The Tiers of the Creator Economy

Franco Varriano
    
June 17, 2021
   .   
6
 min read

The rise of the Creator Economy is a hot topic.

This emergence stems from a long history, and there are several significant cultural, technological, and economic changes that have gotten us to where we are today. When it comes to creators, things are just getting started.

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This next wave of entrepreneurs have two distinct and important advantages: 

  • A natural and innate ability to develop a direct human-to-human connection;
  • The ability to think, act, and react in real time. Sometimes tools will help bridge their skills or knowledge gap or automate the process, but the message and content created is uniquely of their own origin and perspective.

Just as there are tiers of fans within a community or tribe, there are also different tiers of creators, each looking to get something different out of their vocation.


The tiers of the Creator Economy

The Creator Economy is filled with immense possibility.

For that reason, there are several perspectives surrounding what it means to be a "creator" and who qualifies under that term. Categorizing these creators within tiers can help us understand this emerging movement.

Those tiers could look something like this:


The Amateur Creator

Doctor of sociology, author, and seasoned executive Ana Andjelic wrote about the power of the Amateur Creator (within a fashion industry context) in a recent post.

What's most interesting and universally applicable in Ana’s insights are that amateurs, as passionate fans of a brand or idea, are free from any form(s) of pressure and are simply able to create. In her words:

“Amateurs are free to endlessly interpret culture, heritage and brands because they're not bound by tradition, education, training or an established way of doing things. They comfortably reside in the domain of their own geekiness and play with things for fun and their own pleasure and status in their community. Theirs is the liminal territory between the “real jobs” and a hobby.”

The internet, the ability to build audiences through social media, and the rise of superpower apps are enabling anyone to easily become an Amateur Creator—sometimes without even realizing it.

Amateur Creators are, as Ana points out, just having fun pursuing a hobby. They haven't made the deliberate switch—or perhaps they've purposely made the decision not to—toward monetizing their passion.

This may relate to where creators find themselves within their own hierarchy of needs (as pointed out by Reddit's Peter Yang in this excellent post).


The Single Product Creator

The next creator tier might see a person who's recognized that they want to monetize their hobby.

They might not be ready to build a full-on business, but these creators have realized they can sell something of value.

Maybe that means creating an e-book or dropping a product via a new online store.

These creators have taken the first step with their first product.


The Multi-Product Creator

The Multi-Product Creator is the evolution of the Single Product Creator.

Their objective isn't necessarily to become a serious business (yet), but rather to test the waters and see if they can replicate the same traction their original product received.

Hunter Walk, formerly a product manager at YouTube, now a venture capitalist who's active in this space, touched on this in an essay about multi-SKU Creators (SKU stands for ‘stock-keeping unit.’ In this context one SKU equates to a single product):

"[...] beachhead may very well be a paid newsletter, but the newsletter is just one SKU. Maybe the SKU he cares most about. Maybe even the SKU that makes him the most money. But it doesn’t have to be the only SKU. There could be a podcast SKU. A speaking fee SKU. A book deal SKU. A consulting SKU. A guest columnist SKU. And so on. And if he does several of these over the next few years, it won’t be about the success or failure of [the newsletter] but a mix of creative, economic and lifestyle goals"

Just as we've become accustomed to maintaining a variety of profiles across social networks, the Multi-product Creator diversifies their products across several spaces.

As they find some degree of success, they reach a tipping point...


The Creative Entrepreneur

The Creative Entrepreneur is born when someone reaches the limit of multi-product exploration. 

Creators in this category become more business-centric. They start to think in a more structured way about their products and audience, and begin to relate with what Hugo Amsellem called The Creator Lifecycle.

During this phase, the Creative Entrepreneur sets about building and testing the limits of their brand/capabilities, taking on progressively more challenging opportunities.

Again, turning to Ana Andjelic's sociological insights, she writes: 

"Product diversification increases the number of bets, reduces risk, preserves social currency, and organizes a company around the inherent unpredictability of people's tastes." 

While this was originally written in the context of a more traditional or digital native brand, the same applies to a creator at this tier.

They test their limits before determining their core.


The Polymathic Entrepreneur or Creator

At the top of the pyramid, we find the Polymathic Entrepreneur or creator.

These creators are focused on a core channel or product.

In practice, this could look like one to three core channels and products (e.g., a YouTuber could have their main channel and perhaps a sub-channel or two), a few primary investments/projects outside that main channel, and a few further projects they started in a previous tier.

The main objective of this tier is to continue scaling reach, maintain relationships at each of the various community tiers, and double down on established products.

In many cases, the status of this stage will enable these creators to unlock new opportunities.

With teams in place, the Polymathic Entrepreneur can simultaneously dominate through their core channels, while also becoming a Creative Entrepreneur when they pursue any new opportunity. 


Conclusion


Just as Li Jin suggested in her seminal piece on the Passion Economy and the future of work, "work" and "jobs" are quickly taking on new definitions.

The unique value and functions we seek are now being filled by individuals (and small teams) versus bigger, faceless corporations. Why? Because they capture attention in a more authentic way (more on this in a future post).

Ultimately, creators don't need to move through each tier of this framework. Rather, these stages can be used as a rough guide to understand where creators might be in their journey, what their motivations are based on the maturity of their audience and product offering, and their potential needs and pain points.

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