In the old world, brands paid celebrities to promote their products. TV ads were mere rentals of famous people’s name, image, and likeness.

Then in the 2000s, YouTube invented the influencer. Common folk became celebrities by creating content for long-tail, overlooked, "hobbyist" communities:

* the doll-house niche
* the vending machine niche
* the espresso niche

As they racked up silver plaques and printed money from their basements, others started catching on. Playbooks were written, companies were started, and the consumer influencer market became saturated.

Today, multiple influencers occupy every niche and the check sizes are getting smaller. Brands are paying less because there are more influencers to choose from. Someone younger and more platform-native arrives to the marketer’s feed every day.

In response, influencers started their own brands. Instead of simply renting out their likeness, they began creating their own DTC products and selling them to their audience.

I first saw this in coffee. Contrary to what most cafe owners think, the moat in coffee is not the product, not the supply chain, and not even the connections to coffee farms themselves.

The most important moat in coffee is the brand.

James Hoffman pioneered this on YouTube and Jimmy Butler is running this playbook in real-time.

Jimmy Butler founded Big Face Coffee in the 2020 NBA Finals, when he famously sold coffee for $20 a cup to players in the NBA Bubble.

Jimmy took advantage of a once in a lifetime marketing opportunity: he was the face of the largest sporting event during the peak of COVID-19 lockdown, a time where everyone had nothing to do but make coffee at home and consume media. He used this distribution advantage to create an e-commerce brand out of his personal passions, and continued to take advantage of his NIL in subsequent NBA milestones.

In his second NBA finals, he again silently promoted Big Face by wearing merch to every press conference, capturing the attention of millions of in-market viewers for free.

Big Face has nothing to do with basketball except that it's a part of Jimmy Butler's persona. Big Face IS Jimmy Butler, just as Heat Basketball is Jimmy Butler – and it will live on, even years after Jimmy has retired from hoops.

The challenge influencer-operators face today, is that they never wanted to be operators in the first place. Most YouTubers never wanted to be businessmen, and few founders understood the ROI of influence.

But it's important to remember that the principles of business-led content has existed for years.

  • Warren Buffet – Berkshire Hathaway Letters
  • Jeff Bezos – Shareholder to Letters
  • Howard Marks – Oak Tree Letters
  • Bill Gurley – Above the Crowd

Today, this content looks a bit different, with less of an emphasis on written letters, and more of an emphasis on short-form video distribution, namely on LinkedIn and Twitter. Long-form still exists, but in a different medium: podcasts, newsletters, and YouTube videos. Both formats are synergistic: long-form interviews become blog posts, which become video snippets on LinkedIn, which in turn drive traffic to the blog posts.

Marketing should no longer be thought of as a funnel, but a self-sustaining ecosystem.

The third wave of influencers are the founder-first Operator Influencers, who achieve growth using content – and building a team to shape and personalize the founder-led message to resonate with audiences on multiple different social platforms.

The core principles of adding value through content, partner, and thought-leadership marketing have remained the same. It's the techniques that have just changed to fit the nuances of today's internet distribution vehicles.

GTM founders are not too different from coffee influencers. Both are in the business of teaching, advising, and creating a connection, but one makes a much bigger paycheck.

In business, it often takes the same amount of effort to produce outcomes at multiple levels. The same turn of the crank can produce 1x, 10x, 100x results, with the same systems.

The same idea applies to content. You can start a channel with 100K followers in the coffee niche, with each follower valued at a $10K LTV or a channel with 1K followers in the B2B niche, with each customer valued at a $10M LTV. Same techniques, different outcomes.

For the rare breed of operators who are gifted at educating, writing, and building authentic relationships, there’s never been a greater opportunity to build businesses out of content.

Start sharing your knowledge, build an audience, and create more surface areas for opportunity.

The Operator Influencer