Grow with Quora

Write What You Know: Going From 2 to 45 Million Views in 5 Years - Jason Lemkin

Episode Summary

This week we're joined by Jason M. Lemkin. He started the world’s largest community for SaaS/B2B founders,, and the world’s largest gathering for them, SaaStr Annual. He's the former CEO/Co-founder of EchoSign (acq'd by Adobe). In this episode, Jason walks us through his process for writing on Quora and crossing 45 million views with his +3,100 answers. A few insights from the episode: - Write about what know you as a subject matter expert. Go deep on a few topics. - Be an authentic and consistent writer. Write something that is great and contribute value to the world. - Don't worry about the views. - There is still plenty of time to be successful on Quora.

Episode Notes

Follow Jason on Quora:

Join his Space, Cloud Daily from SaaStr:

Digital Marketing News and Trends Space:

"Fast forward 5 years to today, we are 20x+ bigger at 45,000,000 views. And we have 12,000+ founders, VCs and execs coming from all across the world to the 5th"

Episode Transcription

JD Prater: Hey everyone, welcome to another episode of the Grow with Quora podcast where we interview marketers on how and why they use Quora. I'm your host, JD Prater. And today on the show, we have Jason Lemkin. He's the founder of SaaStr, the SaaStr Fund. He's the former CEO and co-founder of EchoSign, which was acquired by Adobe. Anything I missed there that you want to add? You've got an impressive resume that could keep going for another five minutes.

Jason Lemkin: I think you've covered all of it. SaaStr is, it's an odd thing. It's this global community of tens, hundreds of thousands of founders and CEOs and folks across the globe. And it's all somehow been built on the Internet with Quora a huge part of its core. And it was not intentional, right? I had no idea that even a hundred people would want to read the kind of content I put out let alone 20,000 people come to our physical events. So it's something that I absolutely never anticipated.

JD Prater: Yeah. Well, let's jump right into that. You wrote this blog, and it was really talking about how you went from 2 million to 45 million views on Quora. So you shared this tweet that you had put out there or was it on LinkedIn, and January 13th, 2014, you cross 2 million views. We fast forward now to 2019, and you're over 45 million views. I mean, we got to break that down. 3,100 answers, that's impressive.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah, sometimes you have to make it up in volume. It is, what I guess, boy, there's maybe a lot of questions in your question. As a student of Quora as well as a user and a leverager of Quora, this is for marketers. I think what really works, I mean, how do you do 33,000 pieces of content? It sounds insane, right? Most people I know struggle to write a blog post in a month. The secret is obvious but do it. The secret is just do things that you know, where you add value. Do things that are easy and be completely authentic. And the stuff I read that is too promotional, the stuff I read that does not speak from experience, the stuff that I read that is all about what a great vendor you are, I don't see any of that stuff perform.

Jason Lemkin: And so speak from what you know. And for me the secret to 3,000 is the reason Quora worked well for me is certainly today, it's still true, but certainly when I started writing on Quora, whatever, six years ago, it was not a platform designed for software as a service. It's a B2C platform founded by a Facebook founder that I don't think originally was designed for business software to be one of its top use cases. But there were enough great founders and other folks that ask great questions. And it was very helpful to me that even in 2012, 2013, people would ask questions, and I literally could answer the question in my head before I got on the keyboard. It probably takes me less than five minutes to write a Quora answer, which is hyper efficient. So help me do the math, but 3,000 answers times five minutes per answer, it's a lot of my life, but it's not nearly as much as you might think.

JD Prater: That's a really good, and I can vouch for Jason. I asked a question, when should you hire a CMO at a startup or a VP or something, and I requested Jason to answer and literally 15 minutes later, he answered it, and it was the best answer ever. So he's not kidding when he says five minutes.

Jason Lemkin: But I don't answer anything that not only do I not have an answer to, not just an opinion but an answer, but it already has to essentially written itself in my head. And that's the power of a good question on Quora at least for me. Which is obviously, I don't answer every question on Quora but a good question for me... Anything, if you're a subject matter expert, you'll know the answer before the question's even finished. And those are the ones you should answer in my opinion.

JD Prater: So be authentic. Answer the ones that you can answer.

Jason Lemkin: That you're a subject matter expert on, not just that you have an opinion, that you're a subject matter expert on. If you're going to talk about Coachella, at least have been five or six times. You think I'm kidding, but after you've done something for five years or five times, the rule of five, you start to become a subject matter expert. But don't write about things that you're not a subject matter expert. If you stumble, if you struggle, if you can't get the words out, move on. That's the beauty of Quora. There's another question out there.

JD Prater: That's true. That's true. So whenever you think about all these questions, you're talking about you don't answer all of them. You want to have the answer in your head. Do you have a writing routine or any writing tips that you can share with us?

Jason Lemkin: I do. And it has evolved, but I think... So let's step back. I've learned about all different types of variety in different types of media, and I think if you talk with everybody that writes, especially folks that write for a living, they'll tell you they all have a time of the day and amount, and they have a pattern, right? They force themselves to write five pages a day if they're a novelist or writer. And I wouldn't say I did that, but when I started writing on Quora, which is for very different reasons than today, I didn't have a community back then. We didn't have global events or any of this this. It was just for cathartic reasons, but I still forced myself to answer two to three questions a day, every day, five or seven days a week.

Jason Lemkin: And I almost do the same thing today. Quora has evolved a little bit, which we could chat about. So I still would like to write two pieces a day. I'm not sure it has the same impact as before. We have a corpus of content, but generally my goal, used to be write two to three a day. Now my goal is to write one thing on Quora day that I love, that is impactful to me. And if I can just get one then my mission is accomplished. I try to do one every day.

JD Prater: I like that so even just doing one a day. And I think that actually helps even within Quora. I mean, I'm not fully aware into our algorithm and everything, but I do know that people that are consistent on the platform tend to do better as far as getting those views and building that thought leadership, and that kind of just snowballs over time.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah, the consistency. And I think it's true for writers too. If it's inconsistent, it's just too hard. It gets too painful.

JD Prater: Nice. Nice. Well, so you've crossed this 45 million, which is just astronomical. I mean, how many blogs, how many websites have even come close to 45 million views? But what I want to ask is, do you remember what it felt like to cross that 1 million mark and that 2 million mark back in 2014?

Jason Lemkin: Yeah, they were super different. I'm not saying I'm an expert in social media today, but I know a lot more than I did back then. When we crossed a million, I just thought that was insane. I couldn't believe that for software as a service, that back whenever this was probably 2013 or something, I'm trying to find that date. I can see when we crossed 2 million from the posts you brought up, but I couldn't believe on all of planet Earth, through all of history since the dawn of time that there were enough people to read something a million times. I guess my jaw just dropped. I couldn't believe it. So that's the simple answer.

Jason Lemkin: And for folks that are listening to this, it shows that you do not have to write about gaming. You do not have to write about Thor or Avengers. You do not have to have the most broad based content. Instead, you can go super deep and have a highly engaged group of users, right? My guess is that of the folks on Quora in 2013 that were interested in business software, all of them read my posts, right? But if I were to write something on Game of Thrones today, I think I would struggle to have everyone that watches Game of Thrones read my Quora answer.

Jason Lemkin: So going deep clearly can work as well as going wide. But it didn't even make any sense to me at a million, but at 2 million, it clearly was working, right? It was clearly working. And so then at about 2 million, we plotted out a path to get to 10 million and to start thinking about it and to sort of make it actually a quantitative goal. There was no goal to get to a million, but there was a real goal to go from two to 10.

JD Prater: Nice. Really good stuff, man. I'm glad that you're sharing all this with us because I know that it's a question that we get asked a lot is, well, how do I become this top writer? So Jason has been a top writer since 2013 so every single year. And that's our highest level that you can get as a writer, and it's something that he has done. So for those of you that are listening, you may not even known that you could do that. Well, he just gave you some really great advice on how to do it. Be authentic. Be a subject matter expert. Be consistent and go deep within certain topics. So all of those are really, really good advice.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah, and the other thing related to that for advice, for folks listening for Quora in particular, I think this is probably true of any of any platform, but for Quora, and my learning is don't worry about the views. I know we're talking about views, right? But if you're consistent, if you commit to two pieces of content a day, let's call that 600 pieces a year, right? And I can tell you this from what I've learned. Don't worry. Look, if no one reads your stuff, that's a sign, right? But you don't need to know what performs, and things may perform later that don't perform in the beginning.

Jason Lemkin: Just focus on being a subject matter expert, being consistent, and writing something that's great. Writing something that is not commercial. For me, it's writing something that when I'm done, I feel like I contributed value to the world. And whether you get 200 views or a million on that, don't even worry about it because that group of consistent content will add up to plenty of views. And don't worry about the number. Just worry about the consistency and that it's authentic.

JD Prater: Oh, man. That's something I think we as marketers definitely need to hear more of. I think too many times we feel like we have to measure everything, or we feel like we have to answer something, but we have to link back immediately to drive as much traffic. There's always this kind of ulterior motive outside of just providing the best possible answer.

Jason Lemkin: I think you have to have goals. Life is short, right? We only have so much time, but if you're going to produce a reasonably high quality of consistent content or even content marketing, you don't have to obsess about the performance of each individual piece. I draw a two by two matrix, does it add a lot of value and does it perform. And the only things I delete are the things that don't add value and don't perform. Everything else, I invest in.

JD Prater: I like that one too. I'm going to have to add that to my next content marketing conversation that I have, the two by two matrix. That's a really good tip as well. All right, well, let's shift gears here because you've been involved with two of the Quora products that I kind of want to bring up, that again maybe not a lot of people are aware of. You've been involved in Quora Sessions, and you've also been involved in the Quora beta called Spaces. So let's start with sessions, and what was your experience with being a sessions host?

Jason Lemkin: It was a little while ago. So I've done sessions, and I've also done the improvised version which is taking questions on a topic, right? I'm not sure that those are radically different other than promotional reach in 2019. What's the experience? It's great. Obviously, it's great. You get to pick what you answer, which is basically much more delightful than being forced to answer a question, right, in public formats. And you get to see what the community wants you to answer, right? You get those upvotes.

Jason Lemkin: So I think it's a super efficient way to find good things to answer. You can skip the things that aren't easy. And then as you get to know Quora better... Doing things that have a push on the platform are better. Right? And the sessions have a push. It's going to get distributed. It's going to get promotion in the beginning. It's going to get promotion later. So I see all upside. I think it's great.

JD Prater: Cool, cool. And for those listening, so what ends up happening in this session is you can say we had the official session that he was just talking about, but he was also talking, you can open yourself up, and it'll say, "Hey, what questions do you want me to answer?" And so now the community can say, "Hey, Jason, will you answer this, this, this," and then they can also upvote answers to say, "Hey, this is what's important to me." And then you of course, as the writer, answerer, get to pick which ones. So it really, like you said, it's really good to kind of learn from your community what they want to know, what they want to learn from you.

Jason Lemkin: And when you do that, when you start taking questions, right, which is what it's called... But what's helpful on Quora, and I've watched this change over the years, is when you become a frequent writer, it's great if your answer tab, it just gets you going for the day, right? And you'll go into your answer tab once you've... You'll have questions for you, and then it'll go on the topics that you either are, say you're an expert in or that Quora's decided you are, I'm not sure which, right?

Jason Lemkin: So when I opened mine today, I got my questions for you, and then I got my topics, startups, sales, which is software as a service, right? And interesting, the quality of those questions has actually varied over the years, I think as Quora has scaled. But you can always augment it with this sort of start taking questions. And so if you kind of spend some time and you hack it, this answer tab will just save you time and stuff.

JD Prater: That's another good tip. I like that one as well. When you're kind of thinking through your questions from where they've started and where you are today, obviously your expertise has also maybe stayed the same in some, but are there any new topics that you've explored to maybe the last six months to a year where you feel like that you're now this subject matter expert that maybe you weren't on there five years ago?

Jason Lemkin: No.

JD Prater: No?

Jason Lemkin: No, with a big caveat. So look, I believe that I am a subject matter expert such as it is in business software and to a lesser extent venture capital investing, okay? Those are the things I might know a little bit about. I guess startups in general. I've founded a couple of startups. I have nine figures of exits, so I guess those three things. But there's a lot of subject matter experts in startups. So it's just that as the time has gone by in Quora, what has changed is in these topics, the world is so much more sophisticated and so much more knowledgeable.

Jason Lemkin: And so back five years ago, I could just write the most basic answers on hiring a VP of sales, and people's jaws would just drop. They never heard this content, right? Now you can go to our events, and I'll have 200 sessions at the SaaStr Annual on it, right? We have our own podcast. We have 280 podcasts. 100 of them are from VPs of sales. So people are much more knowledgeable now in these industries, in software as a service and startups and capital. And so I do the same thing. I just go much more deep, and I go much more specific. I can answer much more tactical questions, a much more niche question in a way that four or five years ago would've been too niche.

JD Prater: I like that one. That's pretty good. Let's tackle the next one. So Quora Spaces, you have the what it's called Cloud Daily from SaaStr, which I mean, you guys are doing fantastic work over there. We're still working on it. It's still in beta. For those listening, again, this rolled out probably six months ago. It was in about Q4 of 2018. Jason was one of our early beta partners. And so yeah, just kind of wanted to... How's it going? What do you think of it so far?

Jason Lemkin: Well, for marketers there, let me show you a headline metric, but it's apples and oranges. So I've been writing on Quora since 2010 and seriously on Quora since I'd moved on from Adobe in 2012 so seven years of serious writing, right, and a shocking nine years of total writing. In those nine years, seven to nine years, however you define it, I've collected 44,255 followers which have generated 45 million views, right, so 44,000 followers in seven years.

Jason Lemkin: On our Quora Space, we have 42,300 followers in six months, right? So we will shortly exceed the number of followers on our space that I have on all the work I had to do to make those 3,000 pieces of content. Now, are the followers of equal value? We could chat a lot about that. When Quora Spaces launched, which wasn't that long ago, the engagement seemed fairly low compared to traditional content, traditional answers. But as those six months have gone on, the engagement in terms of upvote ratio, number of views, has kind of converged with what I think about as first party content. So I know it's still in beta, but now I view them as these wildly different products that leverage the same technology stack. And we have the same number of followers. So I'm still learning.

Jason Lemkin: So that's an interesting number from scale. And then we have tried different things on the Cloud Daily, but we have tried radically different types of content from the answers. And for us at least, and I think it's different for other folks, actually for our little 42,300 followers, we have not found that first party content performs well. Me answering a question obviously works on Quora, 45 million views, but that doesn't work so good on our Quora space. What does are finding the three to four most interesting things happening in our industry and socializing them to these folks. So we've hacked it to be what I think is the best newsfeed in the world and business software, and it seems to work.

JD Prater: I like that. Yeah. I'm an admin of another space. So for those listening, Digital Marketing News and Trends, I will link to it. Also link to Jason's if you're interested in the SaaS B2B cloud world because he's 100% correct that it is the best and most well curated news that I can possibly get. And so that part of it I absolutely love, and I'm glad that you always share it and kind of think of it that way. On the digital marketing side for our space, I've been kind of just watching what you do and then seeing what works really well for you and kind of mimicking it in ours as well. And so ours has become me as well curating. And I only do one article a day, so I may have to kind of up my game here because I'm only at 16,300 followers.

Jason Lemkin: I don't know what the right cadence is, right? I don't know. I don't know. We don't even have analytics yet, right? At least I don't have analytics. So kind of guessing, but I know that, yeah, but frequency works, right? If it's news-related and then the super nichey thing for us, and this could change as this product evolves, right, but there's basically three formats on a space looking at it. There's link, post, question. And I don't know why they're in that order, but I will tell you for us, that's the order they performed in.

Jason Lemkin: So our links performed the best, right? A link to external content, which then stays within Quora, very interestingly in terms of the chrome, and then there's posts, which is blogging, right? And I've tried blogging on Quora since inception, and the posts are okay, but I would think they would perform better because they're closer to a first party content. They perform worse than links.
Jason Lemkin: And then for us, and this may be totally different, but for our little community, we haven't found that the questions, they perform the worst of the three. I don't get a thousand amazing answers when I ask my community for questions, which I would have expected, right? So link, post, question, we perform in the exact order that it's set up on Quora, which may be a coincidence or may reflect the underlying, a UX designer is saying this is the order I want you to do it in.

JD Prater: I'll have to ask around. And I would also say the exact same thing as far as performance within our space as well. The exact same thing that the link always seems to perform better. And you're correct too. It's linked to a different... Industry related news always seems to perform better. Whenever I ask questions in there, again, I get the exact same response. So yeah, I think we're kind of figuring it out, and it's kind of fun. Again, if you're interested in that Quora Space, check out Jason's Cloud Daily, and I'll link to the one that I'm admin of with Digital Marketing News and Trends.

JD Prater: But let's kind of move on. So there are tons of social networks, maybe not tons, right? There's probably, let's say a handful of social networks out there. And when you think about your time, and you're a busy man, what keeps you coming back to Quora?

Jason Lemkin: Yes. So I think that for me at least, there's a lot of things that keep you come back to Quora. Obviously, once you have a following, you want to continue to nurture and invest in that following, right? And so that's obvious. It would be a shame to abandon these 45 plus 42,000 followers. And I will say, but I'm going to answer your question, and I will say that SaaStr's broad. We have all these different things that we do today, right? We have 100,000 followers on, no, 150,000 on Twitter. We have a blog that we've written before Quora, all these other things. The best IRL experiences I have by far are from Quora. They're the most engaged, the most passionate CEOs, the best CEOs. I've met the CEOs of so many unicorns. So many billion dollar startups, the number one source is Quora. It is the most engaged platform.

Jason Lemkin: So that's a meta learning, right? And why it is the heart and soul of what we do is Quora. Even though it is a third party platform, so in a sense, you don't own it as much as your own blog, right? There are trade offs for a marketer, right? You can do your own WordPress blog and do whatever you want with it, and there are pros and cons, but I can tell you the IRL engagement on Quora is off the charts. So that's a little bit of what keeps me back, and the followers is part of it.

Jason Lemkin: But what really keeps me coming back and is that the inherent nature of questions on Quora... To me when Quora launched, it seemed like a Q and A platform in the beginning, and maybe that was the idea, but I think what it became for many of us was sort of a mid blogging platform. Not micro blogging, but you don't want to write 7,000 pages on Quora I don't think. But more than a tweet, right? Somewhere between 280 and 28,000 characters. But Quora would figure out what you should write on, right? These questions became suggested blog posts to me rather than questions.

Jason Lemkin: And that has become, that's just so helpful to me to think of new things to share and learn because I don't have to invent it right? On every other social media, on every other platform, on everything, you have to invent it. And Quora is so helpful to me. It keeps everything young because the community will invent the content. I just have to figure out how to help out with the answers. And there's nothing on planet Earth that's like that.

JD Prater: Yeah, it's very true. We kind of call it our demand driven answer platform or question platform. So you can actually get to hear what people want to hear from you. It's a really good feedback loop in my opinion as a marketer, something that I really look forward to.

Jason Lemkin: Yeah. And I've written a lot of content over the years, so I get bored of the same stuff, and I get tired, but I never get tired or bored of Quora because always someone's asking... When it's the same question I've been asked a thousand times, they're going to ask it a little bit differently from a little bit of different perspective. And that rejuvenates and refreshes me the way that I don't get anywhere else.

JD Prater: Nice. Well, let's move on. We got two more questions for you, and then we'll let you wrap up. But what's something that you've read on Quora recently that you were like, "That's a great answer," or just something that you've learned.

Jason Lemkin: Well, I'm going to answer the question but might answer differently than you've expected. So my son who's 13 has become a Quora addict. So he takes my phone, but we limit the social media accounts he has, right? So he reads Quora on my phone whenever we're out to lunch together, he has a break. We're out to dinner. So what I've learned from Quora and what some people don't get about Quora is it has the world's best feed technology ever, right, in the history of mankind. The technology behind Quora is an order of magnitude harder than Facebook. Facebook sort of has a custom feed for us, right? But Quora is pushing out a custom digest to millions and millions of people that looks like no one else's digest or feed, right? This is an incredibly complicated problem to do at scale.

Jason Lemkin: So as an aside, by watching my feed now, it has become his feed. We have a blended feed, and yes, I didn't really need to learn about the Avengers or parts of military airplanes and other things, but it's kind of been a fun way of bringing me together because I can read about what he cares about, and then we can talk about what he cares about.

JD Prater: That's a really good answer. It's something that again a lot of people don't realize do, is that personalization at scale with a topic knowledge graph. It is tricky.

Jason Lemkin: No one else does it. People thought this is a moat around Quora in terms of you investing your time as a marketer. No one's going to be able to rebuild Quora. It's too hard. It's way too hard. It's way too hard. How often do you log into Quora and there's crappy content and spam? Never, never, that is so hard. And you and I each have radically different experiences on Quora, right? This is so difficult to build. And it also means that if you put six years or seven years into Quora like I did, you're probably going to get seven years out of it.

JD Prater: Nice. One thing I've been telling marketers too is I still think we're in that first mover, maybe actually maybe second mover advantage at this point, for those that are just starting out. So you've still got time, and you can still make a name for yourself.

Jason Lemkin: You've got plenty of time, right?

JD Prater: Well, we are ending the show by asking every guest, what's one thing marketers can do today to be successful on Quora tomorrow?

Jason Lemkin: Yeah, I'll give you one bit of advice, but let's just step back from it. 98% of content marketers are terrible. They outsource it. They write trite content. They write vendor promotions. It's just terrible, right, just terrible. So don't do that. Don't write generic, crummy stuff. Don't go into a question in your industry and just write an article about how you're the magic solution like your product is. It's not going to perform. It's going to get downvoted. It's not going to get you leads. Instead, whether you're writing about yourself, the company you work at, the product you work for, whatever you're writing about, just go narrower than you think and go betterer, right?

Jason Lemkin: Be a subject matter expert, and if that means you have the answer the nichiest, tiniest topic on why Quora picked a certain font for its product, why images load at a certain time, I don't know what it... Go narrow and add value rather than broader and try not to add value. And Quora is big enough now. It is huge that if you add value, and I was able to learn this in 2012, if you truly add value through your answers, people will find you over time. Try each day to add value, two pieces of value. And smaller and nichier is better. That's how you're going to get your wedge in the second inning, right, not by trying to offer the 10,000th opinion on the best email marketing tool. We don't need that, and it's not going to work.
JD Prater: Wow. There it is for you, for all those listening. Fantastic episode, Jason, thank you so much.
Jason Lemkin: Right. Well, thanks for having me, and thanks to everybody in the Quora community for helping out, and this was terrific. All right, rock and roll.

JD Prater: Thank you, Jason, and thanks everyone for listening. And as always, if you're eager to get started and to learn more, you can go over to where you can find this podcast, our newsletter, and more. We'll see you next week.