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. Everyday folk became internet 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 itself, and not even the connections to coffee farms.

The most important moat in coffee is the brand.

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

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

In his second NBA finals, he again silently promoted Big Face by wearing merch to the biggest TV press talks in sport. Big Face has nothing to do with basketball — and will live on, years after Jimmy is done with 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.

The third wave of influencers will be founder-first. Operator influencers.

I started working with GTM founders, because I realized they were doing pretty much the same things as my favorite coffee influencers: teaching, advising, and creating a connection. But for much bigger paychecks.

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.

It’s time to build. Welcome to the era of the operator-influencer.

The Operator Influencer