Startup explorations #17 / Wrapping up the first 7-day audience building challenge

I’ve gotten a lot out of doing this experiment over the past week. To reiterate: I set up a Slack workspace and over 7 days, told a few creators what to do each day to encourage them to keep up their Twitter engagement. I recommended accounts to follow and conversations to respond to.

I’m not a Twitter expert by any stretch of the imagination; I just looked at their profiles individually, got a quick sense of what they were about, and gave them daily targets based on what they were already doing or what they were obviously not doing.

Anyway, doing this experiment as a way to test my product idea on a very small scale allowed me to confirm a few of my assumptions early on:

  • That creators indeed go on Twitter specifically for audience/community building.
  • Creators who don’t have high engagement yet but are motivated enough would appreciate being told just what to do everyday.
  • The need for habit-building, target-setting, and consistency over a period of time.

To the third point above, the results speak for themselves. In just seven days, one of my “users,” an app developer, reported significant improvement in tweet impressions, profile visits, mentions, and follows. I was happy to know as well that by the final challenge, he had built enough momentum to write a post on Reddit about the app he’s building.

I noticed similar improvements in two other users, though only about as much as you can expect from the very short timeframe. I plan to continue following their accounts over the next several days to see how they’re doing. A fourth user dropped out of the experiment after the third day, as he decided he wanted to take a more organic approach to Twitter—fair enough, and all part of the process.

Still, to me there’s enough of a green light to try the experiment again with a few tweaks and specific areas that I might want to play around with. In no particular order:

1. Recommending accounts to follow
I learned early on in the experiment that recommending accounts to follow didn’t seem to make that much of an impact, as my users would pretty much just follow whoever they want anyway. Besides, one of my users was more deliberate than usual about curating his timeline, with which I sympathize, and was very selective about his follows. Still, it might be useful to suggest them occasionally when a user doesn’t seem to be growing their network, or getting much engagement from the usual options.

2. Recommending conversations
Corollary to the above, there seems to be a lot more value in curated lists conversations that a particular user might find easy to respond to, based on their interests, recent activity, and so on. Usually these conversations have some kind of prompt or invitation to respond, and are often made by larger accounts. I’ve found this to be an effective way to get exposure, especially with consistency, as lots of other people looking to make connections hang around these big accounts.

Similarly, I’ve also found it easy to get people to just respond to thoughtful questions in general, even from smaller accounts. This doesn’t result in a lot of exposure, but does increase the likelihood of a connection that can become more meaningful over time.

Naturally, I have a long way to go to streamlining this whole process so that the recommendations are more likely to be good fits than not—one can only do so much manually!

3. Progressive difficulty and retaining users
A sharp and linear progression makes sense over a short period of time like 7 days, but what if we were to extend this over months? A whole year? It would probably make more sense for it to have ebbs and flows. In the future I’m thinking of giving the option to opt out on certain days.

4. What if a user misses a target?
Initially, when this happened, I just restarted with the previous day’s challenge, with a new set of recommendations. Again, this makes sense over a 7-day timeline, but if this is built out and extended, there would have to be a much greater incentive for a user not to miss any daily target.

5. Recommendations or strict orders?
I’m continuing to think of ways to make this experiment more challenging and engaging. Perhaps a fun challenge might be to make users, either on all or some days, follow my directions strictly in order to meet a day’s goals—for example, follow so-and-so users, respond to this or that conversation specifically. But I don’t believe this would be necessary if the recommendations were always as good fits as possible.

6. Finding the right users
I like to think of this whole thing as an audition to find the right users who will benefit the most from what I’m offering, rather than a race to make everybody happy. I noticed the most positive results from my users the more open they were to following my recommendations, and of course, the more they had to offer in the first place—for example, having one main, visible project that they’re working on or trying to promote. As I work with more people I hope to get a much more refined sense of our ideal customers.

7. Will anybody pay for this?
Pretty self-explanatory.

Naturally, all of this is just the tip of the iceberg, and I may have many more thoughts in the coming days. We have a very long way to go from here to actually building anything. But my hope is that by sustaining this experiment and allowing it to evolve, we create a feedback loop that will serve us in the long run and lead us toward a product that will actually achieve our stated goals.

Startup explorations #14 / Restating the problem; validating solutions

At this nebulous stage of the work where things are taking more and more shape but could still veer off in one direction or another, it becomes a tough balancing act to solidify the ideas in my head while trying to validate them at every step of the way. It’s ever so tempting to just let the imagination run wild—which is why it’s necessary to make sure we’re on course by always going back to the problem we’re trying to solve, and finding different ways to state it if needed.

I stated the problem and my proposed solution a few posts back; I’ve even gotten as far as to create a simple wireframe to help visualize the solution, about which I also wrote earlier. But as I float this project idea in its current form to prospective users, I find it difficult to get substantial feedback—more than a simple, “Yeah! This looks cool,” or “Great, can’t wait to see more.” In truth, it’s not their fault; because the way I’ve stated the problem, I haven’t accounted what actually makes a user stick to using a particular product—not just thinking it sounds like a great idea but actually feeling no need to use it.

To reiterate, I previously summed up the problem as: 1) Building an audience from the ground up is too intimidating or discouraging; 2) Careful searching for like-minded people to follow is too time consuming; and 3) Difficult to engage with already established people.

Notice how, while these problems do point to a specific pain point, that is, the frustration of starting out to build an audience from nothing, it says nothing of the other, more human piece of the whole puzzle: that it takes steady, consistent effort over a long period of time. I would thus restate the problem as follows:

  1. Building an audience from the ground up is too intimidating or discouraging; difficult to engage with already established people.
  2. Careful searching for like-minded people to follow/engage is too time consuming.
  3. Audience building needs to be systematic and consistent to get results.

Therefore, it also leads us to a solution that enables our prospective users to make such a commitment:

  1. A platform on top of social network sites like Twitter that recommends the best people for you to engage with.
  2. No need to calibrate or manually enter a whole bunch of parameters; the platform would base its decisions on your follower count, frequency of engagement, keywords, etc. and would learn about you and your ideal audience over time.
  3. It would break down a large target into small goals, and walk you through a plan daily.

Because this problem-solution statement now takes into account the need for a prospective user to commit to a plan in order to get the value we’re offering, the project idea now requires a much more robust approach to validating it, which will hopefully give us quality feedback, whether positive or negative.

The third point of the solution is particularly an interesting area to investigate: what if we actually walked a prospective user through, say, a seven-day plan to build out their audience even a little bit? If it turns out to yield value, then we know there’s something in this project idea. At any rate, as I hope to have shown here, revisiting the problem and thinking through it a little more carefully each time can lead us to solutions that we might have otherwise missed—and the solutions themselves offer the clues as to how they can be validated.

Startup explorations #13 / A problem I hate

Lately, I have been reflecting on my relationship with this problem I’m working on—that of audience building—and the irony of finding myself working on it now as a builder and developer. It is a problem that haunted me throughout my years as a musician; now, it continues to be my problem. The difference is I no longer view it with the same set of eyes as I once did.

As a musician, or anybody adjacent to the broadly elusive thing known as “the arts,” I’ve noticed in myself and others that it can be very difficult to accept that one’s industry is a business as much as it is an art. And that means, whether one likes it or not, that one needs to adopt the language of business to some extent if they hope to make a meaningful living out of their craft. This means having to do things that you wish you didn’t have to, like having to build an online following, and using the tools available with some consistency and discipline.

A useful thing I’ve encountered repeatedly by learning everything I can about product discovery is the importance of passion for problems rather than solutions. In other words, it is better to be committed to whatever problem you’re working than any one solution. Indeed, a product may go through many different forms, and at the end of it you may find that in reality, it’s not much use at all—but a problem that remains to be solved is a wellspring of endless possible solutions. 

And personally, this is a problem I hate—not one that I hate trying to solve, but one that follows me wherever I go, no matter how much I try to ignore it—because of my history with it, and because of the stakes involved. Like it or not, as a creator working in the present day in whatever industry, when there are no middlemen anymore, and traditional institutions have largely failed, an audience is the most useful asset one can have next to actual skill.

As a fun little side note, I’ve also been thinking of all of this in terms of Derek Siver’s approach to business, which I wrote about earlier. A business, just as a work of art, can be an extension of its creator’s personality. How fun to think about: an audience building solution for people who hate audience building.

Startup explorations #12 / Starting wireframing

It has been a month since I began this exploration—I had no idea where it would go, or where I even wanted it to go, but now it looks like something is just beginning to take shape. I have been finding myself with less and less to write here as my work shifts away from thinking, daydreaming, and thinking some more, and I actually begin to get my hands dirty and create a wireframe. The idea remains that which I described a few posts ago: a tool to help creators build an audience or community.

I’ve drawn it as a mobile app for now, as a small screen proves to be a useful constraint. To my mind, the heart of the application consists of two main screens: a list of people to check out, drawn from some API based on some yet-to-be-designed algorithm, and a list of conversations to participate in. From here, you might check out any of these people, follow them, comment on their posts, and with luck you’ll get a follow-back. Here’s a rough idea of what these two screens might look like:

This is a no-brainer, if the product is ultimately about bringing you people with whom you might likely form good connections. But it’s no magic bullet: building a community or following takes actual work that not even the best app can do for anybody. No doubt approaching the whole enterprise with some kind of deliberate plan or strategy appeals not to everybody—certainly only a number of the initial ten artistic types I talked to. But a good app would make it just a little easier for anyone to get started, and continually encourage its users to keep at it until they see results.

Fitness apps prove to be a good source of inspiration as I work on this problem. These apps might give notifications and reminders; they might have ways to let users keep track of their progress—charts, calendars, etc. I’m working on incorporating such a system of progress reports, reminders, and notifications into the app’s flow so as to make it all just a bit more of a pleasant experience. Hopefully at the end of it we’ll have something helpful, nice to look at, and fun to use.

Startup explorations #10 / More adventures in Twitter: Who’s following me?

In my last post I summarized one prospective product in terms of problems and solutions. I might summarize it even further as: a smart assistant to help you discover your community. But what does it mean anyway to discover one’s community? I have been thinking about how we might describe the ideal members of our personal communities—how we might identify those people with whom we might find some sort of lasting connection.

In the spirit of experimentation, I looked at my own current Twitter account and its grand total of 34 followers to see if, based on those who choose to have my tweets on their feed, we can paint any broad pictures: the kind of thing a smart technological solution ought to be able to do at scale. I chose to look at several different parameters: the type (whether it’s an individual, a company, or something else), level of anonymity, continent, keywords gleaned from a user’s profile, number of tweets, number of accounts followed, number of followers, and whether I have had any prior connection with them (friends, followers from previous accounts, etc.). The following table represents a partial picture of my most recent followers.

As we can see from the data, my followers consist largely of “builder” types: software developers or technological people working on indie projects. Many of them I’ve described as “thoughtful”—this is strictly not something that appears as a keyword in any profile, but a description of my own making, based on a quick glance at a particular profile, with attention to writing style, subject matter, and tone, among others. We can infer that my ideal community is made up of people in the tech industry who are indie creators and are interested in “thoughtful” subjects—thus we know to be more deliberate about seeking such people out.

Looking at the numbers as well—especially number of followers—we can see, as anyone might correctly assume, that at this time I’m far more likely to be followed by people whose follower counts are under 1,000. Two of my followers have over 6,000—but one is a prior connection from one of my earlier accounts. Knowing this, I would probably focus my efforts on people whose follower counts are between 1 and 1,000.

This is only a quick scratch at the surface: there are many more ways to play around with this data; many more ways that we might use our knowledge to find what we’re looking for. I would only emphasize that ultimately, the point isn’t numbers (i.e., getting the most number of follows possible) but to maximize our chances of finding people who might become part of our audience, and with whom we might build meaningful connections. How can we introduce a more human element to this whole process? Are there any other insights we might be able to gather that only a human mind can think of?

Startup explorations #9 / Ideas worth pursuing

By now I feel like I have enough of an idea, at which I hinted in my last post, to begin a little wireframing. From here the idea begins to leave the safety and comfort of my own head, and goes little by little into the open where it’s much more vulnerable to reality. The following is a quick summary of the key points:

Problem:

  1. Building an audience from the ground up is too intimidating or discouraging.
  2. Careful searching for like-minded people to follow is too time consuming.
  3. Difficult to engage with already established people.

Solution:

  1. A discovery tool that recommends the best people for you to follow, which would most likely result in good engagement.
  2. Integration with popular social network sites like Twitter and Instagram.
  3. No need to calibrate or manually specify a whole bunch of parameters; the technology would automatically base its recommendations on various dynamic factors: follower counts, frequency of use, keywords, etc. It would learn more about you and your ideal community over time.

Again, I would describe our ideal user base as: those creators who are fully committed to their work and have something valuable to share, but struggle to build a consistent following, are intimidated by having to start from the bottom, or find it difficult to find a like-minded community.

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As I begin sketching out screens and figuring out menus and buttons here or there, I’m forced to confront my own ideas even more. The most formidable hurdles at this point are all psychological: the more shape an idea takes, the more I doubt myself. What if I’ve gotten it all wrong? What if this idea sucks? It always seems much less convincing the moment I get it down on paper; suddenly a dozen other ideas seem much more interesting.

But as the truism goes, “ideas are cheap.” A recent post by Seth Godin expresses it in a different way: one’s big idea is probably not original, not breathtaking, and won’t be immediately popular—but it’s worth pursuing if it’s helpful and generous. “All the big ideas that made a difference follow this pattern.” Will this small idea transform into something bigger down the road? It could, but first it needs to be pursued.

Startup explorations #8 / Adventures in Twitter

I continue to obsess over this frustrating subject I’ve chosen—audience building—but in the last few days have focused my exploration largely on Twitter. Twitter is my favorite of the big social media sites; I have met many interesting people on it, some of whom have become steady internet friends, though I have never used it in any strategic way. I’ve had several accounts over several years, none of which has ever gained more than a few hundred followers. But it is a fun game to play.

Twitter’s great strength is naturally the tweet: a short post with a specific character limit, which makes the barrier to entry very low. It is like the public square of old; anybody can take part. In theory, this makes it very easy to find ongoing conversations, slip in and out of them, and make connections with like-minded people. But in practice, human nature makes it difficult to build a following this way: no matter the content, people with already large followings will always attract more people than those who don’t. This is my main frustration with using this platform: not so much the platform itself, but those aspects of human nature which it encourages.

Of course, this is the power that a following commands which it makes it so valuable and coveted: it is more than what the word “audience” implies—a passive, faceless group of people to which you need only shout and sell a product. It is a community of people with whom you continually engage and grow. It is a following around yourself, as a person, which potentially can outlive products and companies; an engine that generates demand around your work. For these reasons, some argue that the best way to go about starting a venture is to build an audience first.

Still, the hard part remains: starting from the bottom. A creator who might have valuable things to share might spend a long time shouting into the void, and struggle to find true engagement rather than just followers, as long as their follower count is not high enough—despite the fact that theoretically, all it takes to get an audience is a tweet here and a follow there. I think there will always be an element of unpredictability to this, as with any endeavor centered around people.

But imagine if we could make this a lot easier: how can we get all the thoughtful, interesting, quirky people together who are just starting out on the path to audience building? How can we get these people to find like-minded spirits in similar situations with whom they’ll be more likely to start lasting relationships? The world is a big place: there is room for more communities to be formed—more opportunities to create such communities that don’t just rely on getting noticed by someone famous.

Startup explorations #5 / Customer discovery: Further thoughts and first insights

In a previous post, I wrote about beginning to do customer discovery. Again, I note that I scraped together an education in this process by reading a few articles; in the future, I would love to see how a real professional conducts these interviews. This is a challenging step in the ideation process. I’d much rather skip all of it and go straight to building—however, in the end, it is well worth knowing that you’re working off of hard-earned data from real people, rather than just going off of assumptions and what?—Reddit? At any rate, in real life, we learn the skills we need to learn by doing. I’m very sure I’ll be doing more of these in the future, and that I’ll also learn as I go.

In this first round, I interviewed ten people. I used a combination of video calls, phone calls, and email. Calls are probably the best by default: it’s easier to ask follow-up questions and dig for more detail; but if you’re not careful, it’s also very easy to get derailed. However, I did not truly see a difference in the quality of responses I got between phone and email, but this is probably because I knew everybody I was interviewing to some degree. These are all people in an industry that I know well; I had a good context for each of them. I knew who would be thoughtful in writing, and who would be better off speaking spontaneously. In my non-expert opinion, it’s more important than any particular medium that your prospective customer is comfortable with that medium.

I also had a good idea of the kind of people I wanted to talk to. I went with a variety of creators, mostly but not limited to musicians. What they all have in common is that 1) they are all independent as artists, that is, not under professional management (whether they work non-creative day jobs or not); 2) are actively performing, producing content, or otherwise making a discernible effort; and 3) have the ultimate goal of working full-time as artists. Furthermore, all might be described as squarely “middle class” in terms of the creative economy—that is, they are not “stars” even though they are all very highly skilled and credentialed.

The following are some preliminary insights I’ve gleaned from these interviews as a whole:

1. Separation of concerns between building a following and converting it to an income. These are quite different tasks—the first one does not necessarily lead to the second, although it enables it, and some of the skills required of both overlap. At this time, I’m more interested in the first.

2. Clarifying following or audience. I observe two different senses in which these words are used. Nowadays when social media is ubiquitous, a following or audience is usually seen in terms of a number of followers or subscribers in any of the common platforms: YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. There is usually a large component of strangers, or people an artist encounters online by chance. The main problem is that a large number of followers does not necessarily translate smoothly into an income. Rather, what it truly provides is a powerful kind of social validation, as well as a way to extend one’s reach beyond personal contacts.

In my observation, a smaller number of artists are rather suspicious of social media and don’t really bother much with them beyond casual personal use. Instead, they define their audience in terms of personal contacts which they build organically and over time. Usually this applies more to performers where “work” is much more defined—for example, an organization hires you for a specific one-time or short-term job. This kind of audience or following is not necessarily measured by headcount, but by reliability with regard to finding and securing work. The upside is that these relationships tend to be of a high quality. The downside is readily seen during times of disruption, such as the current coronavirus pandemic, when work dries up and an artist suddenly finds that their means to expand their reach are limited without social media.

3. Instagram is very popular. By far, nearly all of the people I interviewed favor Instagram, or otherwise are planning to use it more actively. Instagram is much more outward-facing than Facebook, more focused than YouTube, and it lends itself well to spontaneous connection with strangers. The concept is also very simple and the app is very easy to use. Among my interviewees, the one who has the most experience with Instagram also had the most to complain about: the app has changed a lot over the years, and has become much more unfocused. It has a lot more new features now, and continues to grow far beyond what it was originally intended to be. So it is going the way of Facebook (which acquired it many years back) in some ways; one no longer gets the sense that they are getting authentic updates from their friends and contacts, but rather just targeted content designed to get clicks.

4. The available tools are fine, but require initiative. Of course, this is true with anything in life. Many artists see the work it takes to build a following as a chore—it consumes a lot of time, and also most artists are not really trained to be businesspeople. They are unable to think of their audiences as customers. But no one tool can really do all the work of building someone else’s following. Instead, I think we have to think of facilitating the process instead, and making it a little smoother where we can. That said, there are some artists who do enjoy the business aspect of things—such as data analytics, coming up with strategies, etc.—even though it is only a secondary interest next to creating. How can we make all of it more interesting and encouraging to the average artist?

5. By far, the one thing most artists really want is more time to create. Related to the previous point, this is pretty consistent across everyone I spoke with. Time spent promoting work or doing business tasks means less time creating. Creating art or producing content in itself takes enormous time and is often not very efficient. No work is ever really “finished.” But to an artist, creating is the whole point of anything—many dream simply of the freedom to pursue and hone their craft, not necessarily to become wealthy or famous, but to inspire, connect, and cultivate good relationships with others.

Startup explorations #3 / Beginning customer discovery, and a self-interview

I’ve just started doing “customer discovery” interviews. According to one source, customer discovery is a “customer-centric, scientific process that puts evidence behind an assumed product-market fit.” My education in it consists of reading only a few articles in the last two days; but in less technical terms, as I understand it, it is a method for discovering where the problems are that might need solving, straight from prospective customers. The crucial thing here is to test one’s assumptions without imposing them on anyone. Hence, the interview questions are rather broad and open-ended, designed not to lead anybody to answer in any particular way.

At a first pass, with lots of help from the resources I consulted, here’s what I came up with :

  • What do you do?
  • What tools do you use to get people to follow your work?
  • What do you like about these tools?
  • What do you not like about these tools?
  • What’s the ideal outcome?
  • If you could come up with an instant, magical solution to get what you want, what would it look like?

Recall once again that the problem I’m interested in is that of audience building. Here I’m putting many of my assumptions to the test about what creators are doing to grow their followings and the problems they face as they do that. My assumptions, of course, come from my own experience as a musician. If somebody were to come to me with these questions, as a musician, I would answer as follows:

What do you do? I compose music orchestral, chamber, and vocal music, as well as musical theatre.

What tools do you use to get people to follow your work? Mainly Facebook and Instagram.

What do you like about these tools? The level of potential engagement on Facebook is pretty good; it feels more personal because my network is mostly people I know or have met in person. Instagram stories are really easy to do; because they expire, it feels like you don’t have to make as much of an effort; and you can see who’s viewing your stories even if they don’t really engage. Although I don’t have any real strategy for getting more followers on these platforms.

What do you not like about these tools? Nothing about the tools themselves, I guess. I don’t like using them. I don’t really enjoy attention and would be much happier if I didn’t have to bother with these sites. In general it feels rather “salesy,” although there are rare moments that seem like genuine connection. On the whole, using these tools has not really resulted in a following around my work. One would would have to be using them constantly to get any real traction. Also, I find that sharing media on Facebook doesn’t usually get far.

What’s the ideal outcome? Ideally, there would just be enough interest in my work for me to be getting a steady stream of commissions, performances, etc.

If you could come up with an instant, magical solution to get what you want, what would it look like? A way to share or point to my work that doesn’t feel like it requires so much effort before getting any traction; or a way to make the whole thing somehow feel more human, and not just transactional.

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I wrote these answers down very quickly and without thinking about them too much, and later on I might change my mind about one thing or another; but, if prospective customers of our future product are anything at all like me, I would assume that they’d give similar answers; the thing to do now is to confirm these assumptions, or otherwise allow them to be challenged.

While all of this sounds rather simplistic, doing interviews in real life naturally comes with many challenges. In real life, people are much more dynamic and do not always give straight answers. Sometimes they overthink, and try to manufacture a “smart” answer, which obscures truth. Sometimes a conversation gets derailed, or veers off to unexpected places. I expect to learn a lot more about this whole enterprise as I get more practice. Talking to people strategically does not come naturally to me, and I suspect it is a stumbling block for many others as well. More than that, usually one would rather let their ideas run with reckless abandon and not have their assumptions challenged—but it’s the only way to get to the bottom of things.

Startup explorations #2 / Trends and opportunties: Beginning notes

I mentioned in my previous post that I’m interested in the problem of audience-building for artists or creators. There seems to be great opportunity in building off the current global trend of the booming creator or “passion” economy: middlemen between creators and audiences have largely faded away, creators have more control over what they produce, and audiences get to interact directly with their favorite creators. The subscription model and “micro-patronage” have become widespread and have been shown to work—we may find other useful models in the future, but the shift toward more direct relationships between creators and audiences has effectively facilitated meaningful human connection and is likely to last.

The dominance of video is also a current trend, greatly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many performing artists, notably musicians, have been driven to adopt video (Zoom, YouTube, Facebook Live, etc.) as a short to medium-term solution for performance, teaching, collaboration, etc. Given these trends, it becomes important to remember, what are audiences paying for? Quality of content itself remains important, but it’s also meaningful and effective connection, which technology attempts to facilitate.

Some parallel directions this could take:

Meaningful connection through in-person events. Video will continue to be vital for many creators (a trend that should not be cast aside), but I’ve observed that many creators have also begun to be more aware of its limitations—notably, that it can never replace the human aspect of live, in-person experience. This would apply more to performing artists: instrumentalists, singers, actors, dancers, etc. Hence, the opportunity to take an opposite route and encourage audience-building with a hyperlocal approach. What if we could have a platform that enables performers and audiences to find each other in-person through a map system, updated in real-time with all events currently taking place near a given user’s location?

Meaningful connection over the internet. This is more applicable to creators: composers, songwriters, writers, filmmakers, visual artists, etc. Could we have a platform that focuses on enabling creators and fans to find each other by highlighting quality work? Many of the current independent creator subscription sites such as Patreon, Substack, etc. do not have developed systems for either discovering new work or audience-building.

One possible approach is a more developed system of personalized recommendations. Perhaps a user, with each sign in, can be shown a page with a dynamic list of work that they might like and consider supporting. Any user can choose to highlight any work they find particularly impressive, which goes into the system that manages these recommendations. To make this meaningful, quality work would have to be emphasized. Instead of organizing or ranking recommendations by “likes” or numbers of supporters (which can be off-putting to artists who don’t already have large followings), perhaps there would be a kind of endorsement from someone in the community who has chosen to highlight it. This could be one way to incentivize community engagement—by correlating it with platform visibility and discoverability.

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In summary, my thinking is to build off all or some of the trends outlined above—the creator economy, dominance of video, the subscription model—while in parallel possibly resisting aspects of those trends that are negative—lack of meaningful connection, information overload, low-quality work, the concentration of success to creators who have large followings before they even get into a new platform.

My thinking on all of this is naturally influenced by my personal experience as both a performer and creator, and my ability to sympathize with the difficulties of audience building. I have a good sense of the conflicts many artists face: they are sensitive people who strive always for meaningful connection and quality work rather than pure numbers, balanced with the need to compete and sell in a winner-take-all environment. I think we can work on building a platform with a strong human element to it that takes these things into account, that will ultimately encourage more creators to take their careers into their own hands.