As they say, content is king when it comes to marketing your startup or small business online, but for many business owners, trying to blog means hours of tearing their hair out trying to put their ideas and insights down on paper.
Brisbane entrepreneur Cas McCullough believes she has the solution with her startup Writally, which simply asks wannabe bloggers what kind of post they are looking to write and then delivers them a step by step recipe to help them actually write it.
Working with SMB owners on their marketing strategy, McCullough saw the struggle to create quality content was always a huge pain point, and began to wonder what could be done to help them overcome this.
“One day, one of my kids asked me to help them write a letter to a game developer and I realised that if I could provide a structure for a letter, I could provide one for a blog post,” she explained.
McCullough ran the idea past a few other copywriters she knew and, after mulling it over, pitched it at Brisbane coworking space Little Tokyo Two when the opportunity came up.
“I’d never pitched before and I didn’t even know what an MVP was, so it was a baptism by fire,” she said.
I had quite a bit of interest from that initial pitch and was able to attract some great mentors who then helped me learn more about market validation and how investing works.
Not knowing any developers, McCullough decided to offer the recipes as a service, and had customers signing on within a week. That early market validation helped her win a place in the Suncorp Small Business Challenges competition, and after going through Bluechilli’s two week validation workshop, McCullough’s pitch won.
From there, Writally got early investment from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland, the Bluechilli Venture Fund, and private investor Scott Horton, which went towards the development of an MVP.
“Working with Bluechilli has been terrific,” McCullough said. “They are very supportive of diversity and as a single parent that’s obviously important to me. They provide mentoring, product management and a development team, so for someone like me who is non-technical in many respects, this has made it possible to get my product into early adopters’ hands more quickly.”
Being a non-technical founder, McCullough said the biggest challenges she faced early on centered on how to take “what was essentially in my brain and create that into a product that could eventually be automated”.
In looking to tackle this challenge, McCullough worked with a filmmaker to develop the methodology and story elements for the recipes with future automation in mind. She then developed the “recipe element taxonomy”, so unique codes could be created for each of the recipe elements, such as post length, publishing platform, intro type, and type of blog post.
“The methodology we developed showed us we could take any blog post from the internet and analyse it in terms of its structure. This was an exciting discovery because, prior to that, I’d been doing the recipes by hand, paragraph-by-paragraph,” she said.
“It changed the entire way we approached the problem and we realised that there were literally millions of different story element combinations that could be applied to any recipe.”
Another challenge for McCullough was the time commitment. She explained, “I was homeschooling my kids at the time and running a part-time content marketing consultancy. In the end, I had to let go of a few clients and live off of savings while we developed the app. I sold my house and the kids started high school this year; a huge change for us but a lot less stressful.”
The platform works by having the user fill out a quick questionnaire detailing what kind of blog post they want to create. They then have a recipe delivered to their dashboard within 24 hours; according to McCullough, this can be brought down to four hours depending on what time of day a request is made. The user can then download the recipe and start writing.
“The recipe provides step-by-step instructions that are customised to the type of post they want to create. For instance, if someone wants to write a research-breakdown post about a new government report, the structure will be very different to a common listicle-style how-to post,” McCullough explained.
With the platform in beta and helping users, McCullough said she has also learned “a few hard lessons”, including the fact that most SMB owners find blogging overwhelming and giving them a long list of blog post types to choose from can just increase that sense of overwhelm.
“That’s not what we want. We want the platform to make their lives easier and while many have been quite comfortable with the questionnaire and the choices available, we need to make sure that when we go mainstream, we’ve catered to those who don’t know the terminology, put things in plain English so it’s easy to understand and give them few options to begin with,” she said.
Heading and image suggestions were also originally included through each recipe, however the startup saw these were distracting users from getting through their first draft so they were removed and incorporated into ‘pro tips’ at the end of a recipe.
The startup’s early target market is focused on the SMB marketer who is a subject-matter expert who has already begun blogging, as well as marketing agencies working with SMB owners. McCullough has been marketing Writally itself through various social media channels and events called ‘Bloghackathons’.
“I started the Bloghackathons as a way to get people testing the recipes in a supported environment where they could meet me face-to-face, so we could further refine them and learn directly from users,” she explained.
“What’s been awesome about these events is that we’ve been able to prove that even a first-time blogger can create a 500 word first draft in 20 minutes. This shocked even me; most people take up to four to six hours to write and publish a blog post. At our last event, a small business owner created and published his post in 40 minutes. Several participants have written blog posts within 30 minutes.”
Access to the platform currently costs $19.95 per month, with this to rise to $47 per month once out of beta.
There are various types of competitors in the space, from templated solutions to copywriters, however McCullough firmly believes Writally stands apart when it comes to helping produce original content at an affordable price, while it can also be used as a tool by professionals in the space.
“Good quality copywriters are expensive. I know, because I am one…Writally can definitely be used as a tool by both professional copywriters and virtual assistants who write copy. One of my clients is doing just that. He’s using the story elements in the recipe to create notes for his VA, who then puts together a first draft,” she said.
As Writally progresses through its beta, McCullough said she is gearing up for investment to further automate the app, with the incorporation of AI a possibility. Her big goal for the year, however, is to reach 20,000 users.
“That may sound like a lot, but I think it’s achievable. Every new recipe we create speeds up the process for the next one, and once we automate further, improved delivery times will help us scale.”
Image: Cas McCullough. Source: Supplied.