Creator Kit Episode 06: Smart Nonsense Media's Henry Belcaster on Squatter Marketing
In this week's episode, we talk with the co-founder of Smart Nonsense Media and Clipt about the power of creator-led startups.
Each episode of Creator Kit is a deep dive on a particular tool or service that can help you take your creator business to the next level. Creator Kit is presented by HiBeam: we solve comment and DM overload for creators; follow HiBeam on Twitter and subscribe on YouTube for more great content.
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Henry is the co-founder of Smart Nonsense Media, an agency that specializes in creating “WOW” content, fast, to build brands for creators and companies. He is also the co-founder of Clipt, a technology company that animates videos, podcasts, and short form content.
On today's episode, we learn about the power "squatter marketing", about Henry's journey as a creator and co-founder, and why creator-led startups are uniquely able to identify and solve problems.
Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the conversation:
1. Squatter Marketing is powerful
Creating value for free (like the short clips Smart Nonsense Media produced for Sam Parr and others) is a non-intuitive but powerful way to win clients.
We were just creating all this stuff of tremendous values for those guys...and look, they're human beings. When you get something, like our clips of yourself, and it offers some sort of value, there's no way that they don't share that, right? These people, myself included- we love seeing ourselves, we love talking about ourselves, it's just like a very human thing. So we're like, how can we show them, in exactly their terms, what we can do for them. Squat all over their marketing and then give them no choice but to work with us down the line.
2. Smart-lazy is a superpower
Henry and his co-founder Dylan Jardon focus on systematizing, or (as Henry calls it) being "smart-lazy" - the mindset that eventually led to the idea for Clipt.
The agency stuff doesn't scale. You can grow it, but it doesn't scale. And I should say too, Dylan's superpower is his laziness, his smart laziness. So he will do whatever he can to take the least steps to some output or whatever. It's funny, I was in Iceland for a couple weeks, a couple weeks ago and Dylan was doing my job in a lot of respects. And when I came back, I had all these videos of like different shortcuts he had found for how to do my job better, faster, lazier.
3. The best Creator Economy startups are often creator-led
Great companies often come from the personal need of the founders, solving an everyday frustration or problem of their own. Clipt is no different.
In our case too, it started as building the tool to take a lot of that hard production and editing and animating off of our team's plate. You know, 'cause our clips, if it's a minute or a two minute clip, that's 16 hours head down animating. We're like, can we take 80% off of their plate with a tool and be good enough? Yes - it (Clipt) came out of a need.
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Jesse Clemmens: Cool, Henry thanks so much for coming on the show.
Henry Belcaster: Thanks for having me Jesse, stoked to be here.
Jesse Clemmens: It's, uh, awesome to have you on. I know your voice already as I listen to the, uh, Smart Nonsense podcast quite a bit. So it's funny to hear it in interactive fashion so to speak [laughs].
Henry Belcaster: That's very scary, I think well funny enough I think, I have different voice- I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing, Dylan and I have a lot of heart to hearts about this. But I have different voices in different places. My podcast with you is different than my YouTube vlog which is different than how I talk with my girlfriend, which is different than how I talk with Dylan. I don't know if I'm unique in that respect, I just think they're all like plus or minus 10%.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah what- what is it, is it like the difference in the medium in terms of format? Or is it actually a different audience? What makes it different for you?
Henry Belcaster: Yeah it might be, it might be the medium, it might be the format. It might also be the content, or maybe I'm just a good actor. I think what- and Dylan says what I do, probably to a fault is like, I'm too agreeable and I think the way that manifests is in acting or changing who I am.
Jesse Clemmens: Hmm.
Henry Belcaster: To be more like the other person. I think that's like a long philosophical thing that we probably don't need to get into.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah.
Henry Belcaster: But it's just something that I've been thinking about recently.
Jesse Clemmens: Cool, yeah, what- I mean what I notice at least, the experience I had as a subscriber to your YouTube channel, which is, uh, the first place I had seen you. There's this like this- if you were thinking of like control board of emotions, the dial is really high on like earnestness, excitement, optimism, adventure, those sorts of feelings that come from the- from the daily vlog and from the YouTube channel. And then on the podcast what I got was more like problem solving, a little bit more philosophical. And of course it's more- it feels more of like discussion format, 'cause it's both you and Dylan on the pod.
Henry Belcaster: Yeah, that's pretty sharp. And I think too, it's like for my YouTube videos, the crap I'm doing is so mundane, if I'm not crazy and caffeinated and optimistic, it's like why would anybody want to watch that stuff? Like I- I don't really have an edge otherwise, so I lean into that.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah, love it. Well it's working so I guess a little background on- for the audience on how this came together, I as I'm sure many of your more recent opportunities shares like similar background. I'm an all in pod listener, love the show. One day I'm listening and, uh, David Sacks mentions Henry Belcaster, putting together these videos. I'm like wait, who is that? I've got to hear- what- who is this person that is- is getting airtime on the show?
Henry Belcaster: [laughs].
Jesse Clemmens: What are they all about? So I went and checked out your stuff and I was struck by the quality of- of production in the way that you first with your own stuff, as I watched a few shows, really nailed it in terms of like, connecting with the audience and with some of those emotions that I had previously described. But then just being like a really amazing, visual storyteller. And we're gonna get into your product Clipt in a little bit, which is really important as it is a- you know, a visual tool. But that's the background on how I came across you, we connected and, uh, decided to- to put this pod together. Maybe we can tal- talk a little bit about the all in pod, at least very briefly in terms of it giving context to what you're working on now with Clipt.
So as I understand it, you coined this phrase- or at least I s- saw the phrase for the first time from you recently called Squatter marketing which is basically- I'll try my best to, and then we'll hear it from you. It's basically putting your work out there for free to people that are your ideal clients, seeing if it sticks and seeing what opportunities come your way. Is that, uh, like a pretty good description of the- the technique?
Henry Belcaster: That's exactly it, that's exactly it. And I think in terms of what you're talking about, the best part of squatter marketing is, David Sacks was probably giving us airtime. You said Henry Belcaster, it was probably more like Harry Benlaster.
Jesse Clemmens: [laughs].
Henry Belcaster: Like you didn't actually know who we were right?
Jesse Clemmens: Right.
Henry Belcaster: Yeah, but yeah we were just creating all this stuff of tremendous values for those guys and look, like they're human beings. When you get something, like our clips of yourself, and it offers some sort of value, there's no way that they don't share that, right. These people, myself included like- we love seeing ourselves, we love talking about ourselves, it's just like a very human thing. So we're like, how can we show them in exactly their terms what we can do for them. Squat all over their marketing and then give them no choice but, uh, to work with us down the line.
Jesse Clemmens: Right, in true creator fashion it's like a perfect manifestation of the ask for forgiveness, not for permission type mindset. And what's- I guess what's the worst that could happen? Someone could say, "No take this down. I don't want you using my image." Uh, it seems very unlikely given that most of these guys are new forms of creators themselves that, that would happen. So I thought- I thought it was totally genius and definitely a lesson to be taken, for our audience who are creators themselves.
Henry Belcaster: I think the important thing that we prioritize too, and this comes from Netflix's culture, it's this idea of do no harm.
Jesse Clemmens: Right.
Henry Belcaster: It's exactly what you're talking about, it's like so long is this piece we make isn't slander, doesn't paint them in a bad light, doesn't paint our brand in a bad light, yeah you can ask for forgiveness all day long right. It does no harm, so our default is to just post stuff, post a ton of content, if it does no harm, we're winning. That's kind of what- what's kept us consistent over time.
Jesse Clemmens: And just a little more context for the audience for those that aren't familiar with the All in pod, it's a somewhat longer form podcast that's, uh, probably like pretty close to the top of charts these days, but focuses on business. Initially came from like, uh, commentary on silicon valley happenings and tech, and society. And sort of took on a life it- of it's own, via the big personalities of the stars. So tell us a little bit about coming out of the All in pod experience, I know Smart Nonsense is a media shop. Can you tell us a little bit about the media shop, some of the business direction that you were thinking of going in and how it was- how it eventually shifted into this more scalable approach of Clipt, or any angle you want to take there would be perfect.
Henry Belcaster: Into a lot of a things, it- it's funny because it's really one of these things that, like you read about it in books. It's kind of cliché, you don't think it's- it's real but like we really stumbled into this every step of the way. Yeah we were probably the most qualified, the right people to run the ship but it's like, Dylan calls me one day he's like, "Let's start a podcast let's call it Smart Nonsense." I'm like, "All right, we're smart and nonsensical let's go."
Jesse Clemmens: How long ago was this?
Henry Belcaster: This was a year ago.
Jesse Clemmens: Got it. And you guys were already friends, or are you coworkers or?
Henry Belcaster: Correct, already friends, both unemployed, really the only two friends in our group that were like entrepreneurs. So we're like, let's just stick this thing out together.
Jesse Clemmens: And you are already vlogging?
Henry Belcaster: Yeah, at the time I was on like a gap year.
Jesse Clemmens: Cool.
Henry Belcaster: And I was vlogging kind of, I was making like weekly YouTube videos just to like have some accountability to do something during my gap year. And Dylan calls me, and that very much turned into the daily podcast and the daily vlog which was like, life is absurd right now. And if you listen to the first episode of the Smart Nonsense podcast, it's called Dear 2045. It was very much like, let's start building that- these diary entries that we can look back on in 25 years. And what would that look like right? So it came out of this like, doing something because we really wanted to do it for ourselves. We were passionate about it, and we just wanted to goof off. That's the podcast.
We hired a couple people to produce that, literally off our unemployment checks. This is, you know the middle of the pandemic, and Dylan's really great at hiring, so he of course prioritized hiring- hiring the best producers in the world, editors and, uh, animators. And they kind of cooked up this very early rudimentary style that people now see, which is our visual storytelling. And at the time it was like, it was our- our animator AJ, beast. Dylan was like, "Yo AJ we need this clip in 12 hours to get Sam Parr and Shaan Puri’s attention. They're from another podcast. Can you do it?" And AJ just cranks overnight. I think they scrapped the project like two or three times overnight. And what AJ comes back with, again is this- this kind of rudimentary storytelling in a graphic. And it's just this like never ending scrolling, memey thing with cutouts popping up to kind of supplement the podcast clip that it was for.
Jesse Clemmens: Do you remember what- what the topic of the clip was for that particular one by any chance?
Henry Belcaster: It was, what we did, we were targeting one of our inspirations, Sam Parr and we just went on their YouTube, looked for their most popular video, his company's called The Hustle. So we found the most popular video for The Hustle. We're like, that must be something because it's the most popular, so let's animate it. It was Sam Parr- it's a really goofy clip, I don't know, we can try and find it but it was Sam Parr, in a bar meeting the founder of the Silk Road.
Jesse Clemmens: I remember this, I saw the clip. I remember the story and I remember seeing the clip too.
Henry Belcaster: which is nuts, it's like pirate- uh, I forget there's a [crosstalk 00:10:38].
Jesse Clemmens: Silk Road.
Henry Belcaster: That guy. So it's really funny clip, you know you've got like Sam Parr’s bobble head like walking through the bar and- and we superimposed it and then we just kept stacking innovation and storytelling on top of that. And that's kind of how we stumbled into the media agency. And we'll get to it in a minute, but stumbled into productizing that.
Jesse Clemmens: Super cool, okay so it started as basically media company that you guys built in house. And then as you started employing squatter marketing, you said, "Okay this medium works really well like we- we're doing this better than anyone else. Let's see who else might be interested in it." You start to pick up a coup- a couple clients, and then correct me if I'm wrong, I think I remember from an episode of Smart Nonsense that you described that it kind of like, uh, it was in, I don't want to say in danger of- but like it looked like it was headed in the direction of producing, what was it, like longer form trailer promo clubs for startups. And then you're like wait, we need to f- to make this scalable. T- tell us a little bit about that.
Henry Belcaster: Completely, yeah so what happened is, I should say squatter marketing too is much stupider than that. It's mostly, we hire too fast, we weren't making enough money. So we had 10 people sitting, doing nothing. We're like, well let's just do something and that was doing other client works, squatting on it. But yeah, so as we start squatter marketing, just doing stuff for free, essentially paying to do, uh, other people's work, yeah there was this great kind of not great- the opposite of great, but diffusion of like what it is we do, right. You go to David Sacks and he's like, yeah I don't necessarily want you guys for clips, but I've got all these portfolio companies that want to make YouTube videos and you guys know how to edit. So can you make this 10 minute video? Can you make this 30 second launch ad? Can you make this hour and a half long form podcast?
And when you're starting, and you get all this awesome traction that we had, you just say yes to all of that. You're like, yeah if- if that's gonna allow me to sit in the room longer with David Sacks, sure thing. We took on a comedian [Hasan Minhaj's 00:12:41] Netflix special. So we're animating for his Netflix special, which is like- that's like something that would win an Emmy.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah.
Henry Belcaster: You know that's not really who we are, but we're like, yeah. Yeah we can do that, we want to work with Hasan, let's go. And what happened over time is, us realizing that like we aren't the right people for those kinds of jobs, they demand way too much perfection. Frankly, anyone or most production houses can do the long form stuff. Our edge is we're able to tell stories in 60 seconds. That's the hard thing, that's what most people can't do. So that's- we keep like, we squatted, we expanded, the things started to get diluted. We started doing more long form, perfect content. And then that snapped back, and now we're like, no we're the- we're the 60 second clip guys and we're fanatics about that.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah I- I totally relate to that in my current journey. Our company- uh, the company I started with my co founders is a message management solution for creators that are overwhelmed with their DM's and comments. And when we first got started, we weren't sure of the exact direction that we were going to head in. None of the three co founders have a big social following. And we were like man, we- we need to- to understand what the actual problems are and that's gonna take doing some free work. So it's not exactly squatter marketing but it's- it is a similar mindset of like, hey we- we do free work to learn. And we do free work to build connections in the beginning. And then you have to, you know be smart about when to transition it to something that's more sustainable. And so in our case that- that meant moving from doing a bunch of like manual, virtual assistant type work for a bunch of creators into actually building technology.
I know you guys are- you guys have a, I don't know if you would call it V1, V2, V3, whatever it is. It's an early workable product, tell us about that. I'd love to hear a bit more about the product and particularly from the direction of how would a- creators or someone that first came across Clipt use the tool?
Henry Belcaster: Yeah I mean you're exactly on the money, it's like in doing all of this free work, the bright side, like the silver lining there is like, now we know exactly what we don't want to do.
Jesse Clemmens: Mm-hmm [
Henry Belcaster: And so what we learned in all of that is, the agency stuff doesn't scale. You can grow it, but it doesn't scale. It still demands like Dylan and I, or an operator talking with these people one on one all day long. And I- I should say too, Dylan's superpower is his laziness, his smart laziness. So he will do whatever he can to take the least steps to some output or whatever. It's funny, I was in Iceland for a couple weeks, a couple weeks ago and Dylan was doing my job in a lot of respects. And when I came back, I had all these videos of like different shortcuts he had found for how to do my job better, faster, lazier.
Jesse Clemmens: [laughs].
Henry Belcaster: And it's brilliant, so I don't think either of us is stoked to grow this agency we stumbled upon. We are in the sense that like, we optimize for working with, and producing content for our favorite people of all time and we- we obtain that somehow it's brilliant. But we're like, yeah like this thing could grow. But beyond our small circle of like inspirational public figures, we're not the right people to grow the agency. That's when we turn to Clips, we're like how do we productize this thing so that, A, more people can tell better stories online. And then they can use that product at effectively like zero cost, or zero distribution cost. Because our agency product is very expensive, so it's all about like how do we, for a lack of a better word democratize that, drive the prices down to zero and allow more people to tell better stories online? That's all we know how to do is tell stories.
Jesse Clemmens: Super cool, and it comes from such a place of like personal need too. Like if you think a lot of- a lot of the creator economy companies that have done the best, they're often founded by founders that were creators that needed this thing to survive or do their job or a couple bucks. Patreon's probably the biggest example of what- you know the founder is a musician looking to figure out how to monetize differently. Now it's a billion dollar business.
Henry Belcaster: In our case too, it started as building the tool to take a lot of that hard production and editing and animating off of our team's plate. You know, 'cause our clips if it's a- a minute or a two minute clip, that's 16 hours head down animating.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah.
Henry Belcaster: We're like, can we take 80% off of their plate with a tool and be good enough? It's funny you say, yes it came out of a need. We launched Clipt, uh, at least V1, iterated a bit to V2. And then Dylan and I sat down, and we were like, we wouldn't use this thing. The brilliance of our product is, and the reason Dylan and I can put out so much content is the fact that it's automated. At Clipt what we were asking customers to do, was do that initial cutting down of their material from 10 minutes to 2 minutes themselves and then send it to us. So at the top of the funnel, we're asking them to do the hardest thing, which again is telling a story in two minutes. That what we do best, so we're like, as Clipt stands today, we wouldn't use it. We have to figure out how to bring that- bring our superpower to market which is, storytelling in 60 seconds. And cutting down footage from five minutes to 60 seconds. That's what like, today we're- we're still trying to figure out.
Jesse Clemmens: Got it, so it started with storytelling and narrative plus adding in visuals. It got to V1, V2 of Clipt which was bring your own narrative and story, we'll add the visuals in a really cost effective way that looks freaking awesome. With the- is it with the assisted by AI, is that right? Or is that the-
Henry Belcaster: A bit yeah, so we have a couple tools our little trade secrets that we basically use to help our- our editors like be ten-X themselves.
Jesse Clemmens: Got it, so you- you found a way to do it, that's really cost effective and passed that value back to creators, companies, whoever wants one of these clips. In the initial learnings, you realize that the bring your own narrative piece actually removed some of the special sauce that you could add. So are you guys in the process of adding that back into the product? Is that already in the product or is that a future plan?
Henry Belcaster: That's what we need to figure out, literally today. It was such a mishap in the sense that we thought people would pop open iMovie and cut their stuff down.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah.
Henry Belcaster: And then feed it into our machine. Our customers don't know how to use iMovie. They don't know what makes a good story. They don't know how to cut anything, they don't want to do that. We didn't want to do that, that's why we started the podcast and started the company and hired a team to do it for us. So if it were to work, we have to figure out that top of the funnel automatically cutting stuff down for our customers.
Jesse Clemmens: Got it, okay so what's the current state? Can customers like go and use the tool and- and start to like upload longer footage or is it, uh, is there a particular date when it will be available for people that are listening to the show, now or potentially in- even in the future? Where were you in, uh, September, end of September 2021 with this product?
Henry Belcaster: Right so I'm- I'm scared to tell you, but people can go to clipt.it today, right now, uh, or- or maybe in the next few weeks, that's clipt.it like clipt it. I'm worried literally as we speak, Dylan is taking down the type form.
Jesse Clemmens: [laughs].
Henry Belcaster: Because he doesn't want clips to come through, because we don't know what to do with them right now.
Jesse Clemmens: A temporary pause to the assembly line it sounds like.
Henry Belcaster: Right, exactly. Because it would- it would kind of destroy the flow of things intercompany right now. So we don't know, it's like also at the top of the funnel, right, people don't know how to cut their own stuff down to tell us stories. We're like, do we create the marketplace that matches people like Jesse, up with video editors across the world? Are we much like Uber is a managed marketplace, finding you a driver, giving him ratings and whatnot. Can we vet some editors because we're really good at hiring, and- and offer that? We don't know, our minimum retainer could work with us as an agency is 15 grand right now.
Jesse Clemmens: Okay.
Henry Belcaster: 15 grand a month, what if we bring that down to five grand a month and still do some of that custom editing and then the full suite of animating. So it's like a step in the direction of Clipt. I think ultimately the plan is, in 5 years, in 10 years, Clipt is the kind of can buffer video, where it's- it's a full suite of tools. AI and whatnot that you, Jesse can go to and in one click do all of that- that- or at least 80% of the- the animating we're doing. That's like a longer build and- and we're talking to a couple VC's about helping us find that- that kick ass developer to build the thing.
Jesse Clemmens: Amazing.
Henry Belcaster: Because it would be hard.
Jesse Clemmens: Amazing.
Henry Belcaster: But yeah, we don't know.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah, yeah it's incredible like the tools that are now available as founders for building companies, especially on the AI side that weren't even available like two, three years ago. AI as a service is like a real thing for- you know for anyone that's listening that's not in the startup world. In the past you'd have to hire, uh, 10 data scientists to work on problems related to automation and AI, now you can sort of source some of those tools and technology and put them together. And new forms to create new startups and new companies, and the beauty of solutions like what you guys are building with Clipt is, technology is advanced enough that you can build a really amazing software solution that exists in it's own purpose. Probably as a pretty cool company, but then seeds out into the world, all this incredible, creative content that didn't exist before because with your tools, people can do the job 10 times faster than they previously would have. And can get back to being focused on doing creative things, or whatever other elements of the creator job they have.
And that's one of the things that I was excited about with the creator kit show was the ability to guide creators to tools that will accelerate their business. So it's been really awesome talking to you and hearing from you, both as a creator who puts out some really, really amazing content and as a builder, founder in the creator space. It's been a really awesome chat. For people that want to follow you or find you after the show, we'll put all the stuff in show notes as well. But, uh, what are the best places for people to reach out or just discover your work?
Henry Belcaster: Yeah YouTube is the best place to discover work, that's Daily Henry Belcaster. If you want to reach out, hang out, talk that's on Twitter, Henry Belcaster.
Jesse Clemmens: Awesome. Henry, thanks so much again for coming on the show, this has been awesome.
Henry Belcaster: Jesse thank you.
Jesse Clemmens: All right talk to you soon.
Henry Belcaster: Bye