I recently met with Hillel Fuld for an interview as part of my CMO Series. Hillel is the CMO and co-founder of Zcast, which allows everyone to start a live podcast from their phone. Hillel has been also advising to startups on marketing and other things for the past 10 years, and is a well known social media leader, with over 32,000 followers on Facebook alone.
Hillel is also an avid Snapchatter and is often selected on top people to follow on Snapchat for marketing advice.
He’s a contributor for top tech blogs like TechCrunch, HuffPo, TNW, Mashable and more. Hillel is also a mentor for startups at Google Campus and Techstars’ new Tel Aviv accelerator.
I sat down with him to see how it all started and also hear what his advice is for young startups that want to get good traction.
How did you start your career?
10 years ago in my first job out of college I was working at Comverse, one of Israel’s largest hi-tech companies. I was a technical writer, writing the pamphlets to products no one reads, and to say I was bored would be an understatement. I knew I wasn’t going to retire as a technical writer. I did think to myself that I genuinely love technology and love writing, but this isn’t it. I took my love of tech and writing and started writing a blog. At first, it was just something I did for myself, like a tech diary, not paying attention to analytics, no nothing. Just wrote, every day about things like top phones I want. I basically did what I did as a technical writer - I took complicated tech stuff and simplified them. Looking back at my blog posts, utterly embarrassing. I started building up an audience and everyone around told me there’s no money in blogging.
Then, Comverse had layoffs and it was pretty traumatizing at the time, but looking back - it was the best thing that happened to me. Then I was recruited by a finance company and found myself writing about investing and numbers, which I didn’t really know much about. The CEO told me he hired me for my marketing and writing skills. Next thing, people were emailing me asking me about which currency to trade. I basically branded myself as an expert of finance in a month and it was a strong lesson for me - through writing you can brand yourself.
I took the lesson of the power of writing and combined it with my passion of tech and put all my efforts into blogging.
I started generating content for every major publication, any one who was interested in getting my content. Then, startups started pouring in asking to meet them. Next thing, VCs saw that I can get them deal flow. I didn’t capitalize over this but today, after meeting some startups that wowed me, I have a portfolio of 15 companies I advise to regularly.
Today, Hillel says he gets 400 emails from startups a day and still tries to meet or talk over the phone with anyone that asks him nicely, not just spam him. He works a lot with Israeli startups on pitching and feels they have gotten better in the last couple of years. “We’ve gotten better but we’re still far from perfect, we’re not subtle people” he says. Israeli startups are very into tech, engineering but there are not many people who help startups get on stage and pitch. A lot of Israeli startups also think they don’t have competitors which is wrong. They think that if they don’t have any competitors, they’re brilliant, but it’s actually wrong.
What is your top tip for startups to get traction?
Some startups start generating content when they need traction. It’s a common misconception of marketers, to start building a community when you need downloads. You should have started it 6 months before. The community needs to be ready before you need traction and when you are writing content for it, simplify it for the average Joe.
If I need traction, to download an app for example, it’s not a shame to buy users. You need to optimize your user acquisition though.
Thought leadership is another example - there are many search engines in the world, but at the end of the day, everybody thinks of Google when you think of a search engine. When you think of energy drinks, you think of Red Bull. Every space is owned by someone - you need to own that space. At the end of the day, people need to interact with a company that has a face. A presence where people feel they deal with the leader of the space. Think of Buffer - they’re a scheduling tool but they sell themselves as owning efficiency and their blog is about efficiency and life hacks. It’s very successful and they own the space. Every startup needs 2 products - their product, and their content, they complete and compliment each other. Just selling a product just doesn’t work any more.
What are the most common marketing mistakes you’ve seen amongst startups you’ve worked with?
They view marketing as sales in terms of the message and subtlety, and also don’t understand marketing is long term investment. Anything that goes up fast, will fall fast. You have to think how do I build a brand that will last 6 years from now. I understand startups want results but you can not build a brand.
No matter what kind of company you are enterprise or otherwise, you need people to identify with your company, have to have a face to your company. People don’t identify with logos.
Some startups think that a go-to-market strategy is a TechCrunch post. That’s ridiculous.
Asking people to follow you or like your stuff or worst - buy followers - is just horrible. The secret is to create good content that people will like. Write good things that people will link to, don’t do shortcuts cause asking people to like your page won’t generate real traction. Buying likes looks bad. If you have 100k likes on your page and see 2 comments on each posts, it looks horrible. It shows people are not engaged.
Snapchat for example is a platform I couldn’t import my followers to - I built everything from scratch 4 months ago and am already included in articles about top snapchatters in tech. All I did is create good content and that’s how you build an audience.
What’s the best social media channel for B2C companies now?
The numbers indicated that people are still on Facebook but it depends what kind of company. I’m all about skating towards where the puck is going - I think video is the future and Snapchat too. The numbers are off the charts - 10 billion daily views, in early days.
If it’s a B2C company that’s innovative, not looking for immediate ROI and want to be ahead of the curve, Snapchat is where they should be. If your company is a more conservative one, then I would go for Twitter.
Obviously keep a Facebook page as it is still mainstream and people will look you up there, always. But less efforts and research for FB.
What’s a project you’re most proud of?
Would have to say ZCast. The company was called Zula and the idea was team communication. It was 2013 and you needed a tool to exchange messages, files etc with your team. We used 75 tools to communicate. We launched at Disrupt, we got an invite to be in StartUp Alley and my relationship with the reporters and my experience with the bloggers gave a boost in launching the product. All TechCrunch writers read my blog and know me. We came with a prototype, we didn’t even have an app on the app store. We ended up winning. And then Slack came and ate the market.
We knew we couldn’t continue with our original idea and debated pivoting, going after different type of teams etc. We had something Slack doesn’t have - one-touch conference calling. From there, we looked at Podcasting. There was no solution for podcasting from your phone. It was a completely new concept. The day after launch, we had an AMA on the platform with our global team. I worked really hard 10 months before the launch, which I think is super important. Don’t wait for your product to be ready. Create the community before so they’ll be ready at launch time. A year before the launch, I showed people the prototype and recorded the reaction, setting the ground for the launch. I posted it on FB and Twitter and LinkedIn to generate interest - when we launched, we had 20-30 k people looking to know what ZCast is. We replied to each FB/Twitter/ProductHunt comment the day of the launch. I believe in relationships.
Our goal is to be next generation talk radio, not just podcast.
Do you think blogs will be nonexistent and people will watch only videos?
Video is huge but it will never replace text. First, because of search. I think it will complete it, not replace it. The format of text changes from very long to short but it will not go away.
Hillel’s dream is to start a new fund and start writing checks to startups he believe in. Signing checks and closing deals in my opinion is just the start of the work process with a VC, and many of them think it’s the end. That’s wrong in my eyes. VCs in American understood that a long time ago, that they work for the entrepreneur. Most Israeli VCs don’t understand that and it’s not a pleasant experience to raise funds. When they get the check, it’s the end of the process. So i would like to write checks and help them scale globally.