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Joe Coleman and Shane Snow are self-described “internet dorks” that have been thick as thieves since childhood when they went to middle school together in Idaho Falls. Their first company together was an online greeting cards concept when they were sixteen years old. The two parted ways for college but knew they wanted to work together again eventually, Coleman tells me. “We wanted to do content marketing, which I had tried before during my last company (CashCrate), but I simply wasn’t a great writer or editor and it was so difficult to find good ones. Shane had moved to New York City to go to journalism school at Columbia and was also freelance writing for publications like Wired, Mashable and Fast Company. He brought this other perspective to content marketing; how fragmented the freelance life is.” Coleman followed Snow to NYC and the two brought in David Goldberg, who Snow had worked with previously. Goldberg had tired of life as a lawyer and met the design-savvy Snow on Hacker News while working as a developer. He then became chief technical officer, bringing legal chops to the team.

“When people we respected started recommending we do Techstars last summer, I was taken aback,” says Coleman. “As far as I concerned, accelerators like Techstars were for two guys in a garage just starting out…except in New York, where it’d have to be a parking garage, which would be weird. At the time, Contently had been around for almost six months, and we’d made tangible progress in terms of paying customers and a modest growth rate. Nevertheless, because of the quality of recommendations, they had our attention. We learned about certain companies in the last class that were further along, and we began to realize that the program was much more than just an accelerator for pre-product teams. In fact, the main benefits of Techstars happened to line up perfectly with our primary business goals. …now that we’re on the other side, we’d do it over again in a heartbeat. It’s an amazing experience for companies at the right stage–which may be later than you think.”

When they joined the second New York City program of Techstars last year, a $335K debt round from Founder Collective quickly fell in line with Techstars’ $18K in seed funding. “Contently is something that literally every one of our portfolio companies could use,” Founder Collective Managing Partner Eric Paley told TechCrunch for its announcement about the funding. In January 2012, Lightbank led a $2M series A round for Contently, adding to the news of ten Techstars companies raising a total of $42M in January. Consigliere Brand Capital also invested and even provided office space early this year while the founders set up a slightly bigger shop elsewhere.

Contently is now lauded by publishers and writers alike, having listened to the market’s needs. “We changed from more of a service-based model to a marketplace model,” Snow told Dave Lerner in a Mashable interview about progressing from $0 to $1M in revenue in a year. The founders slightly iterated to connect writers with brands and networks looking to invest in quality content instead of their original concept, matching every contributor to a large media news entity such as the New York Times. Featured publishers on Contently include the likes of Rackspace, CBS, Elle, Mint, and Best Buy and contributors include writers from Wall Street Journal, Denver Post, Wired, Reuters, and NBC, to name a few.

“One of the challenges is maintaining the vision as we grow,” Coleman confides. “Scaling the product, for any startup really, you’re constantly wishing you could build more stuff at any given moment. Prioritizing product development has been big for us lately. As we bring on clients each month, we’re trying to scale this gracefully.” These growing pains aren’t without their rewards. “I love the level of responsibility that comes with being an entrepreneur. You’re forced to learn so much and it’s so rewarding to become self sufficient, make things work. As a founder, if things are going well or not, you’re ultimately responsible for it. The buck stops with you.” For the founders of Contently and their users, something else big stops: the era of mass-produced, low-quality content farms.

Clare Tischer
Social Media and Content Manager, Techstars