Startup explorations #6 / Inching further, and thoughts on a "middle class" of the creator economy

January 19, 2021

I found this essay by Li Jin very compelling and have been letting it guide my thinking at this "discovery" stage. I believe in it fully—the creator economy does need a middle class. The truth is that not everyone is fit, nor even wants to be, among those in the top 1 or 2 percent of moneymakers or celebrities on the current creator platforms. But that is no reason why there can't be a larger percentage of these creators who are able to derive a decent income from their audiences. Furthermore, as Jin argues, "Creator platforms flourish when they provide opportunity for anyone to grow and succeed. When the American Dream is just a dream, the fate of platforms becomes precarious."

The essay outlines several strategies toward creating a more robust middle class of creators among these platforms: focusing on content type with less replay value, better discovery algorithms for new content with an element of randomness, and facilitating collaboration and community, among others. (The rest are well worth considering as well, but these are the ones that have interested me the most so far.)

I've been thinking in the last several days about how all of this relates to my own prospective project. In my previous post, I wrote about some of the initial insights I derived from doing several customer discovery interviews: I was very intrigued by the popularity of Instagram among several different content types, and also surprised by the lack of mention of subscription-based platforms such as Patreon. I suspect that for many prospective middle-class creators, the development of a robust following—most easily measured by follower count, which Instagram is very successful at facilitating—is the great hurdle to be surpassed, before they can even think about ways to monetize that following.

From here, we can see how we inch a little closer to a clearer picture of our prospective customers, as well as a more succinct understanding of their problems. I'm interested in those creators or artists who are truly making an effort—as shown by a discernible body of work that can be stored digitally and accessed publicly—who are trying the currently available tools in some combination, but may be stuck somewhere and are not yet getting the results they want. I don't think any app or tool can directly give anybody a high follower count—but I think the best way to facilitate this is to get these people together somehow and allow them build a community and "pool" followers together. A good "discovery" system, as Jin suggests—an easy way for artists to connect with one another as well as with fans—would be essential to any platform that seeks to serve this customer base.

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