Why Every Entrepreneur Should Write Their Own Text
Recently, I sat down for a conversation with David (Dedi) Schwartz, VP Product at Wix.com. We discussed writing, the role of text at Wix and why every entrepreneur should write their own content.
10 years ago, when Dedi was running his own startup, he took care of the text himself. “UX, marketing, I wrote it all. Writing helped me define the product. I knew I had to be crystal clear.” Of course, he added, he never let anything go live before a writer had reviewed it.
Today, as VP Product of Wix.com, he still pays careful attention to the words in the products he oversees. “Here at Wix,” he explains, “we are obsessed with our users. And our words are the way we communicate with them, whether they’re in our knowledge base, in a marketing campaign or within the product itself.”
Dedi is a lover of words and he is one of the driving forces that has helped shape Wix as a company that is both user-obsessed and text-obsessed. But, after two decades as a product manager, he is, in his heart of hearts, a product guy. Product is the lens through which he views the world. And every good product, he explains, is really just a conversation with a user.
Here are some snippets from my own conversation with him.
Why do you think text is important to a product’s success?
Product is a dialogue between you and someone else. That dialogue might be through UX, through visuals or through words—but it’s always a conversation. And in product, as in every conversation, there are two layers: There is the functional part of the conversation, the information that I want to tell the user. And there is the emotional layer.
In a conversation, I convey emotion through my body language, tone and eye contact. In text, however, there is also voice and tone. Good text not only conveys emotion and a message; it also takes into consideration how the user is feeling when he or she is reading the text. When text nails both layers—the functional and the emotional—the product has the best chance of success.
As writers, we talk a lot about understanding our users’ state of mind. How do you think we should best get to know how our users are feeling?
I am a huge believer in talking to users. You need to intimately know your audience as you know your lover. If you do, regardless of what you are writing, you’ll be able to speak to their intent. You’ll be able to convey the information you need to pass on and do it with 100% integrity. It’s then that you can create a great piece of content, whether it’s email marketing, knowledge base or UX.
In writing, we rely on our words to convey emotion and empathy. How do you think the right tone can help our users?
I’ll give you an example. One of the hardest moments in every Wix user’s life cycle is when they have to connect their custom domain to their website. This moment is tricky and even scary for users because to do it, a basic user has to confront weird words like “DNS.” Plus, in half the cases we have to send them to another platform outside of Wix.com that’s filled with dragons and monsters.
So we do our best to help them through this process. We offer a video, textual and visual dialogue to help them cross this ocean. But once their domain is connected, from a technical standpoint, we don’t actually know for 24-48 hours if the connection was successful. But that’s scary, and we don’t want to create fear. So we provide text that keeps people calm. We send a message that says: “Success! You have connected your domain. We’ll verify it after 48 hours.” And then, we follow up later with an email, once the domain is connected. Our positive tone reassures users.
Emotion is also especially important in knowledge base articles. If a user is reading an article in our knowledge base, it’s because they’re confused or don’t know how to do something. It’s important that we speak to that emotion and state of mind.
In fact, because emotion is so critical to all types of text, I would say that all writing is artistic. Writing for knowledge base or marketing is really no different than writing a novel.
What impact do you think technology has had on language?
Technology can make writing easier but it’s still largely done how it was before. We can get help with grammar and spelling, but we’ll always need writers.
When it comes to product writing, technology allows us to eliminate the guesswork from text. AB testing and BI (Business Intelligence) let us test responses and user behavior. We can actually measure which text is working and how users respond to specific text.
What advice would you give a new startup or small company about hiring writers and creating their content?
Like many professions, I don’t think a writer is necessarily your first hire. But you do want to get a professional writer to go over your text early on. [In my own startups,] I always wrote the first text myself, whether it was UX or marketing. It helped me decipher what I was doing. When you have to write it, it helps you define yourself exactly and be crystal clear. There are huge benefits to writing your own content. But make sure you have a professional edit it!
I’d love to hear a bit more about YOU, Dedi. What’s your favorite book or writer?
I’m current rereading Good Omens and it’s great. I read a lot on business trips and just read Robert Harris’s Fatherland. It’s about what would have happened if the Nazis had won World War II. It’s very good, but very depressing.
I also like humor though! The British author Edgar Wallace —he was the peak of humor literature. His work is a mix of historical fiction, fantasy and humor. He wrote in the 20s or 30s about the British colonial period when Britain ruled Africa.
Paper or ebooks?
I read paper books, but my kids never read paper. They’re 13, 10 and 4, and it’s all digital.
You love reading and used to write all your own product text. Would you call yourself a writer?
Most of my writing these days is posts about politics on Facebook. I used to write when I was younger and I still do product writing at Wix, and I would definitely say that I am sensitive to words.
For example, I don’t like email communication. As in any workplace, sometimes there are conflicts because we’re passionate about what we do. Why is email bad when we’re in a conflict? Because when we’re talking with someone in person, we can immediately see the impact of each sentence, each word—and we can respond accordingly.
In email, there is no live feedback. You don’t know the emotional impact of your words. An email sent to 10 people could piss one of them off and I won’t know that. We’re emotional creatures! And that’s hard in email. Chat is better because it’s one on one. Talking to a person is even better.
When did you wish you had a writer in the room?
There was no writer here when I joined Wix and, because I am sensitive to words, I often get stuck on them. Because I know they matter. Soon after I got here, I started looking for a content writer. One of our first writers, 8 years ago, was Natalie. I would constantly call her at night while working on a project and say, “Natalie, I need a word!”
What words do you want people to associate with Wix?
User Obsession. Ownership. Accountability. Stunning.
When he was writing his own product text at his first startups, Dedi always took time to get to know the “person on the other side.” By understanding their needs, their intent and their logic, he could craft text and product that worked for them. Dedi’s inherent understanding of the importance of a user’s state of mind may just be the secret sauce that has helped him create a product used by more than 150 million people worldwide.
Rachel Olstein Kaplan