Hello there! It’s me, Josh—I’m writing this 30,000 feet in the air, headed back to NYC after a month in Miami (home) and a month in LA (Colin and Samir’s home).
So much has happened. We’ve signed new partners. We’ve surpassed revenue and growth goals. One of my best friends got engaged. Another best friend got married. I made new friends in LA and learned my way around. Jenny and I spent 37 days straight together and didn’t kill each other. I got lucky and narrowly avoided injury in a gnarly car crash.
Life has been far from boring.
The update I’m most excited to share, though: At Smooth, we’ve revised our identity in a small but powerful way.
We set out to build Smooth after identifying a clear gap in the market: independent creators need operating partners to reach their full potential. We still believe this.
Where we’ve drilled down further: independent creators need to build businesses to reach their full potential—more specifically, media businesses that are:
1) Serving a targeted audience deeply. The content delivers on a clear value proposition, but it does so through multiple touchpoints. This can be any combination of product types—news, events, educational content, analysis, courses, digital products, merchandise—on any combination of platforms—newsletter, YouTube, TikTok, etc.
There’s no single winning combination or playbook; it’s a cocktail assembled by uncovering and executing the right combination that aligns with the creator, their audience, and the value prop.
2) Creator-led—but not creator-alone. Creators need to build businesses that can scale beyond the creator’s time. Without this focus, the creator and their business are inherently and perpetually limited, and are not set up to capture the maximum value from their work.
Creators need to build businesses that greatly benefit from and are intertwined with their personal brand, but maintain the ability to extend beyond it. By building a media company—one that can hire and employ additional writers, producers, editors, etc.—the creator is now investing their time and talent into an entity that’s building equity. This is where we believe the largest opportunity lies for creators: build a creator-led media company.
With that, our revised approach in a few words: At Smooth, we help build creator-led media companies. We are the strategic and operating partner that helps creators grow from independent talent to business owner. Whether they want to be the Chief Executive or the Chief Content Officer is up to them, but we’ll be there as a partner to see the business through to its maximum potential.
Second, an internal update on where we’re focused.
We pride ourselves on our ability to build systems, processes and teams. We think we’re pretty good at it. What’s become clearer to us is the need to double down specifically on the revenue services we’re able to provide our creators.
For us, this means strengthening our ability to secure brand partnerships (advertisers) for our creators. We love marketing-supported media (s/o Sean Griffey for coining that term) for countless reasons (a post for another day).
The thing about building this competency of creator partnerships at scale: it’s really hard. We’re in the thick of it and confident in the progress we’re making, but with that two asks:
If you know someone eager to get into the creator world, we’re hiring a creator partnerships intern. They’ll work directly with me to help our creators build their businesses.
If you or someone you know is looking to get in front of creator economy or crypto investor audiences, email me ([email protected]). We’re building some kick-ass creator campaigns with smart marketers and it’s been a blast.
Now that you’re up to date on the mission, let’s run through some updates on our creator partners, starting with Colin and Samir.
In May of 2021, Colin and Samir's YouTube channel was growing like crazy. There were a million different moves we could have made. Courses? Merch? Community? Job board?
Our goal was to find something that could scale way beyond their time and operate smoothly without them, even if they were sitting on a beach drinking mojitos.
We set out to build The Publish Press media company, starting with a newsletter covering the business of creators.
While we knew we wouldn’t be the first newsletter about the creator economy, we believed we could approach this burgeoning industry in a way no one else was: the business of creators, from the creators’ perspective.
Eight months later, we have an awesome full-time writer (s/o Hannah Doyle), we're at 20k+ subscribers, maintaining a 45% open rate, and becoming the go-to newsletter for creators:
what's a newsletter for creators that you read religiously?
i'll start: @thepublishpress
— Kate Ward (@bykateward)
Feb 14, 2022
On the revenue side, we're working with a diverse portfolio of advertisers whose target audience is creators. We love collaborating with them to make creative, engaging ads that speak to our readers as peers—creator-to-creator. Here's one of my recent favorites with our friends over at Jellysmack.
Thinking Is Cool (also) launched last May.
Since then, Kinsey’s put out thought-provoking (and sometimes controversial) episodes about everything from dating apps to billionaires, asking questions like what if we could live forever? And who gets to speak freely?
We hosted some awesome in-person events, including a collaboration with our friends at Public to prove that investing is cool:
what happens when you get all the smart, vibey people from @ThinkingIsCool1 and @public in one room? magic (okay that was also because there was a mentalist but still)
loved hanging with everyone IRL! https://t.co/D0kVsPp0Ql
— Kinsey Grant (@KinseyGrant)
Oct 20, 2021
We’re doubling down on interviewing a diverse range of smart people, posing hard questions and having better conversations.
Kinsey started with what we knew: podcasting and newsletters. And we’ll always love our first media but it’s time that we leverage the latest and greatest tech in the creator world. That means YouTube and TikTok, where the algorithms will help new audiences find us.
Check out her first video here! It’s so cool to see public comments on Kinsey’s core content and not hidden in newsletter replies. If I were you, I’d leave a comment :)
We’ve recently signed on Dan Runcie’s Trapital and are hitting the ground running on revenue opportunities. What Dan is building is special and we’re excited. I threaded up a few thoughts and favorites here:
Excited to share that Smooth Ops has partnered with @RuncieDan’s @TrapitalMedia!
Dan’s incredibly talented and has done a fantastic job analyzing the business of hip hop and its broader applications to music/entertainment at large.
Check out some of my favorites:
— Josh Kaplan (@JKaplan1)
Jan 26, 2022
We then got the crypto bug and began working with Kevin Ting of Coinsider fame on content, growth and revenue operations. Kevin is a fantastic teacher and provides balanced, non-sensationalized coverage of the space—and his audience reflects that: they are highly engaged, smart, informed crypto investors.
There is an absurd amount of demand to advertise on the channel and I’m excited to see how Coinsider can help other crypto creators access brand deals. It feels like we’re just warming up.
Alrighty, that’s all I got for now. It’s been an incredible six months of fully operating as Smooth. We’re just getting started but I’m more excited than ever about the future of creator-led media businesses.
I’ll end with a quick note around personal identity. I used to tell people that I want to set up our creators for success on their stages and then sit in the back with a Bud Light. But as Kinsey likes to remind me, everyone is talent. It’s fun to present ideas. It’s helpful having people know what we’re working on—and that takes communication.
My hope is that by pressing publish on this that the next one will get easier. So here’s what I’m focusing on: working hard, getting the thoughts out, pressing publish more often, moving forward, and making the next one better than the last.
*I’m going to leave this reminder on all my updates. Running Smooth Ops is very hard. I’m obviously going to position our narrative to make it look like we’re always cruising. Some days suck. My team, family, and friends–those of you reading this–all support me. This is exactly what I want to be doing in 2022. Thank you for everything and remember how easily social media can distort reality.