Monthly Archives: August 2019


Growth Story: Imani Berrien of COI Energy Services

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Imani Berrien, Customer Success Coordinator at COI Energy Services, an energy on-demand platform that allows utilities and businesses to maximize energy and balance the grid.


Where are you from?

Allentown, Pennsylvania


Tell us more about your role at COI Energy Services. What does a day in the life look like?

At COI, I can say there is never anything that can’t be completed or improved. My role is important because it lies at the heart of the customer! I am the voice that exemplifies COI. With that being said, I never speak to a customer without a smile on my face. I want them to feel like we are in the room talking with each other, and hopefully, they experience great service and appreciation towards them. I also get to know the third parties that work with us, which is awesome because it doesn’t feel like they are just stopping by for a pick up or delivery.  We actually have conversations and it honestly feels like they are just another COI teammate! I believe one of the coolest things about my job is that I get to assist our CEO in providing research that can better assist her in getting to know who and what can potentially bring the company much success.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

I started out in customer service in many small jobs and was offered the opportunity to put my knowledge to the test. I started at COI, having a slight clue of what problem they were solving, but not knowing the scale of it and how it could change the environment we are in now. COI sparked my interest when I realized that the environment faces increasing pollution and dramatic weather changes. COI is literally tapping into the side that most customers think they know about, but aren’t aware of the many ways to save the atmosphere around them with changes to their energy world. COI can provide many options, that all benefit the customer as well as their providers, but has a huge impact on earth!

I’d say when I first started, I faced having to get over my fear of nervousness and learning to interact. I have always worked with people, but this was definitely a totally different setting. I needed to really understand the solution so I could believe in what we are doing. In doing so, I can make customers feel secure in knowing that we have experienced people on our team and that we take our time to solve issues. We ensure the decision making is in their hands and once the choice is made, we can expeditiously move forward towards change!


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

Tampa is a very innovative and as I always say I believe Tampa is off to something really amazing. The region gives me more motivation to push towards the things I want to make happen and see happen in this community and all around the world. I moved to Tampa three years ago, not knowing all of the amazing initiatives and start ups that were building here. I recently came from a much smaller location, where it seems that people are afraid to see better in the environment and the things around them. Tampa and COI has opened my eyes to see that change is good, especially when it improves the energy around you.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

I would say that there is never too much to learn… Keep learning and see what you can do with all your knowledge. No one can take knowledge away from you so don’t let anything discourage you from being where YOU want to be. Only you can make that happen.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

“Tampa Bay Valley” lol. Literally Tampa is making big moves! COI is just every part of that by reducing the carbon footprint and by educating others to save and maximize their energy and money! Being the best in coordinating with customers makes it easier for customers to feel like COI Energy Services is on their side, even if that involves us calling in just to check in or say hello! It gives me great joy to know that I can make a customer happy by taking time to make sure all their needs are met.


Learn more about COI Energy Services on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.



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The Power of a Well-Written Job Description

Finding the best talent faster. It’s what every company wants to do. Having a well written job description can help in that process.

A job description is a multi-purpose tool. It is a candidate’s initial impression of a company – think of it as a position’s resume. It is also the company’s face and voice to the market – more than just outlining the role, a good job description is also an opportunity to share your company’s culture, vision, and growth potential.

In our recent Jobs Update 2019 Report, 141 of the 324 job listings we studied didn't have a job description. Our data suggests that taking the time to write a job description is worth it.


Face to the Market

The description should showcase the company’s vision, mission, and culture. It reflects how the company thinks about the positions its hiring for and how this is communicated publicly. Take time when writing this document. Ensure it really captures the essence of the company by incorporating the values and brand guidelines of the company. Be clear on the expectations of the role and opportunity for growth within the company. What is most important for a reader to learn about the business and the position?


The Act of Writing

The process of writing a job description is an exercise in clarity that directs the hiring manager and/or leadership team to really think about the scope of the role, its responsibilities, the ideal skill set and experience that the company seeks. It ensures alignment within the company if it has been written as a collaborative effort. 

Questions you should ask as you start to draft a job description:

What is the ideal profile of a candidate? 

What skills/experience do you want someone to bring that will have an impact on the company?

Culturally, who will be the right fit? 

What type of people thrive in the company?  (Note - this doesn't mean that we are trying to find more of the same people, on the contrary)

What is the right level of experience? 

Would you consider an up and comer or is it more important to have experience and tenure?

Where does the role fit within the organization? 

What are the opportunities for growth as the company scales?

How will this hire affect the company’s org structure now and in the future?

The job description sets the framework to be able to assess candidates as you interview them. While you do not want to be too rigid as you evaluate candidates, the job description will provide a guideline for what you are seeking in an ideal candidate. Once the hire is made, the job description is what someone can be held accountable to in their role.


What to Include?

There are several key components you will want to include:

Overview on the company – What is its mission and vision?  What is the product? What is the focus of the company? Be sure to include info on size of company, funding, location and offices, if more than one. Be sure to incorporate the company culture/brand voice as you are writing – it is very important to give readers a sense of the company. See a few examples here and here.

Overview of the role – this provides a snapshot of the position – what are the key components of the role? What are the priorities? Who does this person report to? Why is this role important? What other roles are part of the team?

Responsibilities – bullet out all of the specific responsibilities (priority order of focus and time). Be sure to tie those into the growth of the company – you want to show that new hires will have the ability to contribute and have an impact while also showing the opportunity for growth within the company.

Qualifications – what are the skills, experiences, successes, achievements, track record you want to see in someone’s background? List in priority order (nice to have vs. must have). Be specific without being too narrow. Be creative in how you consider track record - people have different types of experiences, often non-traditional experiences, that can be additive to your team. You could consider including a statement that would encourage people to apply who might not have most/all of the qualifications. Be aware, though, that this could open the flood gates to non-qualified applicants and makes it more difficult to get to the right resumes.

Compensation Package & Benefits – provide an overview as to what will be included in the package (base, bonus, stock options, benefits, perks, etc. – note, you do not need to include specific numbers but rather a full understanding of what the comprises the package). Is this a role that can work remotely?

EEO / Diversity Statement – to comply with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Law -

A strong job description is thorough, detailed and complete. It is a living document that may evolve as you go through the interview process. Candidates want to get as much of an understanding of the company and the role prior to an interview so make the description as compelling, insightful and informative as possible. It is your chance to distinguish your company and the opportunity from everyone else who is hiring.


Additional Resources

Job description checklist from Google

Textio - free tool that analyzes and improves job descriptions for effective language

See the full Jobs Update Report 2019



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Jobs Update 2019

This piece has been migrated from our former Embarc Collective reports website. URLs will not be active, nor will the report be interactive.


Growth Story: Christopher Wenders of Edgility

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Christopher Wenders, Director of Operations at Edgility, a digital platform for healthcare organizations to improve outcomes and eliminate low-value workflows from high-value assets.


Where are you from?

I grew up and went to school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – UW. #GoPackGo. I am a Tampa transplant, moving here Tampa in 2008.I’ve lived in Brandon, Rocky Point, Tampa Heights and now reside Temple Terrace with my family.


Tell us more about your role at Edgility. What does a day in the life look like?

Edgility is a company with multiple business lines – some of which have been revenue-generating for several years. One of these arms is called Edgility Design, which provides strategic, operational, and technical consulting services and staff augmentation. Primarily, the Founders maintain these relationships, my role is here to keep the books accurate and up-to-date, assist in the Statements of Work, and provide the occasional consultation.

However, in terms of the startup arm of Edgility, Edgility Cognitive Health, my role is expansive and varied. Like many of us in startups, we work on a myriad of tasks. One day I may shift from developing business plans and revenue models to forecasting staffing and expenditures. On other days, we each take turns at blogging and keeping our content fresh and meaningful and, develop thought-leadership articles.

On another day, I may review business (liability and cybersecurity) insurance. Since our company that expects to add staff, I also review personal (healthcare, vision, etc.) insurance plans. I may also evaluate and recommend business structures and leadership. And last but hardly least, I devote copious time to developing, refining, and honing the infamous pitch-deck - everyone's favorite.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

The last decade or so of my career took me through the Director of a Project Management Office, and Director of Clinical & Business Intelligence and Analytics, both for a large Tampa hospital. As the Director of Analytics, I could envision the application and power of data, yet unfortunately, I also witnessed that value going mostly untapped. Enter Edgility. Edgility's focus is to apply real-time data to achieve real-time outcomes particular to each organization. Bringing together the complex to achieve specific, meaningful results.


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

I’ve been in Tampa a little over ten years now. The changes I’ve witnessed over this decade are nothing short of astounding. From the growth of downtown to the introduction of Water Street, from developments up and down the Florida Ave corridor into Seminole Heights, Armature Works, the Midtown Project, are harbingers of the growth and excitement of Tampa. I am personally excited by the role of USF in our community. We see great potential in the students. I hope I can play a role in keeping this talent in Tampa and encouraging their entrepreneurial spirit.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

Tactical advice. A startup is like raising a baby (your first one). You don't know what to do, where to start, what to say, or what comes first. Don't worry. Go! Start! Jump. Make mistakes. Pick your baby up, dust it off, and Go! again. Babies are durable. So is your company, trust yourself. Raise your baby.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

It’s evident to me that Tampa is the leading city in Florida in terms of business and economic, and most importantly, entrepreneurial potential. Coupled with our climate and other amenities, Tampa should continue to grow and at an accelerated rate. My challenge personally, and as a member of Edgility, is to enhance, promote and solidify Tampa’s potential.


Learn more about Edgility on Twitter and LinkedIn.



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Ways to Optimize Website Speed

Did you know that an estimated 40% of users will abandon your site if it doesn’t load in two to three seconds? Essentially, slow websites will kill conversions for your brand. Besides the direct impact speed can have on the behavior of potential customers, a slow site can also hamper your site’s SEO rankings, as Google deprioritizes slow sites.

If you’re suffering from a slow website, here’s some tips on how to optimize for faster loading times.


Start by Assessing Site Speed

The first place to begin is to try a website speed test. There are a lot of great tools out that can tell you your average load time and what’s slowing it down. One of the best is Google’s PageSpeed Insights report. Here, you can analyze your website and gain access to suggested optimizations.


Minimize Redirects

Think of a redirect as a connecting flight – the more stops, the more time it takes to get to your destination. Don’t get us wrong, redirects are a useful tool to help guide users to the right place on your website, but they can have an impact on site speed. With the right tools, you can analyze your site’s redirects to see if any lead to pages that no longer exist. By cleaning these out, you can make users' mobile and desktop experience faster.


Maximize Cache

For most customers, it takes multiple visits to your business’ website before they make their purchase. By enabling caching on your site, repeat visitors will experience faster load times because your site’s information will wither be stored on their hard drive or browser, eliminating the need to send multiple HTTP requests. The process is fairly easy and can even be done using certain plug-ins.


Use a CDN

CDNs or Content Delivery Networks store content, which leads to faster load times for users. CDNs are comprised of a group of data centers that work in unison to provide faster load times. Essentially, using a CDN reduces the amount of time needed to send and retrieve your website’s information. Setting up a CDN is something you or one of your developers can easily do.


Go Easy on Plug-Ins

Do you ever look through the back-end of your website and wonder what all those unnecessary plug-ins are doing for your site? If they aren’t in use, they may be slowing it down, so it’s best to uninstall any that are unused on your site.

The quality of the plug-in can also affect site speed. Social sharing plug-ins tend to slow your site down, so it’s best to forgo those and embed your social media buttons instead.


Optimize Images

If you’ve ever tried to open a large image someone emailed to you and found yourself waiting for what seems like an eternity for it to load, you understand how big images can slow your website down. So, make sure any images are the correct size for your site. When optimizing images, picking the right file format is also of the essence. PNGs should be used for images with 16 or less colors (things like simple illustrations) and JPEGs should be your file of choice for all other pictures.


A slow website shouldn’t get in the way of delivering meaningful experiences to your customers. After you've made these updates, don't forget to go back and check your site speed via Google's PageInsights Tool.

For an in-depth review of on-site SEO check out this resource from SEO Moz.

Our partners at Bayshore Solutions contributed this guest post.



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Growth Story: Mclain Roth of Phonism

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Mclain Roth, Head of Growth at Phonism, a VoIP provisioning solution that enables businesses to set up and manage all of their VoIP phones on one cloud-based platform.


Where are you from?

Cleveland, OH. I'm currently in Chicago with plans to move to Tampa Bay in a few months.


Tell us more about your role at Phonism. What does a day in the life look like?

I'm about 5 weeks in at Phonism but I don't want to suggest that what I'm doing currently will be what I'll always be doing. 😉

I'm the Head of Growth at Phonism and when I think about my job, or more the reason I partnered with Steve Lazaridis — the founder of Phonism, is to help him focus more on the product and executive aspects of the business. Currently, he's that and the everything else guy. When he's taking on all those roles, it impacts our ability to scale. With that in mind, I feel that my role is to help him with all other tasks that aren't product or traditional CEO tasks - which include focusing on the north star, dealing with investors and championing the brand. Currently, I'm in charge of building out the early stages of our marketing strategy before we hire a marketing lead. I'm also working on implementing strong processes around sales, leveraging a CRM (which are challenging and painstaking to use but very effective for sales) and really cultivating the early sales channels available to us.

My strategy coming in was to get Phonism to focus on our core product offering vs trying to cater to each new potential use case. My thinking is we need to focus on our core use cases to build out a team, scale our process and stay profitable. Once the money comes in, I think we can focus on more specific use cases. However, our single product should cover at least 90% of use cases. I'm really excited for my role at Phonism and serving as the go-to for all things revenue, marketing, accounting and internal reporting, and soon to be external reporting.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

I actually started at AT&T through their college hire program. I lucked out since it was the first time they were offering a technical engineering sales program. I was supposed to be in the program for five months, but within two weeks they were like, "who is this kid? We need him" and they offered me a full-time position. I ended up piloting and developing a curriculum around technical engineering sales, including how to network, follow a standard sales protocol and how salespersons could communicate how mobile phones connect to our larger networks. When I left the position, I was hired in Chicago to oversee a technical sales team for a corporate company. I'm from a telecom family, my dad and brother are both involved in the industry, so I naturally was interested in the position but the corporate world hits hard.

The more time I spent solving problems, the more I realized they didn't want me to solve them. After a year in Chicago, the little things were all I could think about. It made no sense that the corporation used a tool they were paying thousands for (that no one was using or wanted to use) vs adapting the macro spreadsheet I had created during my time there (that everyone was using) across the organization — it just didn't make sense and was my biggest challenge working in corporate. Shortly after realizing this wasn't for me, I quickly transitioned over to the startup world.

I joined a telecom startup in Chicago and here is where I really started to sharpen my blades and learn what it takes to build a business, how financials get moved around, etc. When a startup gets funding, everyone gets really excited and immediately starts to think well, how do we hire? how should we operate? how can we make sure our operating models are informative and not historical? — but no one tells you how to do this.

I first started as a sales guy on the team. Things had changed drastically after a my first few months and nearly all of the sales leaders and existing salespersons were either fired or left after I stepped in and started solving problems. I later took over the sales team entirely till around our 20th hire. At the time I was not only running the sales team, but the marketing team and the customer success team, which was more non-technical support that paired well with the sales teams' efforts. I spent 4 years at the startup and met Steve during that time. Over the years, Steve and I had a trade show-dependent relationship, but I was lucky to catch him at the right time when he was looking to hire a number two for his team to help Phonism scale.

One of the unique challenges with a startup is the social economy of the business, which to me is really interesting. It's very reliant on social intelligence. I sometimes wish there were classes on this or tests to find out how socially intelligent someone is. I'm continually challenged (getting better but also learning more) on how to manage expectations of the people above and below you while still keeping everyone motivated. You can't really understand what this looks like until you agree with people on both sides that are diabolically opposed. I feel like this is always growing, so dynamic and very interesting.

Budgeting has also been another challenge in my career. When you're in a corporate setting, the budget is almost always predetermined. In a startup, there is no budget. You need to create one, make sure it's flexible, and include an ROI model. You get money from a VC and you think great, I'll put this in marketing, but then you ask yourself, well how do I know the marketing dollars are working after three months? How do I account for this? How do I iterate this?

I'd say the biggest challenge, especially as sales leaders, is creating reproducibility. What I've learned so far is hire the right sales people early. These people will generate business for you. Getting $1M in sales in an amazing achievement, but when you start to push for more, like reaching 8 and 9 figures, it seems insurmountable. You have to take the practices you did to get to $1M and make it 10x. How do you find channels that go to that next level and beyond? This is why you'll see companies make huge pivots on their way to success. It's the "take a step back to take a step forward" approach. These are some of my top of mind challenges when dealing with sales. It's an interesting cycle.


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

I'm currently in Chicago and truly love it here. But when asked how I feel about moving to Tampa, I try to separate the two so it isn't a drawn to a bittersweet experience. Tampa is an up and coming city, still in development much like the members of Embarc Collective. From what I know so far, it sounds like Tampa is on its way to becoming another startup hub. I feel the startup leaders I'll be networking with while there will make Tampa's startup story. I would love to say I know the next unicorn startup founder based in Tampa. What's great about the telecom industry is an overlapping trade show circuit. In a region like Tampa, we have leverage to be a leader in the telecom space here. If we can find the right talent and people in Tampa I'm confident we can easily pull others into this market — we clearly have an addressable market.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

One of the things I learned early on is to eat your own dog food and make sure to eat it before you sell it. One of the things that we struggled with early on is there are so many talented engineers with proficiency in software development, especially technical founders, who always say they can build. The idea that if you build, they will come does not work. If you build something that claims to solve a problem, yeah they may use it, but that doesn't mean the product you built actually solves the problem. When people build a product, they usually build with the intention of how people should use their products, not how they actually will use them.

To solve this, I learned you need to separate the problem space and the solution space. One of the challenges they had when sending astronauts to the moon was that pens would not work in space and astronauts needed some way to record notes. The US took the problem and spent a ton of money to develop a pen that could work in space, while in Russia they determined a pencil would work just fine. The lesson here is sometimes you get so caught up in the problem, you lose sight of the solution. In this case, the astronauts didn't need a new space pen, they just needed to handwrite notes.

Eat your product like a customer would eat it. If you're serving dog food on the floor, than you will need to eat it from the floor. Little things like this will help you understand how your customer is using your product which is necessary to build a strong MVP.

Another lesson I learned is to never sell your product for free. I got this advice early on in my career. I will stay by this always because once you offer your product for free you can become distracted from what actually generates your revenue. You'll be at the hands of the customer, making changes for any little requirement, and it's at no cost to them. Cut a deal, draft up a revenue share agreement, but don't do it for free.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

What I would love to do is be a part of the group of people in Tampa who are considered the startup soundboard for the region. I'm still young in my career, and have tons more to learn and make mistakes on, but would like to help others who are in a process I once was. I'm not super interested in being startup famous. I'm more interested in building the local startup culture that I feel Embarc Collective is trying to cultivate. I look forward to a place you can walk in and throw your spaghetti on the wall and instead of waiting around until it sticks, you have other builders who are helping pick up the pieces to assist you in making it stick. I look forward to being in an environment of early adopters. I think of it as a hack-a-thon environment but on how to build a business. My goal is to become an OG in the startup community and want to be available to startups to ask for advice or conversation. I want to work with people who give me the "i'm never satisfied feeling", in a good way. When we're crushing the world with Phonism, I plan to pay it back as an agile mentor.


Learn more about Phonism on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook



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Developing an SEO-Focused Content Strategy

Search engine optimization (SEO) and a strong content strategy go hand-in-hand. You can't have an effective SEO strategy without stellar content that resonates with your customers.

Search engines use proprietary algorithms to analyze content (i.e., words and images on your website, social media accounts and third-party sites associated with your website) to determine if your website content is a match to their web user's search query.

For search engines, content is everything. Crawlers, bots that crawl web pages to index, tag, and sort content for search engines, continually scan new and old webpages for content. They record dated content as well as update existing records when website content updates. Meaning they always stay current. That's why it's important to think about SEO with content in mind — crawlers are taking notes!


So what does an SEO-focused content strategy look like?

It all starts with keywords. Typically 65% of web users begin their buying process by consulting search engines. Users enter search queries (keywords) to find products, solutions, information, or locations that will solve their problems.

Search engines are constantly improving their algorithms to better determine what is relevant or credible enough to share with its users. When building your content strategy, it's important to think like a search engine. Their primary goal is to provide users with helpful search results to their queries. The more accurate they are in providing results, the likelihood the user will trust the search engine and return again with their next problem.

Your startup provides a solution. To help customers find you, consider what content they would be looking for to help solve the problem you have a solution for.

When planning your strategy, try to answer this single question:

"What content could our brand or company develop that would be of value to our customers to help solve their problem?"

The answer to this question should be your North Star as you plan your content strategy and make decisions on future content ideas.


Where to Start

Kick-off your content strategy with strong keyword planning. SEO Moz, a leader in the SEO space, developed a great how-to on conducting effective keyword research. A good rule of thumb is to focus on building content around 5-10 keywords (search queries) at first. Once you've identified what those are, it will be easier to develop a list of content ideas and resources around those keywords that will pass the test of search engines (ranking for keywords that people search for) and customers (who really want content to help them solve their problem).

Below is a list (with links to examples) of quality content types that are not only helpful to the consumers but are also sharable. Use a mix of these formats to diversify your content and appeal to different customer segments. Really great content is good enough to share with others. Word of mouth and referrals are still the most powerful methods to get your brand and company exposure.

Blog Posts - this is the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to content. Blog posts can be developed by your marketing hire, other members of the team or a contract copywriter.

Infographics - complex information is best distilled in this format. Visualizing your data is a great way to get your point across in a fashion that's easy to digest.

Videos - can help boost conversion rates online. Commercials, infomercials, social videos, product tutorials are all helpful to customers when solutions-based.

White Papers - these long form documents can help establish your company's credibility in the industry. White Papers are good for case studies, research reports or specific subject matter content.

Guides/Workbooks - guides and workbooks are a great way to show thought leadership. Your content should be focused on how to use your product and also help customers accomplish "hacks" or improvements.

Content should help drive your customers to a conversion. Conversions can look different for each company depending on your sales funnel. It's important to know what that looks like going into your content strategy planning.

Below are a few examples of conversions that should happen from strong content:

  • Email signups
  • Document download with email signup
  • Product purchase
  • Complete contact form to get in touch with sales
  • Schedule an appointment with sales or a service provider
  • Follow on social media or secondary platform

Any mix of these conversions may be suitable for your startup. Essentially, you want all of your content, either posted on your website or shared with a third-party website, to have a call to action.


In Application

One of the greatest content marketing campaigns known in the industry was done in 1912 by Michelin. The Michelin Tire Company created a guide known as the Michelin Guide (still regarded today as an entity that awards the best of the best in food, travel and destinations) to help people discover the places, food and stops that you can get to with a car. The automobile industry was just taking off and Michelin wanted car owners to buy Michelin tires. Instead of bogging them down with reasons why they should buy new tires, like safety reasons or car effectiveness, they created a content resource that would encourage people to wear their tires by driving to recommended places. In turn, this would require the traveler to regularly replace their tires. Michelin built a trusted reputation through the reliability of the Michelin Guide, that it was a no-brainer for new and existing customers to have Michelin replace their tires.

Another great example of effective content marketing was done by SEO Moz. They offer SEO tools and support software to help SEO specialists and their teams improve their website search engine ranking and visibility. When they begin business, optimizing for search engines was a fairly new idea and not everyone at the time could claim to be an SEO expert. Rather than try to focus on a small group of customers, and continue marketing to a small group of users, Moz decided to focus on creating content that would develop more SEO experts who in turn would want to use their tools. They created the Ultimate Beginner's Guide to SEO to help people become better SEO experts. They essentially provided the 101 content to graduate their customers to want to use their 201 products.


Plan & Test

Once your content strategy is set, you're ready to implement and start testing. The best thing about content is it has the potential to go viral, the downside is you won't really know until you publish it. It may take some time to figure out what content best appeals to your customer. However, when you find a content piece that sticks, continue to improve on the content type, i.e., publish similar content pieces or create an updated or expanded version of existing pieces that did well. Testing different types of content will give you solid data on what works best for your market.

Don't forget to schedule. Scheduling is key to implementing your content strategy effectively. Mark the dates of when first drafts should be developed, when creative (pictures and videos that accompany the content) should be completed, final draft due dates, and when you plan to publish. A content strategy is only as strong as your accountability. It requires consistency to develop a reputation as a trusted resource.

Focus on making quality content. Good content can last for years, that's what the Michelin Guide has taught us. Provide value to your customers and build a reputation as a trusted resource — and in turn, your customers will buy into your startup.



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Growth Story: Shawn Leavor of Defynance

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Shawn Leavor, Operations Manager of Defynance, an income share agreement marketplace that allows people to refinance student loans debt-free.


Where are you from?

Dade City, FL


Tell us more about your role at Defynance. What does a day in the life look like?

Everyday looks completely different. My main focus as the Operations Manager is to manage the development and implementation of our processes and product. I'm also responsible for making sure our customers have the best experience with our product and continue to improve on the customer experience as much as possible. My biggest project at the moment is looking at our current process and how we can better automate them as our company grows.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

After graduating the University of South Florida graduated, I started working on the Defynance team. My career essentially started by diving straight into the startup world. The biggest challenge is learning more about the startup world and the startup environment, more how everything works. Learning about the financial services industry has also been a challenge of it's own. Unlike the jobs I had in college, this is an entirely new space and is work I've never done before. I try to draw experience from my internship at an industrial plan while I was at USF, but considering it was completely different in my role now. I spend a lot of time learning new things.


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

Tampa is pretty much all I know so it's had everything to do with my journey. I grew up in a city just a bit north of Tampa, went to high school in Land O Lakes and then USF for college. And considering Defynance is Tampa-based it makes sense to build here. I don't think I would be where I am today if my education wasn't shaped by Tampa Bay. Going to USF and making connections there has been really valuable in leading me down this path.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

Surround yourself with people you enjoy being around. At the end of the day you're going to spend a majority of time with your team. It's important to be happy in the environment you're working in and I think it helps make people more productive.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

I think Tampa is definitely growing. I've been here for 20 years and it's grown a lot. I think it's only going to continue to grow, especially with places like Embarc Collective helping small startups grow. I can see a lot more people staying in the area and building their companies here instead of moving somewhere else. I want to help Defynance grow and build in this region as well as help other startups later down the line that may be facing the same challenges we experienced during our building phase.


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Growth Story: Will Kelly of Knack

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Will Kelly, Head of Operations of Knack, a peer tutoring platform for universities to activate their high-achieving students as a qualified network of peer educators.


Where are you from?

Raleigh, NC


Tell us more about your role at Knack. What does a day in the life look like?

As an early hire at a fast-growing startup, no two days are exactly the same. While my primary focus is driving increased efficiency through improving internal business operations, I also assist with marketing, product, account management, sales, data/analytics, business strategy, human resources, and everything in between. I’m even the “Editor in Chief” of the Knack Notes Blog.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

I began working with Knack in August of 2016, just a few weeks into my first year of college. I actually first served as a tutor, signing up after receiving a marketing email and going on to have the first Knack session outside of the state of Florida. Consequently, Samyr reached out to ask if I would be interested in getting involved with their marketing efforts on campus. Soon thereafter, I identified a few opportunities to make the campus marketing program more efficient/cost-effective and, within a few months, I was running campus marketing across all 6 of Knack’s campuses. Over the course of the next year, I helped grow Knack to 60+ campuses across the US and continued to expand my role in the company. As such, I was offered a full-time position with the company and I moved down to Tampa last year after graduating from NC State.

The biggest challenge that I faced early in my career was balancing my time between being in school and working on Knack. This was compounded by my desire to graduate from college in two years, while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Luckily, Samyr and the rest of the founders at Knack were extremely helpful in providing the support and flexibility needed for me to succeed. Since joining the team full-time, I have challenged myself to become a better leader within the company as we have continued to expand our team.


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

I have lived in Tampa for just over a year now and, in that time, I have already seen tremendous growth in the startup community here. Being able to interact with other startups and see the abundance of hard working individuals in the area has been extremely inspiring. I look forward to seeing the Tampa Bay startup community continue to prosper in years to come.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

My biggest piece of advice would be to clearly define your goals and priorities, both as a company and as an individual. If you have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and a rough idea of how to get there, hard work and dedication will take care of the rest. Building a startup is no easy task, but if you are resilient and fully committed to doing whatever it takes to succeed, then you’ll have a good chance to make it happen.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

Tampa Bay is well positioned to grow into one of the premier startup hubs in the US. This will only happen if companies like ours do our part to show that startups can be successful here. I look forward to leading the charge with my team here at Knack.


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