Josh Kaplan is the Co-founder and CEO of Smooth Ops. Smooth Ops is dedicated to helping content creators operate and scale their businesses. Josh is also co-founder of Thinking Is Cool, a media production company.
Josh earned his bachelor’s degree from the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, at the University of Michigan. He worked as Product Manager of Audio, and was the Strategy & Operations Lead at Morning Brew. After leaving Morning Brew Josh went on to co-found Thinking is Cool, and Smooth Ops.
Josh was instrumental in starting Morning Brew’s Business Casual podcast as the show’s strategy and operations lead. Josh was also responsible for creating other new media products, including industry-specific newsletters.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to find and solve your audience’s pain points
- Why we’re on the verge of a monetization boom in the content economy
- Why getting your brand equity right is so important
[00:00:33] Chikodi: My name is Chikodi, and I'm here today with Josh Kaplan. Josh, why don't you give us a little bit of an introduction about who you are, what you're working on. I know you've got some news as well, so why don't you just lead off with that?
[00:00:47] Josh: I'd love to. Nice to meet you, Chikodi. Thank you for having me on. Very honored. Love Pico and the rest of the team, so it's great to be here. I have somehow found myself into the thick of the creator economy over the past couple of years. I went to school with the two founders of Morning Brew, who are very good friends of mine and seeing them launch the company. Somehow I found myself there full time within the founding team of the first seven of us. And I never had a stable job. I was doing strategy and operations, product management at a media company. The definition was always a little bit loose. So I was always launching our new products, whether that was the industry newsletter set or getting us into audio and multimedia, moving offices, building strategy, decks, doing back office stuff. I was really lucky to get this 360 degree experience of seeing Morning Brew the business media company grow from seven people to 75 people in a massive sale, not massive, but it was, it was a really good sell for us. It was awesome for us to get to build a business together. And from there I realized that I had been spending a lot of my time working with the writers and the podcasters at the company and after the company. So I was looking for the next opportunity to see what the next big wave would be. What's the next great business that I could try and start myself. And within this whole trend of the creator economy, I started to learn more and realize how much operations support creators. A lot of them are very, very talented, but if they want to fulfill this energy of being independent and owning their business and owning their content and getting to play on their terms, they were still going to need that operational compliment. All the technology in the world is great as Pico and all these other great companies are. I think that there's still a lot of the human part that needs to be built. What are the org structures look like? How fast can you move? How far ahead do you plan? Those are the types of problems that I'm really excited to be working with creators on. And so we had been doing it for the course of the year consulting for different creators and in particular Kinsey grant who I'd worked with at Morning Brew, who was the host of business casual. Her and I are very close. We've always had a great working relationship. And so when she had also left the company, we decided to put our heads back together and said, Kenzie, I think that you can go independent. You can do this. Let me help you. Let me be the operations next. And so we did just that with our first season of thinking is cool, which is her media brand as an independent journalist and using that model of creator and operator, we've now launched a company called smooth operations, which is hoping to do that for more creators. We provide services for creators to grow and scale their businesses. And I could go on and on about how we do that and all the different pipe dreams that I have with that business. But as far as the introduction goes, that's, that's been the brief history of Josh Kaplan entering the greater economy.
[00:03:32] Chikodi: So, is it safe to say you're a smooth operator?
[00:03:35] Josh: I'm trying to be that's the goal. Yes, we are.
[00:03:37] Chikodi: Nice. Well, you kind of skipped over what Morning Brew actually is, you know, for the
[00:03:44] Josh: Oh yes.
[00:03:45] Chikodi: you give a quick synopsis?
[00:03:47] Josh: Morning Brew is a business media company that started around 2015. And the feeling from the founders was that the wall street journal, the New York times, there's so much of it. There's so much jargon. It's hard to understand. How can we break business down into a more accessible format, one email a day, five minutes it's as if your friend is telling you what happened and then go have a great day to be a great contributing member of the business world. This was around the time when the scam and the hustle were really growing quickly. And we were in that cohort after the vices and the Buzzfeeds and a lot of these other new media companies had taken a lot of venture capital to grow and make video on Facebook and do all these crazy things. We were very focused. We said, we really are good at newsletters. And then we got very good at podcasts, but it's how do we make the business world more accessible? And then where do we go from there? So we had an awesome time. I've got incredible memories sitting in that room, doing my business stuff, working with the writers. You'd hear a joke, come out at 2:00 PM and then you'd see it in the newsletter the next morning. And that, that is what Morning Brew is. And since then they've continued to grow in spectacular ways, trying to make the business world.
[00:04:59] Chikodi: And so they actually exited before the hustle. Right.
[00:05:03] Josh: Correct. Correct. Morning Brew got sold in October of 2020. The hustle I think was 2021. And it's funny, like we all continue to bump into each other online and see what everybody's up to after these companies have sold and as they've grown and other people have grown into different opportunities.
[00:05:18] Chikodi: And So okay. Let's, let's dive in. Cause we really want to be a resource for creators and people who have the skill set and maybe need the additional support. So you were at Morning Brew from the size of seven employees to 75 isn't and you got to see throughout the company. So what are some of the things that as an, as a media organization with a hierarchy. Editorial responsibility, business responsibility. What are some of the things that every creator needs and what is it that smooth ops is doing to replicate what a larger media organization was able to hire people to do, but a single creator can do, hopefully it's not too, too complicated question, but you know, what did you, what did you learn that you can take.
[00:06:09] Josh: I like the question because it's very much comparing what is the business model and operating model of a traditional media company that was started within the past 10 years. So we're not talking about legacy media. This is still a very new media company versus what I'm working on now, which are creator businesses. And I think that they differ in very specific ways that are great to call out Morning Brew. We had our rowing channel. We were all very focused. Austin, the CEO of the company now is incredible at keeping people very aligned on what's important to the business that he goes, we write, we grow and we sell. And so from the writing side, it's how do we create the best newsletter day in and day out? And that required first having writers and then saying, all right, we got to get copy editors. We have to get fact-checking also what systems are the writers using? So the tech team for the most part was very focused on making the writer experience better, going from Google docs, to going some homegrown systems, to making sure that the emails were being sent properly. There were a lot of customization that growth in engineering help the writers with so that they could get their word out best on that growth side. It was being very much like a D to C company thinking about paid advertising on social platforms, growing the brand on social media, having a really great referral program. So your best fans can help you grow from there. And then on the sales side, it is all right, we're going to get a couple ads in the newsletter every day. How do we get the best partners to pay the most money? And what will, what can we create as a content team, as a branded content team that our advertisers will find more valuable. So those were the three core buckets within the Morning Brew, and it worked really well. And keeping those three departments in sync was always one of the top priorities on the creator side. I see it very, very differently now because of how these platforms are built. A lot of the best content grows automatically. So your marketing team is your content. You're the creator. You're the face of the business. People love following personalities. And that is the way that you get the word out to your audiences. You're, you're commenting on other people's stuff on social media. You're, you're playing the YouTube algorithm. You're going on. Other shows. You're the marketing you're storytelling. That's your superpower. And then once you have the attention of your audience, how do you then make money off of it? Is it advertisements? Is it direct revenue from paid content to be a Patreon, or now that you can do paid newsletters on sub stack or paid, paid podcasts through other platforms? There's so many different ways in which you can make money off of that attention. And now there's so many other services being built. There's pop chew. If you want to do a pop up restaurant there's a couple other businesses that will help you get into clothing and retail products. If you want to get into job boards, there's a job board service. So that's opening up to say, Hey, you've got this great attention from an audience, continue to, storytell continue to captivate them. But based on these new services, how can you monetize in different ways? And I'm sure we can talk a lot about that, but, but to be a creator that means most of your time needs to be focused on creating high quality content and engaging with your audience. And then from there. How do I do all those other things? And that's where I want to come in to say all those other things we want to keep off of your plate, but still a part of your business. So I'll stop there as we start to separate creator and media company. I what's next. What do you think?
[00:09:41] Chikodi: Well, yeah, we're really interested in creator as, as business person and from the consumer of the content standpoint, I think, oh, this person is just really good at, you know, dancing on tick talk or they have really good perspectives on business, or they're funny, you know, but that's a very small part of the overall business. So what are some of the things that create a struggle with, and that are really why smooth ops needs to exist and you know why you're so bullish on this space?
[00:10:17] Josh: for sure? I, we I'll, I'll give you the smooth ops pitch and see how our solutions are, are trying to identify certain problems. The first thing that we try and bring to the table is what we call. Creator growth hormone and saying that there are very talented people that know how to storytell that are making incredible content. But even with that, it's very hard to keep up to date on what's going to perform best on the platform. How can you help a guest on your show, share your content best? How can you delegate certain responsibilities, but keep certain ones post your chest that only you can do? So we try and act as a sounding board. Are you planning far enough ahead? Cause if you have 12 video ideas or 12 story ideas, you can't do them all tomorrow. And sometimes it just helps to have more of a project manager walk you through that process and say, great, let's put together a weekly plan. Let's put together a quarterly plan. And that type of process is what we'd like to bring to the table. And a lot of it is not mind blowing to the creator. They just, it's easier to have a conversation and break it down and make it more of a teammate. So I think that type of operating stuff, what are we doing this week? What are we doing this quarter is really helpful for a lot of creators. And we liked doing it. This is one of the things that I liked doing. It's just coming up and saying, all right, what are we doing this week? The second piece is new business development. A lot of creators, a lot of the great creators get a lot of opportunities into their inbox, which ones are good, which ones are bad, which ones helped their strategy is what I want to get to the bottom of and say, all right, what will help you build equity in a potential business? What will help you grow your audience as well? Creators are so valued based off of their time. And so how do you either make sure you're maximizing your revenue per minute? Or how do you get into an activity that will allow you to make money while you're on vacation? So it doesn't take you making another ad unit or it doesn't take you making another video to make another dollar. So that might be a really great way of monetizing your library of content and say, how are we getting that optimized? So other people can get it on different platforms. Or we have it where it's a series that anybody can find and pay me $12 for there's so many ways of making money on the internet and making sure that you're choosing the right ones and operationalizing it the right way is what we're specializing in as well. And then the third piece is what we call executive support. It's kind of like where you're talking about running a business, whether you have the right legal contracts, do you have the right accountant, that's helping you with your bookkeeping? There's so many little things that come up with running a business about having the right tax information for a freelancer and getting them paid on time. And so we think that because a lot of that can be rather commoditized. Our team can take that off of the creator's plate. So they, again, they can focused on engaging in creating. Those are the three things that we think we bring to the table that are most valuable. And as the rest of the ecosystem gets built up, we want to be that gateway between a lot of these great services and other entrepreneurs. And making sure that those are connecting with our set of creators and our creators are not to evaluate every new thing that comes out every week.
[00:13:13] Chikodi: That's fantastic. So to recap, you said that executive support in terms of the, the nuts and bolts of running a small business, right? The production support, or kind of executive producer in the background. And then the third one was.
[00:13:32] Josh: New business
[00:13:33] Chikodi: New business but that's right.
[00:13:34] Josh: do we open up new revenue streams? Yeah. Creator growth hormone, which is like, how do we act as a sounding board for your content strategy? Not so much. Let's get into the nitty gritty of each story, but how do we look at it? The way that you're going to market a new business and then executive support, those three things are what we're focusing on.
[00:13:50] Chikodi: right. And what kind of outcomes are you seeing right now? Cause I'm sure that there's a lot of white space and, you know, being able to take some of these things off of, off of a creator's plate is, is very important for them. What opportunities have you been able to create and generate for some of the clients you're working with today?
[00:14:10] Josh: well, we put up our website on Monday, we've got two clients right now. We we've been working with them for the past couple of months and and we're being patient. There's a lot that we have on our roadmaps that we're aspiring to. But what we're looking for is it's really in the name and it's funny with the song. And we liked that. We called it that, but What What we want is piece of mind for our creators is that they know their business is going to exist tomorrow. And the week after the month, after that, they can have a rough sense of how much money and that this, that it's all going to be smooth. And it's all, I think that certainty is a lot of what I want to provide to the creator And say like, this is very much a real business. This is not just like this new career path that came out of nowhere. People have been trying to do this for a bit now, and it's formalizing, it's getting more exciting, but if you're new to it, this is real. This is something that you can actually do. And if you're good at it, you can make a living off of it and much more. And so what we're seeing is that, especially on the brand partnership side, I I've found personally that there's a lot of value for having somebody like me or somebody on my team, negotiate deals. I think it's really hard to negotiate your own deals. That way we can be a bit more specific about the pricing and the terms and let a lot of the creative ideas sit in the hands of the creator. And if you have to do both sides of that, it becomes hard. You can kind of muddy the waters and, and lose focus of the exciting part of the partnership. And I I like the negotiating part of it. I like the terms. I like the prices. I'm happy to add zeros to proposals and make sure that everyone knows how valuable the creator's time is and the audience,
[00:15:40] Chikodi: So, is this a good cop, bad cop thing or, or
[00:15:43] Josh: It's like good cop, bad cop it's it's creative and the nuance of it. And I'm happy to take over the nuance, go through those finer points, but it could be good cop, bad cop.
[00:15:53] Chikodi: I'm sure you can negotiate pretty hard with a smile on your face. I get that about you.
[00:15:57] Josh: liked it. I have fun with it. I, but, and the way that we make it is very collaborative. The creators that I work with don't have 25 advertisers per quarter. They have three to five, really tightly integrated ones where we're very aligned. So when we're putting together big packages like that, and we want to get really ambitious, I get to spend my time thinking about the package, thinking about what we're actually going to provide in that transaction and the creator. Then all the, while it gets to continue to do what they do best and go build their brand on it.
[00:16:28] Chikodi: Okay. Well, okay. That's actually a really good, good question. I think for folks who are in the vein. How are you compensated for this? Are you taking a percentage of deals that you bring to the table? Is it a subscription? Is it a hybrid of a subscription and you know, new business generated? How, how, how do the economics of your business actually work?
[00:16:51] Josh: Right now we are focused on aligning incentives with creators and what that comes out to be is is a revenue share. And just say, if we bring new revenue into the door, by growing your presence, getting new partnerships, opening up a new revenue stream that allows you to transact directly with your audience. We want to be a part of that upside. We don't want to be a cost to your business as a consultant or as a fee. We want us to win together. So when you win, we win. We're really excited about that. We love the alignment When you start to bring it over to legacy management, there's some hesitation around that. And I understand, because I think a lot, when you look at management in more of an entertainment style managers bring in the deal, they're more so connecting that relationship and and they want to bring more and more business until you're blue in the face. And so we're, cognizant of that legacy reputation of revenue shares. But we think that by sitting at the operating level, we're able to smooth that out and have a healthy relationship when it comes to new revenue. I really, as, as a first time founder, what I'm focused on is making sure that we're bringing value to the table. And a lot of these deals early on with these creators will not look the same and we're very open to getting creative and to learning about what will make the creator happy, and what will make us happy. But going in, I, I like the idea of being aligned on revenue.
[00:18:18] Chikodi: That's great. So then the let's fast forward five years. What do you think this model it's really hard to know, but in your perfect world, what does this model look like? What is the day-to-day of a creator look like when the operations are taken off of their plate and they're able to then. Spend a lot more time either making this co-branded content or just doing the things that they, that they want to do. And also you know, we were talking yesterday about the the understanding the audience. So maybe we can talk about that as well, but, you know, okay. So what does, what does, what does this, what does a typical day of a creator look like in five years when they have smooth ops to take so much of the the heavy lifting out of their world and really accelerate the creative process for them.
[00:19:12] Josh: Yeah. Or if you, if we were to work together for five years, I would say, Hey, you're still the CEO of your business. And we get to play to your strengths and we get to play to our strengths. So if you're strength is coming up with these great ideas for the content, for the business, for how we engage with the audience, how we provide value to the audience, that's fantastic. And you will probably continue to have your producers and editors and be putting out more content. And we'll continue to grow our side of this, of operations and the different types of products that we can help support different types of revenues, that different types of things. And that, to me, will be the most fun part to put a really creative person at the top of their own business, where they're incentivized to grow it and to look after it and to keep bringing the heat. And you have no idea how some of these channels or how some of these creator brands might evolve. People change over time, over three years, over five years over, more than that. And it's hard for me to predict what exactly it might look like from day one and how far it can change. but I But I see the ability for these things to scale the internet is massive. All these audiences are so much bigger than I think a lot of us realize still it's so hard to comprehend just the accessibility to audiences with things like TikTok now and the ability to create. And so it's that That to me is the dream is to to say, how creative can we get? I love looking after that audience and saying, how do we go to the audience and say, what are your pain points what's going on? What kind of stories are you looking for? What types of products are you looking for? Collaborations. And let's see if we can meet that need, because one of the greatest parts that I think about these formats is that the creators know audiences better than most brands do. And so, instead of guessing what might be successful, we can just listen and say, tell us what the next big trend is, what the next big demand is, and because of how we're built, we should try our best to meet that need.
[00:21:02] Chikodi: That's very interesting. Have you ever looked at a creator that's either affiliated with you in some way or maybe like a one degree connection and been like, I can, I think I can, increase this person's revenue by $300,000 this year, or, you know, I can increase the revenue by 75 75% just based on what I know about them, what I know about how sponsors want to engage with creators and what the gaps are in their playbook right now.
[00:21:32] Josh: Yeah, I've seen that a couple of times, and this is what we call. These are good problems to have where you say somebody might be under-monetized based on the size of their audience, or based on who they're working with and making sure the right partner is really interested in that audience. The, no disrespect to LinkedIn jobs, but LinkedIn jobs spends a lot of money in podcasting on almost every podcast that they can probably find. And I'd say those deals are better for other people. Let's find partners that will speak more directly to our audience and are willing to pay a premium for that access. So that type of alignment allows you to drastically improve on the revenue side. And then there's others that are, that started and they might've been doing it for a couple of years, so they might just be getting off the ground and they just need more hands on deck, but like any other company that grows and needs to hire it's time to hire as well. Like it might seem like they can keep doing it themselves because that's what has been working, but everything needs investment. And for me, it's to say, let's, let's add more resource and it's not just cash. It's a little bit of, know-how a little bit of this, a little bit of that. And, and then we get to have some fun and you put different types of brains together in the same room you bring in a specialist, you bring in the creator and all of a sudden new ideas start to take form. And that's just collaboration. Like these are very like common principles, throughout business that if we get different ideas together, we'll get better results. If we have more resources, if we invest more, our reward will be. bigger So I think that type of philosophy and having the right energy and doing it in a fun way is where I see so much opportunity. And sometimes it's just like, oh, I never thought that I could do that. That does seem like a good idea. so just putting it in front and walking through and saying, this is how I think it would become a reality. And we've done that a couple of times too. And all of a sudden these abstract ideas become real projects. Then we get to go knock them out. And that's, yeah, there's just like so many around. And I like the best brainstorming session is like, let's go find a creator that we don't even know and just think about all the different ways that they could grow, whether it's content or business or whatever side of the house that type of exercise to get a lot of people that are really good at it is, is something that we need to see more of not just on our team, but in general, like that type of logistics is, and like packaging is where I see a lot of opportunity coming right now because so many people are specializing in different parts of the creator economy.
[00:23:48] Chikodi: That's great. So what does an under-monetized creator look like. what are some of the biggest struggles that an under-monetized creator is experiencing?
[00:24:02] Josh: An under-monetized creator. There's a difference between being under-operationalized and under-monetized you're under-operationalized You might be a very, very good storyteller, but you might just not be in play. You might not be playing to the strengths of a particular platform if you're not posting frequently enough, or if the way that you introduce content isn't as, as good from a thumbnail and title or podcast episode or newsletter subject line, there are certain optimizations that can take like the really great quality that you're working and just get it to go the distance. So that's like more on the under operationalized side on the under-monetized side, I think it was going back to working with the right partners and also. Separating out some of your products and understanding like how else can I make money? And that is hard to provide a blanket statement for what are the common qualities. But some people can go viral very quickly on some of these platforms and then realize, wow, I've got a couple thousand couple hundred thousand people that really, really like me. And I haven't asked them for money or I haven't really had the time to go find the right partnerships and, and and get that right alignment. So I think it's really a time thing that says I just haven't had the time to do it. because I've been so focused on growing my audience and creating my content. It's tough to fully define it. I think as I see more opera, you know, if we check back in the new year, I'll say, well, I've got a hundred more data points, thousands more data points for what those characteristics are. But for right now, that's, that's a lot of what we're seeing. And, and that falls again into a good problem to have where it's like, Hey, I've got all this momentum. I just haven't been able to, to put it all to work.
[00:25:30] Chikodi: Sure. And so some of these are creator-economy-specific problems, and then some are just business problems. Do Do You want to talk about how you take the business problem solving know-how that you have and apply it to creators specifically
[00:25:48] Josh: Sure from a business problem solving. I wouldn't start with the problem. I'd say that what we're really good at, on my team between Jenny Kinsey, Allie and I is that we're really good project planners. We don't work 80 hours a week where we'd schedule things far in advance. We have our weekly meetings. If we have extra meetings, we have documentation and agendas ahead of time where we're very process-oriented because then it allows us to show up and be more creative in a business capacity when we're actually communicating and collaborating. So before the problems even come up yeah. Well, what's the next planning period look like the next season of a show. It's an exercise we were doing this morning. Let's try and script our future. And so I, and that's the job after college. And before Morning Brew I was a consultant. So I was a project planner and this is, I was all the different open items and action items and status reports. This is what we love This is what we've been making our careers off of doing things in a very calm way. And so before the business problems arise, we try and do it. And if we don't know the answer to a question, how do we do a very particular part of starting a business? How do we make sure that we've got the right contract for this new partnership? We ask people. We we've been really fortunate through the internet to make a lot of helpful connections. if we plan far enough ahead and we can ask ourselves all the questions about what needs to happen in order for that to happen on time, we can find the answer. we've got so many guides and so much content online and so many smart people that that we ask and we get a lot of help. We do not know all the answers. We never go to anyone saying that we know how to do everything. But that style of, of really trying to be on top of project planning and always asking for help has given us a lot of good fortune in the way that we've run the business and the way that we help others try and run their business. So that, that's my best answer as far as avoiding the business problems. because luckily, we've been very palatable. We've been very paced and I like it. I always say to the team that if something is urgent or if something has to make us stay up till 10:00 PM, then we did something wrong. Like that, that was our mistake. Like that's on us and we should try and remove that it happens every now and then we're not totally perfect, but by and large, our projects have been on time.
[00:28:02] Chikodi: Yeah. Well, you told me you just moved apartments, but you don't look stressed. So I think that you are definitely, definitely taking your own advice about planning and
[00:28:10] Josh: It's a, it's a good time. I'm and now I'm living alone. So there's fewer cooks in the kitchen and it's all just me making decisions. I did that by the reason why I was a little bit.
[00:28:18] Chikodi: You said something really? I think remarkable about how the creator knows more about their audience than brands or anyone ever really has. I'm sure that's both a blessing and a curse. How, how, how, how has that, how do you balance that and how do you help creators with their audience knowledge, but also recognizing that, you know, in order for them to make a good living, they do have to ask their audience for things. And there's a, you know, there's a with, there's a delicacy there of like, you want to support me, but I don't want you to feel obligated to support me. And also from a business perspective, from smooth ops, you can see a lot of white space. You can see a lot of under utilization of audience. Why don't you talk about that a little bit, or, you know, tell, tell us about your approach.
[00:29:11] Josh: Audience development is, is really fascinating to me. And. It's like the cliche and I don't know how to settle. The cliche of is an art as a science. How do you really know is, you know, should you serve into oblivion and have all of the right responses about household income and demographics and, and whatever. And, and on one side that, that is kind of helpful on the other. It's really good creators have incredibly messy DMS and inboxes. And it's like, one of the best signs of an engaged audience is literal human, human relationships and connections and replying to them. And it's not saying I'm always selling, or I'm always looking for the next revenue stream. It's saying let's just have conversations because so much comes up organically. You flip through YouTube comments to anything, but if you have that feedback loop with an audience, it becomes really obvious what people liked and what, and what they're interested. And if you just say like, Hey, like what else? Who else do you watch? Who else do you really like? What else are you interested in these days? Like what should be the topic in the next season? It becomes very collaborative. And I think that's, that's the blessing part of it. I, the, the curse, I don't know how much of a curse is. I, I never try and get too bogged down in the data and we don't stare at too much of it yet, which is maybe shame on us when it comes to like a marketing funnel, there's a separate conversation, but from a creation perspective and coming up with your next story or your next video, your next podcast, I think that really good careers have a really good sense of balancing their vision and looking out into the world and looking within and saying like, all right, this is what I think would be really compelling. And a lot of these have classical training as, as journalists or as producers on other sets. Like there's a real skill set that goes into telling these stories that needs to be respected more by and large, I think, as the wider community and then going into the DMS. All right, let me, let me start looking for insights. Let me start listening and scratching at things and replying and fishing for an answer, because I want to know, do people know this term or is that too jargony? Do people know about this storyline? Do they care about it? Like why would they care about it? So I don't know. It's, it's that art and science thing that I don't really know how to balance, but you know that it's a two-way street and that's the best part about a lot of these mediums is that it's not like linear television. It's not like the movie theater. You don't have to wait for Nielsen reports for any of it. You can put up an Instagram story or a YouTube poll question and something in your newsletter and ask for long form responses and just get like incredible depth. And I love it. I guess it's really to answer your question. The curse is that you can end up spending a lot of time doing that. It can really take away again. It's like a time equation for these creators. How much time are you engaging? How much time are you creating and to get lost in it is very, very easy, but if there's something to get lost, this is probably one of the better things to do so, and because you're forming those real relationships that will get people to come back to you.
[00:32:11] Chikodi: Absolutely. Absolutely. So it's not out of, out of bounds to think of million dollar creators today. Like Paki McCormick. He said he anticipates he'll make a million dollars as things go, how they have been going. So we're in a, we're in the early stages of the million-dollar creator, you know, early days of a million dollar creator. What do you think it would take to have someone become a $10 million creator? Like a Mr. Beast who's even, you know, like $50 million creator. So what do you think it would take to have a real cohort of 10 to $50 million creators?
[00:32:51] Josh: That's a great question. That's really interesting.
[00:32:54] Chikodi: Cause I think it's coming.
[00:32:55] Josh: I've heard a lot of interesting things recently, what one person said that they feel like they're competing against the idea of free and that the idea of everything on the internet should be free is going to start to deteriorate. And consumer behaviors will be more warm toward paying individuals online, which I think will have a dramatic effect just behaviorally. If gen Z is more interested in tipping on Twitch and subscribing to the paid tier using Patreon that's incredible, right? That's a lot of dollars coming into individual creators pockets. The platforms are creating more features that are welcoming it stuff like Pico is really making it easier. So what I see is I guess, two major trends that will help us get to more $10 and $50 million creators is one being multi-platform and multi-revenue stream, not only working for one particular platform. So a lot of the ways that you see people doing a couple of things that multi-site. I think allows you to really increase your revenue potential. The second is that behavior is saying that more people are interested in paying for these types of new products. And just that simple macro shift will open up a lot of, of potential dollars. I think that's, what's going to get to 10 to 50 million. Those are big numbers, but if you're creating really quality businesses, it's, it's good. I, I, I've seen a couple of these that I would have never stumbled upon if I wasn't working into this space. And I just, every day, I'm amazed by the number of different niche opportunities and niche audiences. It's really inspiring to see that, with a little bit of focus and a lot of creativity, people can really do some serious numbers and, and I'm, I want to see more people do it.
[00:34:35] Chikodi: Yeah. I'm just thinking about it. You know, as the, as the question came to me, I'm thinking about what that reality looks like. And this understanding amongst creators is like, you're not bound to YouTube or a newsletter platform or Twitter, or, you know, maybe you're prolific on LinkedIn, but you know, this idea that those platforms are top of funnel, your YouTube, your YouTube is your top of funnel. So then you are, you own your persona across these different channels, but then it's also like, I was just gonna say like feeding the top of funnel though is a lot of work, but then the money is really down in the, say the niches or the riches are in the niches. So you know, to get to 50 million, you do have to crank out a lot of stuff to a lot of different people, but then if you have a really valuable something to offer, then definitely you're going to, to, to get to these bigger numbers. So I'm just curious. What do you think, what do you think people could in the abstract? What can people offer? That's going to really excite consumers because I personally would support a creator. I like with a hundred bucks or $250 a year. If they do something really magical. And there's lots of people that do amazing things, I wouldn't give them all 250 bucks. There's one person or two, possibly two, actually there is one you know trends.vc, drew
[00:36:07] Josh: Oh yeah, they're great.
[00:36:08] Chikodi: 400 bucks a year and I think nothing of it and thinking nothing
[00:36:12] Josh: Right. You can feel it. when you get the value. You feel it. Yeah.
[00:36:14] Chikodi: Yeah. Trends.co by the hustle assignment. That's like $800. I think I'm spending myself on content that moves me.
[00:36:24] Josh: Right. And the idea of being a lifelong learner is so popular and accessible. Now that that's like a great way to stay up on what's going on. I struggle a little bit with saying just like, what are the products and services that will get creators at large to that category, to that tier of revenue? Because I also like to try and obscure away the word creator. I think very few creators introduce themselves as creators. Like we use that as a category, except there's educators, entertainers, dancers, journalists, the list goes on athletes. There's so many different ways of being it. So if you try and find out, like, what is your core as a creative. You can look more at the legacy business model that that profession had previously occupied, and then you can apply it to the new world and say, Hey, like I actually am a teacher and teachers used to go work at schools and go work at universities and try and get tenure or be academics and try and get awards and grants. But now I can finance my education with advertisements or with selling courses and hosting cohort based courses. And actually my business model is different where my costs are really low because of technology. And my distribution is so easy that my, my accessibility is really high because it's not about me being in a, a place that people can come into my classroom, my physical classrooms. So education, I think, is so interesting when you apply it to the greater economy because of how archaic, honestly, like what my understanding of the education industry is and was. So I then go to different ones and then there's brand new categories like Twitch and streaming and gaming. Like that's brand new, watching people play games and talk to you at the same time and being able to interact and get them to do things like that's marvelous. Like, it's just so interesting to me that
[00:38:19] Chikodi: on Twitch. It's not even video
[00:38:20] Josh: all, all of that, but that's like a brand new type of voyeurism that just wasn't around prior to that voyeurs and in Paris, whatever, like relationship building with people that you don't, you haven't met in real life. But there's, there's so many exciting things that are changing and people want to like latch onto these names and basis. So, so I try and figure out, like, what, what are you like? You know, Kenzie grant, who I worked very, very closely with as a journalist. So who are the greatest journalists over the past 20 years? And how did they make money and how can we try and use that as a better template, rather than starting with a blank piece of paper. And so that that's the type of activity and research that I look into and with my business, like there's particular types of those professions that were more interesting. Other than compared to others that make this whole industry, the wide world of the creator economy seem more palatable us as entrepreneurs. So yeah, that's how I think about getting into that tier. But again, we don't really know. We see people coming up with new ways to make money off the internet every day. And you're talking about crypto and you're talking about all these other different vehicles and it's, it's very exciting. It's just beginning and I'm just getting.
[00:39:25] Chikodi: so you abstract away the word creator, and you say you were doing something that people were doing before, and you're solving a pain, whether it's educating, entertaining, creating an emotional connection. And then that's kind of the frame that you then take to the folks that are needing the operational support. Is that, is that a fair assessment?
[00:39:51] Josh: Yeah. Yeah, I would, I would say let's, let's look at what you are or what, or just frame it a different way and move the puzzle around a little bit, and then look at the previous business model and think about how we can improve it. I think starting with blank, pieces of paper is really hard and the more templates we can take from other mental models and other industries is, and looking at history is great. Like if we talk about just like, again, like the industries of this, like we're still seeing a massive shift from cable and radio into digital streaming and podcasting. So like I try and back up as often as I can. And think about how we can use things that people learn from other industries. Like, yes, it's very new and these are new economies and new org charts, like I mentioned, and there's a lot of newness, but that doesn't mean we're starting with no precedents.
[00:40:37] Chikodi: Right. Right. So what are the jobs to be done basically here and the tools and the, the reach is provided by YouTube, whereas provided by your email newsletter, or you have a
[00:40:51] Josh: Exactly.
[00:40:52] Chikodi: like that, but really the pain that people are experiencing, or the joy that they're seeking is a one of those eternal human human desires. Right.
[00:41:04] Josh: Yes.
[00:41:05] Chikodi: And now with software, with, you know, digital communication, it's so much easier to reach these people in a really authentic way where it used to have to be like, okay, drive your car to a college campus park, walk to your classroom, sit there for 90 minutes or 50 minutes. And then, you know, do that for four years and get a degree. But now you can learn the things that you actually want to learn, you know, and in a pandemic when people are home this has just accelerated that much more.
[00:41:37] Josh: Yeah. So that's like, I think you just described the supply side really well, as far as just like the ways of creating that value have changed. You can do it from anywhere. You can do it much cheaper, but also on the ability to deliver it, you can use to only be able to produce a certain number of movies per year. I used to only be able to have a certain number of classes because you only had so many classrooms. But now. Sealing has it doesn't exist anymore. Like there's no cap on the amount of YouTube videos or the amount of courses. Like there's just no like that gate keeping of how much can we create in a given year doesn't exist anymore. And so I, that's why I've been reading a lot about like Hollywood and how they used to like how the power brokers held so much power was because there really was scarcity and we've completely eliminated one of the scares variables. And now we're seeing this explosion. So it, that to me just seems like great for business. Great for the world. Like great. For a lot of people that get to access this opportunity.
[00:42:38] Chikodi: Yeah. I don't remember the name of the documentary, but there was one about Lew Wasserman. Did he see that one where he was an usher and Cleveland, and then he started RC. He didn't start RCA, but he took over RCA and he was there. Powerful person. He got Ronald Reagan elected governor, and they said that I'm sure this isn't gonna end up in the podcast where, like they said that if you went into his desk, there wasn't a single piece of paper on his desk. It was all in his mind,
[00:43:04] Josh: That's incredible is that there's like Uber men as well. There's a couple of really crazy ones that just
[00:43:09] Chikodi: yeah, you'd have a meeting with him, but yeah, that scarcity was really one person in control. And that's what makes the creator economy so different from these previous models is like, you choose yourself. If you have the sticktuitiveness to build an audience and find something that the audience wants, there's nobody to stop you. In fact, all the platforms want you to succeed because they want you to keep people on their platform. So that is really, that is really unprecedented. However, there's a business that still needs to be operated. And as a, as a single human it's like, you can't do it all.
[00:43:48] Josh: I work closely with Colin and Samir who create content about the creator economy and a question that they love to ask is who do you work for? And if you're only on YouTube, exclusively, you kind of work for YouTube. You have to play by their rules of engagement. They come out with a new format called shorts, you got to start doing it. Otherwise you're not going to be playing into the algorithm and the priorities of your boss, which is YouTube. But if you have audiences on different platforms, if you have different products and you have different revenue streams, you've distributed like the, who do you work for? And I think then the answer becomes you work for your audience and you always work for somebody. You got to work for somebody. And if I had to pick somebody, I'd rather have this like amalgamous group of, of thousands, of hundreds, of thousands to millions of fans that have come to me for a reason and want to like me and want to help me. I'd rather work for that type of relationship. Then a tech company led by one person who might have questionable morals or worked for like a couple advertisers that might change strategy is no longer like the type of marketing that I'm able to provide. So, so like that diversity, when it comes to like kind of, how can I get myself to work for the audience rather than anybody else? I I've enjoyed that framing as well. And, and these guys have talked about it a lot. But I, I find it fascinating. Cause like you can never just work for yourself. Like you can't just print money in your own
[00:45:09] Chikodi: right, right.
[00:45:10] Josh: that's, that's just not how this is.
[00:45:12] Chikodi: That's fascinating. It's like, you're basically the vessel for the audience, but having that really close relationship and understanding what's going to motivate them and move them, allows you to process their needs and desires through your, your specific offering.
[00:45:29] Josh: Yeah. I think it's a fun way of looking at it. And then there's so many ways to move this around and that's why these conversations are really fun for me. Cause he get to like, learn more about the positioning of it and where the opportunity.
[00:45:39] Chikodi: Yeah. I'm really fascinated too, by the idea of having, you know, a thousand true fans or a hundred true fans and being able to either create a course or a private offering of some kind and know that those 100 people will pay you 500 bucks because it's something that's so magical for them. And all of a sudden, you've just made a half a million dollars, you know, in the world of mere infinite audience, getting somebody to pay 500 bucks, I can think of a number of people. All right, man. Well, listen now, but I can definitely give it a number of people that if I could pay $500 to be with them for an hour even in a group setting would probably be awesome. Probably not a hundred people at once, but you know, over the span of several weeks to be in a small group setting with with someone I really hold in high esteem, do that all day.
[00:46:30] Josh: there's one other bit that we haven't discussed that I I've been very interested in, which is the name based brand versus the name agnostic brand. And so if you've got this, this course, and you've made a couple of courses and you've got these people that take it at the end of the day, you probably get tired of it. After a couple of years, you want to move on to something else. Something has changed in your life, whatever it might be, there could be a million reasons. How do you create a business that you can sell? When most of it is focused on the fact that you are a creator, people know your name, people like following you. So how over those years can you build a brand that sits on the side that ends up having real equity value that another company might want to buy? And the value of it, won't go to zero by you not showing. The next day and saying hi to that audience or providing input into that business. And so I talk about that a lot with the creators that I, that I've been working with, which is saying it's really important to have that brand that sits next to you. So for the example of Kinsey grant, which is, which is always our test case Kinsey, and I think about, okay, how can Kinsey grant one day sell thinking of school? We have no plans of selling it right now, but, but is there a world in which that might happen because she can't just sell the Kinsey grant show? Cause why would anybody want the Kinsey grant show? That's not hosted by Kenzie rant. And I, I think that,
[00:47:50] Chikodi: Poor Jerry Springer, right?
[00:47:52] Josh: right? right, But it's, it's something like that. Or I hope that a lot of creators that they have, the opportunity can earlier than not invest in a brand that doesn't have their name on it. So they have more optionality down the line and not every creator is a business person. I'm a very young business person. I don't have years and years of doing this. But it's something that I feel passionately about that if you're a creator, just getting going, like start to think about that optionality and how you can extend yourself beyond just your name and your time.
[00:48:26] Chikodi: I know we're coming up on time, but there's actually a creator. Maybe you could do an analysis just on the fly. This is, this is just coming to me now, but there's a, there's a speaking of creating a brand on the side. There's a YouTuber named Justin Rhodes and he's a homestead farmer and he has at least a half a million subscribers. And I, he puts out a 20 to 25 minute video every single day. And I watch it with my son. So he actually created his own app in the app store called abundance plus, which is his stories and stories of other homestead farmers. So you know, it's very. It's a very good concept, because if you have animals, you have to feed them every single day. And if you're attending a garden, you have to attend it every single day. So he just has that built in narrative. And then there's narrative spikes where it's like, oh, the cow is having a calf or we're gonna harvest some chickens or something like that. So I'm putting you on the spot here. Someone who has a homestead farming, YouTube channel with a half a million subscriber audience, and now building his own app so that he can show the content that would be censored or restricted. Let's just call it restricted by YouTube. Where are additional revenue opportunities for something like that. And what are some operational challenges you could, you could see him in of.
[00:49:47] Josh: That's a fun one. Okay. To be clear. If you're a homestead farmer, you're still, are you yourself selling what you grow, like your live soccer, your agriculture, you sell it to
[00:49:57] Chikodi: Minimally. It's mostly to, mostly to, be, to subsist on what you produce,
[00:50:04] Josh: Okay. Mostly the subsist. Okay. That changes what I was about to rant on a little bit.
[00:50:09] Chikodi: there are others that are doing purely organic, you know, pasture raised pigs, pasture raised chicken. So they're homesteading where they are actually.
[00:50:18] Josh: Okay. Super interesting. Well, I think the content in the app is really interesting at first, go in and see, is that being operationalized to its best potential. Like, are there brand partners that also want to get in front of an audience that really likes watching the homestead farming and that type of contents, like who wants to advertise to you and your son? So that, that just like the very, like, to me, that's like take a little bit there. Don't make your whole livelihood off of making ads, but make sure that you're getting some of it. Cause it's very valuable media attention and I'd say, all right, like using the revenues that you would have from the brand partnerships, how can we invest that into other types of products? And so if I'm trying to, to role play this situation yeah. There are probably a lot of people that they don't. I want to go all the way into homestead farming, but they might want to have a little garden in their back and their backyard, or they might want to do a little, like a simulation of it. So would they buy, what a can I partner with with a company to send them a subscription box of seeds and of fertilizers and little sticks and stuff to keep your plants up? I know nothing about this. I don't want to offend anybody that is very particular about these things. So I think that, like that type of like hands-on approach where I can like DIY it could be really interesting. And you've seen a lot of creators get into these subscription boxes that become very, very successful. So I think that there's something about like handing it over, like through the screen to be like, now you can do a part of this as well. And then there's another, which is if a lot of other homestead farmers are watching me and they do want to sell some of their produce and some of their livestock to other suppliers or other people in that value chain, can I create that network? So whether it's the farm to table. Whether it's other people in their localities, can I create a, can I go find a tech product studio? I can create a matching platform for people that watch my stuff to find each other to say, oh, you grew this. I would love to buy that. And then you get to own that type of playground and that type of marketplace. I think that there'd probably be value there. Can I come up with one more on the fly and binging with Babish and a couple other creators? Shelby church also did this, both our YouTube offers where they have homes listed on Airbnb that are very much optimized for the experience that they're portraying through their videos. So if you're doing homestead farming and you want to go live the life of a homestead farmer for a week as your vacation, 10, he partner with other people that have homestead farms or build another side house, wherever he might be in the country or in the world. That, to me, it was something I saw very recently that I thought was very interesting to be like, Well, I never thought of that, but I guess sure. Like if people have that disposable income and they want to be giving it to somebody that they really appreciate over many, many videos, like why, why not take your kid and go be a homestead farmer in a, in a real capacity or in a more extreme capacity for a little bit. All right. Those are three. Plus the
[00:53:07] Chikodi: That's great. Yeah.
[00:53:08] Josh: how'd I do.
[00:53:09] Chikodi: Well, you know, what it sounds like is it really comes back to community and trust and you know, problem solving. So people, people will exchange value within a community if they, if they have a high degree of confidence that this person is looking out for their best interest or can solve a pain point to them. And obviously food is a huge pain point. So I think he did a great job and yeah, he, he has, he charges, I think, 5 99 per month subscription. So even a small, small percentage of the YouTube audience he has as subscribers is pretty massive.
[00:53:45] Josh: You said Justin Rhodes. I gotta give him a little search after this.
[00:53:49] Chikodi: Yeah. Huge, huge fan. I would, I would definitely pay to be able to have my son get to meet him, or to see. Okay. Well, I know that we're coming up on time, so why don't, why don't you share with folks how they can get in touch with you and if, what, what specific need they should get in touch with you for, and how best to get in touch with you?
[00:54:13] Josh: Well, if you're looking to get in touch with me, I am on Twitter, Jay Kaplan, one that's probably my most active platform. You can also just email [email protected]. We got the d.xyz.com was already taken. And I want to hear more from people that are interested in the creator. We're still new to it. A lot of people that dose, the whole space feels so young. So the more exposure points and stories that I can hear helps me do my job better. I, if you're interested in working with us as a creator or as a partner that wants to work with creators, please again, reach out. The more we know about what's going on in the space, the better we can do. So whether it's a good fit or not, I would just love to have that conversation over email or anything like that. And if there's a little nuanced question about content operations, where we're here for it as well, we want to try and give as much as we can to this industry as we start to take up more space in it and build that Goodwill. Cause we are big believers that if, if we can help more people it'll come back to us as well. Cause we've been massive beneficiaries of that. So yeah. Josh Kaplan and Jay Kaplan, one on Twitter, Josh ed Smith ops at XYZ, we would love to make some friends through this show and yeah, thank you very much for having me on I'm really honored and excited that I got to college.
[00:55:21] Chikodi: It was, it was a real pleasure to get, to have this conversation with you and, you know, thank you for being up for some hot seat type of questions.
[00:55:30] Josh: Yeah.
[00:55:30] Chikodi: Enjoy thinking about where this is going, where it comes from. And always problem solving is, is so needed because new opportunities create new problems and new problems create new businesses. Hence,
[00:55:46] Josh: Yes. Thank you very much better myself. I appreciate it.
The Creator HQ
Join thousands of creators and build landing pages, grow your audience, and get paid on your terms, all in one place.