The Rise of Creator Led Media Companies


Welcome back to Venture Desktop, my weekly audio(ish) project focused on exploring a key thread that I am picking up on the ground as I think about, invest in, and work with companies that are building the future of work, wellness, media, cities, and industry.

Venture Desktop is not long form, but it is a deep dive focused on highlighting, annotating, and more thoroughly understanding the trends, companies, and people shaping the rapidly changing world that we live in.

This week, I talk about Creator Led Media Companies, a topic that I’ve been fascinated with for a while and where I’ve had the chance to partner with some exciting companies taking different approaches to the market through my work at TechNexus.

In addition to the Youtube video above, you can head here to listen to the episode via your podcast app of preference (and subscribe 😉). I’ve also included all of the links I go through in the episode below.

Enjoy and please reach out with any feedback or ideas, I’d love to hear from you!


Retweetables / Relistenables / Rereadables


The Rise of Creator Led Media Companies

Venture Desktop Episode Transcript

This week, we are looking at a topic that, honestly, I’m obsessed with, and that I think is quite foundational to how we should think about economic growth and progress as we look to the future. And that is the rise of Creator Led Media Companies — which, to give a definition is a business (large or small), that is is first and foremost built around the creative skillset of an individual or a small team.

Podcasting…you have Pushking Industries centered around Malcolm Gladwell or…more traditional looking media business like The Ringer which is centered around the personality of Bill Simmons, or even a company like Glossier, which many people would think of as a product companybut was started by Emily Weiss as a side project beauty and grooming blog before expanding into the billion dollar plus business that it is today.

And this movement at a base level and to a large degree, has been enabled by what you might call Creative Compounding or Knowledge Compounding — that is, the idea that as we continue to decrease the cost of producing and transmitting digital knowledge we start this virtuous cycle of creation leading to consumption leading to creation where feats and accomplishments that may have seemed impossible or at the very least were hidden from view for a large segment of the population come to light.

Another way you might think about his idea is society increasing the surface area for the Bannister Effect to occur…the Bannister Effect, if you’re not familiar, is based around the story of Roger Bannister, the first runner to run a sub-4 minute mile. After he broke that mark, the holy grail of running that had no one had been able to crack it opened up the floodgates. Just 46 days Bannister’s feat, another runner broke through the mark…and then, just a year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race.

We have been innundated over recent years with the downsides of the transition we are in from information scarcity to information abundance…mostly around the negative impact of social media. This idea of Creative Compounding is the polar opposite of that.

And there are a few examples of this that I love talking about. The first comes from the world of rock climbing….and there is an incredible piece from economist John Cochrane from earlier this year about this where he talks about “Free Solo”, the movie about Alex Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan, which had never been done before and which Cochrane considers a conquest of technology…not technology in the sense of better equipment, but the technology of communication. First, the technology of print and media and now, the technology of the internet. Each new idea in rock climbing become accessible quickly all over the world which accelerates communal knowledge and accomplishment.

There is also basketball, youth and high school basketball in particular where the current crop of players has been called the Youtube Generation since so many of the skills and mannerisms they’ve picked up have been influenced significantly by access to videos of NBA players plying their craft.

The company that has fascinated me for quite some time and has been at the forefront of understanding this has been Overtime. For the uninitiated, Overtime is essentially a mobile sports content network focused on high school and college athletes — many of whom already have hundreds of thousands of followers and are smarter than ever about how they build their own brands. Young, digitally native fans flock to the platform to become “early adopters” of these athletes.

Dan Porter, the company’s founder and CEO described why the model has worked so well for the company in this Recode interview.

The company has created this firehose of creative compounding where, now, every dunk you see on the Overtime feed from some 16 year old somewhere in America would have won the NBA dunk content 20 years ago.

So now pulling back from sports, how do we start applying this concept at a practical level to drive growth and where are the company creation and investment opportunities in this space.

To start, it is important to focus on how we can increase “Creative Density” and there is an interesting analogy here to density within cities that is worth looking at. David Perell, discussed this in a great recent interview with Samo Burja.

Until recently the bottleneck to truly unlocking creative compounding has been the lack of full stack professional infrastructure available to support creator led media companies — ranging from the legal and financial to proper creation and distribution tools. Balaji Srinivasan recently called this the Adobe Creative Suite for Influencers.

And the lack of this has either pushed people back inside the four walls of a company, capping both their creative flexibility and upside, or forced them to try to build their businesses on top of platforms more focused on seeing value accrue to the platform than on offering tools to help creators capture value from their own network and the attention they are earning every day.

In both cases, creators were forced into economic structures that handicapped their ability to do their best work and deliver the most value to the people who care about what they have to say, show, and write. Which slows down that compounding knowledge flywheel that we have discussed.

This is changing rapidly across categories.

To get a sense for some of the different areas this is changing, I highly recommend checking out Li Jin’s post on The Passion Economy, where she provides some great examples across markets — everything from podcasting, to writing, to education. It has sort of become the cannonical post in this category.

And I’d add other categories in here as well…jumping over to a post I wrote a few months ago, we also see big opportunity here in areas like music and fitness and wellness…categories that may have been looked at as trivial from a digital tooling perspective a few years ago but which are absolutely exploding.

To tie a bow on this…there remains a huge opportunity for companies to start by building a differentiated toolset for a specific group of creators before leveling up to provide a more aligned network through which creators can gain targeted distribution and develop real, lasting relationships with their followers.

In a twist on the popular phrase, creators are now seeking out the tools that help them build their own networks and the impact of this transformation remains in its early days.


Now jumping to a quick hit section at the end here that we call Rereadables, Retweetables, Relistenables.

We’re inundated with new content…new blog posts, trending tweets, and podcasts at the top of our feed. But these things often have a self life that is shorter than it should be. So here, we jump back in time — a few news cycles or a few years — to pull out some gems you may have misses.

Rereadables

Two re-readables this week — one from Mercedes Bent at Lightspeed Venture Partners and one from Jomayra Herrera of Cowboy VC — who both wrote about the future of work…how they frame the market, what they are seeing on the ground working with companies, and probably most importantly, how they hope to see work evolve to meet changing demands of the workforce.

In both cases, the essays do a great job of putting some of the themes we discussed about the creator economy into a broader work market context.

Relistenables

My podcast rec. today is one of my favorite podcast episodes of the last few years…it features Recode’s Kara Swisher interviewing Emily Weiss, founder and CEO of Glossier, which is one of the most successful creator led companies of this generation and which I referenced earlier. Emily started Into the Gloss, a blog about women’s beauty and grooming as a side passion project while holding down a full time job at Vogue…and in the 9 or so years since has led the company to a valuation well north of $1b with one of the most passionate global customer bases of any brand on the market.

Retweetables

Every week or so, I see a new Twitter question from an investor or someone invovled in the technology market asking about the podcasting ecosystem — an ecosystem which has become quite central to the creator led media revolution. And in every case, I think the best place for them to start is this Twitter thread from investor Dave Ambrose. I receommend you start here as well. So we’ll fire up a quick retweet for Dave here.

That is it for today, thank you so much for joining me on Venture Desktop and look forward to doing this again. If you want to stay up to date, come find me on Twitter @brettbivens or head to venturedesktop.substack.com to subscribe to the newsletter and get all of the links that I go through during the show in your inbox.

Thanks again and talk to you soon!