As the world discovered that more American kids wanted to become YouTubers than astronauts and that Kylie Jenner became the world's youngest billionaire, the term "creator" entered a pivotal moment: It became the way to define a whole new generation of internet explorers. Then, people started to ask:
But what really is a creator?
The definition of a creator
The struggle we have to define what a "creator" is reminds me a lot of the struggle we had to define what a "startup" was. Like many new words trying to define a concept of the internet economy, they often lack a shared understanding of the paradigm shift the internet brings.
In the late 90s, the general public settled with "Startup" to define this fuzzy phenomenon where young people locked themselves up in garages with a couple of PCs and came out a few months later with an IPO. People were confused and it was common to hear people say they "had a startup" when they actually were either just start-ing any business or building a web-agency. It took a while until Steve Blank nailed it: “A startup is not a smaller version of a large company, it's a temporary organisation in search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” That definition made it clear for everyone what a startup was, and more importantly what it wasn't.
Startups were a new species and therefore needed their own definition. It enabled anyone to easily understand their DNA and create appropriate institutions to support them (Venture Capital, YCombinator, SaaS, etc.). The same needs to happen with Creators. As we speak—anyone from freelance videographers to WeWork members or handcrafted jewellery makers—are calling themselves creators. They need a new definition, and here’s my take:
A creator isn't someone who creates. A creator is an individual who scales without permission.
The 3 ingredients that make a creator.
Let me expand this definition. In my opinion, creators are at the intersection of 3 things: Individuality, Leverage and Rebellion.
- Individuality: Creators are less judged on their talent or passion and more on how good they are at being themselves. They are authentic individuals who followed the rabbit-hole of their own obsessions and are now weirdly good at something very specific. From ASMR to miniature cooking (or both), the number of niches (and their combinations) is virtually infinite, so is the potential to discover one's individuality and become the best at it.
- Leverage: Creators scale themselves through internet-based leverage. Media, Code & Community have zero marginal cost of reproduction which means creators can multiply their efforts without having to involve other humans. Unlike freelancers and knowledge workers, they don't rent out their time. They build assets that earn while they sleep. This is what enables them to decorrelate their inputs from their outputs and ultimately scale themselves.
- Rebellion: Creators don't need to ask for anyone's permission anymore. The internet enables them to bypass traditional gatekeepers and access the general public directly. Artists get billions of listens without labels, YouTubers build video empires without TV, Podcasters without radio, Course Creators build global classrooms without universities, Writers aggregate 1000s of subscribers without newspapers. They are consciously or unconsciously challenging the status quo. They have more ownership, more control & more upside. They trade security for freedom. They are entrepreneurs.
These 3 ingredients can obviously be present in variable proportion. But if you remove one of the ingredients, you'll have something very different:
- Individuality + Leverage = Performer. Without the rebellion, you'll get a Performer. Someone who's ready to give up control if it means more security, less complexity and more time to just create. A performer will delegate as many non-creative tasks as possible to pre-internet institutions (record labels, newspapers, TV channels, etc.). => E.g. a pro-gamer signing to an eSport team to only focus on playing.
- Individuality + Rebellion = Purist. Without the leverage, you get a Purist. Someone who's crafting something unique and who believes that its craft can’t or even shouldn't be made available to anyone to consume (leverage) and shouldn't be compromised by predatory institutions like record labels (rebellion). => E.g. an independent poet only printing and physically distributing his poem to connaisseurs.
- Leverage + Rebellion = Mercenary. Without the individuality, you get a Mercenary (not derogatory). Someone who's ready to do whatever it takes to make it in the short term. It is their way of repairing the social elevator that is often blocked on their floor, hence the rebellious aspect. => E.g. a drop-shipper who'd run Adwords campaigns to see to whom and where he could sell any high-margin products.
Why this matters?
In a nutshell, what "startup" did to the company as a social institution, "creator" is doing it to the individual. Creators are to freelancers what startups are to web agencies. The Creator Economy isn't primarily about the future of work, it's primarily about the future of (scalable) entrepreneurship.
Is "creator" the best term to describe the phenomenon of scalable individual? Probably not. Just as "startup" definitely wasn't the best term to describe a scalable organisation. But that's the one that seem to stick, so be it. This definition matters to me because it helped me solidify the diffuse intuition I had and it now allows me to quickly share my vision with others.
This definition also encompasses several adjacent communities that are not often brought together under the same umbrella. Artists, YouTubers, Influencers, Podcasters, Writers, Course Creators, Streamers—building permissionless leverage through code & media—are the new empire builders. They are facing the same challenges, armed with the same values: Courage, determination & optimism.
To me they are all creators:
- 🎶 Artists get billions of listens without labels
- 📺 YouTubers build videos empires without TV
- 📻 Podcasters build audio empires without radio
- 👨🏫 Course Creators build global classrooms without universities
- ✍🏽 Writers aggregate 1000s of subscribers without newspapers
- 🕹 Streamers engage millions of viewers without sports channel
- 🛍 Shopifyers sell millions of items without retailers
- ✊ Community Builders are gathering global societies without churches
- 🌎 Indie Hackers build worldwide products without VCs
- 👌 Curators are building scalable galleries without museums
The Creator Economy
Now that I've clearly defined what is a creator to me, it's now easier to define who is building for them and what is the Creator Economy. In a next article, I'll share my mapping of the Creator Economy with a listing of 100+ startups focused on building for them.
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