What's Up with the Creator Economy?

Why now's the perfect time to jump in to the new economic world order.

The words “creator” and “economy” are almost as common a pairing as “I can’t stop” and “watching TikTok” these days. But what is the creator economy, exactly? Like true love, what makes New York bagels so good, and half the German language...it’s hard to define.

Li Jin, the founder of the creator-economy investment firm Atelier Ventures, told The New Yorker this: “Anyone whose fame stems from online channels, if they are able to earn income through that influence, I consider that to be the creator economy.”

But fame is relative. So is income. So is influence.

To Smooth Ops, the creator economy is the collection of independent-minded individuals who are using their unique skill sets to forge connections, build communities, publish content, and create value using the many riches of the internet.

And these days, the creator economy is bursting at the seams with potential as new talent and new tools flourish. Let’s spend some time understanding why this is a watershed moment for the modern creative.

Why Now?

Content creation isn't a new concept—it’s been around since we started scrawling #ad on the side of caves thousands of years ago. But today, content creation is getting new life breathed into it. The major forces driving this renaissance:

1) The barrier to content creation is low. Have a phone? You're a creator now.

2) Distribution has been democratized. Social platforms are free, open, and scalable, eliminating the leverage film studios, TV networks, radio stations, and other traditional media distributors used to have.

3) The digitally native population is growing up. Millennials and Gen Z are in the driver’s seat of the economy and workforce, and they grew up online. Can you hear the dial-up tone in your head? Us too.

4) Tools to build revenue streams are now more accessible, effective, and affordable than ever. Spinning up a new direct-to-consumer revenue stream? There's a VC-backed SaaS startup for that. Monetizing your audience through paid subscriptions, merch, and online courses? There’s a no-code plugin for that.

5) The value of a creator's audience is gaining recognition. Marketers are racing to spend their budgets on creator-driven sponsorships. Tech companies are shelling out big bucks just to get creators on their platforms—with top-tier creators getting payouts in the millions of dollars.

These are all incredibly exciting tailwinds for ambitious creators—it's an amazing time to be in the creator economy. But as with all high-growth spaces, there are some gaps that will need filling.

The Gaps

Software can readily improve creation, monetization, and distribution for anyone with something to say. These helpful tools complement the creator journey, but they're not enough.

Today’s smartest creators understand that, in some ways, they work for the platform (watch: Colin and Samir on Graham Stephan’s strategy)—that is, until they start making money elsewhere. Creating multiple revenue streams means eliminating your dependence on any singular platform. That’s independence.

But how do you get there?

Passing the mic to Dave Nemetz, founder of Bleacher Report and Inverse:

Read more from Dave on this idea in his post, Creator, meet operator.

Said another way by Alexis Gay and Alex Wilhelm on TechCrunch's Equity Podcast:

Alex: So a question that I have about this multi-part business model - my fear is we're demanding that creators become very savvy businesspeople.

Alexis: YES

Alex: And let me tell you even many business people aren't savvy business people and most creators that I know are good at making shit; they're not good at running shit. 

Creating, operating, and scaling a business with multiple revenue streams is hard enough by itself. Business development, administration, audience growth, ad operations, accounting. The list goes on.

Then take into account that a creator needs to, ya know, do the hardest part: create.

As you scale you get to say fun things like mo' money, mo' problems. But seriously, the more complex the system, the stronger the need for proper management. That proper management (ahem) can solve what appears to be the biggest gap in today’s version of the creator economy: Creators should focus on creating, not on operations and management.

That’s where Smooth Ops comes into play.

We’re participants in the creator economy, so we know how it goes. If you’re a creator, your life is by no definition simple. But it can be a little simpler—that is, if you choose to fill the gaps in your corner of the creator economy with a willing, capable operating partner.

We’ve dedicated our careers to making sure other smart people can devote themselves to making the world more engaged, more entertained, and more thoughtful. And here’s why:

We love the creator economy. Even when we hate it, we love it.

It combines our favorite things:

  1. High quality content

  2. The internet

  3. Accessibility

  4. A good makeout

  5. Sorry about that last one, it was meant for another list

To us, the creator economy is the natural evolution of an internet-enabled world. That’s a world we’re more than happy to inhabit—we're all in our 20s and we all grew up alongside the internet. We remember our Motorola RAZRs in middle school and our iPhones in high school. We remember queuing up downloads on Limewire before dinner and when Facebook was still cool. We aren't very old, nor is the internet. And we, the first digitally native generation, are here to actively make it better.

As far as we’re concerned, the internet has the power to reward those who make high quality content in a way creatives have never before been appreciated. If your work garners millions of views, you can and should receive direct value in return for your contribution to the online world.

All in, the internet is massive. So is the opportunity.

That’s why Smooth Ops is devoted to enabling creators to own their product and its upside. For all the ways it’s changed the world, perhaps the internet’s biggest contribution is giving a voice to those long left silenced—those who are passionate about making it easier and cooler to be smart.

It’s what drives us at Smooth Ops. The internet has gotten some bad press lately, but we remain convinced that the internet and the creator economy it’s enabled are capable of engineering a more thoughtful world—with the right tools, that is.

We’re focused on powering creators who want to have a positive impact on that new, smarter world. If you’re one of those creators, slide into the DMs.

Drop us a line if you have any thoughts, questions, comments, or concerns (we call these TCQCs over at HQ).

See ya around the internet 🤘

— The Smooth Ops Team