The Multiverse Future of Small Business

April 5, 2023
Still from the film Everything Everywhere All At Once

I won’t bury the lede: we’re changing our company name today from Pico to Hype. You can read the official announcement about our rebranding and Series A here.

At its best, the concept of hype cuts through the noise — especially in this age of the algorithm — to help us discover and share our greatest joys and passions. Although “hype” as we know it only entered our lexicon in recent decades, Andy Warhol foreshadowed its usage when he popularized the idea of “15 minutes of fame” back in the late 60s. With today’s tools and our chronically online culture, we may now be able to extend those 15 minutes into 15 years, turning a trend into a durable business.

That’s precisely what Gen Z are teaching us. Although it’s every older generation’s pastime to point out the infantilism in the behavior of today’s youth, the social media natives who represent Gen Z are putting on a master class in entrepreneurship to which every small business owner — young and old, present and future — needs to pay attention.

With their often acerbic sense of humor and heightened sensitivity to authenticity, Gen Z have excelled in creating and growing digital audiences, establishing a template for a new era of small business that embraces social media from day one.

In retrospect, Main Street and Dot Com small businesses were largely cut from the same cloth. Both saw the storefront — whether physical or digital — as the genesis and core asset of the business. Even the Shopify-powered, Millennial-focused e-commerce brands that have pervaded Instagram over the past decade have followed a rather traditional model, seeing social media mostly as a paid channel, not too different from how Main Street small businesses for generations have relied on local newspaper ads. After all, terms like “omnichannel” were in part born out of a perspective that emulating the physical in the digital was the end goal.

But in the 20 years since “omnichannel,” we’ve seen the opportunities and complexities of the digital realm increase so dramatically, in large part due to the explosion of social media, that one could argue digital alone has its own multiverse challenge: “omnisocial,” if you will.

And this is where the social-native generation shines. By focusing first on cultivating authentic communities across channels rather than building a storefront, today’s young entrepreneurs have — whether intentionally or not — created a distribution blueprint that is far stickier and more efficient than the advertising models of generations past.

In defense of the Dot Com small business, this is not an entirely new concept. HubSpot has been championing the idea of inbound marketing for years. But what we’re witnessing today takes it to the next level: with their singular focus on growing an audience, many creators in their early stages are unwittingly executing inbound marketing strategies before having a product ready to sell or even incorporating as a business.

At Hype, we’ve been describing this as audience-first entrepreneurship. It’s flipping the traditional narrative of small business formation, and in doing so, it’s forcing the industry to reconsider every layer of the small business tech stack.

The platforms that helped shape the last two decades of Dot Com small business — WordPress, Squarespace, and Mailchimp to name just a few — gave tech-savvy entrepreneurs the open-ended tools to assemble an end-to-end digital solution for the new century. If we think of this tech stack as a solar system, the website was very much the sun, with all other tools, from social to email, in its gravitational orbit.

In contrast, the tech stack of today’s audience-first small business looks more like a constellation of platforms, tools, and links that work together in an often ad hoc manner. Think of the creator who’s directing followers on Instagram and TikTok to their latest YouTube video, while also texting their superfans to buy tickets to an IRL meetup and finalizing details with a brand on an upcoming sponsorship. No longer the star of the show, the website now acts as a wormhole connecting these various spheres of communication and commerce.

Although creators are impressively adept at managing this operational multiverse, there is a limit to any solopreneur’s tolerance for complexity, especially as revenue enters the picture. As Square and Shopify have proven for retail and e-commerce, respectively, simplification through verticalization can overcome the required activation energy for launching and growing a business.

Retail and e-commerce do not, however, represent the entirety of the small business economy. While some pundits have limited the opportunity in the creator economy to influencer marketing, we see creators representing the future of the broader services sector of the small business economy.

Just as retail and e-commerce entrepreneurs do, creators need to manage multiple SKUs for their business, from audience-facing products (e.g. content subscriptions, downloads, appointments, events) to B2B transactions (e.g. invoicing a brand for a sponsorship). Yet, this vast area of the small business economy still lacks a go-to, verticalized solution.

How might WordPress and Mailchimp be reimagined for these entrepreneurs… the CPA going viral with financial advice, the personal trainer growing an audience with fitness tips, or the dog walker building a community of animal lovers? Where is the Square or Shopify of the space to verticalize and simplify workflows for them?

With our relaunch today as Hype, we’re aiming to fill that void and expand the economic pie while doing so.

Since 2017, we’ve been building an integration-friendly marketing and payments platform as Pico to help independent journalists and newsrooms develop automated sales funnels, so that they could spend more of their time focusing on their core skill set. In late 2021, we began envisioning a more verticalized version of our platform that could extend our learnings to an even broader audience of creators and entrepreneurs.

Today’s announcement is a celebration of that effort. Our latest platform updates crystallize the vision we’ve been building toward over these last 18 months: within minutes of signing up for Hype, a creator can now publish a beautiful website, send a text message blast to followers, and sell a digital product or service — all from the convenience of their phone.

Even more, because we see such varied use cases across the spectrum of creators on our platform, we’re introducing a collection of what we call Kits — sets of recommendations within our product tailored to different types of creators. Similar to how a barista, restaurant owner, and barber might configure and use Square differently from each other, a CPA, personal trainer, and dog walker will also have different experiences within Hype.

Kits are essential ingredients to Hype becoming increasingly personal and insightful to each individual creator over time. They point us toward a future in which creators can rely on Hype as their virtual business manager, bringing order to a journey that can, at times, feel like everything everywhere all at once.

Put simply, our goal with Hype is to give creators the operational and financial freedom to keep creating and, in turn, bring more joy — through levity and authenticity — to the transactional world of commerce. And although much of the inspiration comes from today’s youngest creators, we’re designing Hype to codify best practices that will help entrepreneurs of all generations stay ahead of the curve.

If you’re a creator who wants to help shape this future with us, please give our product a spin and share your feedback — we’d love to hear from you.