How Adrian Alfieri Created The Ultimate Content Studio for Commerce Companies
Organic content is the name of the game. As paid media costs continue to increase, more and more companies are adopting the mentality that “every company is a media company.”
Finding a Head of Content or a content team to build a media arm from the ground up isn’t as straightforward as one might think. Founded by Adrian Alfieri (who’s behind one of our fave newsletters The Proof), Verbatim takes all the hard work out of the content creation process.
At its core, Verbatim is a studio helping commerce companies grow, scale, and build content engines to drive organic acquisition. Partnering with Disco, Novel, Skio, Goody, and even Tydo, Adrian and the Verbatim team are shipping dozens of pieces of content in a single week.
In a world where content is king, we sat down with Adrian to get the scoop on Verbatim’s roots and why he’s bullish on long-form, interview-first content.
“In the ongoing battle for attention, great content will always win. But, to have the best content, you need to tell the most compelling stories.”
Verbatim’s Roots: Getting Started
Verbatim was born out of necessity.
A little over a year ago, Adrian left VC to start consulting with two early-stage companies in the commerce space. Within two days, one client ran out of runway, and the other got acquired. All of a sudden, he had zero dollars in revenue hitting his bank account.
Adrian had to figure something out.
He started freelancing with people he looked up to and admired in the spaces that excited him—mostly fintech, health tech, and ecommerce infrastructure.
Continuing to freelance, Adrian found himself gravitating toward ecommerce infrastructure clients. Interested in the consumer space, Adrian has always enjoyed learning about tools and tech stacks.
Partnering with ecommerce SaaS companies, he started building out content frameworks and writing long-form, interview-first content. Over time, word spread, and he started to get introduced to more and more founders who had the same pain point: they saw the value in high-quality content and were ready to invest in it, but they had no clue how to get started.
With each new partner, Verbatim’s content “product”—so to speak— has gotten better and better. Finally, at the start of 2022, Adrian reached a point where he felt comfortable with the core model. He incorporated, built a website, and publicly launched the studio.
“To be blunt, Verbatim was born out of necessity, not some grand vision for the future of content. I had my back up against a wall and was forced to get scrappy about finding a way to make this thing work.”
The State of Content in 2022
The bar for quality content—especially long-form content—is going up exponentially.
Adrian attributes that to the rise of Substack and the increasing number of talented newsletter writers and solo operators.
In tandem, there’s a high demand for talent. It’s increasingly difficult to hire a full-time head of content right now.
In his eyes, the best heads of content are people like Packy McCormick, Mario Gabriele, Pomp, or Polina. They’re exceptional writers, operators, and creators. But, it’s practically impossible to hire them because they’re crushing it on their own.
At the same time, more and more ecommerce companies are raising tons of capital while struggling to organically acquire customers. Adrian explains, “Every DTC founder is using about 20 to 30 tools. There’s this ongoing battle to find the next one. Everyone wants to know what’s the newest, greatest tool that’s going to drive tangible outputs.”
All of these factors led Adrian to build Verbatim and explain part of its success.
In 12 months, Verbatim went from zero dollars a month to seven-plus figures in annual revenue. This year, they’ve started to brand out and partner with high-growth companies in new verticals like Polywork, Nue Life, and Cohere.
“The best head of content candidates are newsletter operators. But, they’re going to make more money working for themselves—understandably so. As a result, finding a killer content hire is getting a lot harder.”
Why Interview-First Content?
Adrian discovered the value in interview-first content from writing and building The Proof. Founders and investors, especially high-profile ones, don’t have enough time to prepare for and execute hour-long interviews.
Adrian found that riffing with someone for 30 minutes was a low-friction and seamless way to create exceptional content. In turn, it taught him how to ask strong follow-up questions, which typically unlock the most interesting insights and learnings.
“Unscripted interviews help people feel more comfortable and open up a bit more,” explains Adrian.
In addition, interview-first content has baked in distribution, as most folks like to repost articles from both their personal and company accounts. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
When Adrian says “interview-first content,” he isn’t referring to straight-up Q&A pieces. Those articles aren’t interesting to read. They’re pure transcripts.
Instead, Adrian believes multiple ideas equate to original thinking. The transcripts are simply jumping-off points. From there, he dives into synthesis. He’s more interested in sharing a collaborator’s unique POV on a space or insight than creating SEO content.
“People open up if you give them the space. If you’re vulnerable and open, the guest will feel comfortable sharing what’s on their mind. That’s exactly what makes for a great story and a great piece of content.”
Why Long-Form Content?
Adrian is bullish on long-form content. Why?
It boils down to two reasons:
- Long-form content is the easiest way to quickly experiment.
- It’s one of the more evergreen content formats.
It’s easy to repackage long-form content for different channels (i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc). Plus, it’s one of the best ways to test messaging and positioning.
Adrian finds videos and podcasts to be impactful, but the downside is that they require much more energy and momentum. They’re higher lift—especially for a small startup team—and harder to sustain in the long run.
“I recommend starting with written content. See what works, and then push the highest-performing content to other channels,” explains Adrian.
From the consumer perspective, it’s easy to focus on written content vs. podcasts and videos. It’s a different content consumption mode.
“If I toggle out of Twitter to an article, I’ll usually save it. I’ll screenshot it. I’ll write notes about it. I’ll save it to read on the weekend. If it means a lot to me, I’ll remember it,” notes Adrian.
So, why is long-form content important for ecommerce SaaS companies?
Right now, they’re struggling to find avenues to quickly drive revenue. Investing in organic, evergreen content can be an incredible opportunity remarks, Adrian.
“Consistently show up (organically) with high-quality content. It can directly impact traffic and conversion. Or, it can lead to an introduction to an investor who might lead your next round or a partner who might pass over 20 new leads,” says Adrian.
By posting great content at a consistent cadence, you’ll naturally increase the surface area of good things happening—whether that’s a direct customer or referral partner coming in the door.
Cutting through the noise is difficult, but writing online engineers endless serendipity.
“Evergreen content is critical. Long-form, high-quality content performs exceptionally well for SaaS companies, no matter what size.”
Verbatim’s Playbook for Building a Content Engine
Adrian shares his step-by-step process for designing a high-performing content flywheel.
- Distill the pain points, objections, frustrations, and desires of your target customer.
- Identify high-signal folks in your ecosystem who can speak to those pain points.
- Map that cohort (customers, partners, investors) onto a weekly content calendar.
Once there’s a content calendar in place, he recommends reaching out to a shortlist of guests and asking them to partake in 30-minute jam sessions to riff on those pain points.
Every guest has a unique POV and angle, so it’s important to prep for each interview accordingly based on their background.
Adrian adds that this prep stage is crucial. In his words, “If you’re not thoroughly prepared for an interview, the content won’t convert. It’s that simple. Good preparation equals good content.”
Once you’ve conducted the interviews, record them, transcribe, and then get to writing.
The writing stage, according to Adrian, is the fun part. This is where the writer gets to distill insights and tell compelling stories that customers care about and want to learn from.
“The best content is a mix of entertaining and actionable. Start with a clear hook and entertain the reader, then move into tactical next steps and actions they can take. If you nail both, your content will drive results.”
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