The rise of career-adjacent creators
Creators have figured out a way to maintain their side hustle while achieving more of a work-life balance.
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The rise of career-adjacent creators
There’s a famous article from The Onion I often return to. It’s titled “Find The Thing You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life.”
Here are the opening few paragraphs:
I have always been a big proponent of following your heart and doing exactly what you want to do. It sounds so simple, right? But there are people who spend years—decades, even—trying to find a true sense of purpose for themselves. My advice? Just find the thing you enjoy doing more than anything else, your one true passion, and do it for the rest of your life on nights and weekends when you’re exhausted and cranky and just want to go to bed.
It could be anything—music, writing, drawing, acting, teaching—it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that once you know what you want to do, you dive in a full 10 percent and spend the other 90 torturing yourself because you know damn well that it’s far too late to make a drastic career change, and that you’re stuck on this mind-numbing path for the rest of your life.
Is there any other way to live?
I can’t stress this enough: Do what you love…in between work commitments, and family commitments, and commitments that tend to pop up and take immediate precedence over doing the thing you love. Because the bottom line is that life is short, and you owe it to yourself to spend the majority of it giving yourself wholly and completely to something you absolutely hate, and 20 minutes here and there doing what you feel you were put on this earth to do.
You should definitely read the whole thing. It’s funny!
I don’t know if there’s a better encapsulation of what it’s like to be an aspiring creator. While some are lucky enough to have been born rich, most need to grind out their content production in between other life commitments. In an ideal world, you’d be able to come home from work, eat some dinner, and dedicate your few remaining hours of the day editing YouTube videos or writing essays, but that’s easier said than done.
Instead, humans suffer from what’s called decision fatigue. Scientific studies have found that our brains are just like any other muscle in our body; the more you use them throughout the day, the less effective they become. What’s more, motivation is a diminishing resource, which is why so many people fail to follow through on tasks that they’ve put off for later in the day (if you regularly find yourself failing to go to the gym after work despite your best intentions, you’re likely a victim of decision fatigue).
This is why so many creators quit before they gain much traction; at first they’re all gung ho about devoting their nights and weekends toward content production, but it doesn’t take long before the cheating starts. You might take a night off to watch Netflix, or you spend your Sunday playing video games with a friend. Before you know it, entire months have gone by and you haven’t produced a new YouTube video, podcast, or newsletter.
But there’s an emerging trend within the Creator Economy that’s helping to mitigate these factors. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, check out this Input article about “how DoorDash delivery drivers became the new YouTube stars.”
The piece starts by focusing on a 28-year-old Londoner named Milo Sterlini. While delivering food by bike for UberEats, he decided one day to strap a GoPro to his helmet and record his deliveries. He then took these mostly-unedited videos and started uploading them to YouTube.
Here’s what happened next:
Today, Sterlini has 50,000 subscribers who watch videos of him tearing through London streets to deliver orders on time, all soundtracked by lo-fi beats. At first, the YouTuber was happy when he got 100 views per video; now his most popular clip, recounting the theft and recovery of his e-bike, has more than 700,000 views, and he gets recognized while on deliveries, even when he’s wearing his helmet.
Sterlini’s experience isn’t an anomaly. Several delivery drivers have built up sizable followings on TikTok and YouTube, either by documenting their daily deliveries or making videos that answer questions about what it’s like to work for these delivery apps.
This is part of a larger trend of what I’ll call “career-adjacent content creation.” Increasingly, I’m encountering successful creators who built their careers not as a side hustle, but instead as a natural outgrowth of their already-existing jobs. Let me give you a few examples:
Alpesh Patel – Patel is a hedge fund investor who’s leveraged his Wall Street expertise to give investing advice on TikTok. He has over 66,000 followers on the platform.
Dr Hazel Wallace – Wallace is a physician who started sharing her medical and nutrition advice on Instagram. She has over 570,000 followers.
Dylan Lemay – For years, Lemay worked at a Cold Stone Creamery, and one day he started uploading videos of his ice cream handiwork to YouTube and TikTok. He’s amassed millions of followers on each.
Ben Collins – Collins spent his early career as a forensic accountant, which meant spending hours each day in Excel spreadsheets. In 2015, he launched a blog dedicated to explaining how to use Google Sheets, and after amassing a large following he launched multiple online courses that now generate six figures in passive income.
Why do I find this trend so significant? I think it helps mitigate the decision fatigue problem that plagues so many would-be creators. Because the content production is a natural outgrowth of their already-existing jobs, it’s much easier to sustain it for a longer period of time.
Let’s run through some of the reasons why this is the case:
Makes it easier to carve out time for content creation
One of the biggest challenges for most creators is finding the time each week to consistently produce high quality content. I certainly experienced this problem firsthand; I couldn’t tell you how many times during my career when I lost audience-building momentum simply because I got bogged down with day job work. That’s the reason it took me the better part of five years to reach my first 1,000 newsletter subscribers.
But career-adjacent creators are often able to incorporate their content production within their actual workdays. Remember, that UberEats deliverer Milo Sterlini simply strapped a GoPro to his helmet and filmed his deliveries. Then he uploaded those videos to YouTube with minimum editing. That’s about as low effort as you can get.
Eases the transition into full-time creator
Typically, a creator either needs to either build up significant savings or replace their salary with their content earnings before they quit their day jobs. That can often take years to accomplish, with many giving up long before they reach that threshold.
Career-adjacent creators, on the other hand, can often ease into full-time content production, slowly winding down their day job work as they generate more and more revenue from their content. Take Ben Collins as an example. For the first few years that he ran his Google Sheets blog, he generated the majority of his revenue through paid consulting gigs with businesses that needed help with their spreadsheet operations. But as Collins’s online courses became more successful, he started taking on less and less consulting work, until he reached the point when he could turn down all inbound leads entirely.
Provides an alternative revenue stream for creators
In many cases, the creator doesn’t actually want to leave their day job work. Instead, the content creation helps them build their adjacent business.
Maria Brito is the perfect example of this. She’s a consultant who helps wealthy individuals and corporations purchase art. For the past decade or so, she’s leveraged her 140,000 Instagram followers and newsletter to attract new clients, and she’s built a 7-figure business from this kind of work. In an interview last year, she told me that she hardly ever bothers selling sponsored posts because she makes so much more money from her art consulting. Her content simply serves as a marketing vehicle.
If there’s a recurring theme you’ll find in my newsletter, it’s that building a sustainable media business is extremely difficult. It can take years to achieve profitability, especially if you can only dedicate a small fraction of your workweek toward growing the business.
So I find it heartening that some creators have figured out a way to maintain their side hustle while achieving more of a work-life balance. If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard the advice that you should “write what you know,” and career-adjacent creators represent this advice in its purest form. Content production doesn’t need to be difficult; sometimes it’s just a matter of turning on a camera and letting others see the world through your eyes.
What do you think?
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How Stacker created a newswire for data journalism
Over the past decade, several major media companies have invested in building out their data journalism operations. ABC News has FiveThirtyEight, The New York Times has The Upshot. And Vox Media runs Vox.com.
These outlets have leveraged publicly available data to explain complicated stories, and the infographics they create are easily shareable on social media.
But most media outlets don’t have the resources to hire an expensive data team, especially if they operate at the local level.
That’s where Stacker comes in. Rather than producing journalism for its owned and operated site, it distributes its content as a newswire that can be syndicated by any news company. What’s more, it doesn’t even charge for this service. That means virtually every news outlet has access to its top-quality reporting.
How can Stacker afford to give away its content for free? To answer that question, I brought on co-founder Noah Greenberg. He walked me through Stacker’s origin story, how it found its initial publishing partners, and how it developed its monetization strategy.
"Hiring a guy in Africa I don’t think makes you a global publication. " [Vanity Fair] lol
I've always wondered if CNN's obsession with TV ratings has kept it from better monetizing its massive web presence. [NYT]
Instagram is paying publishers to create Reels. [Digiday] As always, take the free money, but don't do anything to reorient your media business around this type of content.
Bloomberg exposes shady podcasters that charge up to $50,000 to guests who appear on their shows. As you can probably guess, they don’t provide proper disclosures. [Bloomberg] This is gross and illegal. I once pulled out of interviewing another podcaster on my podcast because I found out that he did pay-for-play interviews.
The LA Times checks in on The Ankler and Puck, two media startups that are doing interesting stuff in the newsletter space. [LA Times] REMINDER: I interviewed Ankler founder Richard Rushfield over here.
I need to take a moment to brag
As many of you probably know, I hold a monthly “office hours” video call with my paying subscribers. Each month we pick a topic and then spend an hour sharing our expertise on that topic. This month’s topic was on how to grow your newsletter, and the people who joined included
1. The founder of one of the most popular political blogs in the world
2. The host of one of the most popular podcasts in the world.
3. The founder of the most-used newsletter referral platform
4. The founder of the most successful local newsletter on Substack
I was just blown away by this level of expertise, and these were people who just voluntarily showed up to chat.
Anyway, if you want to participate in these discussions, it’s a measly $50 a year. There are journalism majors paying upwards of $50,000 a year for college who don’t even get access to this level of expertise. Here, I’ll even throw in a 10% discount for the first year if you use the link below: