In this episode, Adam and Carlton are joined by Justin Gordon, the Director of Marketing at Vitalize Venture Capital. Justin shares about his content “serendipity engine,” the advice he gives people just starting out, and future trends that excite him the most. As Justin’s case proves, sometimes it’s not if you will be successful, but when.
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Transcription generated by Otter.ai
Adam Vazquez 0:06
Today’s guest is Justin Gordon who is the Director of Marketing at Vitalize Venture Capital, Host of the Vitalize Podcast and the host of the Just Go Grind Podcast, along with a bunch more. Justin’s entire career has been built on the back of creating and distributing smart and helpful content in a variety of industries and during this interview he really gets into how content took him from making $30k as a gym trainer to leading marketing for startups, and now being the face of a VC firm. He also shared how he’s created what he calls a “serendipity engine” through his content and the advice he gives to people just starting out, along with a bunch more trends that he’s really excited about and a bunch of other stuff we got into.
I was really inspired by Justin’s energy and consistency and I think you will be too. Let’s dive into this episode with Justin Gordon from Vitalize VC.
Put that content down. Content. The close is over. What’s your name? Content. That’s my name. You know why, mister? Because you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight. I drove an $80,000 BMW. That’s my name. Content Is for Closers.
Adam Vazquez 1:18
Welcome back into Content Is for Closers. We have a very special episode for you, once again, but before we get to it, Carlton, how’s it going? What do you think of this episode with Justin Gordon?
Carlton Riffel 1:27
It was great, man. I just need to up my swag to compete with you. You just got the hat and the hoodie on. I just need to get a little bit—
Adam Vazquez 1:38
I’m just learning from all of our great guests. We’ve had some killer guests on recently and they’re helping my game. I had a—we just recorded yesterday, so it’ll be out a little bit—with Landon Campbell from Twist, This Week In Startups, and I was telling him my trade for him being on the show as a regular contributor is he needs to keep me from becoming an old, and he agreed to that.
Carlton Riffel 2:05
He’ll just give you style tips. So that’s where it’s coming from. So it was good man, I love the episode because there are some things in the content space where you think, well, is this a fluke? Or is this somebody that just got lucky? But this is a case where he was doing it, practicing it, refining his craft for a long time. It’s one of those cases where it wasn’t necessarily if he would become successful but when he would become successful because he literally was just publishing and pumping out content for a long time, and not just in small batches here and there. He was doing a volume of content. That’s one big takeaway is, if you want to be successful with content creation, you can’t just do it once a month or once every quarter. You have to be pushing and really looking for ways to get out there.
Adam Vazquez 3:01
Yeah, and in hindsight, what you said is true. In hindsight, it was just a matter of time until he was successful, but Justin didn’t know that, a lot of us don’t know that as we’re in the trenches, so I think that’s what’s so helpful with a lot of what he said during this episode and a lot of the content that he creates now, which is essentially the behaviors to do on a consistent basis in order to get an outcome that you’d want down the road. That’s what I took away from it. The things that he shared, the tools that he uses are not trend or fad-based, they’re just consistent behaviors that will help you get to an objective that you want to on the other side of it. I really enjoyed this conversation. Let’s get into it with Justin Gordon from Vitalize VC.
Alright, we’ve got Justin Gordon here on the show. Justin, normally I give this “Justin Gordon from…” and I can give all these different things. You have so many different places that I could pin you to different brands that you work on, so maybe it’d be better if you just give us a description of what you do and what you’re working on.
Justin Gordon 4:13
Yeah, Adam, I appreciate that. There’s a lot going on the Vitalize side. I’m the Director of Marketing of Vitalize Venture Capital. We’re a venture capital fund, as well as Angel community, as well as an SPV network, so all things investing in startups from pre-seed to seed. I write our newsletter, we host a podcast with a couple episodes a week. We’re very, very heavily involved on Twitter. A huge part of our content strategy is there. I also host my own podcast called Just Go Grind, my own newsletter called Justin’s Journal. I had one called Startup Hiring, which I kind of let go a little bit, and then I’m also building our course through Maven as well on podcasting on top of all the other things, so there’s a lot of content things going on.
Adam Vazquez 4:53
That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much for making time for us. And like I told you before we kick off normally I’m hesitant to say, “Hey, tell us how you got here” or “tell us your backstory,” but your story leans so directly into what this show is about. I’d love it if you could just give us a little bit of the background. Specifically, what were you doing before you started this content creation journey and then kind of how did that parlay into what you’re all those things you just listed that you’re working on now?
Justin Gordon 5:21
Yeah, it’s been quite the journey, as you mentioned. So back in 2013 was when I actually started blogging. And the reason for that is I have my own personal training business. I started blogging at an internship called Fitness Quest 10. It was a place where NFL athletes are training alongside everyday folks and that was really interesting. I started blogging about it. It was my first foray into let’s start writing because the person there, Todd Durkin, he was the founder of that he was big into writing had this huge business built up of all content. And so I had never really done content before that, I use that to grow. Just go fitness was my fitness company at the time. And I saw how content led to me getting clients grow my expertise. Even though I was very new to the industry. I saw it as a way to elevate myself. So I started blogging, I eventually did a challenge, I think was like 400 posts and 400 days, I ended up doing a couple 100 blog posts. But from that progression that kept getting me clients for training, elevate my brand, personally, because people started seeing my articles learn more about SEO at that point in time. So people are coming, my site was getting five or 6000 views, you know, every month. And so that slowly grew, I just saw the connection between content brand marketing, how all that fuel the business. And from now I joined an eCommerce company and doing the same type of thing. So I was like, We are eCommerce sports figures and bobbleheads called Clark toys. We use content to one with the ads as well, we were doing but once we did some content things, primarily video to showcase these figures. I was really interesting because people hadn’t seen them before in that way. After a year, I finally convinced my cousin. I was like, Hey, we should we should do videos. Because these figures are cool. They’re exclusive. And you know so much about it. So leveraging the stakeholder that is the owner of the business to get him to talk which he wasn’t normally on camera wasn’t comfortable at first. But getting him a talk I saw how that content exploded. So we had vendors and everyone always talking about it went to conferences, people are like, I saw your guys’ videos, they look amazing. Like, I see that I can see that can we give you some of the figures we have to showcase on video. And so I started progression from there. And then I went to business school at USC. And after that was still the whole time creating podcasts. So 2018 Right before business school, I decided to create a podcast called disco grind, because I was going to talk to all these different people and I wanted a way to reach out. So even in school, so every single day, we had guest speakers come in, I’d like hey, I have a podcast who are Come on. And so while no one else, my class had a reason to follow up these people, because they’re like CEOs and executives, they would talk to me because I had a show, which is super small at the time too. And it was like, This is insane. Like this is amazing that we can do they can do this. And so that progressed to another company after business school in the paid acquisition kind of space, wasn’t doing it as much content, their content was a part of it. So I ended up leaving there. I was doing podcasts full time for about five or six months I was doing every day starting August of 2020. That led me to meeting Gale I’d vitalize through a cold DM on Twitter, I had been interviewing people saw what she was doing that was really interesting. And I was like I reached out. And then a week after episode went live, she posted position. I like retweeted to my network because I thought it was cool. And then after that I was talking to my friend in a walk. I’m like this actually, is something I should do. And I wasn’t going to go to myself my own thing full time, I found the company so intriguing. The content led me to Gail which got me into Venture Capital and we’ve done a lot in the last year plus since I joined.
Adam Vazquez 8:44
Wow. That is a fire hydrant of content. That’s great. So many follow-ups on that. So first of all, you said you started on in the fitness space. That a little bit explains— We’re mutually in this 1,000-mile thing for 2022 and you’re very fast. You’re frustratingly fast, I’ve noticed from that group, but that’s kind of what you started on and that was your business. Was that all self-taught? The SEO and how that all connects? Did you just sort of figure that out? Or was that from school or something like that?
Justin Gordon 9:21
I don’t have a marketing background at all. I had an Exercise Sports Science degree, undergrad, and so very much so the fitness side of it. What I was very lucky with early on is finding books. Were some from Wisconsin that went to school in Wisconsin, finding books then entrepreneurship that got me interested in it in the first place. And then just reading blog after blog. I even start listening to podcasts even back then second. I love marketing, I think podcasts one of the early ones, a lot of different podcasts and content. So I was just hungry to learn more about it. And I think one of the common threads though, even going back to 2013 or so, when I started blogging was this idea of testing and so I was just always testing different things out. I continue today to do the exact same thing, I’m very lucky that I have a live autonomy, which is fortunate because if I was in these rails, I would be very unhappy. But that thread from that was testing different things from that. So I would just learn things from books and blogs primarily. So blogging was much bigger even back then. So I’ve learned from there, I’d test things. And so even when I was running for my own site, I remember you know, try write some articles not getting that much traction, I see some get some traction, and then I, I kept the same formula. So one of the things was, I saw that I was reading about celebrity workouts, and I was like, wait in that like, this is like going crazy. I just generally, I’m curious about some of the extreme ones. So I 300, the movie, the guys were so ripped, they like the most, I will just what I did was I literally would just look at, like every article on the topic, aggregate all that into a cohesive blog post, and write that. And that got the most traction on those types of blog posts. And I saw that I just repeated over and over again, I did that for that one. I did one for like, maybe Hugh Jackman or something. And I didn’t know that one. I kept seeing that traction from that. So I pulled that thread, experimenting over and over again. And that’s how I learned all things contents. Always been an experimentation.
Adam Vazquez 11:07
I love that. And then fast-forwarding to even now with Vitalize, you talk about you met Gail, you kind of became interested in ventures, so different than where you started. And I think what’s beautiful about that whole story is there are all these different threads. I’ve heard you talk about this before that kind of fold into I think you call the serendipity. So I’m curious, it’s a great moniker. You’re obviously a very natural marketer. What is that? What does that mean to someone who’s out listening, thinking about how to use content?
Justin Gordon 11:41
I think we look at content— You’re never sure what’s going to hit and what’s going to reach who. As marketers, we have an idea of who we would want to reach, outcomes, and those sort of things, but you never really know which piece it’s going to be. I don’t actually think you have to have the attributes for everything. We like to try to attribute “this post led to this person,” it’s never that clear. Attribution is insane. It’s so hard to measure. And even when I was in the car toys, or doing eCommerce, like, so hard to track that wasn’t the newsletter, you know, get a click through after news. But was it the social media posts first, like that part is so so challenging in that. To that point, all that in terms of the attribution and terms of everything with that it was just like, I don’t know, it’s hard to even say. I’m losing my train of thought on this with exactly what it was, but I think with Vitalize and everything we’re doing— Yeah, sorry. One more time on the question.
Adam Vazquez 12:33
Oh, just what the idea of a serendipity engine is and how you use it.
Justin Gordon 12:38
Yeah, and there are a few things with it, but the main thing around having this is like you put out all these different pieces of content, and you never know which one’s gonna hit. And so my whole thing has always been to put out a wide variety. And so every podcast episode, for instance, they have an evergreen shelf life, because I do interviews with people as their stories, it’s not going to change. And so because we have this evergreen content, all these different things you put out there, allow for someone to find you in a fun, interesting way. So I’ll have people ping me randomly, like, I saw your newsletter, or I saw your tweet, or I saw your LinkedIn post, or I saw your YouTube video. And that’s why even like we’re doing this video, like I put them on YouTube, even though don’t get a ton of views, like you still find people through that. And also, it’s a search engine that can grow from that. The whole idea of having a serendipity engine, is that you put out a lot of different things that give you at-bats are lottery tickets, just like they do for startup investing, really, when you’re putting all these bets, and obviously you’re trying to be educated on around that. But as you’re testing things, good things happen from that. And so going back to the podcasting side of it, I had equity, a startup that found me because I had interviewed the founder. And then he was like, hey, I want to have you join my company. That happened, obviously, with Gail finding her serendipitously through just posting on Twitter and be on that platform. And even I mean, so many other things. I met so many founders and VCs through podcasts, and then people reach out to you. So now I’m at the point where, you know, people reach out cold to me, PR people constantly do, and like, it’s insane what can happen when you start putting those things out there and then good things just happen. But you have to be willing to look stupid in some ways and not really know what you’re doing. But then over time, good things happen.
Adam Vazquez 14:19
Yeah, it’s so true. It’s how I became connected with you. You did a podcast, well, someone how you’re connected/were talking to either Ruben or Chacho. I know you just did the episode with Chacho recently. He’s a friend of ours. We produce his show. So there are just all these different things. I kept seeing this guy, Justin Gordon, and then you actually going into your story and seeing like, oh, he built his whole career, you know, so just piece by piece with content. It’s super interesting and I totally can resonate with when we started our business. About five years ago, we started podcast and got conversations with people who we had no business talking to because we had microphones, essentially, so that is crazy.
If you were starting over today, and you’re back at the gym, what would it look like? What would be the steps that you take or the tactics you use for somebody who doesn’t have the last whatever it is five, seven, 10 years of creation to develop?
Justin Gordon 15:22
It’s all a matter of, first of all, what your goals are and who you’re trying to reach. I think that’s kind of the first thing. If I was going back to, obviously, fitness a little bit different. If I look at the platforms of combination of rented and own audiences, right, so I look at now what my strategy would have been from day one if it was venture capital, for instance, would be (1) tweet way more, (2) have an ongoing newsletter, (3) capture emails. Very, very, very, very simple. Don’t complicate it. However, if your people aren’t on Twitter, your margins aren’t on Twitter, if it’s Facebook, or if it’s Instagram, whatever, same type of thing: drive them back to a website where you can get their emails, and then you have that owned audience versus that rented audience. That’s something I never really understood early on. I had been building an email list since 2013, when I started. That would have grown a lot faster. I ended up starting one in fitness a little bit later, and wasn’t huge at all. And even in this kind of venture space. I’ve had one nonchalantly for a bit, but only now am I trying to a little bit more than newsletter side of it. So I think anyone starting off with if you do that, and don’t necessarily marry yourself to one specific topic or theme, and I think at the start, it’s helpful to kind of get your footing on something, but eventually people are going to follow you for you, I think, yes, you ever to a certain audience or certain topic, for sure. But then as you can branch out from that over time, because like, even now, I mean, the connection of fitness, and all the different things I’m doing is me at the end, and so people are kind of curious from that. And I think one of the things I’ve always had thought about in terms of people starting out with and what resonates with me, it was from Tim Ferriss book, Four-hour Workweek, one things I’ve met, he mentioned around, like being a master of none, master of none, one, basically, or jack of all trades. And I love that he understood that it’s more fun to be a jack of all trades. Even though in the short term, you might have a little bit less traction, I think it’s interesting when you create content that way because you figure out the things you’re interested in, things you’re good at, things people like you for. It’s just way more fun to have kind of multiple personalities and multiple, you know, irons in the fire per se like I talk about the fitness stuff on Twitter. Some people might say super niche, but like, it’s like me like you, like go deeper with Rubin because of that. And like, to me, that’s just more fun and long term. I’m gonna keep doing it more because I enjoy it. Whereas if I had gone niche on one thing I thought about that even I launched just go grind the podcast, I was thinking about doing like, a really specific career at the time is like career. 24/7 is like one option, like super career-focused, yeah, in some niche. And I was like, well, that’s not gonna be as fun. I want more broad appeal, just so I can change later on so I may just go cry. And that’s why I’m like newsletters like Justin’s journal, because I don’t want to go super niche necessarily. For someone just getting started off, like I said: rented audiences versus own audience, understand that, and capture emails is like the core of everything.
Adam Vazquez 18:03
Yeah. It’s having that marathon mindset because you’re in it, you know you’re in it for just inevitable, or whatever that word is. There’s no cap.
Justin Gordon 18:13
Indefinitely. We’re both in it indefinitely.
Adam Vazquez 18:14
Indefinitely, there it is. So there’s not necessarily an urgency that you have to make it about this one thing. I’m totally with you. People who follow me on Twitter have to hear about the Philippine eagles, they have to hear me moan about fitness, about content, whatever, but they’re there. They’re along for the ride, or they choose to be there as a result. And so it kind of brings your whole person to it. I love the way you think about that. What’s something that’s been maybe either a favorite piece of content or interview or the performance of something. You’ve made so many things at this point, what’s one of your favorites that you’ve done over the last however many years?
Justin Gordon 18:55
One of the things I always kind of come back to is impact and things that are impactful just in their mission inherently and what the actual outcome is. I interviewed the founder of the Against Malaria Foundation on the podcast. And the reason I did because it was rated like one of the top charities, every like every single year for like five or six or something years. And I was like, Well, why and how and if you go to a site, it’s like super bare bones like HTML, basically a super big but they track everything to a tee. So it has a number of like donations and the amount and where it goes. And they track every dollar and where it goes. And the way I got started is with like the founder, basically doing a swim to try to get like a million people to swim and he mentioned this idea of 10-minute thinking or something where you know, how could you for just a few minutes like a little action have a massive impact. So he thought if I just like call like 10 different people, whatever it was, like a minute each call in theory that had the most the biggest impact possible. And so hearing that in that podcast and how he thought about it, and how he thinks about kind of leverage in that way, and then being so data-driven to track everything to stand out so people can actually see like, okay, like, this is the literally like the village where these nets were bought where your money went to. And that level of transparency I thought was amazing. And that only came about because I think I saw I heard about him I was following like, 80,000 hours organization. And I heard about that charity. And because I have a podcast, I reached out and he literally said to me, I think like, I don’t really do interviews normally, but you seem compelling. I want to talk like, what so great. And I talked to this guy, he was, like one of the top charities in the world. And he said me like, that has been one of the favorite pieces of content moments I’ve had on the show so far. It’s cool.
Adam Vazquez 20:40
That’s cool. I’ll have to link that below. Was that recently? Or…?
Justin Gordon 20:44
It was a little while ago. Probably an episode in the 100s. I’m like 300 something now. It’s probably in the 100s right now.
Adam Vazquez 20:49
Alright, we’ll figure it out.
Justin Gordon 20:51
Rob Mather, I believe is his name.
Adam Vazquez 20:53
Rob Mather, awesome. What about on the toolset side? Is there anything that you feel like particularly helpful for you’ve just really become comfortable with? For me, my team hates it, but I’m just a Notion addict so they get sent Notion links whether they want it or not. Is there anything like that, that you’re just comfortable with?
Justin Gordon 21:10
Well, first off, Adam, I’ll say I have convinced my team that we are using Notion now so I just made us basically switch over as well. I started hearing more about it and I’m like, alright, Notion is legit. We need to use this. I think we use it for almost everything now. There are only a few things we’re not using Notion for at Vitalize. I think one more to the like, Hypefury, if you’ve heard of that, for Twitter. I find Hypefury to be amazing. Shout out to Hypefury. Yannick Veys is the founder. It just makes growing your Twitter audience a little bit easier and they can do like automatic retweets, they can help you schedule posts, have you draft threads if you want. I didn’t really want to use software for Twitter, other than Twitter itself, but I found this to help because it just increases your engagement without you doing really any extra lift. For us, we already have such a lack of time in the venture world when you have founders pitching you all the time, you’re trying to manage your current founders, obviously find new ones, there’s a lot of stuff going on, so anything that saves us time and makes it easier for us, that was a tool that we more recently have started using, so Gail uses it as well and our team uses it and I think that’s one of the best content tools at least in terms of Twitter, we found.
Adam Vazquez 22:20
Oh, cool. I haven’t heard of that. Is that something you could, like, you use it for your Twitter account? Or is it more for like super corporate handles?
Justin Gordon 22:28
Yes and yes. All the above. Yeah, so I use it for my personal one, the Vitalize VC, as well as Galeforce VC (which is Gale’s), but yeah, we use it for all of us.
Adam Vazquez 22:37
Very cool. All right. Thanks for sharing that. All right. Last question: What are you just excited about? What do you got going on in ’22? Obviously, a million things, but what’s one that maybe just has been really amped or something new that you’re excited to delve into throughout this year?
Justin Gordon 22:52
Yeah, the most recent thing that I’m geeking out is Twitter spaces. Now, I used Clubhouse a little bit back in the day. Everyone I think tried it out at one point. Yeah, Twitter spaces. We went on my first one maybe last week. And then we hosted our first Twitter spaces this week. And I think the reason being the reason why I’m so bullish on that, in general, is more of a broader topic. So Twitter space is part of a broader conversation around connection. So using content to connect, and that, to me has been the greatest thing. So today as we’re speaking February 3, I had this tweet that went that’s going viral right now around like for angel investors identified themselves on Twitter basically like Hey, call shouting out angel investors. So early-stage founders get credit to them, because a lot of people whether it’d be different Margaret’s or whatever, they just don’t know investors. And like, I think as a VC, when you’re in it, you take that for granted like, oh, yeah, they know VCs, like, whatever. But I had zero network and startups and VC. Before I started my podcast, like zero, I knew my cousin was a founder, and maybe one other person in 2018. And so in like three-ish years, made three and a half years, I have a massive network of so many people. So anytime I can use content, whether it be Twitter spaces, Twitter, specifically, to connect people, that’s what I get excited about. So like in that post, for instance, I think there’s, there are dozens of people. I mean, as we’re talking right now, I know there was like, It’s nonstop notifications. There are so many people connecting, you know, VCs and angels kinds of founders in the thread. Like, I find that to be amazing the ability to use these platforms and to leverage content to connect other people and to connect with people. That is what I’m most excited about. I’ve always been excited about that back in even the early days of writing a blog and then getting my first person to email me from Nebraska, I will not forget, they’re like, oh my gosh, this is amazing back in 2013 to now and I can connect people online through my network. And as it grows, I just become more helpful. That to me is what I’m most excited about.
Adam Vazquez 24:45
So cool. Okay, so just to geek out on it for just a second: the thread is going viral, but how does that relate to the space? Was the space about that topic?
Justin Gordon 24:55
So it related because that gave me the idea to even write thread. So I then Twitter’s So what I was finding from Twitter spaces was that people were connecting people like trying to connect with VCs in Twitter spaces, they were kind of trying to learn more about, hey, I don’t have a network and VC or anything. And so I heard of that in the Twitter space, and you get these ideas from people who are on the ground, right? Like I talked to a lot of founders inherently through being at a venture firm. And so you’re sort of that but then when a tourist base is people being vulnerable in those and asking questions, and engaging, vacuuming ideas, like wait a minute, like I have, at this point now, like 4000, or so like Twitter followers, I’m like, well, a lot of those are VCs or angel investors, because we interview them on our show, interviewed them on my show. And so I’m like, Well, I’m going to write this tweet around like angel investors, like, identify ourselves a lot, early-stage, not even just in the US, like, all over the place, we have a lot people in the threat already. And like Latin America, and Africa, you know, they don’t have networks in venture capital. And so if I can just tweet that and kind of facilitate that, then a lot of goodwill happen. And so that all started, the idea of it came from the Twitter spaces. And that’s why I want to do more Twitter spaces, because I think they’re a great way to kind of engage, but also get these ideas that then you can leverage to create the content, just like doing user interviews or user research in that way. I think Twitter spaces are gonna be great for that and that’s what I’m really excited about, too.
Adam Vazquez 26:11
So cool. Well, Justin, thank you so much for sharing all this. Thanks for spending the time with us. People want to follow you with all the stuff that you’ve got going on. What’s the easiest way for them to get into the world of Justin?
Justin Gordon 26:23
Twitter is probably the easiest way. JustinGordon212 is my Twitter handle. That’s because 212 degrees is the temperature it takes for water to boil and with water boiling, you can power a steam engine. That was something I picked up from a book a long time ago. I add 212 to the end of my profile and think about that every time I go on Twitter. So that is the easiest way for people to reach out to me on Twitter.
Adam Vazquez 26:44
Awesome, we’ll do it. Well, we appreciate you again and we follow everything you do and I’m watching your runs with envy as the year goes on. Thanks for joining us.
Justin Gordon 26:52
Thanks for having me, Adam. I appreciate it.
Carlton Riffel 26:54
And that’s a wrap. Thank you for listening to this episode of Content Is for Closers. We hope you find this show really helpful as you grow your business with content. Maybe you know of other people who would find this show helpful as well. How about you send them our way? If you didn’t like this show and you want to tell us that, then you can head over to contentisforclosers.com where you can send us a message, give us some feedback, ask questions, or find detailed notes for every episode. Until next time, keep creating and keep closing.