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Slope Interview Series: Rae Dinh, Unusual Ventures

Content creation—from blogs to social media to email newsletters—is a vital part of any businesses’ growth strategy. At Slope, we’re focused on the intersection of brand + design, and our interview with Rae helped uncover how successful startups integrate strategic content with these other two focal points. Rae Dinh is the Director of Community and Content at Unusual Ventures. She leads content initiatives like the Field Guide and other programs at Unusual, including their Academy, Product Leaders Network, and Insights Series.

In this interview, Rae talks about various trends across different content channels, the major mistakes companies should avoid when ideating a winning content strategy, and how to create content that drives your brand’s narrative forward.

For people that don’t know you, talk briefly about your background. How did you wind up doing what you do? Describe your work as Director of Community and Content at Unusual Ventures.

Throughout college, I interned at a number of different startups (brands like Zola, Persado, and others). I also spent a summer working as a tech journalist in Israel at a media outlet called NoCamels, reporting on Israeli startups. It was a great experience, but I discovered that journalism wasn’t for me. After graduation I worked at a tech policy think tank in Washington, D.C., and the World Economic Forum on their tech industry team. Eventually, I decided to get my graduate degree at the Oxford Internet Institute, which specializes in studying how we live online and researched major trends in online dating for my thesis. 

After I graduated from Oxford, I worked as a Program Lead at the Partnership on AI, where I led our work around AI, Labor, and the Economy and was eventually recruited to be Director of Community and Content at Unusual Ventures. If I were to say there’s a common thread, it would be that my work has consistently centered around technology and human behavior and storytelling around how the two intersect.

Talk a little bit about the different content streams/channels at Unusual, specifically the Unusual Field Guide and Unusual Academy. 

We think of our Academy as a sort of “grad school for entrepreneurs,” where we bring in industry experts who teach about the six common challenges that enterprise and  consumer startups typically face in the earliest stages. The Academy itself is six weeks, typically in-person but we’re running a virtual version for the first time this year. We also run programs for emerging Angel Investors (our Angel Academy) and a Product Leaders Network for exceptional product operators. A ton of our content draws from these programs and the amazing community of experts we’ve grown.

As far as content goes, our “bread and butter” is company-building content. My work specifically focuses on working with our team at Unusual to create tactical guides that are informative and immediately actionable. We just launched our Field Guide in April, and are humbled by the positive feedback we’ve received from entrepreneurs and others in our community. So overall, my content work revolves around gleaning insights from our community and sharing them via guides, events, etc., for our readers. 

One of the most important things about our content strategy is the community aspect. Our community of experts and founders is where we draw our content from and helps give us continuous feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. That largely manifests itself in our programming, but also encompasses our growing online community. Lots of companies are trying to crack how to build organic communities around their brand and product, and content is a super important pillar of building a strong online community.

In terms of content creation, what are some of the biggest mistakes you see companies making? What are some of the most important lessons or principles around content creation that more brands need to understand? 

One of the biggest mistakes I consistently see is brands pushing content that’s too surface level or that adds little to the discussion. 

"Just “putting something out there” isn’t the same as creating quality content. Just like most professions, there’s a huge difference, in my experience, between the highest level of quality content versus most of what you can find out there."

One tip I’ve tried to internalize is from Head of Marketing at Notion, Camille Ricketts, who said that content must either be highly tactical and immediately applicable, or it has to resonate emotionally with your audience. 

Content that does neither of these two things really won’t make a difference for your brand. 

The biggest principle that content creators need to remember is this: know your audience, respond to them, and write content that either sparks feeling in them or helps them get their job done. I’ve never been a founder myself, so I talk to people who have founded companies or who have been in the trenches in the earliest stages to share content that is meaningful with our community and to receive feedback on content we’re working on to make sure it will resonate with other entrepreneurs.

"One last thing: Have an authentic voice. Authenticity always wins when it comes to content. If you don’t have that, you’ll sound like everyone else and get lost in the noise."

Name your top companies doing really interesting, novel work around content. Are they experimenting with different mediums? Different tones? Visuals + copy?

Notion and Substack are two companies that immediately come to mind. Notion in particular has fostered a community that loves to share with each other (best tips, what they’re learning, etc.), and how they use Notion to support that learning. Their content really helps create a vibrant community and vice versa.

Steezy is an Unusual portfolio company and actually had its roots as a content company, where it started off as a blog providing really valuable, unique content that catered to the dance community. They’ve grown into a platform where anyone can learn how to dance through really beautiful, well-produced videos. Lastly, I’ve been really impressed with Brightland and how prolific they’ve been around a simple topic like olive oil. You’ll notice that all these companies have a stake in the ground and are mission-oriented companies -- and you can feel that in their content.

How do you think about the role that design plays when creating content? How do you think about the branding and design language behind each individual content initiative — how to keep it unique and interesting while still living under the umbrella brand of Unusual?

Design plays a huge part in our content creation process. We worked with a great design firm to build the Field Guide from the ground up to capture the look and feel of the entrepreneurial journey and this metaphor of climbing a mountain (culminating in founders raising their Series A). The Field Guide itself was also intentionally designed to feel like an e-learning center (think: LinkedIn Learning or Udemy/Coursera), rather than just a static blog. The goal there was to make sure busy founders could directly jump into the chapters that were relevant to them, versus having to read everything in order like a book. Once again, everything was designed with our core audience of early-stage founders in mind. It’s reflected in the content we produce, all the way through to the way we deliver it.