🧑🏼‍🚀 Blueprint 022

The podcast domino strategy, your brain is running old software, why creators struggle with monetization, the case for not niching down, ecosystem design

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

It’s been 22 weeks since I went on my own full-time.

Today’s topics:

  • 🧮 | Week 22 recap & metrics

  • 💰 | Creator monetization struggles as a trend

  • 🁄 | The podcast domino strategy

  • 🕳️ | The case for not niching down

  • 🧠 | Your brain is a super computer running old software

  • 🦖 | Ecosystem design

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
Open Roles:

I’m looking to hire/partner for a few key roles in 2024:

  1. 🤝 | Talent Manager/Head of Sales - Searching for a Talent Manager/Head of Sales to run all inbound/outbound deals & partnerships across all media properties. A perk of this role is that you’ll get a front row seat to the future of media & creator-led businesses. You’ll also have full autonomy and unlimited upside with a wide range of media properties and ad inventory to package and sell. To follow-up from last week, I thought I had someone for this role, but it didn’t end up being the right fit

  2. ⚙️ | Head of Ops/COO - Also searching for my operational right-hand to help run the Kallaway Media ship behind the scenes. Expecting to grow the content team to 5-10 people in 2024 with coverage across several platforms and channels. This is someone that is an absolute savage at ops, systems, and process. They want to be a part of something growing fast and playing on the edges while remaining behind the scenes. The goal is to start with content and then expand into other businesses. This person would be instrumental in both, with a laser focus on media ops initially.

Looking for long-term partners with heavy culture fit. Don’t care what school you went to. Just need a savage, A-player that’s fun to spend time with, super hungry, has a massive bias for action, and a strong morale compass. If either of these sound like you, or a friend, lmk! Will be giving a $500 referral fee to anyone that refers someone I end up working with.

Weekly Recap

Continuing to feel solid momentum and clarity around my brand identity and content value prop.

In this current season, there are only 3 things on my mind:

  • Brand: How do I become one of one while continuing to grow audience with 10/10 quality and max trust?

  • Monetization: How do I monetize (initial goal is to get to $20K/month) without sacrificing product quality or audience trust?

  • Scale: How can I unlock more leverage by spending less time on repetitive tasks without losing product quality or audience trust?

If you’ve been reading Blueprint for a while, you’ll know that these are the same 3 things that have been echoing around my head for the last several weeks.

It’s all I think about. If I can solve these, I will win big.

If you’re a creator at a similar stage, this is probably all you’re thinking about as well.

Creator Monetization Struggles

As I talk to more creators, it’s clear that their #1 biggest priority is…monetization.

How can we make consistent money doing this?

The truth is, there aren’t many “creator-first” entrepreneurs that have figured out monetization (especially in tiers below people like Mr. Beast, Logan Paul, Emma Chamberlain).

I know several business owners that added content as an accelerant to their top of funnel (and have made a ton of money), but not many that started with content (without a product or service to sell) and have succeeded financially in a big way.

Here’s the big dilemma for most creators (me included)…we don’t want to be on a content treadmill.

The most common way to monetize content is brand deals.

Brand deals require consistent content production and performance.

When you want to stop making content, the brand deals stop. When your content stops working, the brand deals stop.

It’s as simple as that.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I look at content creation more as an artist/entrepreneur than a journalist/newscaster.

If I wanted to make content everyday for the rest of my life, I would have chosen to work as a journalist.

This conundrum (brand deals fully tied to content output/success) seems to be the cause of most creator stress when it comes to monetization.

If you study any creator that has made more than $1M+/year, every single one of them makes the majority of their money from owned products/services.

Most lock-in brand deals as extra whipped cream on top…if you’re making the content, why not have a brand pay for it…but this is not their primary revenue source.

Both because it’s hard af to scale and every brand deal sacrifices a little bit of audience trust.

Seems obvious enough.

But the tough part is figuring out the right way around it.

Most creators don’t have the time to create both content and a product. For the ones that do, most don’t have the technical know-how, skills or expertise to bring a product to market.

The common solve for this in our current era is for creators to partner with operators to launch product/service businesses.

Creators “bring the customers” and operators “run the business.” The two work together on “creating the product.”

But here’s the thing people forget…

This playbook only works when the creator can actually bring the audience they say they can.

Most creators take shortcuts to build large followings with low engagement.

These type of audiences won’t show up when you ask them to buy your products.

Even if you build “the right way”, there is usually a long period between starting from zero and having enough influence that will provide consistent distribution for a product business.

This is why you only see massive creator-led brands from the world’s biggest creators. Most mid-tier creators have audiences that are too frail to drive consistent demand.

So where does that leave creators in the middle?

The answer…not in a great spot.

The only other alternatives for monetization are to package & sell your relative expertise to a younger version of you (course) or to package & sell your relative knowledge as a service for others (agency).

Both have trade-offs as I’ve explored in previous editions of Blueprint.

My goal here is not to layout the options again…it’s to highlight the fact that there isn’t an “easy path.”

If there was, everyone would take it and it’d be quickly arbed away.

Most non-creators look at creators/influencers on social media and assume they’re making millions and get all the free product/access/partnerships in the world.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Most of these placements are paid for by the influencer or faked to give off the appearance of influence so that fans will buy their owned products (courses/services).

As for me, I’m still trying to figure out an answer to my monetization problem.

What baffles me is that the most talented people at generating attention (the internet’s most valuable resource) are typically the least talented at monetizing it.

PODCAST DOMINO STRATEGY
The Podcast Domino Strategy

I think people are promoting their podcasts the wrong way.

Hear me out.

Everyone wants their podcast to grow fastest on YouTube.

Why?

Because YouTube pays you Adsense for views, the CPMs for Brand Deals/Ads are the same as audio only, and the YouTube Home Page algo will feed your show to new viewers without you having to lift a finger.

It’s universally known that if you want to grow a podcast, you either launch audio only and wait 10 years, or you prioritize video, launch on YouTube, and try to funnel all the attention there.

But here’s my realization…when’s the last time you watched/listened to a full podcast episode (1-4 hours) on YouTube?

Exactly…you haven’t. Nobody does.

If I had a dollar for the amount of times I’ve heard someone say, “Nah I didn’t watch the full episode…I watched the clips”, I’d be a quadrillionaire.

People don’t watch full podcast episodes on YouTube. 

I will admit, most people that are audio-only listeners do listen to full episodes on Apple/Spotify, but that’s because there is no audio clip platform.

Okay, so what’s this all mean?

Here’s the common playbook people run for podcasts:

  • Publish the audio-only episodes on Apple/Spotify (but tbh, we don’t really care about these downloads unless we’ve been around for a while and they are high)

  • Publish the full episode on YouTube (main goal is to drive everybody here)

  • Make YouTube Clips like Joe Rogan (5-10 minute straight cuts from the full episode, thumbnails like Rogan)

  • Make 3-5 60 second short-form clips for IG/TT/YouTube Shorts (designed to drive people to the link in bio where the full YouTube episode is linked)

And what actually happens is:

  • Friends share the audio with friends, but that’s the only lever for growth so it grows super slowly

  • Few people watch the full episode on YouTube (unless you have a cult following)

  • Nobody watches the YouTube clips (unless you have a cult following)

  • Most of the shorts get immaterial views. Once in a while a short goes viral on IG Reels or Tiktok, it gets a million views, lots of shares, your IG/TT page grows, but there is no noticeable increase to your audio/video episode views

Hmm…seems like a lot of work for a leaky strategy.

Here’s my idea…the domino strategy.

People are primed for content on short-form. Billions of eyes absolutely brainwashed to consume short-form content every single day.

Instead of making a short that has a beginning, middle, and end (designed to make the viewer think you sound smart), what if you just made the short with the beginning, some middle and then a cliffhanger, specifically designed to not deliver all of the information?

For example, if we had a segment in wknds where we said, “These are the 3 ways we’re making the most money right now as creators…”

Most podcasts would try to rip an edit that actually gave you all 3 ways. So when you were finished watching, you thought they were credible and maybe would follow the pod.

Seems logical, but actually…suboptimal.

People’s brains work like drug addicts when they watch short-form content.

If you give them the drug (the full answer), they will be satisfied and move on. If you don’t…they’re going to come looking for the dealer.

Instead of giving them the full answer up front, I’d design the short to either give them none of the ways, or maybe given them one and say something like, “the second and third way were 5x bigger - you’ll never believe what they were” and then abruptly stop the short there and make them go to YouTube to complete the loop.

So step 1, cliffhang through short-form (Domino #1).

But here’s where it gets really different.

My goal is not to drive them to the long-form episode on the YouTube channel.

Why not?

First of all, most pods are super boring and slow at the beginning.

Would you take someone on the edge of their seat for one specific piece of information and then make them sit through 20 minutes of boring fluff and have to hunt for the answer?

No…give them the answer.

Put the answer to the shorts cliffhanger in a 5-7 minute clip, specifically designed to expand upon the short.

Now the clip is not edited like Joe Rogan (just slapping an I/O on a 5 minute segment, adding a thumbnail and posting)…instead you custom design/animate the first 30-60 seconds of the clip to be as visually engaging as the short.

This way, there is less visual drop-off when they jump from IG → YouTube.

The link directly to that clip will be in bio, and when they get there, they will be met with a similar engaging style.

After watching the 5-7 minute clip, they will get the answer to the original question framed in the short.

Domino #2…a Youtube medium-form clip edited like a short-form video.

Now you have them in YouTube watching your videos, in a format closer to what they were watching before.

If they’re really interested in what you have to say, they will then be much closer to getting to the full episode in YouTube (which you’ll link in the clip shownotes and call to action at the end of the clip).

Most people won’t make this conversion, but that’s okay. You were getting zero net conversion from shorts before, so anyone that does make the leap is likely going to be a true fan.

This Short → Clip → Full vs Short → Full strategy works well for a couple reasons:

  • People want to consume clips….nobody watches full podcasts on YouTube

  • Clips can be edited similarly to how the Short was edited for visual and rhythmic consistency

  • Clips can be focused on one topic…the same topic as the shorts. Long episode have lots of topics which makes the viewer have to hunt through time stamps to find what they want

  • Clips can be posted daily, which means if your team is running at full efficiency, you will have fresh eyes coming into your YouTube channel daily vs 1x per week (this will pump your channel algo like crazy)

  • You can run ads on Clips

Long-form podcasts are really just the canvas source material to cut compelling clips.

Of course, the long-form also exists to provide amazing conversations for superfans to listen to as well, but superfan views only helps increase depth.

If you want to grow wider, the domino strategy is a much better way to get new eyes into the ecosystem that stick at a higher rate.

We’re starting to test this on wknds and will circle back on how it goes.

Fwiw, what makes this hard is that you need an editing team with enough capacity to edit clips (often 5-6x volume) with the same rigor as you would shorts (plus you still need the full episode). So this is not a strategy where you can cut corners until you have it systematized.

One last thought…here’s why non-converting shorts are a head fake.

If your podcast gets 10K downloads on the full episodes (or clips) but 2M impressions per week on TT/IG, that won’t help you with monetization.

Sure maybe more people on TT/IG know your face, but if there isn’t a conversion to the content stream that brands pay for, you have a leaky bucket.

The domino strategy is designed to maximize the stickiness and flow through from non-monetized channels (shorts) to monetized channels (clips, full episodes).

NICHE PLAYS
The case for not niching down

I keep running into the same problem over and over…I’m struggling to distill myself into a niche.

A niche would be something like “The AI Guy” or “The Healthy Food Guy”… essentially paring down my content to just a single topic or category that I can become known for.

The conventional wisdom is that by niching down into a single topic, your content will be more focused, your audience will be more focused, and it will be easier to find content-audience fit.

A tighter content-audience fit means a quicker path to product-audience fit.

This makes sense.

But by nature, I have several different interests and get bored when I constrain my natural curiosity.

I love tech and business strategy, but also I love brands and products. I also enjoy diving into wellness, sports and music.

My content thus far has crossed into all of those areas and my personal brand is nicheless.

I often say that niches are n=1 and that a creator’s unique intersection of topics and interests is the niche.

I always thought that niches were more like a fingerprint than an archetype…they should be unique to everyone.

But the advice I consistently get is that I should niche down because it’s hard for people to quickly understand why they should follow me.

When I get this advice, I spend a lot of time working and reworking my social bios, trying to distill the best one-liner for what I do.

I can’t figure it out.

I keep telling myself it’s bad that I’m not able to decide on a niche…but maybe it isn’t.

Let’s invert.

Why could it be better to not have a niche?

Well for one thing, when someone is tied to a niche, their identity (as a person) get blended in with that topic.

And this could be bad for two reasons…

For one, the topic literally becomes synonymous with your name. Who’s that guy that covers hormone therapy?

It becomes easier to be forgotten in someone’s mind.

When AI enables every niche to produce to infinity pieces of content per day, and the only thing left to differentiate is personal brand, you want your name to be the thing people remember…not the topic.

The second reason niches could be suboptimal is that you’re tying yourself to the market interest in a topic.

That’s amazing when a topic is in vogue, and on an upswing, but can be catastrophic when a topic becomes old news and out of favor.

For example, creators tied to web3 content had their relevance and credibility washed away during the web3 bear market.

Many had to rebrand completely to start fresh.

When you are the niche, it gives you durability to withstand topic-specific volatility.

If you really boil it down, the purpose of having a niche is so that when a fan shares you with a friend, they can tightly message your value prop, “Hey Dan, you gotta check out this guy, he makes the best AI videos.”

But my goal when people share me with someone else is that they say, “Yo, you gotta check out this dude Kallaway. He talks about the most interesting stuff.”

Why?

Because when “interesting” is the reason someone is introduced to me, I have a much wider surface area of applicability and a longer leash to entertain.

When a specific topic (“tech” or “AI”) is the share vector, people may lose interest in me as they lose interest in the topic.

Since most people have varied interests, making content on only one topic could get boring for them to consume after a while.

In my mind, I’ll grow much slower without niching down, but my true fans will be stickier, because they believe more in me than the topic.

This should translate to deeper fandom and wider purchase behavior on a long-time horizon. It gives me way more creative flexibility to play around.

Now I’ll admit, I’m not sure how much of this is me just trying to make an argument to support the fact that I don’t want to niche down, but it feels like there is some merit in not being tied to a single niche topic.

And to steelman, niching down on a specific topic will give you the fastest path to selling products in that niche, which is probably the dream outcome for all creators.

BRAIN GAMES
Your brain is a supercomputer running old software

As we close the year, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the journey so far.

Professionally, I’ve grown more this year than the previous 7 combined.

This will sound a little weird, but my biggest unlock was figuring out how to jailbreak my mind.

Here’s what I mean…

Your entire existence is made up of the thoughts you have on a daily basis.

Those thoughts are either:

  • Directly implemented/embedded by some stimulus (things you saw on TV, heard on a podcast, heard from your family/friends, read in an article, etc.)

  • Created from within but indirectly influenced by some stimulus 

Everything you think (therefore everything you are) is a direct result of or influenced by the stimulus around you.

This is why parental influence is such a major predictor of success for a child.

When you’re growing up, the stimulus influencing you comes from your school, your community, your sports, your parents.

Those sources shape your world view.

For most of us, we don’t know anything outside of those influences…so that’s often who we become. We grow up into derivatives of our surroundings.

When I grew up, I didn’t have access to social media or podcasts.

This meant my stimulus was either going to be books or my physical local environment.

And if stimulus completely drove my world-view, that basically meant that my environment would dictate who I became.

In other words, the software (thoughts) that my brain ran on was pre-installed and influenced based on where I grew up.

This is true for almost everyone.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that it’s possible to retrain your brain…to upload new software…and completely change your world-view.

To do this, you need different stimulus. That means a different environment, different people, or different media pumping into your head.

If you’re able to tap into this new stimulus, your world view will slowly start to change and your brainOS will update.

Realizing this is possible and then doing it is what I call “jailbreaking the mind.”

I’m still me, but I feel like I have completely upgraded the firmware.

I now realize that things I thought to be true (e.g., typical career paths, life models, money, societal constructs, etc.) are mostly nonsense made up by someone else that was able to jailbreak their mind.

You have to be careful though…once you realize the process of retraining, the content you consume and people you surround yourself with become extremely influential.

Think of it like this…

Without learning how to upgrade the software, people’s worldviews are hardened. They become very set in their ways and difficult to influence.

But once you realize that most of the world’s rules and constructs are all made up, your world view becomes more malleable. You’re much more open to change.

There has been nothing more valuable to my mental growth than jailbreaking the mind.

ECOSYSTEM DESIGN
Ecosystem design

As a product thinker, my eye always seeks out amazing design.

This week, I stumbled upon this dope brand called Kids Take Over. It’s a music media company founded by Arshan from Vancouver.

I’m a huge fan of Jesse Sebastiani from Sunday (formerly Nelk). He was a recent guest on the KTO podcast, which is where I discovered it.

After 5 minutes of exploring KTO, I realized how much I loved their entire design aesthetic. From the logo to the thumbnail structure to the video intros to the Instagram stories…everything matched.

I call this ecosystem design.

Design is hard enough when you’re trying to create a mood/aesthetic for one project.

As you expand your empire, and add multiple projects, keeping the visual design cohesive and aligned is the difference between okay and amazing.

I’ve realized how much I care about the visual packaging of the things I work on.

It may not matter to everyone, but I seem gravitate most towards brands/people when they have amazing ecosystem design.

For me, my individual project brands/designs are improving, thanks to Dispatch.

Ecosystem design is going to be one of the next things we tackle.

VIDEOS FROM THIS WEEK

My best content from this week:

  1. 🤖 | Are AI romantic companions good for society?: Watch

  2. 📺 | This AI News Network is scary realistic: Watch

  3. 🦖 | wknds (006) - These systems will help you monetize your audience: Watch / Listen

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