Creator Kit Episode 12: Pico's Jason Bade on Owning Your Audience Relationships
In this week's episode, we talk with the co-founder of Pico about how creator businesses can supercharge growth by managing their audiences.
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.
Jason is the President and co-founder of Pico, the operating system for creator businesses.
On today’s show we talk about different ways creators can take back control of their audience relationships to build more sustainable revenue.
Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the conversation:
1. Creators should control distribution
Relying entirely on social algorithms is not a winning strategy. Creators can learn from other types of businesses where it's important to reach your customer on your own terms.
"...any direct to consumer Shopify e-commerce store or restaurant or anything like that, their best customers are gonna be folks that they can market to directly, as opposed to relying on other platforms to basically surface them at the time and place that that algorithm wants."
2. Ownership isn't about moving your content
It's about making sure you control audience relationships, so audiences can be moved to the right content at the right time - much of it on native viewing experiences like IG, TikTok etc.
"It all comes back down to the audience relationship then, not necessarily where my content is actually being hosted. And it's my ability to control when and how I interact with my audience that ultimately gives me power over my business."
3. The key to more $ is understanding your audience
Jason explains that once creators are in control of their audience relationships, the next job on the path to sustainable revenue is understanding who exactly makes up that audience.
"The cool thing about where we sit is that we can do a lot to help creators understand who's in their audience, where they're coming from, who the most valuable audience members are and what they're doing... that can directly translate to improved business metrics, and machine learning is gonna help us do even more with that."
This is Creator Kit, HiBeam’s podcast series on the tools that help creators thrive. If you enjoyed the conversation and don’t want to miss future episodes, just hit subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify, or plug our RSS feed in your player of choice. You can also read the full transcript of the interview, which has been lightly edited for clarity, below.
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Jesse Clemmens: Jason, welcome to the Creator Kit Podcast.
Jason Bade: Hey, Jesse, how are you?
Jesse Clemmens: I'm doing amazing. Really excited eto have you on the show.
Jason Bade: I'm really excited to chat with you.
Jesse Clemmens: Awesome, man. I've been, um, watching from afar since you and I caught up, I guess it was like a month and a half, two months ago, I saw you guys have some really exciting stuff in the works at Pico and I am ready to dig in, so let's do it.
Jason Bade: Yeah.
Jesse Clemmens: Uh, as you know, our intended audience for Creator Kit are creators themselves, typically folks that are a little more operationally minded and are scaling their businesses to, uh, you know, to meet growth that they're facing and wanna know all about different tools in the ecosystem that they can use to- to, uh, make their business move faster. And what better guests have on the show than someone behind what I understand is the operating system for creators. So thanks for coming on.
Jason Bade: Of course. Yeah. Yeah.
Jesse Clemmens: Let's start there, operating system for creators. So there's a bunch of different jobs that creators do and need to have done to grow their business. Where does Pico fit in today and where are you guys headed?
Jason Bade: Yeah, so, I mean, we started Pico basically to help folks make money from their audience relationships. That was the- the central core and thrust of- of our business. And everything's evolved from that, which is how do, how do creators make money directly from their audience? And kind of the first thing we realized we had to do for the most ambitious of those creators is help them build email lists. That's the number one driver-
Jesse Clemmens: Mm-hmm [affirmative]-
Jason Bade: ... of ultimately monetization of conversion. It's one thing to get a follower to click on some links, get to a, whether it's a store or a service or something else, it's another thing to actually have that email address and to be able to have that- that direct relationship. So that's really where our business started and kind of our initial focus was how do we, how do we create that funnel? How do we create conversion events that lead to a successful relationship between a creator and their followers?
Jesse Clemmens: So what is it about email addresses that are so important? 'Cause I know that creaters do harness email really heavily, some don't touch it at all, and I imagine there's some, there's a breakdown of importance depending on whether they're selling a physical or a digital product or whether they're just relying on ads monetization. How does the email address fit in? Why- why was that the sort of the starting point for you guys?
Jason Bade: Well, first of all, just a point on what you just said, uh, I think it's- it's really interesting to see the sort of shift of just influencer-based business models, which are much more reliant on eyeballs because the modernization there is a brand partnership, totally viable business model. Uh, a lot of my favorite creators do brand partnerships, it- it makes a lot of sense. The thing is though as a creator or, you know, what we call are creators creator businesses, because most of the folks that are they're working with Pico are thinking of themselves as not just creating content as a hobby, but actually as a, as a business, as a real business, that needs to be sustainable, maybe pay more than one person, which is the creator, but a whole team of people.
And, you know, increasingly creator businesses are thinking about monetization in a direct to consumer way. And so that might be e-commerce, right? That might be, uh, services, it might be subscriptions, it might be coaching, it might be events, there's, uh, increasing plethora. It might be NFTs or other sorts of virtual goods in gaming or whatnot. The point is that there's a plethora of direct to consumer monetization types that really ultimately all rely on that relationship, and, you know, we see this with e-commerce.
Any Shopify store, any direct to consumer Shopify e-commerce store or restaurant or anything like that, their best customers are gonna be folks that they can, they can market to directly, as opposed to relying on other platforms to basically surface them at the time and place that that algorithm wants, whether it's Instagram or TikTok or, you know, with restaurants, whether it's whatever Yelp is deciding to put at the top to have control over that relationship is ultimately o have control over when and how you interact with, hopefully, your best, your best customers.
Jesse Clemmens: Got it. Got it. So it reminded me a little bit of the rented versus owned audience breakdown that, uh, you know, some folks have been talking about recently. My friend Peter Yang wrote a really awesome piece on this. So we've had him on the show. Okay. So it's partially about showing up, you know, at the place and time of your choosing. And then you also mentioned something really interesting, which was, like, the particular, I don't think you said, like, niche fan group, but so- but, um, the really specific group of people that you wanna reach either as a brand or as a creator.
And it brought to mind for me, um, what I understand is sort of your- your root or Pico's roots in the local niche news, uh, industry. Can you, can you tell us a little bit about that and maybe talk to us about this converge thing? Because it does seem like there's a lot of parallels between small news organizations and publishers probably increasingly so, but it might not be obvious, uh, what that parallel is, uh, at first, how do you guys think about it?
Jason Bade: Yeah. So when we first started Pico, we were very interested in this idea and this can get a little abstract for a second, but for your audience listening, especially for folks who may not know much about media and news publishers, these are sort of like the OG audience builders on the web. And if you, if you look at the top trafficked websites for the first, like, half of the internet, and even still today, they're all news and media companies, right?
Uh, if you think of the main content drivers of most platforms, it's- it's news. So the idea that publishers are sort of, like, the original creators was not a far stretch from us. And in fact, when we were looking for, okay, we wanna build infrastructure for entrepreneurs who are selling more than just, you know, physical goods, I'm holding up, uh, my coffee mug right now, that was sort of like the first wave of commerce online is- is Amazon and Shopify and, you know, Etsy.
And like I'm going to build infrastructure to help merchants sell and ship goods to end customers. And then we see sort of the rise of social helping folks deliver those customers to those merchants. And, you know, the sort of marriage of Shopify and Facebook and Instagram is sort of actually this beautifully symbiotic thing of like, okay, well, we can, we can leverage Instagram to find all these niches and all this stuff.
And, uh, but from our perspective, the first real wave of folks who were selling, not just physical goods, but sort of virtual goods, um, content, uh, subscriptions, other things that did not have to be shipped in the mail, those were news publishers. And, you know, Nick and I, and really our whole team is very motivated by the mission of news publishers, first of all. So the idea of building infrastructure that would help journalists, entrepreneurial journalists build journalism startups in niches that were not being covered, information that was not getting created because no one was funding it, not because there wasn't demand for it, but because there was an infrastructure to sort of harness that demand, that was a key driver of our, of our early company mission and still is to this day.
Our biggest, and in some sense, favorite customers in that sense are these, um, amazing news organizations that are doing great work in their communities. But what they've taught us is how to build infrastructure for audience businesses that are trying to build an audience and eventually turn that called anonymous audience into known relationships, and those known relationships being the basis of a sustainable customer base to whom you can continue to sell and create value for, for years and years to come. What are the analytics you need? What are the CRM cu- you know, customer relationship management, what kind of tools do you need there to manage possibly tens, if not hundreds of thousands of contacts, that some of whom have never bought anything from you, some of whom have bought huge amounts of things from you.
Maybe they've bought a subscription, maybe they've bought an event, maybe they've bought merchandise, et cetera, all the things that we built to maximize conversion for news publishers, now, all of a sudden, we're seeing are extremely relevant for the way of creators that's following kind of the path that these early adopting news entrepreneurs laid before them. So it- it's amazing the parallels between kind of the fact that news folks were pushed into direct to consumer products before today's creators that, you know, this new wave of who we think of as creators-
Jesse Clemmens: Mm-hmm [affirmative]-
Jason Bade: ... are kind of discovering these business models and trying to monetize themselves in a very similar way.
Jesse Clemmens: Fascinating. Yeah, it's funny that, uh, what you're just describing, the way that the internet both took away, the internet giveth- giveth and the internet taketh the way I like. Like, the local news businesses from my fairly limited understanding of the economics behind it, local business, the local news businesses suffered greatly from the removal of classified and classified moving online and, you know, so sort of the loss of, uh, demand for this really like niche targeting that only they could provide back in the day, then all of a sudden distribution costs were also pushed down enough that, you know, you no longer needed to entirely rely on physical printing of papers, for example-
Jason Bade: Mm-hmm [affirmative]-
Jesse Clemmens: ... and then almost lagging sort of way, consumers had been retrained to pay for and subscribe for information that was uniquely interesting to them and that they would, they would need to, uh, throw down a couple bucks to- to have access to. The- the whole cycle of the way that the internet removed the livelihood and the ability to survive for a lot of news organizations and publishers, but then, you know, ended up through, I guess, not by chance, by innovation and, you know, consumer habits changing, the ability to actually start to build really, really unique audiences.
And then as you're describing it that those, the ability to, like, create really- really unique audiences has poured it from being news oriented, to being creator-oriented, where anyone can focus in on a passion or a particular profession or- or- or any other, like, niche area of business and become a mini publisher, not reporting on local news, but maybe reporting on, you know, X, Y, Z, interest, which is super cool. And I know the creators don't think of themselves as reporters, but they're- they're publishers for sure.
Jason Bade: Yeah. And it's funny because most of our publishers that we know and love, they don't think of themselves as what is it? Creators, like, or journalist. Right? And- and it, and it's like, yes, correct. But when I think about what this term creator economy, not a, not a term that I coined, but a term that very much describes the thrust of what Nick, my co-founder and I had in terms of the vision for what we were trying to do, which was, um, what does modern entrepreneurial infrastructure look like for this next wave of internet commerce that is based on building an audience?
And we- we have seen what it looks like when it's like, okay, well, I'm- I'm converting that audience to, you know, kind of, uh, attention in the form of advertising and brand sponsorships. That's very well built out. And like I said, is very well built out kind of this- this funnel between, or, you know, I should say from audience building to- to e-commerce. But what if it's, what if I'm not just a simple store? What if that's version one? What if version two is actually a pretty complex set of goods and services and- and just access to different platforms that I'm providing my audience that initially found me one place or another?
We have been starting to talk about the fact that the website, the role of the website is shrinking quite a bit, even, you know, when I think of our biggest customers today, they all mostly rely on their websites. I mean, they're publishing a lot of text content, they're news publishers. And so when they think about, you know, uh, well, they need a website to host their content, to put it up, most of the creators that we're starting to work with, that are sort of becoming more ambitious in growing their revenue strategies, website is not where their most polished content is being published.
Uh, it ends up that like TikTok and Instagram are really fantastic platforms for both the sort of editing and publishing and presentation of the content that they wanna put out, which is YouTube, right? That, which is, um, TikTok is a really great viewing platform for a TikTok video, which is a, you know, a unique subset of video that happens to work really well on the TikTok platform. If you try to take that TikTok video and pull it off TikTok and put it somewhere else on your own website, total failure, no one would ever watch it.
Jesse Clemmens: For sure.
Jason Bade: And so in a way you have to embrace that, which is to say, okay, well, what does it look like for me as a creator business to own the relationship that I have with my audience, own my, which is to say, own my business, really like have control over who I am and what I'm trying to do, but then also lean into the fact that the best place for me to not just kind of send out a link to my story, but actually have my story viewed is on each of these platforms, they- they are native viewing experiences. It's where people wanna be. And I imagine we're gonna see some more things around potential metaverse stuff or different, you know, Discord commu- like, there's no use bringing Discord into your website. Yeah. Discord wants to be consumed and interacted with on Discord. Right? So Spotify, same deal. I don't, I'm not gonna try to pull people to listen to my podcast or my songs on my website. It’s gonna be on Spo- people wanna listen to on Spotify. So what does this look like for me as a, as an independent creator, who's not Rihanna or Adele who can command whatever she wants from the platforms, but wants to have some semblance of control, but also knows that the content I'm creating is natively best consumed across the web in a bunch of different places.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah.
Jason Bade: Right. And so this is, this is what we're thinking a lot about, which is, well, it all comes back down to the audience relationship then, not necessarily where my content is actually being hosted. And it's my ability to control when and how I interact with my audience that ultimately gives me power over my business.
Jesse Clemmens: So cool. Yeah. It's interesting to, like, watch with some of the, you know, especially with some of the- the link-in-bio type tool's becoming the defacto way that an audience member will- will literally go one click deeper with a creator that owns in some ways like they own and operated platform themselves, or they owned and operated surfaces, like a website, have moved from being the actual shelves where you select, like, what content you wanna consume as an audience member to more of, like, a router that is sending you to different places, and rather than the router being entirely controlled by TikTok or by Instagram, you know, why I should it not be controlled by the creator who can choose which things, you know, are probably most interesting to their audience cross platform rather than within the confines of- of one like siloed environment.
Jason Bade: Well, and to take it, I guess, a step greater than router, which is what we've done now with PicoLink, which is our new product that is a lin-in-bio product that we rolled out in beta a month ago, is actually just earlier this month, it's been, [laughs], I've been playing with it in beta for over a month, but we rolled it out just a couple weeks ago, is okay, well take the router, but then how do you, how do you layer into that router, this audience relationship bit? And the reason I say that is because what you can do, it's not just owning email address, it's actually, okay, well, what happens if Pico helps me own the audience relationship? And then I have a, that connects up to Discord, for example, that connects up to my email service, that connects up to maybe a website where I'm hosting cost information or other premium content, connects up to maybe Spotify with their OAP platform, where I have premium audio.
Now, what we're seeing unfold is an internet. And I will say some platforms are very open about this, Twitter and, you know, Twitter, Blue, Spotify with OAP, Discord has always been very, uh, developer friendly with open APIs. Those are great. We have other, we have other more verticalized platforms that make it very difficult for the creator to control that sort of two way relationship.
But in terms of platforms that can connect up to a creator's CRM to say, okay, well, I wanna kind of dull out benefits across this constellation of platforms where my content lives best, where it's, where it's, uh, consumed best, but I get to control it from my own platform, from my sort of creator operating system. That's really the dream of what we are bringing to creators today who are, who are trying to be more ambitious, who are trying to lean in, like I said, where- where their audience does wanna consume the content, but also maintain some control so that they can have a sustainable business that- that is theirs at the end of the day.
Jesse Clemmens: Yeah. That awesome. I love the kind of, like, interoperability. It feels like it's more of, um, I know there's, there are major challenges with platforms that don't allow access, that don't have API, you know, that don't have free APIs. It does seem like Facebook, for example, with the Meta announcements, I know they, in the metaverse vision had made a point to say like, "Hey, we need, we need the future to be interoperable. We know that this is the way that things are going with web three and all the kind of recent excitement around interoperability." And, um, so I, you know, our, my company's HiBeam is also banking on that. More like, you know, the future will bring more access and more control rather than less. So we're really excited about that, and are super fascinated by the way, you guys are kinda stitching together other services that creators might be using and- and making them work really well with Pico. Super cool. Okay. So we got a couple minutes left, anything new coming down the- the line that you wanted to, uh, give us a sneak peek on or anything exciting that you guys are working on, that you wanted to, uh, narrow in on, in the last couple minutes here?
Jason Bade: We're working on quite a bit. We have a- a pretty large suite of- of features in terms of what our platform does other than just sort of this PicoLink product and the CRM. I will say that this next- next few months, we're gonna add a lot more to PicoLink, is gonna very quickly be the, what I think is the best in class in terms of just features and function. And we're pretty committed to keeping of PicoLink and its, and its features free, just because we know that we can travel with creators on an upgrade path, basically, where okay, if you are gonna become a really high revenue creator, you're gonna start buying deeper analytics and other things from us, we don't need to make money from you at the sort of, at the link-in-bio level. So we're gonna give away all these amazing things. So I'm really excited about that. And we're also going really deep on analytics, which I sort of alluded to. The cool thing when you are, where we sit is that we can do a lot to help creators understand who's in their audience, where they're coming from, who the most valuable audience members are and what they're doing that can directly translate to improved business metrics, and machine learning is gonna help us do even more with that.
We have a data team we're starting to invest more and more in. So I'm really excited about that, because if you talk to a lot of creators today, they really don't have great insight into where they can spend their time and resources to actually translate that into better performance, into more revenue, into more sales. And for us to be able to help folks do that, it goes beyond just like automated marketing. It actually gets to literally, like, what kind of content should I be focusing on? What platform should I be focusing on? And so we're really excited about what we're working on there.
Jesse Clemmens: That's awesome. And the last couple of questions for you.
Jason Bade: Yeah.
Jesse Clemmens: I'll choose one of the two, uh, that we typically ask guests. You're, you know, creator, you're a founder in the creator space, I know you're a fan of creators, who's- who's got your interest these days, uh, either this week, this month, whatever, uh, works for you, who, what creator, uh, comes to mind?
Jason Bade: It's funny you say that because what you're, it's like, well, which- which creator did the algorithm put right in front of me?
Jesse Clemmens: [laughs].
Jason Bade: ... just this moment. And so actually, yes. Um, unfortunately that's how it is, right? There's this- this guy in, uh, England named Julius Fielder and he's, uh, actually German and he's a cook. I think he's a film student. So he- he's doing these amazing TikTok and Instagram's cooking tutorials, like, a lot that you see, they're very well edited. But what I like about him is, uh, he kind of marries together my interests in regenerative agriculture and organic soils and stuff.
And so he has, and he's weaving that into his, into his cooking in a way that's totally not preachy, it's amazing. He's super talented chef and, you know, the way he's monetizing, I think he's still figuring it out, but he's got collabs, he's working out with different chefs, but then also aside from the instructional bit, he's starting his own line of pantry goods. And from what I understand, they're really incredible. So yeah, I love it. I love what he's doing. I love his content and, uh, his monetization is so far pretty great, it seems so. And oh, and he goes by @bakinghermann. So that's who I've been following.
Jesse Clemmens: Cool. We will, we'll throw a link in the show notes, and I'm excited to check out Julius' stuff as well. And from a like, a creator business standpoint, it's always cool to see when your favorite creator does something surprising and- and interesting to monetize. So that brings an extra out of added, element of excitement. Cool. Jason, this has been amazing. Where's the best way to find you and Pico for folks that are, that are interested in checking you out?
Jason Bade: Yeah. Yeah. So Pico, just go to pico.link or on Twitter, we're @pico and then I'm on Twitter @jasonwbade, uh, pretty, there's not many Jason W. Bades out there, so pretty- pretty easy to find.
Jesse Clemmens: Awesome.
Jason Bade: Yeah.
Jesse Clemmens: Awesome. Thanks again for coming on the show. Hope to talk to you soon.
Jason Bade: Yeah. Thanks Jesse. It was a fun time.
Jesse Clemmens: All right. See you Jason. Take care.