Creator Kit Episode 03: Peter Yang on the Creator Hierarchy of Needs

Creator Kit
Creator Kit
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Cover Image for Creator Kit Episode 03:  Peter Yang on the Creator Hierarchy of Needs

In this week's episode we talk to creator economy writer Peter Yang about the 8 step process any creator can use to grow.

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.

This Episode of Creator Kit is also available in video form on YouTube. You can also subscribe on iTunes, stream on Spotify, or plug our RSS feed in your player of choice.

Peter writes the popular Substack newsletter Creator Economy, and has previously built products for creators as a product manager at companies like Twitter, Twitch, Facebook, Reddit, and more.

On this episode we talk about a framework Peter developed called Creator Hierarchy of Needs, as well as a powerful planning exercise for creators called the Creator Lean Canvas.

Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the conversation:

1. Creators should tackle audience development in a specific sequence

In his Creator Hierarch of Needs framework, Peter proposes that there are 8 items a creator must focus on in order to grow. Each should be addressed independently to build a sustainable creator business.

The reason it's called a "hierarchy of needs" is because you have to tackle the needs in priority order. The needs at a high level are: publish great content, grow an audience, and then eventually make a living online. So you obviously cannot make a living (as a creator) without having an audience, and you can't have an audience if you don't publish great content.

2. When it comes to content, experimentation is important... but so is doing what you enjoy

The job of a creator requires experimentation to understand what works with your audience. When you find something that works, stick with it. But even if something works for your audience, it's equally important that that content works for YOU as a creator. Do you enjoy producing it?

Remember, the goal is to help people make a living doing what they love. And you know, if you're not doing something that you love, that's kind of like... just having another job.

3. Web 3 is more than just a buzzword - it's about giving power back to creators

Creators should start by experimenting with crypto, tokens, NFTs and more. Web 3 (the intersection of crypto and content) is here and the implications favor the creator.

I think the Web 3 thing is coming and is here to stay. And if you're a creator, I encourage you to at least research the space and play around in it. Because at the end of the day, Web 3 is about giving power back to the creator and the fans, and taking power away from the platform, which is very beneficial to the creator. So definitely spend time to dabble in what's going on.


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Jesse: All right. Hey Peter. Thank you so much for joining Creator Kit podcast.

Peter: Yeah. Great to be here.

Jesse: You and I became friends, I guess it was like… October of last year in a few of the "creator economy builders" communities, but I first saw your name from your Twitter account, where you had started publishing some really cool frameworks and thought pieces about the creator economy space. You've been on an absolute tear publishing a ton of thought leadership pieces and our audience being creators (who are looking to discover new ways of growing their businesses) would probably really benefit from hearing about some of your thoughts. You’ve got a ton going on. As I mentioned, you write quite frequently via your "Creator Economy" Substack, you also run a cohort based course that I am a... I guess, would you say I'm an alumni? I went through the course, I'm in an alumni, and there's a fantastic community that has come along with that called “Build For Creators”. When did you discover that creators were your passion and what you wanted to build for?

Peter: I think I love the creator economy because as a typical Asian-American I spent most of my life seeking permission from people. Right? I got permission to get good grades, go to an Ivy league school, to go to a name brand job. You know, we both went to Facebook. And I think a couple of years ago, I kinda realized that you don't need permission to learn and create something that the world appreciates. You know? You should just go straight to your customer. And I think anyone can be a creator regardless of who you are, you just need to find something you're passionate about and share stuff around. And find the audience on the internet that values you. Becoming a creator has changed my life. So my mission will be to help anyone make a living doing what they love online…being a creator.

Jesse: I forget; when you were at Facebook, it was a few years back now, were you working on creator stuff? Or did that start when you went to Twitch?

Peter: Yeah I was working on the public figure team and we built an app for public figures. And before I left Facebook, I was working on the live video team.

Jesse: Also very relevant, and I know you as a product leader, you also published (or self-published) a book, which felt definitely falls into the category of permissionless creating. Have you transitioned from doing more formal E-Books type stuff, over fully to Substack?

Peter: I think I worked on that book because I couldn't become a PM for like… three years, I couldn’t make it past the interview. After I finally became a PM for a few years, I wanted to share my process and my learning because I know a lot of people are going through the same journey. From a creator perspective it's probably not a good idea to publish entire book as your first creative creation. It's a lot of work with like…very minimal feedback in the process. So, yeah. So if I could do it again and, you know, what I focus on now is just using Twitter, using Substack, and putting my thoughts out there on a more regular basis. You can get a much better feedback loop that way in terms of what the customers actually want.

Jesse: Yeah, I was thinking when you mentioned the difference in experiences and publishing types, I was thinking about how groundbreaking it was when Kanye West dropped… I forget which of his previous albums it was… but instead of publishing a finished form album, he like… kept updating the album after publishing it, which is a different way to experiment with a format that had traditionally been seen as totally static.

I guess back to our core audience of creators (musicians certainly fall into the category of creators) but creators at large, experimentation is such an important part of the process. I want to turn to a piece that you wrote called “Creator Hierarchy of Needs”. The thing that stuck out to me was about experimentation. When I worked at Facebook, I learned a lot about like rapid testing and iteration, sort of similar to what you were just saying about publishing the book vs. publishing newsletters. Maybe we can start with the concept of experimentation, uh, and, and talk a little bit about the Hierarchy of Needs piece.

Peter: So if you're just getting started as a creator, you know, you have to find a niche, right? Maybe you have three or four different interests they can talk about, but you don't really know what resonates the most with the people out there. So in the beginning you just have to…experiment as in, not necessarily running a AB tests or anything, but just publishing content that you're personally passionate about and seeing what kind of content resonates the most with an audience.

The reason it's called a Hierarchy of Needs is because you have to tackle the needs in priority order. So the needs at a high level are: publish great content, grow an audience, and they eventually make a living. You obviously cannot make a living without having an audience; and you can’t have an audience without publishing great content. Right? So in the beginning you're not going to have an audience. Like the first six months I started tweeting online. It was kind of tweeting into a void, right? No one was paying attention.

Jesse: I've been there and I've done that, that must've been a scary first six months.

Peter: I mean, you also have different expectations in the first few months. Like if I get one or two likes then I’m very happy. So yeah. Kind of tweeting into the void, trying different things. And then eventually you have like one or two hits and then, you know, you need to look at, okay, what kind of content is actually resonating with my audience? So both from a quality perspective, like talking to them, and also from a quant perspective, looking at the insights and the metrics, the sequential part of it is really important.

Jesse: We'll definitely link out to the article in show notes, but for those that are just listening, the visual is a pyramid hierarchy. And the publish, grow, monetize are basically in order from bottom to top. There's a bunch of advice at each stage of the way. The reason that I wanted to talk about this today is because the theme of the show, as its name would suggest, “Creator Kit”- it's all about different tools that creators can use. The choices that creators have are almost exponentially increasing. And what you did in your Hierarchy of Needs was place this process alongside a process of selecting different tools, and selecting different methods to use as a creator to grow, which works really, really well.

Peter: When you think about each creator being in their different stage and different minds. I think my general advice as a product manager, you have to start with: what the problem is, before we jump to the solution or tool. So I think as a creator, when you think about, okay, the problem, “what kind of content formats do I enjoy publishing,” “who is my target audience” or “what is my vertical?”

And then you can pick the tool after that. Right? Like, for example I'm probably much better at writing than producing videos. And I enjoy writing short pieces that are pretty easy to read and pretty easy to understand. So that's why I chose Twitter and Substack as my publishing platform; start with the niche, I started the content format and then pick tools based on that, it'll help you narrow down your tools much better than looking at this sea of thousands of creator companies.

Jesse:  I think that's really good advice. And one thing that you said earlier that resonated me, that I'm curious how these two things jive together, is if a creator is learning what works and what doesn't for the audience, there may be a shift in content type, from video to podcasting, to newsletters, Twitter, to TikTok, et cetera. And that that seems fairly likely, kind of like, a broadening of the different tools they use. And it's interesting to think about how the media might change – or the actual content might shift.

Peter: So I think it's all about balance, right? You don't want to, right off the bat be trying to make like four different platforms work. That's probably too much, but at the same time, you want to be flexible. And if you see your audience is resonating with certain content formats or platforms, you won't be flexible enough to be able to make the adjustment. Even now I'm still learning what kind of content resonates with my audience, sometimes I put like “life advice” out there and I spent like, you know, a couple of hours writing this stuff and like, no one cares.

Jesse: Do crypto and NFT tweets, do those count as life advice or is that a different category?

Peter: That’s more like speculation. Yeah. I think people like my meme content, like some of my shit posts and all that, more. But I think the other thing I learned from Twitch is that you also have to think about your own mental health, just because your audience likes one type of content, if you just spend all your time doing that, you'll probably go crazy. Right? Like if I spent all my time tweeting product management, I would probably go crazy. I think Ninja said, you know, (Ninja is this famous streamer) he used to play Fortnite all the time…it just gets old after a while. You just want to play some different games. So you've got to balance your mental health, with what the audience wants.

Jesse: I had never thought of it that way, but it's something that's totally unique to the creator economy and creators as entities and creators as businesses and brands, because if you think of creators as a new type of brand; it is the first time that a brand can have multiple voices, or multiple interests, or multiple personalities, as all humans do. And it's actually not that surprising to see a variety of different interests come for creator (within reason).You want to know what to expect.. but vs like…Warby Parker, you know what you're going to get if you're signed up to a Warby Parker newsletter, and if they were suddenly interested in soccer balls, instead of eyeglasses, that just wouldn't happen. So it's another unique thing about this removal of gatekeepers and the empowerment of the individual voice, that actually creates a totally different experience, even within a single entity.

Peter: Yeah. Remember the goal is to help people make a living doing what they love. And if you're not doing something that you love, that's kind of like just having a job.

Jesse: Speaking of creators earning a living, we know that not all creators necessarily want to earn a full-time living. Some may just want to publish and enjoy the process as their only motivation. But many creators want to monetize. And you published this amazing piece within the Build for Creators course, that was about applying something called the Lean Canvas to creator products. It was an interesting translation of what is a widely known framework within startup communities (that we should probably explain on its basic level for the audience) but you applied it to creator builders and companies in the creator space. And as we were discussing this thing, it struck me that the advice about the different steps in the process could actually apply to creators themselves. Would you mind explaining what it is, maybe starting with the original and then how it can translate into these constituencies?

Peter: The original framework called the Lean Canvas; it’s kind of like a business plan for your startup. But instead of a business plan, what I like about it is that it's just one page. And you just have to fill in the boxes on the page and give an overall view of what your plan is, what kind of customer problem you're solving for people, who is the competition, what is your value prop and how do you plan grow, and eventually defend yourself against new entrants. Right? So I think it totally applies to creators because creators at the end of the day are just like small businesses, right? They're not like a tech startup, but they're trying to make a living on the internet or wherever.

So basically the framework has eight steps and maybe let's talk about how they apply to creators.

The first step is: who is your customer? Who are you trying to build for? Who are you going to create content for? It's all about picking a niche where you have expertise, where there's market demand and kind of going down that path.

Second step is once you know WHO, then you’ve got to figure out what is the thing that they need the most? What kind of content do they want the most? What advice do they want the most, what is their burning problem that you're trying to solve with your content?

The third step is competition. Who else is solving this problem for your customers?

And that leads to the fourth step, which is: okay, if there's a bunch of other creators solving this problem, how are you going to be different? Maybe there's a bunch of people writing super long articles about the tech industry. So maybe how you're going to be different is your article is actually a five minute read, but captures some of the main points. Right.

And then number five is how you're going to get your first thousand fans. A lot of that is just very tactical stuff, like what a company does, doing things that don't scale. You have to post in a bunch of groups, message boards trying to figure out who you first thousand fans are.

Then number six is you have to have a growth loop. You have to have stuff that kind of builds off each other and starts a flywheel. For example, if you look at some of these creators - I'll just use the Substack writer again, right. They have a Twitter where they grow, that helps get their Substack going, and then the Substack helps them meet interesting people, and maybe they start a podcast. And they all kind of build off each other. All the different pieces help each other grow.

Then the last two steps are how are you gonna make money? And how are you going to build a sustainable, competitive advantage? For creators, a lot of that is just tied to like your brand, who you are, how are you going to defend yourself against new entrants.  

Jesse: And defend yourself from other uncontrollable elements that impact your business… like a huge topic for creators is control over distribution, and you have a great piece on “rented vs owned communities”.

I love this Lean Canvas format for creators. I think I'm going to have to sit down with it and do it for the podcast itself, because it's really an exercise that forces clarity of thought. And especially for creators that are just getting started, you have to think about your decisions consciously.  

Peter: Yea it kind of forces you to think about the whole picture without making you write like a 20 page plan or something.

Jesse: Right, right. That’s I guess the “Lean” part of the Lean Canvas; is it's pretty light.

Peter: Yeah.

Jesse: I wanted to ask you two questions that we ask all of our guests, sort of as pop questions. The first is - who's your favorite creator?

Peter: I'll give you a professional one, and a fun one. So professional one, I recently really enjoy watching Garry Tan’s YouTube channel. Garry Tan is this top investor and he gives a lot of really good advice building your career, charting your own path. I really love watching that. The more fun one is I like this channel called videogamedunkey. He's pretty famous. It's like a guy who just makes these funny and satirical video game reviews and it is really fun to watch.

Jesse: I got to check out videogamedunkey. Amazing. Do you have any wild or crazy predictions for the creator economy space or for creators in general?

Peter: Yep. I mean, most people know this by now. I think the Web 3 thing is coming and is here to stay. And if you're a creator, I encourage you to at least research this space and play around with it.

Because at the end of the day, Web 3 is about giving power back to the creator and the fans and, you know, taking power away from platform, which is very beneficial to the creator. So definitely spend time to dabble in what is going on.

Jesse: And for those that aren't familiar with the term, would I be accurate in saying Web 3 is essentially the intersection of crypto and content.

Peter: Exactly. It's like NFTs, it's tokens and DAOs, all this stuff. There’s a lot happening every day, but I think it's good to understand the basics.

Jesse: Man, you've given us a ton of gems today. We really appreciate it. We'll certainly link out to all the content we talked about on the podcast today and to your various handles so people can find you, but give us a quick shout. Where's the best place for people to read your stuff or reach out to you or find you in general?

Peter: Probably on Twitter. @petergyang is my handle, or my blog is creatoreconomy.so

Jesse: Awesome, man. Have a great day. Thank you so much. This was amazing. And hope to talk to you soon.

Peter: Thanks Jesse, thanks so much. Yeah, it was fun


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