Creator Economy: Kickstarting Your Community with Sahil Bloom
Speaker 1: Welcome to the jump off point. An original podcast by Jump Capital. Today, our host inaudible sits down with Sahil Bloom to talk about the real work that goes into creators journey of building an audience and the grind to keep creating. Sahil is an investor, entrepreneur, and full- time creator. Sahil has built some influential following with his views on startups, technology, and finance on Twitter, through his newsletter, the Curiosity Chronicle, and podcast, the Room Where It Happens. He also founded and is the managing partner of SRB ventures as well as an extremely active angel investor. So I really want to start maybe at the beginning of your dream. So, May of 2020, you had less than 500 followers, now, less than two years later, you have over 500,000. But I'm very curious, how did that happen? Where did you start and what was the moment in time when you decided I'm really going to try to grow my voice on Twitter?
Sahil Bloom: Yeah. Well, first off, thanks for having me. I'm excited to get a chance to chat and share a little bit more about whatever insights I might have. I don't know if I have any, but I'll do my best. The first thing I would say is that I didn't set out to build something. There was no real grand strategy about it, which is weird for me because I'm very type A. My parents would tell you that I've always been a big planner. I always like to know what I was doing three months, six months, five years in the future. And with this, it was almost like it was impossible for me to do. And it was my first experience with something that had this infinite- scale- of- the- internet feel to it, where it was impossible for me to predict at any point in time where I would be a month in the future, just because of how the power laws worked with the growth, where, when I first started I had 500 followers, as you mentioned, it's May 2020. I posted my first thing, it caught fire. I think I ended up with 2000 followers after that. Then for a while it was kind of slow going, nothing much was happening, but I was still posting things consistently. And then you have one thing that jumps you to five. And it was just this situation where I was creating consistently and taking daily actions that were putting me in a position where then, when those lucky things happened I was there and I was ready to capture it and the opportunity was there, but it was very difficult to predict. So there was never a point in time where I sat down in 2020 and said, well, I think I could do this for a job and I think I could go raise a fund off of it, and I think I could do this, this and this, and here's my plan. It just wasn't possible. And I just gave up on predicting it. That was actually a liberating feeling of, actually just take your hands off the reigns and ride the wave when you have something like that. That was a really fun experience. I feel like I meandered a little bit off your question though, around just what prompted it. And for me personally what it was, was a very unique point in time. And the realization that we were in this moment, in May, 2020, if you recall, COVID had struck in a big way, we were all stuck at home. The market was ripping and the economy was actually in the tank. People were out of work, service workers were all stuck at home, most stuff was still closed down. We hadn't had any semblance of a reopening, and there was a lot of interesting and scary things happening in the economy. And there were a lot of people that were looking for answers around it. And what I found was that there was this bifurcation in the answers you could get. There were the experts, quote unquote, who were giving you the fancy words, jargon, acronyms, talking- over- your- head responses. And then there was the TikTok- ers telling you to YOLO and to game stop call options on the low end. And I just looked at it and said, there has to be a market for the Toyota Camry answer here. The basic, layman's terms, simple version of this that anyone can understand and digest. And that's what I really sought out to provide.
Speaker 2: Was there an inflection point when you realized that what you were doing was really starting to resonate with a certain group of people?
Sahil Bloom: Yeah, it was actually off Twitter too. I played baseball in college and had a lot of friends who relied on me for the first seven years of my career, pre- Twitter as the finance guy. I was working at a private equity fund, I generally was an observer of business and markets, and so they would always text me. It was like friends who now lived in their hometown in Virginia and were working at a plant or a factory, doing very, very different things than what I was doing. And so they would hit me up and ask me questions about different things. And I started coming up with stories or analogies to explain the concepts of what was happening in the market because I couldn't use jargon. I couldn't use things that I could maybe say to my colleagues at work to explain these things to them. It would've not made sense. And so they were my testing ground almost for these ideas and also my engine for constant ideas of what people were wondering about. And that ended up being where I figured out that there was something to it because I would share it with one of them, one of them would tell me, oh, I shared this with my whole group chat of friends at home and they all really appreciated it. And that got me thinking, that was March, April 2020, maybe I should start putting these things into some format more broadly. And I originally thought blog, newsletter. Twitter didn't really have a thread function yet, it was not embedded, so you had to actually comment below an individual tweet. And I ended up going with Twitter mainly because of discovery and I wanted to have something that would capture more people if it took off and could get shared more broadly. But the impetus was really that offline I had found that it was getting traction with of people.
Speaker 2: So you talk about this idea inaudible and I really want to dive into that because I think this career transition you made from this stable role in finance to becoming a full- time creator is something that a lot of individuals are chasing after today. One of the biggest blockers to that is just coming up with content. I think there's been this longstanding misconception that creators will always have something to say or something they want to make because that's just who they are. But content fatigue is a real thing. How do you think about keeping your content fresh and interesting and where do you generate ideas from today?
Sahil Bloom: So I mentioned I'm a planner and I had to give that up in certain areas. I certainly did not have to give it up in terms of the actual ideation process. And I built a lot of structure from the early days around that framework and structure that I wanted there. And the reason for that was what I realized was, none of this was ever going to be a flash in the pan success. There's no such thing. Especially on Twitter and with written content, there's really no such thing as overnight virality where you suddenly wake up and you have a million followers. Just doesn't happen. You have to consistently create, keep pounding your head. It's much more like YouTube than it is like TikTok. TikTok every now and then you have people that actually do that and grow massive follows very quickly, maybe it's not as valuable of a following versus your ideas, but that's a separate argument. The basic point that I realized early on was that I was going to have to create high quality content consistently over and over and over and over again in order to achieve something at scale. And backing into it, then I said, okay, well, how do you actually go and create really high quality content over and over again because you need a bunch of ideas, you need a system for turning those ideas into insights, you need a system for turning those insights into something that actually works on the platform. And so for me, I created bespoke what I think of as a content engine, which at the top of it is everything that I would consume on a daily basis. I'm a big reader so that was newsletters, books, articles, podcasts I was listening to, anything that was coming into my brain, basically, at the top of it all. And then I developed a system around note taking that effectively allowed me to pull what the interesting insights were or the angles were out of that to figure out then how that was going to form in my mind into something I would produce. So an example of that is Evergrande, the Chinese property developer that collapsed last year, I'd been reading a bunch about it, consuming a bunch of interesting different perspectives on it, et cetera, I had been pulling different insights out of that over time, over the course of a few weeks and realized that everyone was really focusing on the technical side of the default and the bankruptcy, and not the psychological side. And I thought, okay, well this is actually an interesting angle to take on something like this. No one's really talking about it, I can apply a unique lens to what is already being talked about and what is a highly buzzy event that is happening and actually deliver something that's uniquely valuable relative to the noise that is out there about this right now. So that was just one example, but it was really for me about setting up structure and frameworks that were going to allow me to consistently just take the things that were naturally coming in and turn them into great, high quality outputs.
Speaker 2: It's interesting you me mention the Evergrande piece because when I looked through your Twitter and a bit unique to you as a creator is you talk about a lot of different of things. You talk about your investing perspective, you talk about self motivations, you talk about life generally, and then you do it in a lot of different spaces. So you have this massive Twitter following, but then you have your newsletter and your podcast. Has it been a challenge to maintain a uniform voice across all of that, and then maybe more importantly, develop a community across all of those pieces?
Sahil Bloom: From the very early days of creating on the platform, I had looked... I'm a really analytical person. I'm always been numbers oriented, so I had looked at different, quote unquote, big accounts within different sectors. And what I found was that most of the people within, quote unquote, Fintwit, financial Twitter that were solely writing about finance markets economy had really tapped out in the 100, 000 area for the most part, at the time. And then there were people that were writing about business more broadly that were maybe in the like 200, 250 range. There were people that were writing about growth and things more like James Clear and Naval and some of these other writers that had grown much larger followings. And so what I noticed because of that was that I should actually be intentional about expanding my sphere of credibility or the things that I'm speaking about if I want to continue to grow up, if this is something that I intend to pursue long term, there's a natural ceiling to the sphere of interest around any given topic. And if you're starting really niche, which I actually think is useful because it allows you to be very focused, if you get stuck in that niche and you can't expand out, you tap out and suddenly you're like, oh, now I'm creating, I feel like I'm pounding my head into a wall. And so what I did was as I grew, I would test the boundaries of what I spoke about. And so for me, it was very niche finance explainers early on and I was really focused and stuck to that for probably the first six- ish months and I grew the base of my following around that. Then I started to kind of tow the line into mental models and frame and works, decision making principles, et cetera, and started to build more of a following around that and also started to build a brand around being able to apply those to investing. And so I would always try to connect it back to what that core was. And then as I grew from there, I started to test the line of general growth and productivity and life motivation and just broader and broader things that expanded the sea of potential people that might want to follow me for those reasons. And what I found at every stage was that there was clearly a pull through from the market and that people wanted to hear about those things from me, which partially I'm just grateful for that people cared about the things I was saying, and that I had some level of unique earned insights from those areas that I was able to speak about them in an organic and hopefully interesting way. But I was really intentional from the early days about expanding my sphere. In the very early days, my Twitter bio was pretty concentrated about, Hey, I'm going to write about finance explainers. Now, if you look at my bio it says, I explore my curiosity and share what I learn along the way. And that is intentionally massively, all- encompassing from the world. If I want to write about space one week and talk about things I've learned reading about the space economy, I'm going to go ahead and do that. And if it doesn't go viral, that's okay to me, because I enjoyed writing and learning about the thing.
Speaker 2: Going viral is a phrase that I think a lot of creators are chasing, and I think one question, I'm sure you've gotten is, how did you go viral? Was it a specific tweet?
Sahil Bloom: It's a funny phrase. I pride myself on the fact that I don't really think I ever went viral. I think, even if you were just to look at the numbers, I think if you looked at my following growth over time, what you would find is that I never had the one thing that grew me by 30 or 40,000 followers on that road to 500. I don't think I ever had anything that grew me more than maybe 10,000 max on that road to 500, and so that is actually something that I take a lot of pride in because it means that I was just relentlessly consistent in producing content. And I have been. I've written at least one, on Twitter, at least one thread per week for every single week since May of 2020, never missed a week. Didn't matter what it was. Newsletter. I've written two newsletters a week, every single week since May of 2021, and the newsletter's grown a lot as a result. None of those pieces, none of my Twitter threads ever reached... I think I have one that did 60,000 likes, which I would consider on Twitter to be mini viral, a real viral tweet is 300, 000 plus likes. It's all over the world and gets shared everywhere and I've seen people do that and grow a lot off of it. I've never really had that. I've had a lot of things go 20, 000 and it's 5 million impressions, 4, 5 million impressions, but a real viral tweet is 20, 30, 40 million impressions.
Speaker 2: No, that's very encouraging. I think it's another misconception in this space that you hear about so often is everybody's waiting for that one piece of content that's just going to click and make them become this massive creator. And at its core, it's really about just hustling and being consistent and being resilient.
Sahil Bloom: Yeah. It's much harder though, to be honest. Everyone wants the hack to the one viral thing. Everyone reaches out to me and they're like, oh, what did you do to get this growth? Or what did you do to do that? Or how did you hack distribution or do this? The answer is just that I wrote 200, 000 words on Twitter over 20 months. And if you want to go do that, go do it. But I challenge you to actually go do it because it's easier said than done. And maybe it doesn't sound like a lot, but it was a lot of hours. And for the first 18 months of that, I had a full- time job where I was working 80, 90 hours a week. So it was quite a bit. It helped that I didn't have a life during COVID and I couldn't really go outside.
Speaker 2: Fair enough. And I want to ask, why Twitter? So you talked about in the beginning, it was very much about discovery and that Twitter is conducive to growth, which I agree with. But now, especially in the past six to 12 months, there's so many new tools and platforms that have emerged to either help creators monetize in new ways or monetize more efficiently or create more curated content in courses.
Sahil Bloom: Yeah. I would say written content for me was always the holy grail. And the reason for that was because I love writing, I love storytelling, I love writing. It's a format that just feels so natural to me. It's also the format where I learn the most. One of the things I don't really talk about often is when I'm writing, that's actually my way of learning these things because in order to distill it down to its simplest form, you have to really understand it deeply. And so when I was writing about these topics, I was also learning alongside the people that I was teaching, quote unquote. So that was kind of one principle of why I stuck to written content for a long time with Twitter and then with the newsletter. I think I missed the boat, I don't think I'm too late to go do this, but I think I screwed up slightly by not doing more video early on. The podcast has been a entry point into that, but the level of connectivity that you generate with your community and audience with video is very different than with written content. And it's a meaningful, sticky relationship. And I've found that now with the podcast that we're growing is just the depth of that interaction is very, very clear. I have done and been involved with a number of companies that have expanded the influence of creators as it were. Maven on the cohort based courses. I've co- taught a course on several occasions with them. It's incredible, the economics that creators can generate with that type of thing when you have a scale audience. Palette does decentralized hiring, leveraging creators and people with followings to flip the recruiting and hiring model on its head. There are several others that are within all of those spaces that are enabling more broad based monetization. I was always pretty thoughtful about monetization, but I also did it in off the beaten pathways. I launched a few businesses that I don't really talk about publicly that I'm a big part of that have leveraged my scale and platform, but that were off to the side. They weren't directly tied to my presence or my name or my brand, but benefited from those things. And so by the time I left my prior job, I was making probably four to five times as much money on the personal stuff, which de- risked the decision to go and leave. And it was a combination of all of these things, but there are a lot of opportunities if you're commercial from the early days that don't necessarily tie to direct monetization of the platform that you're growing on.
Speaker 2: It's an interesting take. It's really impressive where you've gotten to and some of the numbers you threw out, but I think one of the things that many creators believe is that one of the biggest drivers of success to be able to monetize is to build a very deeply engaged community. So everybody in the space talks about this thousand true fans mantra, but you many creators, especially emerging ones still struggle with is just figuring out who that loyal community is to them and more importantly, how you incentivize them to continue to participate. How have you thought about developing that incentivization within your own community and maybe what's your advice to creators that are just starting off and building that?
Sahil Bloom: I go back to the Paul Graham age old advice of, do things that don't scale. I, to this day, engage with a massive number of people on Twitter, around the things that I put out. When I put out a piece, I typically then reserve at least two hours following it to actually engage with people that are responding. And the reason that was always important to me was I wanted to, A, incentivize the behavior of interacting and I did that by replying in good faith and interacting with these people where they feel like they're actually interacting with a human and that there's a direct connection. Because I remembered trying to interact with big Twitter accounts when I had a small one and not getting anything back and just being like, wow, that's a big let down, right? These platforms, the amazing thing about them is that you can actually interact with these people and so being able to be that now and be a part of that, it matters to me. I also think if you change one person's life in some minor and slight way that person is now your friend and a connection for life, and I feel that now with probably tens of thousands of people. I wouldn't say hundreds of thousands just because of the way Twitter interaction is, but probably tens of thousands at this point. And that is amazing to me. The other way that I do it is my newsletter, when you subscribe to it, you get an email saying, confirming your subscription and saying to reply to it to get it out of the spam box. When people reply to that and do what I said, I personally reply to every single one of those emails and it makes no sense time wise, there's no way to justify it because I probably get right now a 1000 to 2000 new subscribers a week on my newsletter and I don't know, maybe a few hundred a of those actually do what it says and reply. And so I'm replying to a few hundred emails a week, not deeply personal and a long note or anything, but I'm replying and it is super meaningful. You get replies to those things from people with some personal note about how something I did changed their perspective on something or how they taught it to their kid or how the thing is now being tested out in their school and those interactions are actually why I do it beyond any money, anything that you could possibly want around this stuff. It's so cool to feel like content that you're producing from my office, in my house here is reaching out into this massive world and actually reaching and touching people. And so doing those kind of things that don't scale, I think is the best way that you can actually continue to foster that community as you grow.
Speaker 2: That's really special and I think only exacerbated by COVID. That's what people are looking for these days. They're relying on the internet that not only to just passively consume content like you used to three or four or five years ago, but to actually have these meaningful, very active conversations and interactions with people that they aspire to be like, or that they are inspired by. So one thing that I do want to hit on, we can't talk about community and how you've built upon your following without hitting on your latest piece of very exciting news, right? So you just launched this new fund, congratulations by the way.
Sahil Bloom: Thank you.
Speaker 2: And in my mind it really is the most active way that you're engaging this community that you've built. You're allowing them to actively participate in exactly what you're doing. So maybe just talk about the fund, what was the motivation for launching that, and what's the focus?
Sahil Bloom: Yeah. So first off, I appreciate it. It was definitely exciting. I worked in the world of private equities as later stage cash flowing businesses, traditional LBOs, et cetera. I had alongside that done a lot of personal investing in the 2019 to 2021 timeframe. I had started to get more and more access via the platform that was growing. It became very clear to me that there was this flywheel around the ability to source and win allocations in these deals and then actually support and amplify the companies via the platform. You have this megaphone that you can talk about them with, and then internally help them with their own storytelling because of the frameworks and the blueprints that I had built. And so I started just thinking about ways to scale that up, basically. I had done, I don't know, around 40 personal investments probably by the time I was raising the fund and I went out to a few mentors and advisors, January 1st of 2022. They thankfully were willing to support and came back and I ended up raising this$ 10 million fund, ended up having, I don't know, 150 or so LPs is in the first fund with an intention to expand to a much larger audience with fund two, whenever that does come up. And there's structural issues sometimes with raising from a large number of LPs that you have to work through, but there are ways around it now and so my intention would be to offer it hopefully to a much, much larger audience with the second fund. This first fund was a traditional fund structure so I wasn't able to go super broad in terms of the LP base. But I'm off to the races with it now. About 15- ish percent deployed out of the first fund, which spans some Q4 carryover and then Q1. And a lot of exciting stuff happening through there and companies that I can really organically support via the distribution platforms.
Speaker 2: That's great. And I have to ask, in a world where capital has very much so become a commodity, how are you standing out against the many established firms, especially when you think about all the ones that popped up in the past few years?
Sahil Bloom: It's pretty easy, to be honest, when you have a-
Speaker 2: Good to hear.
Sahil Bloom: Well, I'm not saying that actually it came off when I said it as arrogant. I'm not saying it in an arrogant way, I'm saying it in a very tactical way. I'm a really small fund with a very clear lever for value add. In a sea of larger funds who have unclear levers for value add, I think on one end, it's a barbell. On one end, you have the Sequoia, Benchmark, Andreessen, Tiger Global, COTU, these big funds that have this name cache where when they lead around it has a huge impact going out for recruiting, for next fundraisers, for competitors, it's scary. They will continue to exist and do well. And then on my end, it's, I can be collaborative with all of those guys, and a lot of the GPs at those funds are investors in my fund and are involved and it's direct collaboration where I'm actually working with them on deals and I'm writing 100 to 250K checks out. Small check sizes that aren't really wedging out other people, I'm not competing to lead deals, I'm not pushing other people out, and I can really support. And so I can actually improve the chances of success of the deals they're doing. And so I think I'm sitting in this Goldilocks segment of the market intentionally where the fund is big enough to be meaningful, but not so big that you're competing with people and getting pushed out of some of your highest value deal sourcing. And so that's where I intend to stay. My goal and intention... I think a lot of people raising the small fund with the intention of then raising the bigger fund and then raising much bigger fund. I'm actually going to go zig when other people are zagging on this, but my intention would be to stay small intentionally so that the strategy can remain very concentrated and remain the same. And I would rather scale AUM via new funds of similar sizes versus via bigger funds over time. I think it's a better strategy actually for me personally, given the context of my resources and what I want to be doing across all the media stuff as well for driving outsized returns for my investors.
Speaker 2: And how are you providing value to the companies you're investing in? Is it mostly in spaces that you're familiar with? Other things in the creator economy? What's that value add that you mentioned?
Sahil Bloom: Yeah. I try not to invest in things I don't understand as a first level.
Speaker 2: Good idea.
Sahil Bloom: And I think actually everyone says that I actually don't think most people abide by that. I think you find a lot of people inaudible into things, especially right now, it's very easy to do actually, and I have to fight it every day. Because you get an email saying like, oh, all these people are involved in this and I look at it and I'm like, I don't really get it. And so it's challenging. And with valuations being what they were, at least, it's really challenging because I think you can get sideways very quickly. So for me personally, I mean the value add is being able to use all of the various arms of my platform to amplify the narratives of these companies that sometimes includes just events, like a fundraising announcement, Wander, which is one that's been announced that I invested in, they're series A. I put out a video and I announced it on Twitter, and it had 50,000 views in 24 hours and it brought in hundreds of new signups and bookings to the platform. So that's very tactically, a real way that you can drive an acceleration for one of the companies. Beyond that it's super organic. I have all these platforms, people follow me to learn about business, interesting ideas, startups, things that are happening. Those are the companies that come to my mind when I'm talking about different things on a podcast or poking around, writing about things on Twitter or writing about things in the newsletter and so it becomes this megaphone that just naturally amplifies the things that these companies are doing. The other lever of it is internally. So I consider that as external, but internally, a lot of these companies are early and they don't have narrative and storytelling capabilities in house. And so they're all often trying to figure out how to build community, how to story tell better around what they're doing to expand and amplify their go to market. And I have a lot of blueprints that can help with that, and I can help find resources to go and execute against that for them as well. So I've found that those two pillars are the big ones. And again, the reality is with a small check size and a small amount of dilution, it's not a big stretch for me to try to be the highest ROI dilution on the cap table.
Speaker 2: Sahil, this has been awesome and really inspirational, I'm sure, to many people just to learn about how you've built this really incredible content engine and how you continue to build upon your community and create more value for them.
Sahil Bloom: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Speaker 2: Thank you so much for listening to this month's episode of the Jump Off Point, an original podcast by Jump Capital. If you have an idea for the show or know of someone would make a great guest, please contact podcast @ jumpapp.com.
In the latest episode of The Jump Off Point, successful investor, entrepreneur, and creator, Sahil Bloom, sits down with Jump Capital's Saaya Nath to explore the processes that can kickstart a creators’ career, including relentlessly and consistently producing high-quality content and building an engaged, active, loyal community across various channels.