🧑🏼‍🚀 Blueprint 031

The future of creator brand partnerships, avoid this trap, follow this playbook if you're starting out, hitting the ball

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 31 weeks since I went on my own full-time.

Today’s topics:

  • 📈 | Week 31 recap and metrics

  • 🫨 | How to avoid the “spread too thin” trap

  • 🎯 | If you’re starting out on your own, follow this playbook

  • 🎾 | Hitting the ball

  • 👀 | The future of creator brand partnerships (MKBHD <> Ridge)

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 worlds. If that’s you…let’s ride 👩🏻‍🚀

WEEKLY RECAP
Recap

Hope everyone is doing well!

If you read these consistently (and enjoy them), please reply and let me know which sections you liked most and what topics you wished I’d focus more on.

It sounds weird, but although I write this weekly to 5,000+ people, I don’t always get feedback on what’s resonating…and I love reading messages when my ideas help people, so let me know!

— — — — — — — — — —

This week, I’m reflecting on something that is a common problem for most entrepreneurs/creators…spreading themselves too thin.

When I started making content last year, all I did was short-form video.

5 beats a day for 3 summers. My version was 5 videos/week for a year.

And while I’m not Kanye level yet, I did feel a massive skill improvement and matching audience growth during that time.

It was working.

So, as one does when a small thing is working, I tried to “expand the empire”… to turn the island into an archipelago.

In the past few weeks, I’ve also tried to add long-form YouTube videos.

I’m now also building a free community, consulting for brands, networking with other creators, designing wknds physical products, etc.

It has become too much…I’m officially spread too thin. [insert video game character…wasted]

And what happens when you spread yourself too thin? You start losing everywhere.

If you look at the metrics dashboard, this is my first week where followers went down on IG and views across the board were effectively nonexistent.

Part of it was that I tried experimenting with new formats that didn’t pan out (like this one and this one). The other part is just failure by suffocation. Not enough oxygen to each channel.

A positive to pull from that experimentation…

Sometimes, when you have something working, you don’t realize how good you have it.

I developed a bit of a signature style that was working well but becoming boring to me.

Adventuring off and trying other things that were a) harder to make and b) felt less unique helped reinvigorate my appreciation for my signature style.

I’ve posted 10 short-form videos in the last 5 weeks (2/week) when my average was typically around ~4/week before that.

So I’m going to spend more time going back to what was working on the short-form side.

— — — — — — —

Here’s where we get tactical on being spread too thin.

The reason I spread myself so thin was not because I have shiny object syndrome.

I believe that the “value” in building an audience comes from growing deep, meaningful, high-trust relationships over time.

My hypothesis is that the best way to do that is through longer-form mediums like YouTube, podcasts, etc.

But, I already have a huge audience through short-form, so to go all-in on YouTube, and abandon what’s already working, seems dumb.

Hence, why I tried to straddle both.

I share this because I’m sure this is a problem that most of my internet creator friends are having…they know they should be on YouTube (or some other long-form channel), but they’ve had more success and grown a bigger audience on short-form.

So what do we do? Here are the options:

  1. Go all-in on short-form (abandon YouTube completely)

  2. Go all-in on YouTube (abandon short-form Reels, keep IG alive with stories)

  3. Do both but automate YouTube process completely and hope it works (with paid editors)

Option 1 feels like the easy short-term choice, but a stupid move if I’m playing in decades and want depth.

Option 2 feels like the stupid play short-term and potentially long-term.

Option 3 is what I’ve been failing at so far.

To double click, why have I failed with option 3?

I’ve failed because my video topics weren’t differentiated, the execution was poor, the thumbnails were trash, and (the big one) I was playing in a format that I didn’t like making.

If you watch this video I made about the Apple Vision Pro on YouTube, it actually did well (9K views), but it took me ~10 hours to edit over 3 different sessions.

And although I think it turned out well, it doesn’t feel like the juice was worth the 10 hour squeeze.

So either I can work with a YouTube video editor and hope he/she can execute to this quality, or I need to find another format on YouTube that a) I like to make, b) can make efficiently, and c) that the market finds value in.

My strategy with YouTube moving forward is:

  1. Record one video per week (Apple Vision Pro style) that is fully edited by someone else (1 hour of my time to write and record)

  2. Record one “video version” of Blueprint that goes out with this newsletter (mostly talking head, limited editing/cutting, designed for true fans)

This strategy will not result in viral YouTube growth, but will provide a long tail of depth around original ideas and true “build in public” style.

This feels like where I can be 1/1 on YouTube.

I’m not going to win at tech reviews. I’m not going to win at tutorials. I’m not going to win at viral news coverage and synthesis.

In my mind, the way I win on YouTube is being good at concisely documenting my journey to build (everywhere else), distilling the lessons in interesting ways, and inspiring others to do the same.

If you’re also spread too thin, the answer is not more work. This will burn you out and lead to failure everywhere.

The answer is less things, but doing them better.

BEGINNER PLAYBOOKS
If you’re starting out on your own, follow this playbook

Over the past few weeks, I’ve started consulting for brands.

I offer short-form content strategy, idea generation, scriptwriting, storyframing, and editing feedback.

I’m essentially offering myself as a mercenary “gun-for-hire” that will dramatically cut down content iteration cycles for teams.

You get my sauce and real-time feedback (as frequently as daily).

As a bonus, the sawdust from this process is that it also helps upskill other marketing/content/growth team members on my processes, frameworks, and way of thinking.

For me, I view this as renting my time in a way that still lets me compound skill knowledge (around storytelling, video, content strategy).

And while I wouldn’t rent my time for 8 hours/day (because then I couldn’t make my own stuff), I’m willing to do it for 1-2 if it brings in enough revenue to cover everything else.

Why start with this instead of something more scalable (like a course or paid community)?

The short-answer is that there are a lot of people asking for it.

There was a wave 6-12 months ago where brands paid short-form video agencies to pump out videos. And most of these videos did nothing for the brands. Money wasted. After a few months, most brands churned, still unhappy.

Why?

Because great videos come from great ideas + great storytelling/scriptwriting packaged with editing, not just editing alone.

So I’m offering two models for brands:

  1. Advise to win - Me hourly as an extension of your content team. The team writes the first script, records, and does the editing, and I’m the glue/iteration that helps refine it so it works. I will only do this for a couple brands at a time.

  2. Do the winning for you - I’ve partnered with a video agency (the absolute best operators in the space imo) to combine my storytelling/scriptwriting with world-class editing and offer the full service package for brands. If your team doesn’t have the expertise in house to actually execute on the videos, you’d use this. [If you are a brand and want this, drop your info here]

I was very hesitant to partner with any agency unless I was sure they’d be able to execute against my desired quality.

This team is the best operating group I’ve seen (and it combines people like Zach Pogrob, legendary storytellers, previous operators that have sold 8 figure agencies, etc.).

— — — — — — — —

One of the pieces of feedback I received was to make the “so what” of Blueprint more tactical and actionable to execute against.

So here we go and how of the above ties together.

If you’re starting out, you’ll have zero skills, zero network, and zero traction.

This is the playbook:

  1. Start learning a hard skill. Not one that’s hard to learn…one that is technical (paid marketing, coding, content creation, video editing, etc.) The more in-demand it is, and the less people that can do it, the better. In my case, I picked content/storytelling. Do not pick a soft skill that everyone can learn (like management or communication). These are not skills, these are traits. If you have only these, you will not have leverage in the marketplace.

  2. Practice that skill obsessively. If it’s content, make a ton of content. If it’s coding, build and ship projects. Hunker down and do the thing obsessively for a year without getting distracted

  3. At some point (between 1-5 years in), you will become .01% in the world at that thing. If you have natural talent, it’ll be on the faster end. If you don’t, it’ll be on the slower end. But regardless, it will happen because few can stay focused long enough to compound this much learning into a single skill

  4. Find others that need this skill (the higher leverage skill you picked, the more that will need it; and if you do it for long enough in a visible way, they will find you). Rent some of your time to them for a high wage. Spend the rest of your time continuing to compound learning of that skill doing your own stuff (very important, do not stop doing your own stuff or you will stagnate and you skill will slowly decay).

  5. Use the income from your rented wage to pay other specialists to do the things you are bad at (for me, these are things like design & coding). This helps you complete the circle and lets you build and ship a full product of your own. Some are good enough at all skills where they can do it all themselves. Most will need to pay.

  6. Once you ship a full product, you will begin to earn revenue that is independent from your time. You can now stop renting your time for money (unless you enjoy it) and spend all of your time applying your skill for your brand (e.g., if your skill is paid marketing, you’ll run the marketing for your brand). You’ll probably still need to hire specialists to work on your brand, but now the product revenue can cover it.

  7. Now you have a fully sustainable product, that can cover its costs, leverage your differentiated skillset, and operates independent of your time. You are free.

  8. Continuing compounding and repeat forever

To reflect, I was a management consultant, which effectively meant, I had no hard skills (aka low leverage in the market).

I know this because I tried to leave and get a job based on my credentials and no one would hire me after a certain level.

This is not to say management consultants have no skills. It’s to say that most of their skills are softer which makes it harder to differentiate in the market outside of consulting.

I’ve since built the content/storytelling skill, which imo, is the highest leverage one you can develop, because you can generate attention at will. Every brand in the world has a never ending need for more attention/clicks/eyes/buys.

HITTING THE BALL
Hitting the ball

Novak Djokovic will go down as one of the greatest tennis players of all time.

There was a moment in 2010, after a loss in the French Open, where he told his coach he was quitting tennis forever.

His coach asked, “Why did you start playing tennis in the first place?”

And Novak responded, “Because I just really loved holding that racket in my hand.”

His coach said, “Well do you still love holding the racket in your hand?”

And Novak excitedly responded, “I do. Whether it’s a grand slam final on center court or just playing around on a public court, I like playing for the sake of playing”

He just liked hitting the ball.

The more I study the greats, the more I realize that true greatness comes from finding something where you just like hitting the ball…and doing so over and over for decades.

This applies across all disciplines, all domains, all industries.

As I think tactically about how this applies to my life…Have I found anything where I can’t wait to jump out of bed because I get to hit the ball again today?

No…not yet.

But that’s the north star. That’s what you’re looking for.

Because once you find your version of hitting the ball, work becomes play for the rest of your life.

S/o my homie Billy Oppenheimer for the original story!

THE FUTURE OF CREATOR BRAND DEALS
MKBHD <> Ridge

One of the videos I made this week was about Marques Brownlee (MKBHD) announcing a huge partnership with Ridge.

If you don’t know Marques, he’s a king in the tech YouTube space. One of the OG YouTubers and a massive influence culturally.

For a sense, his Apple Vision Pro unboxing/review videos generated 45M views in a 2 week span.

But Ridge, originally a wallet company, is significantly less well known relative to Marques.

They have quietly built a 9-figure business selling everyday carry items like wallets, key holders, backpacks, belts, etc.

So when I saw this announcement from Marques, about becoming Ridge’s Chief Creative Partner, equity investor and Board Member, I was confused.

In my head I thought, “Why in the world would Marques go “all-in” with a less-well known brand like Ridge?”

Upon reflection, I think this was a brilliant deal and is a blueprint for future creator <> brand partnerships.

Most creators I know have the same ambitions:

  1. Grow a huge audience

  2. Build massive owned product brands in categories that solve problems for that audience

This is my goal as well.

On the surface, we have seen several creator-owned/led brands that fit this model.

A few of the common ones people reference include:

  • Logan Paul/KSI (Prime)

  • Mr. Beast (Feastables)

  • Emma Chamberlain (Chamberlain Coffee)

  • Nelk Boys (Happy Dad)

And there are a bunch more that are worth $100M+.

So of course, whenever something looks easy on the outside, everyone rushes to try and replicate it in their own way.

The truth is, starting and scaling an owned product brand like this is extremely difficult.

There’s really only two ways to do it. Either hire the full operating team from scratch (usually poaching from legacy players) or partner with an existing
operator-as-a-service that has expertise in this category.

Either way, the creator relies heavily on the operating team being able to execute the product vision.

Knowing MKBHD, his commitment to product quality and design is second to none.

I can’t say this for sure, but I’d bet everything that he went down this path for years to build product/engineering teams in house and develop his own products brand.

Being in the tech space, I’d imagine the products he was looking to build were everything from tech gear, everyday carry, office essentials, etc.

But, like most of these failed ventures that nobody hears about, he probably struggled to maintain his 10/10 quality expectations while also handling the workload of interviewing/hiring an operating team.

It became a huge distraction, pulling him away from what he’s best at…making videos.

Enter Ridge.

Although the Ridge brand is not a household name or a market leader in the accessories category, they have spent the last decade building up manufacturing capacity and supply chain expertise to make stuff.

So the partnership essentially gives Marques a rocketship ready to fly.

Because Ridge isn’t an entrenched brand leader, Marques can come in and put his fingerprints all over the brand.

Aside from changing the name, they are probably giving him completely creative control to come up with anything he wants.

And for Marques, it’s like getting to play in the product R&D sandbox without the risk, because the supply chain, industrial design team, and manufacturing processes are all ready to go.

So how could this fail?

  • The Ridge brand becomes an inhibitor for Marques and he feels like it holds him back from truly building an iconic brand of his own. If this happens, they could either white label their manufacturing for him or he’ll breakaway with the learnings and start again

  • The Ridge team isn’t as good at making products as it appears they are

  • MKBHD isn’t able to drive enough demand to make the deal worth it (this won’t happen)

To me, this feels like a win-win and just comes down to brand positioning and messaging.

Over the next 10 years, I believe every consumer brand will realize the need to form a similar joint venture style relationship with relevant creators.

Building a social brand (with a familiar face) in house will likely not work, because any personality that gains traction will eventually feel underpaid and leave to start on their own.

Instead, companies should pursue the JV style deal, where the creator ports their audience over and co-creates for a long time across many collections.

This differs from a single brand collab. To truly see long-term brand lift and creative direction, brands need to align with creators for the long-term.

We’re seeing this with partnerships like Teddy Santis x New Balance and Ronnie Fieg x Knicks.

These guys aren’t creators per say, but they infuse their own brand/cult following and a taste for what the consumer wants into a legacy brand that needed a jolt of creative inspiration.

Will be interesting to see how this one evolves.

CONTENT FROM THIS WEEK

My best content from this week:

  1. 🏀 | Keep chasing greatness (Kobe): Watch

  2. 💰 | MKBHD x Ridge (Make it make sense): Watch

  3. 🦖 | wknds podcast (014) - Billionaire solopreneurs, Hormozi skool, creator funnels, huge YouTube prediction: Watch / Listen

  4. 🧑🏼‍🚀 | Blueprint 030 - The game within the game, attention pyramids, speed vs weird, the creator growth equation, joe rogan vs Sora: Read

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