Emulating The Masters: How I Built A (Somewhat) Successful Blog

Written By: Dharmesh Shah July 31, 2006

OnStartups.com (this site) has hit a number of interesting milestones in the past week, so it has gotten me to thinking about what I lhave learned in the process of starting this blog and building a community around it.  Though I am by no means an “A-list” blogger, I’m relatively pleased with the progress made so far.  The blog has exceeded my expectations.

A quick note on some of the milestones and a “status report” for OnStartups.com (feel free to skip past this if you like).
  1. The site was started on November 5, 2005
  2. I now have 100 articles posted on the site
  3. There are over 1,500 RSS subscribers to the feed
  4. There are over 200 subscribers to the email notices
  5. The site gets over 1,000 unique visitors a day (not counting RSS subscribers that don’t visit the site)
  6. There are about 500 registered members on the private OnStartups forums
  7. I was “Scobelized” for the first time last week.
  8. My Technorati ranking is now 6,004
  9. My current Alexa rank (today) is 11,153 and the 3 month average is 32,793

Ok, enough with the data.  Though I’m proud of some of the above milestones, it’s not anything I should be bragging about.  What I really want to do is identify the bloggers that I’ve learned the most from and from whom I draw inspiration and insight.  I think this is somewhat the equivalent of the art world where a lot can be learned simply by emulating the masters.  My list below is somewhat slanted towards startup and business bloggers, but I think the points made would likely be useful to any blog category.

Emulating The Masters:  Bloggers I’ve Learned From
These are in no particular order.  In each particular case, I’ll identify what lessons I’ve tried learning from them – and in some cases, things that didn’t quite work for me and that I didn’t carry into my own blog.
  1. Guy Kawasaki:  Guy is exceptionally good at knowing his audience and keeping his signal-to-noise ratio really, really high.  His bullet-point style format makes scanning his articles very easy.  It’s quite evident that he actually thinks about his readers as “customers” and does what he can to make their lives easier.  The writing is less about him, and more about his readers  The value to word density is really high.  I’ve tried to emulate parts of this style in a number of my articles.

  1. Brad FeldBrad has some of the best content on startups and entrepreneurism available anywhere on the web.  This is an example of where a love of the craft shines through.  Much of what Brad writes about is dense, lengthy and a “heavy” read – but absolutely essential information.  This is one of those examples where he clearly does not write to maximize his traffic, but writes to convey useful information that is rarely available anywhere else.  One aspect of Brad’s blog that I have not carried into my own is the slices of personal experience and insights.  Perhaps one day, when I’m half as successful as he is, I’ll be brave enough to let my person life show through in my blog a bit more.  Until then, I’m trying to stay focused.

  1. Brian ClarkThough you may not know this name, you should.  Brian writes the excellent “CopyBlogger” blog.  If you’re serious about blog writing, this should be high on your list of sites to visit.  Brian covers a number of topics many of which are centered around the “how” of writing excellent copy.  Currently, there’s a series on writing winning headlines.  It’s easy to forget that the actual outcome of a blog is crafting words that draw, interest and serve readers.  Brian gets bonus points for the site layout and design.  Not only is the content immensely useful, the site is crisp and easy to read.

  1. Fred Wilson: Fred has one of the best VC blogs on the web.  I enjoy his writing for the simple reason that it often provides unique insight and analysis on topics that are interesting to me.  Lots of other VC blogs too often keep their best thinking to themselves (and write about random things that few people care about).  Fred shares his view points and puts it all out there.  One aspect of his blog that I don’t agree with is all the “blog bling” surrounding the content.  I think in his case, he does it to support some of his portfolio companies and stay plugged-in to all the tools and technologies around blogging – but from a reader’s perspective, I think it’s a bit distracting.

  1. Paul GrahamPaul is a very popular writer in the tech and entrepreneurial circles.  He has a very different “style” compared to most bloggers in that a majority of his content consists of more “essay style” writings.  One thing I have tried to learn from this is to make an attempt to write articles that are somewhat “timeless”.  Instead of expounding on current events or having yet another viewpoint on what 100 other people have already written about and dissected to death, Paul writes “thought pieces” on a variety of different topics that are of interest to him.  He is clearly a very intelligent guy and has some useful insights.  One part that I have not carried through is his somewhat sporadic posting frequency.  I believe that part of successful blogging is to write regularly and keep the monster fed.

Though there are many, many other bloggers that I read regularly and consistently, there is not enough time or space to mention them all.  I simply wanted to share the above subset as I think there is something to be learned from each of them.  In small ways that I can muster, I try to emulate some of these masters in my own blog as I think that’s a great way to learn and grow.  Of course, I’m constantly looking for my own “style” as well.

If you have your own favorites, please feel free to share them in the comments.  I’m not interested as much in your favorite blogs (there are enough of those sites out there), but which blogs you have learned the most from and which you try to emulate.

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