To Blog or Not To Blog

So I’m definitely not unique in thinking this thought or typing this phrase. Searching Google yields 257,000 pages that contain the phrase “To Blog or Not To Blog.” So clearly a plethora of deep thinkers have pondered this question.

But the reason I am pondering whether to blog and how often strikes me as somewhat unique. So I decided to share my thinking and see if other entrepreneurs out there have dealt with a similar problem. I’d like to know how others have overcome the stumbling blocks to blogging.

First some background. I started blogging in November 2003, inspired by Phil Windley of Technometria fame. I blogged actively for years, usually several times a week. My primary topic was internet entrepreneurship and internet marketing. I was also in incubator mode, looking for new ideas to turn into businesses.  

I sometimes blogged about things I knew a great deal about, from experience, and shared key things I had learned, particularly at Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com from 1996-2002, where my friends and I had built a highly successful venture-funded profitable dot com company, but had also experienced many of the disappointments of entrepreneurs who get caught in an economic downturn or bad business cycle.

I often blogged about new technologies and ideas that I had discovered but hadn’t tried yet, and I wanted to ask the blogosphere to comment on what they knew about them. I often remarked that blogging made me a better thinker and writer, but also made me much smarter because the community knew a lot more about most things than I did, and I would often get responses within 24 hours that changed the way I was approaching a new technology or an opportunity.

In the pre-Twitter era, I felt blogging kept me in touch better than any other way with the outside world, with employees, partners, and investors.  In June 2005 I blogged that All CEOs Should Blog, because I felt it had helped me so much with open two-way communication that I found invaluable.

My most famous post of all-time was my prediction on the day of the Facebook Platform launch that “Facebook will be the largest social network in the world.” My enthusiasm was unbridled and I compared Mark Zuckerberg’s influence on the world to that of another 23-year old, Alexander the Great. :) That was a fun post. I couldn’t sleep until I had fully communicated my feelings about the biggest opportunity for internet entrepreneurs that I had ever seen.

Since then, Facebook has dwarfed MySpace in usage, and is the worldwide leader in social networking, with the possible exception of the Chinese social network QZone, which I don’t know very much about. 

Thankfully my FamilyLink.com team and I drank the Facebook koolaid deeply, and have become in the past 2 years one of the top 10 Facebook developers in the world, with more than 40 million users of our We’re Related application and with many more exciting Facebook applications in the works.

We have become very profitable in the past 6 months, with monthly profit margins recently exceeding 20-30%.  Our cash balance has more than doubled since January. We are building a world-class team of architects, designers, and developers. We have a full-time recruiter and are trying to add another 10-20 full time employees. We are closer to launching our flagship web sites, as well as greatly improved social and mobile applications.  We are focused on family, genealogy, and history applications and content.

We are now starting to help other top Facebook application developers monetize their apps better, with our expert team at AdMazing.com, a division of FamilyLink.com. 

So here is my problem:

When we were an underfunded startup, trying to create something out of nothing, trying to bootstrap our way to some kind of initial success, I found that blogging was just about the best way to tell the world what we were trying to accomplish. The more I blogged about new ideas, and possible strategies, and goals that we had, and technologies that we were exploring, the more helpful feedback I got from my readers, and the more I found like-minded people who could potentially become employees or business partners. In fact, many of our early employees and partners at FamilyLink.com (and WorldVitalRecords.com) were initially attracted to the business because of my PaulAllen.net blog. 

I never specifically targeted investors in my blog posts, but I knew that dozens of my Utah business angel friends would occasionally read some of my posts, so they could see what we were up to.

I could easily write a blog post called “All Startup CEOs should Blog” because I personally found immense value by connecting with readers as a result of my blog. It may have been my most valuable recruiting tool, business development tool (I signed agreements with companies all over the world as a result of their feeling they knew me through my blog), and fund-raising tool–though I didn’t specifically use it for that purpose.

But how times have changed.

Now I find myself having dozens of important conversations about new ideas and new technologies and not wanting to blog about any of them. Our team is moving more quickly than any team I’ve worked with in the past. And our key metrics are all improving dramatically. And all the new ideas and technologies we are considering feel very proprietary to us. The last thing I want to do these days is to blog about our next big idea, or about the new technology we are using to gain a competitive advantage, or about tools we are building or using internally that make us more nimble.

I feel like I was in Startup Mode for several years trying to get all the attention I could from anyone who would listen, and now that our strategy is working,  I’m feeling a need to switch to Stealth Mode — and that seems odd, because most Stealth Mode operations are early stage startups.

Expanding to the Bay Area

In fact, I really need to blog regularly, since we are considering opening an office in the Bay Area, closer to Google, Facebook and Apple, where we may recruit nearly 10 developers for our social and mobile applications. That is a big deal for us, and I know blogging regularly will help us with recruiting more than anything else I can do. (Next to my readers in Utah, I have more blog readers — and friends — in California than in any other location.)

Bottom line: I don’t have a blogging strategy at the moment, which means I post very rarely and get little value back from the community. I’ve never been in Stealth Mode before. And I’m wondering if I’m entering a dangerous world where success means less openness and less sharing, and therefore less value gained back in return.

So please, if you’ve found yourself in a similar quandry, please tell me what you did to get out of it. Did you stop blogging altogether? Or did you modify your purpose in blogging, and find success in another way? Or did you force yourself to continue blogging openly about things that might be considered proprietary because the advantages of opennness outweighed the negatives?

I’ve noticed that the blog by entrepreneurial legend Marc Andreesen has been on hiatus since August 2008 while Mark Cuban continues his prolific blogging. Why do some entrepreneurs continue blogging while others stop?

I need some help here. I’d like to start up again with a daily blog post or two, but I can’t muster the motivation or overcome the negatives to blogging at this stage in the game. Especially when it is so easy to Twitter a few times a day with little effort at all. But then again, I’m finding myself wanting to Twitter less and less, for similar reasons.

Any comments would be very welcome. (Especially from Phil Windley and other blogging pioneers/legends.)