‘Where There’s Contently, There’ll Be Dancing’: An Oral History of 2015
A lot has changed since Contently’s last oral history—far too much to be included in a single story. So, at the risk of offending our interior decorator, our VP of engineering, and the millennials in our office, here are the highlights of 2015 (so far):
Elisa Cool (VP of Sales): Ladies@ is our initiative to promote female empowerment inside and outside Contently. We went out for cocktails one evening, and we were overheard by a couple of women who worked at a company down the street, and they reprimanded us because they said, “You know, you shouldn’t take this for granted that your company is great, because a lot of places still have a lot of issues.”
Jessica Black (Marketing Manager): One thing we really want to do is interview a lot of really smart women in the industry. I did events for Contently for years, and one problem that I ran into was having a serious lack of speakers who are women. I have panels full of white dudes. First of all, white dudes are boring, and second of all, it’s not a fair representation of who’s actually in leadership.
Elisa: We had our first event with three excellent speakers. We got lots of good feedback and we’re looking to do another one in October, and we plan on launching a blog around it under the Contently website very soon!
Rebecca Taskin (Operations Manager): It’s important that tech companies have ladies involved in their company as a whole and that they know how to speak up for themselves in a male-driven industry.
New offices in San Francisco and London
Brett Lofgren (Chief Revenue Officer): In twelve months, we’ve expanded into two Geos and roughly doubled the size of our customer base and revenue. We’ve done a really good job of expanding our services.
Corey Cummins (Director of Enterprise Sales): Europe is very, very big on face time. They want you to have a presence there. They want to know that you’re part of the community. It doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint to continue to travel to San Francisco and London every six weeks when we should probably have someone out there who can easily meet these people.
Evan Kendall (U.K. Sales Manager): I think we’ve already seen, in a fairly short time, how impactful Contently can be to the right businesses in the U.S., and being able to start supporting similar businesses overseas is an exciting opportunity.
Joe ‘Lazer’ Lazauskas (Editor-in-Chief): We sent Joe Lopardo, one of our top sales executives, to open the San Francisco office. We wanted to establish the right kind of culture out there, and I’m quite glad that Joe—or J-Lo, as we know him—is the one to do that. He’s ridiculously friendly and charming. From Jersey. Great tan. Passionate. Basically everything that makes Contently great. We even put out a West Coast edition of our print magazine, Contently Quarterly, to coincide with the launch.
Joe Lopardo (Sales Executive): It’s been really good. It’s been a really good, busy first month and a half. Everything’s going well. The office is really good. Getting and having a lot of in-person meetings and prospect meetings. San Francisco and Silicon Valley are sort of the place to be when it comes to technology.
West Coast Contently Summit
Shane Snow (CCO, Co-Founder): We’ve been doing an event every six months since the second year of the company, but this was the first one that wasn’t in New York.
Joe Lo: The summit was a huge success.
Brett: It definitely was a milestone for us as a company.
Claire-Voe Ocampo (Field Marketing and Events Manager): Our brand strategy is “P.S.F”: it means our brand is premium, smart, and friendly. Everything that we put into the event was P.S.F. I really wanted something that was casual and relaxing, but also had a premium vibe. That’s who we are.
Shane: You go [to a Contently event] and you get education, you get insights. You learn new things. That’s the way that we build relationships with people who either already are our customers, or might be, or are just starting in the industry. We try to put together programs that will be really useful and helpful to people, whether they’re our customers or not.
Lazer: Shane sent me a picture of everyone reading our West Coast mag between panels, and that seemed like a good sign—folks are hungry for our perspective.
Richard Sharp (Head of Product and Customer Marketing): My friend let me know that D’Angelo was playing in Oakland. It was the weekend before the West Coast Summit, so I came a few days early and went out to see the show at the Fox Theatre. No one quite puts out the sexy vibe like D’Angelo—not even Contently.
When are you coming to visit me? #california A video posted by Joe Lopardo (@joelopardo) on Jun 11, 2015 at 6:55pm PDT
Breaking revenue records in Q1 and Q2
Dan Kim (Director of Business Intelligence): We built out a plan based on hiring X many people and those people would be X productive. I think it was a combination of setting realistic, achievable, good goals based on an aggressive model and then executing on that plan, which worked out well for us.
Elisa: We exceeded a number of [revenue] goals, which is really exciting because hitting goals is a little bit like always trying to hit a moving target—the goal is always getting bigger and you’re always trying to match that with the number of people that you have, and the best practices. It’s a lot of science and it’s a little bit of art.
There were a lot of challenges in Q1 and Q2. Part of it is navigating a marketplace that is ever-changing because it’s growing up. That’s difficult and fun. It’s a fun puzzle.
Dustin Abanto (Inside Sales Manager): Q1, we had an amazing amount of opportunities come in. We broke the records. We brought in new folks to work different verticals so we could have, like, a grand master plan of going after the entire world.
The swapping desks experiment, and its attendant drama
Shane: We’re big enough now that some teams don’t really know what others are up to. New people don’t really know what someone who seems cool even does. So someone brought up the idea—I think it was Brett—that at some last job of his they did a desk swap where everyone shuffled desks every once in a while, every month or every quarter for a week, so that people could get to know new people. I thought it was a cool idea.
Winter [Lee, senior front-end developer] managed to not swap her desk somehow. I think she peeked at the things you draw out of a hat. She managed to make it so she didn’t have to trade with anyone.
Winter: I didn’t feel like I was going to talk to someone sitting next to me anyways. Most of the time I listen to music anyways. It didn’t seem like there was really a huge reason to move, especially for one week. It throws off my environment. If you want to talk to me, Slack me.
Sam Slaughter (VP of Content): A lot of the product team really didn’t want to do it because they don’t want to have to be subjected to the sales team. I love the sales team. They’re great people. I love sitting with the sales team. I guess my real issue, the only real issue I had, was that I didn’t want anybody to know how little work I do, so I had to work hard that week.
Shane: Most of the people I talked to loved it. They were like, “We have to change back already? That sucks.” We thought it’d make everyone way less productive and that wasn’t true. People made new friends and they found out about things that other people were working on.
Dave: I love it. Some people are haters. I don’t get a chance to meet or hang out with everyone in the company that often, so it’s always nice to especially get to sit with the guys and the girls and see what they are up to during the day.
Jessica: I got to sit at Sanjay [Ginde, VP of engineering]’s awesome desk, which is like a small palace. It’s kind of like flying a plane using his computer. I got to sit there and feel like a princess for the week.
Rebecca: So many millennials in this office. No one is ever going to be happy.
The Williamsburg rooftop BBQ
Ali Kriegsman (Sales Executive): Somehow, Contently’s really mastered the friendly-but-professional atmosphere.
Sanjay Ginde (VP of Engineering): Ate burgers and drank beer. It was like any other Contently event.
Dan: I had a great time. It was a beautiful day. There were dogs running around on the roof. Ann [Fabens-Lassen, communications manager] was kind of enough to provide an awesome venue for all of us to get a little bit silly, and I think it’s lucky that nobody got heat exhaustion. It gets a little fuzzier towards the end, but I’m no longer twenty-five and single, so I can’t speak to what happened after six p.m.
5th floor expansion
Sam: Sanjay evicted me from my seat where I had been sitting comfortably for a long time because he really felt like he needed more room to spread out all of his crap. That was really hurtful to me, and I thought that he maybe should have kept his crap to himself. … I was exiled.
Sanjay: I’m not responsible for it. Our team is growing, and that has always been our space, so we just kept moving and taking over more. We had two interns start this summer. We had a new developer start. They didn’t have desks, so we needed some desks.
Lazer: Sam brilliantly moved our team upstairs at the soonest possible moment. I feel like the opposite of the Office Space guy. I have a stapler and I can watch the squirrels.
Sam: I quite like the new floor. There’s actually sunlight and I don’t have to deal with Sanjay’s pretentious taste in music anymore. Also, I don’t have to deal with Paul [Fredrich, VP of product]’s pretentious taste in everything.
Ann Fabens-Lassen (Communications Manager): I really like the fifth floor, especially because I sit with the content team. They’re dope.
Lazer: I was hired as the thirteenth employee less than twenty months ago. Now we’re like one hundred twenty people. That’s nuts.
Sanjay: When I started, it was a company of five people. There were three founders, and Sam and I started at the same time. There was also an intern. It’s crazy. You used to know everything that was going on in the business. Now it’s hard enough just trying to keep on top of things going on in the tech and product side.
Sam: I realized there was a point about a month or two ago where there were people whose name I didn’t know. At first, when we started, every new hire would be this huge, amazing deal, and it’d be like, “Oh my god, there’s a new person.” Now, we’re so big that we add people every week.
New dashboard, analytics, and distribution
Richard: We’ve done pretty big things, I think, on the technology side. Our Analytics dashboard was a really huge event for us, probably the most significant technology upgrade that we’ve had over the last year or so. We also launched Contently Research, which I think has been really well received.
Lazer: As our editor, I love Analytics. I would take our dashboard to an all-inclusive Caribbean resort. Actually, I have. My girlfriend always catches me checking our numbers while on vacation and emailing ideas back to the team. They tell me to go back to the beach.
Paul Fredrich (VP of Product): 2015 was an amazing (and intense) year on the product side. We doubled the size of the product team, and tripled the number of data scientists we have, since we think data is ultimately what’s going to set the best content marketers apart. We also launched our new API very early on, and saw a series of awesome integrations build on top of it launch throughout the year.
Ray Cheng (VP of Marketing): Most companies don’t develop analytics to a level of detail that Contently is aspiring to measure. Analytics are really powerful for marketers in a way that no other product out there can measure audience engagement by audience loyalty.
I’m excited about the next ten months because a lot more features and enhancements to the dashboard are on the way. We’re making recommendations to content marketers about what they should do next. That, to me, is really powerful because technology is supposed to help make your job easier.
Contently.org Wins the ASJA award
Sam: We started the foundation because we cared about investigative reporting and we didn’t see traditional media companies doing a good job with it. Early this year we got a call from the American Society of Journalists and Authors and they said, “Your story that you’ve written for Contently.org has won the Donald J. Robinson Memorial Award,” which is one of the most prestigious awards out there.
Shane: One of the things we said when we launched the nonprofit is that we one day want to win an award in journalism for it. And our very first story actually won an award for the best investigative story of the year!
Our goal is to bring stories that wouldn’t normally get funded by newspapers or would take too long or too much effort. The idea is to write a smaller number of stories where we can spend a lot of time and effort, bringing stuff that ideally causes people to think about the world differently, or want to make some change in their community, or send bad guys to jail.
Tales of debauchery from SXSW
Jessica: We are the nerds that ruin the cool artsy festival, but we had an amazing time. There was a lot of debauchery.
Joe [Lazer] does this thing every year where he, like, becomes a one-man distribution army, and he takes the Quarterlies and just puts them everywhere. He, like, blankets the city.
Lazer: I was the editor of my college paper, and I used to hand-deliver copies of the paper to every dorm room on campus. I kind of do the same thing at SXSW. People are bored waiting in line everywhere, and everyone’s cell phones are dying, so it’s the perfect captive audience.
Jessica: We did get in a dance battle with NewsCred, which was pretty amazing. There was a lot of dancing. Where there is Contently, there will be dancing. That’s how it goes.