🧑🏼‍🚀 Blueprint 015

The creator business decision tree, restaurant clothing lines, exploring alone, the psychology of marketing, niche allergies, New York City

Welcome back to Blueprint, a series where I share an unfiltered, behind-the-scenes look into my journey as a full-time creator & entrepreneur.

It’s been 15 weeks since I went on my own full-time.

Today’s topics:

  • 🧮 | Week 15 metrics & earnings

  • ⚖️ | The creator business decision tree

  • 💡 | Learnings from exploring alone

  • 🧑🏻‍🍳 | Restaurant clothing lines

  • 🧐 | The psychology of marketing

  • 🤧 | I’m allergic to niching down

A reminder that this internet game is not zero-sum. Everyone reading this can win at an unlimited scale. I’m writing this for the internet astronauts building their own digital worlds. If that’s you…let’s ride ✌🏼👩🏻‍🚀

WEEKLY RECAP
Weekly Highlights

I received a ton of great feedback on the format from last week (4-5 smaller sections vs 2-3 bigger ones), so we’ll keep it going. If something really resonates with you, please reply and let me know!

This week was full of ups and downs.

Posted 4 videos (2 of them were my wknds vlog style). Because of that, views and audience growth were much lower than normal.

Despite the vlog style netting consistently worse performance, I’m sticking with it. My intuition is that these are working as intended and helping build significant depth with my audience. Comments are up and people in my life have been referencing these videos above all others.

The Highs

On Tuesday this week, I traveled to NYC.

I got to record a podcast with Calum Johnson (out in 3-4 weeks) and chop it up with Hunter Weiss, Zach Pogrob, and Dylan Jardon in their studio. I loved it.

These are all entrepreneur/creator friends that I met on the internet.

I’ve always had a bit of a lone wolf mentality. Felt like I could brute force things alone and have full creative control.

I was wrong. Being a lone wolf is suboptimal. 

The amount of inspiration and fresh thinking I pulled from spending 6 hours with these four outweighed 30 days of ideating alone.

Also, a in-person connection hits different. I’ll now do anything I can to help all four of them and they’d probably do the same.

Do whatever you can to connect with people in your space. The more in-person, the better.

The Lows

Before going to New York, I was in a bit of a raw/emotional place.

This is pretty rare for me, so I thought it’d be helpful if I made a video sharing exactly how I felt in the moment.

The video was about the emotional struggle that can come with being a creator…when it’s hard to separate you self-worth from the performance of your content.

I ended the video with “this shit can be tough emotionally” and wanted to further explain what I meant.

Pushing record on a camera and talking into it is not “difficult” in the normal sense.

It’s a privilege honestly. Life could be 1000x worse.

But what makes it uniquely challenging is that you’re consistently battling the harshest critic in the world…your own mind. 

You’re constantly playing internal gymnastics to gauge whether you’re doing enough of the right things…or any of the right things at all.

When you act on authentic intuition and the market reacts differently from your expectations, it can put you in an emotional pretzel.

When this happens daily, it can be very tough to weather.

I’m fairly desensitized to these types of things, but they do impact me and flare up in significant ways from time to time.

The good news is, the more you make, the less volatile your reactions tend to be in either direction.

If you’re feeling bummed because of a bad spurt of performance, hopefully this will help you get through it and keep going.

PLANTING TREES SINCE 1999

The Creator Business Decision Tree

Most aspiring creators spend months procrastinating the work so they can think about the “strategy.”

What should my plan be?

I’m going to save you some time and just give you the playbook. Think of this like a choose your own adventure game with a few different options.

I’ll walkthrough all of paths, the trade-offs for each, and how I’m thinking about playing the game for myself.

Ideal Path

The ideal path is pretty straightforward:

  1. Start by making content

  2. Use that content to grow an audience

  3. Find a cash flow source to pay to automate some/all of the content creation process

  4. Use that newly unlocked time to create and sell an owned product/service

If you want to win big as a creator (and make a ton of money), this is the formula to do it.

Step 1: Making the content yourself

Start by making content yourself.

I’d pick whichever medium comes most naturally to you and gives you the best chance of not quitting. They all have pros and cons, which I detail in depth on this pod with my friend Bilal (20:57)

No matter which channel you pick, this is the hardest step because you’ll be posting into the void for a while.

I personally think it’s important for you to do everything yourself for a period at the beginning (e.g., writing, recording, editing, posting, etc.).

This gets you closest to the format, lets you intimately understand how things work, and most importantly, helps you cultivate your taste for what good vs great looks like.

Some people try to play the content game with automation from day 1 (e.g., they creative direct and have others edit).

I find this approach results in stale, unoriginal content.

Would you buy a piece of art from an artist that told others where to put the paint? 

Ehh, probably not. So step 1, start yourself. Expect this to take a year.

I chose to start with short-form video and quickly added on writing this newsletter.

Short-form video gave me the quickest path to feedback and the biggest algorithmic tailwinds. The newsletter gave me a longer-form medium to invent my own format. It also allowed me to have a mix of rented (short-form) vs owned (newsletter) audiences. I’m going to be adding a video podcast next.

Step 2: Build an audience

You will inevitably begin building an audience on whichever platform best supports the medium you choose.

Don’t worry about which platforms these are. Instead, make sure to pick the content medium you’re most likely to stick with for the long-term.

I can’t stress this enough…all you have to do is not quit.

For me, I ended up cross-posting my videos on Tiktok, Instagram and YouTube. I’ve been fortunate to have grown across all three with the exact same videos.

For the newsletter, I use beehiiv as my publishing platform of choice.

Step 3: Automating your content creation process

This is where things get fun, but to reiterate, you really shouldn’t spend any time thinking about this until you have built a sizable audience.

What’s sizable? Let’s roughly say 50K followers on a single platform.

After making content yourself for a while, you’ll realize it’s too much work to continue owning the whole process forever.

Also, there are parts in the process that you are naturally good at/like doing vs other parts that you don’t.

For example, with making videos, I really love finding video ideas and breaking them down into consumable storylines (e.g., script). I’m neutral on the actual recording process and I really don’t enjoy the editing.

No matter how good you are at any or all phases of the creation process, you will not be able to create leverage on your time unless you eventually automate the things you don’t like doing.

Now that you’ve come to the realization that you need to automate, you’ll quickly also realize you need to hire someone (in my case, video editors).

Hiring costs money, so you’re going to need a cash flow source.

There are 6 paths you can go down, each with pros and cons:

  1. Cash Savings

    1. Pros: No additional work is required because you already have the money

    2. Cons: This will run out and doesn’t scale

  2. Services Agency (Unrelated) - e.g., SEO agency for a video creator

    1. Pros: Agencies as easy to get profitable quickly

    2. Cons: If you don’t have an operator running the agency, it will be a huge distraction and time suck away from making content. Also, unrelated agencies don’t give you any relevant learning for your content

  3. Services Agency (Related) - e.g., Video editing agency for a video creator

    1. Pros: Agencies as easy to get profitable quickly. Also, you are building owned automation capacity in your space

    2. Cons: If you don’t have an operator running the agency, it will be a huge distraction and time suck away from making content

  4. Digital Products - e.g., Courses, PDFs, etc.

    1. Pros: Build once, sell twice. Super high margin

    2. Cons: Revenue will be inconsistent and tough to rely on. Also hard to sell substantial digital products without having authority in a space

  5. Content CPMs - e.g., YouTube Adsense, Tiktok Creator Fund

    1. Pros: Fully aligned with existing content work. You’re already posting, now money comes in

    2. Cons: Inconsistent and hard to rely on and sole revenue source. Depends on content performance

  6. Brand Deals/Ads/Affiliates - e.g., Making content for brands, including paid ads in content for brands, buyers trying products with your link

    1. Pros: Fully aligned with existing content work. You get paid to compound your own channels

    2. Cons: Inconsistent and hard to rely on. Long sales cycle to secure. Rework/edits often required. Managing client expectations is stressful

When you get to this point, I recommend picking a single path and doing everything you can for 6 months to try and make it work.

For me, I really didn’t want to run an agency without partnering with another operator. It’s a full-time job and would take away from the content production process.

I chose a combination of Brand Deals and Content CPMs.

My logic was that I would make all of the content myself until my audience was big enough to start getting paid for brand deals.

Once brand deals start coming in, I would take them only to be able to pay for the content production automation.

After a full year in this game, I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m going to begin automating everywhere.

Step 4: Sell an owned product/service to your audience

The big money comes when you own a product/service and sell it to your audience with no/low CAC.

Think things like Feastables, Prime, Divvy, Chamberlain Coffee, etc.

It’s really not worth thinking about this until you have a large enough audience to fund it or have automated enough to free up your time to work on it.

SOLO EXPLORERS
Lessons learned from exploring alone

As I mentioned above, I was in NYC this week.

I wanted to try something different, so on Thursday I cleared my schedule and walked around the city alone.

No plans. No headphones. No music/podcast. Just me & my camera, going wherever seemed interesting. I made this video of my journey.

Sad to admit, but this is the first time I’ve ever “traveled alone” with no plans…I loved it.

A few learnings I took away:

  • Without music/podcast in, my awareness was on a 10. I had never seen, heard, or smelled the city like that before. I noticed everything

  • Because my awareness was heightened, my conscious mind was just busy enough to free up my subconscious to think freely. I came up with so many good ideas while I was walking around. Silent walking alone is a hack for idea generation

  • I realized that my favorite time to explore a city is while it’s still “sleeping in.” This is between 8-11am where the light is soft, stores are empty, and the streets are quiet. I’ve now walked around both Tokyo (Ginza) and NYC at this time and loved them both. It’s wild coming back to the same streets a few hours apart and noticing how chaotic things get

  • When you don’t have a plan, your day becomes full of mini-adventures that are spur the moment. This led to much better storytelling in my NYC vlog. The broader lesson might be that plans are helpful to get you to an interesting place, but once you’re there, you should let your intuition take over and wander

ANOTHER EMAIL?!

I’m thinking about writing another newsletter. Just links with 1-3 sentences for each, no fluff, sent 2-3 times per week.

Why? In search of the best video topics, I probably see 1,000 stories per week. 25 are worth your time and I only end up having time to make 4-5 videos.

I think it be helpful for creators, entrepreneurs & builders if I shared the other 20.

If this sounds useful to you, you can subscribe here. Will start sending in a few weeks.

Btw, wknds is a broader play coming soon. Launching a pod with Roberto Nickson next week. Excited to reveal it!

RESTAURANT DRIP

Sugarfish

Cult restaurants should have clothing lines

As I walked around NYC (West Village, Soho, Tribeca, Flatiron), I saw so many restaurants that have cult followings.

I thought back to a podcast that Shaan Puri from MFM did with Samir Chaudry (Colin & Samir).

During the episode, Samir was talking about how he and Colin approach merch for their business. Instead of going for low quality, mass produced pieces (like most creators), they treat merch as a breakeven or loss leader.

Their goal is to create limited run collectibles that true fans can buy to rep the brand. These collectibles are always the highest quality and rarely make money for the duo.

And it got me thinking…the same logic should apply for cult restaurants.

Think of places like Sugarfish, Erewhon, ABC Kitchen. Or any Michelin spot. Any restaurant that is well-known should have a limited run, super high quality clothing line (hats, hoodies, T-shirts).

The goal isn’t to add supplementary income, rather to turn fanatics into marketing machines.

In some cases, the branded clothing will become a profitable spin-off in itself (e.g., Kirkland clothing), but in most cases, it will add more surface area for awareness outside of the traditional channels (delivery apps, physical store, google/yelp, etc.)

This is obviously not a core competency of a restauranteur. The business opportunity is to create a faceless clothing company that specifically serves the niche of high quality apparel for restaurants.

The data (which customer bought clothing) would be extremely valuable for restaurants to use to retarget.

1 STEP REMOVED
The psychology of marketing

My friend Jay Clouse is a fellow creator that is super active in sharing his progress as a creator on Twitter.

Recently, he had a megaviral video on YouTube. He had ~15-20K subscribers at the time and the video did 1.2M views.

It was his interview with Jenny Hoyas, an 18 year old creator that has generated 600M+ views on YouTube Shorts.

This was Jay’s most viral video and drove ~20-30K new subscribers over a few weeks. Crazy.

So I spent some time thinking about the psychology behind why his packaging worked so well.

The thumbnail text was “I can make anything viral.”

Here’s my take on why this one went crazy…

In the early days of the internet, marketing was fairly straightforward. If you dangled the thing someone actually wanted in front of them, they would bite.

So if you said, “You can earn $1M/year with these simple steps”…a lot of people would buy.

But I think we’ve moved into an era where the internet has been around for so long that traditional buyers (or content viewers in this case) see these “direct claims” as scams.

They have subconscious defense mechanisms that cause them to believe these offers are too good to be true because they are pattern matching to the dozens of internet schemes they’ve seen before.

Instead, a better way to market is to target one step away from the intended result.

It sounds counterintuitive, but stay with me here.

As a reminder, the thumbnail text for Jay’s video is “I can make anything viral.”

Why did that work?

If you think about it, no one really cares about going viral. What they care about is making a bunch of money or growing their audience (so they can make money in the future).

Going viral is a step that usually leads to those things.

The act of “going viral” is one step removed from what people really want.

So a lot of people see this title and think, “hmmm…I’m smart. If I can go viral, it will unlock what I really want, which is influence/money”, so lemme click and see what this is all about.

I bet if his title was “I made $100K from YouTube shorts” it wouldn’t have done as well.

Because most viewers’ subconscious inhibitions would be up, thinking whatever Jenny has to say was either not going to be helpful or too good to be true.

Online marketing is like everything other game.

People get dopamine hits when they figure out how to beat the level for themselves because they feel like they have an inside edge.

If you give someone the exact path for beating the level, the game isn’t fun anymore.

NICHE TO MEET YOU
I think I’m allergic to niching down

Most of the guru content advice online is to find a niche, hammer that niche until you become an authority in it, sell courses to that niche, and then ride off into the sunset.

I can’t bring myself to niche down.

I have several interests that I’m authentically captivated by.

My initial content strategy was to just make videos about whatever grabbed my interest that day, mostly constrained within tech, brands, wellness, or entrepreneurship.

My brain is telling me to niche down, but my gut is telling me to continuing being an n=1.

To steel man this, the only legitimate reason I can see for niching down is that it makes it easier for others to tell their friends about you.

“He makes cool videos about the NFL” is a lot easier for someone to come up with than “He talks about such interesting stuff…anything from AI to Taylor Swift.”

Still resisting niching down…for now.

VIDEOS FROM THIS WEEK

Here are links to this week’s videos if you want to check them out:

  1. 🌴 | wknds in Julian, California (vlog): Watch on TT | IG

  2. 🧑‍🎨 | Uizard’s AI design assistant got a huge upgrade: Watch on TT | IG | YT

  3. 👿 | The dark side of being a creator: Watch on TT | IG | YT

  4. 🗽 | wknds in NYC (vlog): Watch on TT | IG

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