NXT: What is Parsely?
We’re a content analytics platform, turning everyone in an organization into a data analyst by helping them distill and visualize what happens with all the content they produce.
Our key customers are media organizations and brands, who in the recent years have essentially evolved into publishers themselves. Think big magazines like Condé Nast and Time Inc., or news organizations like The Wall Street Journal and dailies like the New York Post, or even entertainment companies like Viacom.
They all try to understand how to retain & engage or grow their audience. We give them visibility into what’s working and insight into “why”. This way, they can leverage data to make decisions such as what type of content to produce more of.
NXT: What are some of the insights your clients can get from their data?
Use cases vary widely by organization and job title. Let’s say you’re focused on Facebook audience development. We can help you figure out which topics are more engaging, and with what frequency you should post. Or if you’re a large editorial operation, maybe you want to know how each author is performing.
The beauty of our product is that it gives users really easy access to powerful data. That’s been our focus from the very beginning.
Nobody needs to be trained or read articles or watch how-to videos. You can just understand what’s happening right away.
Our mission is to help everyone within an organization have access to the right data so they can make the right decisions.
NXT: When & why did you start Parsely?
I started working with my co-founder in 2009. Back then, we didn’t know exactly what we’d be developing or who we’d be serving.
We just knew that content’s changing with the migration to digital. Initially, we wanted to build platform for consumers to have better experience. So we developed a personalized news app that “learned” what news to serve you based on your interactions with the content on the app.
After launch, we realized that the learning & personalization technology could be applicable within media companies themselves.
NXT: What made you shift towards to media companies?
In those days, you had Amazon claiming that 20% of revenue happened on the homepage, Netflix would pay $1mm if you found a way to give them a 10% boost on their movie recommendation algorithm. And Pandora emerged on the scene as ‘personalized radio’.
But if you looked at media sites, they weren’t personalized. That’s when we shifted our focus to the digital media space and understood how to use data & analytics to help them.
Executives were investing in data & analytics but only a handful of people were leveraging the data. The rest were using spreadsheets!
We believe that, instead of only a handful of people looking at the data, it would be transformational if everyone could look at the data. And we launched our platform officially in 2012.
NXT: How did you win your first client with a new platform?
We started by doing everything very manually; no sophisticated tools, no CRM. It wasn’t the best way, and you might call it brute force. But it worked for us. We had a spreadsheet and pounded the pavement to find anyone who’d listen.
We actually stumbled upon a ‘hack’ if you’d like to call it that. We started fundraising, and as a way to get investors to see what we can do, we asked them to introduce us to any of their media contacts.
Through an investor, we got introduced to The Next Web. Our platform worked great for them, and then we leveraged their name as a case study to win more meetings and clients. Mashable was an early client too…
NXT: How did you leverage The Next Web to win more clients?
This was actually built into our pricing strategy. We wanted all our clients to be paying clients, so they have skin in the game and they’re a real validation of our platform. But we had to offer some incentives early on. Still, we didn’t want to discount our value.
So we presented them with our target pricing, and asked them for permission to use them as a case study in exchange for a “beta user” discount.
Mining our investors’ LinkedIn network and using these early case studies helped us get to $1mm ARR within a year.
NXT: And how are you growing now?
Now it’s totally different from our early days.
As a company, you try to have high growth every year. But if you do the same thing you did last year, you won’t be able to sustain last year’s growth. Every year you have to evolve your sales & marketing, throw out last year’s playbook.
We have also evolved our internal business processes to integrate with data and systems like user analytics, marketing automation, and predictive modeling. We have many more data capabilities than we did when we started, because we have a lot more data to work with.
And we have both an inbound and an outbound BDR team. Several people on the marketing team. More – many more – metrics involved. Now it’s a well-oiled machine.
If we did that back then it would be overkill.
NXT: Which marketing channels would you say are working best?
Everybody is educated on the way to run an efficient marketing & sales channel as a B2B company. You know all the tech and tricks, and everybody is using the same stuff. So how can you make it work?
We believe that content is the best way to set yourself apart. If you can be seen as the thought leader, you’ll have a leg up in the space. So that’s where we invest heavily at Parsely.
Also, since we run a content analytics product, we want to “eat our own dog food” so to speak. Our content has been a great source of interest, and we use our data to power it. This allows us to do analyses that people want to read, like our study on search vs. readership for articles on Donald Trump and our research on why bounce rate isn’t an accurate metric.
NXT: What do you think some businesses are doing wrong with content?
They don’t stick it out for the long haul or lose focus with their positioning.
Content won’t deliver results overnight… it takes a long time to build a content strategy. You have to be willing to stick with it for the long haul. And you need to a) have a very clear message, and b) make sure it comes through in every piece of content..
NXT: And what advice would you offer to B2B companies that want to emulate your rapid growth?
The key for us has been ‘persistence’.
Remember, we’ve been working on this since 2009 and only launched our platform in 2012. For the first 3 years, we were figuring things out. People often give up too early and don’t persist.
You can argue that skill and intelligence are in some ways commoditized. All startups have awesome founding teams, yet they fail. A big reason is because they don’t persist.
It’s very difficult but also very important to figure out how to continue working in your space. Because eventually you’ll figure out an opportunity that makes a lot of sense. Instead, you see many teams pivoting to a completely different space.
The experience of building a startup is transferrable, but they give up on the expertise they’ve built in a field. And that can be a real differentiator.