Companies of One Need Flywheels

Picture this: you are a cannonball that has just been fired out a cannon. You feel yourself picking up velocity towards your unfortunate target. As you reach the maximum point in your arc, you pause to reflect.

You think to yourself: "What is the purpose of all of this?" "What will happen after I land?" "Will I ever fly again?"

Unfortunately, you do not get much time to consider these impossibilities before you crash into the ground, twenty feet away from your target.

Posting content on the internet is a very similar experience to being shot out of a cannon. Creators pour their effort and soul into some form of creative output: be it video, writing, etc.. converting potential energy and into scripts and sketches, making decisions that are nigh irreversible.

The creator then posts their work on an IP address. This might be an IP address they own, or someone else's (most likely a big company's) IP address. Creators then hope that someone sees the work they've created. Their shot has been shot, and they can only hope that their idea will take on a life of its own, and go on to influence other ideas or make the world a better place in any meager sort of way.

The Targets You Can Aim For

There are multiple targets for your cannonball to aim for, but which do you choose? Do you:

  1. post on your own website
  2. post on the main social media of the day's site
  3. post on both
  4. not post at all

There are pros and cons to any and all of these choices. Let's take a look at them.

Option 1: You Post it on your own Website

Congratulations! You've gone with option #1. You put up your idea at a sub URL within your own domain. You go on with life, not knowing if anyone will happen across it, until two months later, you find that someone has cross posted it to a social media aggregation site (think reddit or hn). You are awestruck by the rapid increase in traffic and silently fist pump, knowing that your idea finally has achieved spread that you believe it deserves. However, when you return the next day, you see that your impressions have gone back nearly to zero.

You can't blame anyone for this fact. Indeed, the internet is a tapestry of URLs that no one would really ever bother to remember anyway. Your idea is stripped away from you, not because it left your domain, but because no one remembers where to find it.

Your effort has been dropped into a shallow hole where you are the only person who can speak, but no one is there to listen.

Option 2: You Post it on the Social Media of the Day

Congratulations! You've gone with option #2. You put up your idea on a sub URL in someone else's domain. You go on with life, not knowing if anyone will happen across it, until two minutes later, when your notifications on your phone go f*ckin ballistic and you are now the focus of 1 million strangers on the Internet. You are awestruck by the rapid increase in your follower count and silently fist pump, knowing that your idea has finally achieved the spread you believe it deserves. However, you return the next day, not to see a bunch of helpful insightful comments, but instead, a collection of mean spirited words tossed at your person.

In addition to this, enough people liked your idea, that they just steal it and remix it for their own social gain. And in addition to that, the social media website you posted it on has decided to just go ahead and monetize your idea for themselves. They send you a check with a 30% cut, so you feel like you should complain, but in reality you're not sure who to complain to. Your idea is stripped away from you, from internet strangers -- some who mean well, others who very much don't, and most who are ambivalent.

Your effort has been dropped into a deep, deep hole, where there are millions of other ideas (some signal, others noise) occupying the same shared space. Your idea never surfaces again. That is, unless, it can continue make the social media platform some moola.

Option 3: You post it on both

Congratulations! You have decided to post your idea on both your website and social media. On the surface of it, this seems like a really good idea. It seems to address the downsides of both. Your idea is immediately visible, but also long lasting since it is posted to your own domain. You remain hopeful that people will find some way to engage with you on your own platform, but you are happy that you have multiple arms to your business.

You then realize, quite abruptly, that you only have one cannonball. You can't shoot two targets consistently, can you?

You could post to your own website, but you've been getting so much more immediate feedback from social media X, so why bother? In the long run, you gravitate towards social media and your site gets neglected. But hey, at least you tried!

You are given the forced choice to split your effort until burn out sounds like a pretty good option.

You are trying to fill an infinitely deep hole, and a very shallow hole with one bucket of water. How do you think your effort will be spent?

Option 4: You don't post it

Exhausted by the previous options, you decide to just say "to hell with it" and not post your idea anywhere. You scrap bin it, and get on with your life. This may feel like the best option, but allow me to make the case as to why it's the worst of the bunch.

Posting on the internet is a non linear activity.

This terminology gets thrown around a lot but I think it deserves a little bit of elaboration. When an activity is linear, the cause and effect are linked. Examples:

When it comes to creating content on the internet, the cause and effect is not linked. There is no reliable metric to know if your work will receive 1 impression or 1 million. And in fact, since your work does not degrade with time, and is impacted very little by entropy, this work could be more valuable in the time and space you are not currently in. It could result in financial gain, gain in relationship, or gains that are literally emergent from your decision to share your greatest hits.

This, of course means that the best strategy is to post. And to post a lot, at as high of a quality you can muster. This will give your ideas the best chance at making an impact and making you feel like an impactful human being.

The Effort That Was Spent

In all of the situations above, a person has spent an amount of effort into a specified goal. This effort, this work, was most likely done in solitude, or at least, done in a place where the creator put in a lot of effort without validating their idea.

Is there any way to reclaim some of this effort? Is there any way to decrease the negatives if our final product falls flat and increase the positives when our ideas take flight?

To solve this conundrum, I'd like to talk about gamers.

Gamers, Twitch, and Working in Public

Twitch.tv is a website that came out in 2007 under the original name justin.tv. One of the founders of Twitch, Justin Kan, used his new website to film every moment of his life. This turned out to be quite the spectacle for many people around the globe, and may have been the first ever day in my life video series. As Twitch evolved and began to cater towards a growing e-sports scene in the 2010s many people who in the past were just gamers evolved into gamers...but with money. It turns out, a lot of people on the internet like watching other people do things.

In the modern era, Twitch has attracted many other types of streamers who have realized the value proposition of being able to stream something they were already doing. This includes: cooking, just chatting, software development, IRL, teaching, and much more. Basically, anything that could be done while on camera or can be captured on a computer was fair game. This opened up a brand new market of entertainment that was both unedited, unscripted, but also immensely valuable.

Byproducts and Twitch Streamers making YouTube Videos

The business model of a Twitch streamer is as following:

  1. go live
  2. say whatever is on your mind/do something you've prepared/do something unprepared
  3. after stream review the vod and extract the highlights
  4. upload those as individual highlights/clips/etc.
  5. people find the vods either through direct searching (SEO) or recommendation (algorithm driven)
  6. people tune into the next stream, making the stream more engaging and impactful when you... (go to step 1)

Let's compare this to the other model of creating content on the internet:

  1. have an idea
  2. research if said idea is feasible with your particular set of skills and resources
  3. create said idea
  4. post said idea onto the internet (to one of the targets listed above)
  5. people find idea either through direct searching or recommendation

Do you notice the main difference between these two models? The first model has:

  1. an extremely short feedback loop
  2. extraction of value at each step
  3. a creation of a loop, as opposed to a one way arrow

the live stream flywheel

the regular content creation pipeline

An Extremely Short Feedback Loop

A cardinal rule of working in software (even more important than spaces vs tabs), is to understand the users needs. In fact, this is a tenet of good design in general. Good designs have affordances for their users, and meet the user where they are.

Twitch streamers have extremely tight feedback loops. Very similar to programming, they receive immediate feedback around the validity of an idea through a live audience.

Other content creators (bloggers, podcasters, video creators, etc.) have the benefit of being able to edit their work before anyone sees it, and maintain an air of secrecy, but must do multiples of the legwork through marketing (think thumbnails, titles, etc) in convincing people that what they've created is noteworthy.

Nothing starts out as a final product.

Transparency into building something helps garner both trust and surfaces some interesting undiscovered opportunities around an idea.

Extraction of Value at Each Step

Another large advantage of the livestream model is that value isn't sequestered in just the final work. The value comes from the byproducts of the entire process, including the final piece.

In a way, the streams find a way to become value in themselves, which may eclipse the final product you set out to create in the first place.

As a competitive advantage, thinking in the way of creating a virtuous cycle is required to compete.

Companies of one need all the help they can get. Companies of one don't have the luxury of being able to hire entire teams to take charge of different verticals within their business. In general, a company of one will be an expert at a very narrow skill set, so it behooves individual creators to take advantage of what technology offers to advance their career through doing what they enjoy!

A Real Life Example

This post that you have just read, has been filmed in its entirety. From the conception of the idea, to the setup of the software, to the outline, to the drafting, to the editing, every part of this piece was created on a live stream.

This creation process has resulted in this piece and in addition has created 14 highlights. (and more on the way -- I'm still processing VODs!)

If you're curious to see how this works you can check out the highlights here:

Or the full VODs here:

Built on Stream Playlist - YouTube

Going Forward

I'm very, very fascinated by what the live streaming model can mean for content creators. By opening up the floor to the process of writing, coding, video editing, etc., there is a much more organic aspect to the creative lifecycle and I would argue, even more well thought out output due to the flywheel effect of getting to know yourself and your audience.

In fact, you do not even need to stream to extract value from the loop above, you just must be willing to record yourself objectively and go back to find where improvement can be found in your craft. This is also known as deliberate practice, or rubber duck programming, etc. The benefit of doing it live is you also get to work on a persona you can bring with you into the social world.

The cons of hosting video on the Internet have largely been ameliorated by sites like Twitch and YouTube. All it takes is a microphone a screen recording software, and a willingness to record the process that you were most likely already in the process of doing.

Become a boomerang, and watch your ideas go boom!

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