subjectivity or waiting until we have more data on them. We can act faster and eliminate internal debates about quality. 

I like to think about how technology can take a process that takes a lot of time and doesn’t take a particular skill to do. Lead scoring is one of those things, along with personalization and topic/competitive research, among many other things. 

We continue to bring that kind of technology into our tech stack and have not regretted it.

What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?

I wish we had adopted the RACI matrix (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) much earlier as a company. Sometimes we would move too fast, and the proper internal organization and communication weren’t done or was messy. 

At times, this slowed us down afterward to backtrack and fix things or stalled us to move to the next phase as the proper steps were brought in. Excitement, urgency, and determination to get things done are outstanding attributes, but a method like RACI improves internal communication and accountability.

The content optimization market has grown in the last few years. We were so early in the market that we spent a lot of time educating on the process and opportunity the technology presented. Now content optimization has almost become standard practice, which is great because the conversations have shifted away from education. Still, it also means there are a lot of players in the space. Now the discussions are around specific feature sets and comparing vendors. Content optimization isn’t the only aspect of our platform. We have a comprehensive inventory system with proprietary metrics for identifying opportunities and gaps across a domain during the content strategy and planning process. That coupled with content optimization is incredibly powerful. 

We should have focused on freemium and product-led growth sooner. Because the market wasn’t mature and it was an unknown need, sales often drove product decisions. We innovated against enterprise needs, which worked out well for us at the time but had we taken a product-led approach sooner, it would have simplified our offering and made it more approachable and accessible. We’re excited to have a freemium offering now, and the product-led adoption is now part of our core decision-making, which is great to see.


What tools & resources do you recommend?

We focus on tools that save us time daily and provide a robust infrastructure, i.e., Salesforce, Pardot, Gainsight, MadKudu, Mutiny, and Pendo.

We also value strong collaboration, and tools like Slack, Coschedule, Coda have helped with that.

I always recommend “Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life through the Power of Storytelling” by Matthew Dicks. I believe that you can’t sell or market if you can’t tell a story, and this book will help you learn how to tell amazing stories.


Where can we go to learn more?

You can follow me on Twitter and Linkedin. You can also book a call with me here.

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