Josh Kaplan & Jenny Rothenberg, Co-Founders of Smooth Media, on Building Media Companies with Creators
Many creators operate as solopreneurs. However, building a media company with a team can allow you to diversify and scale your income. Today, Josh Kaplan and Jenny Rothenberg, the Co-Founders of Smooth Media, explain how they help capture and market creator value.
The Start of Smooth Media
Smooth Media was founded by Josh Kaplan and Jenny Rothenberg who met while working at Morning Brew, another business media company. After three years of hard work at Morning Brew, they helped the company grow from six employees to 75 employees.
Eventually, the company was purchased by Business Insider. Jenny worked as the Head of Growth and Marketing, while Josh worked on strategic product launches and expansion for the company. They also began consulting with independent creators.
Josh shares, “We started consulting for independent creators, saying “Treat us like your COO, your chief operating officer. We’re not your manager, we’re not your agent, we’re working together to help your business.”
Those consulting experiences became the foundation for Smooth Media.
Capturing Creator Value
Smooth Media fulfills a huge need in the creator marketplace: capturing a creator’s value.
Josh explains, “Creators are incredible at building audiences, really incredible audiences on YouTube and TikTok and podcasts, and newsletters, but capturing the value they create is really hard.”
He shares that one reason for this is because “It’s a different skill set to build a strategy and operate a business than it is to create content and engage with fans and [reason] two is that you have to keep creating the content, you have to be in front of the camera, you have to write the word, and it doesn’t afford you much time to go hire people.”
Creator management services have been around for a long time, but often these services represent creators as talent, rather than helping them build a well-rounded company.
With Josh and Jenny’s background in building a media company, they decided that they could replicate that strategy and help creators build their own businesses.
Josh explains, “Our true customer is the creator themselves, and that’s a creator that really wants to build a business. Some people would prefer to run a community or they would prefer to be solo for a long time and that’s totally fine. That’s great. But the ones [creators] that are very interested in building a business, being entrepreneurial, and hiring and leading a team – those are traits we’re looking for.”
When working with influencers, Smooth Media takes on many of the business-related responsibilities, such as hiring staff, helping creators be more consistent with posts, and negotiating bigger packages with advertisers.
Josh shares, “We’re not just a singular service. We really come in as this strategy and execution for building and scaling a media business.”
One of the most important services that Smooth Media offers is helping influencers create more sustainable, well-rounded businesses.
Josh expands on this, explaining, “A well-rounded media company that can have its own website, its own newsletter, its own social profiles, etc. But it’s something that other people can work on and support, so that it’s more sustainable [for the creator.]”
The Importance of Discoverability
When asked about what changes they’ve seen in the industry, Jenny shares, “What we have seen in the past few years is just the ability of certain creators, especially from our point of view the ones who are focusing on a niche, are able to find their product-market fit or their content market fit much more quickly.”
She shares that these niches can be found through TikTok, YouTube, shorts, etc, and that creators who focus on one type of content can be found more easily by potential followers.
The discoverability of a platform is often a significant factor.
On discoverability, Jenny notes, “Creators who are building either on TikTok or on YouTube, something where discoverability is way more achievable, and then using that to build a well-rounded media company and funnel it into something that they love and own.”
She emphasizes the importance of building out from social media platforms to areas where you own your audiences and aren’t wholly reliant on a platform, such as creating a newsletter list or website.
Money & The Creator Economy
There are many options to make money online, such as selling NFTs, courses, books, having a Patreon, and more.
Josh explains that “Running a media business that has more newsletters, more YouTube, more podcasts coming. You want to be able to keep scaling that, and it really aligns well with the advertising models to have different advertisers for different types of content.”
He explains that creators can offer better packages when they have multiple types of content they produce. A niche can also be incredibly advantageous for creators looking to create sustainable income through advertising dollars.
Jenny shares, “We think that niche creators align well with niche advertising… [A niche] kind of fortifies you against advertising budgets pulling back because if you’re reaching a general audience, there are so many cheaper ways to access a general audience, but it’s just one of those strengths of building those niche audiences.
The Future of Media
Josh shares that they are very excited to continue seeing how creators will compete with business verticals.
He notes, “I think the next batch of media startups are going to be founded by creators, like we saw Vice, Buzzfeed, Vox, Morning Brew, Skimm. All of those brands were great. I think the next generation you’ll really know the founder because they were the creator first.”
Chamberlain Coffee and classes by Yoga with Adriene are two great examples of brands that creators started.
Josh shares, “I think right now we look at the creator economy as its own industry, but really what I”m excited to see is how creators that build businesses can go and really impact a lot of very large business verticals that are ripe for change.”
Future Plans for Smooth Media
Smooth Media has many plans and exciting partnerships that are coming up in the following months, particularly a couple of new launches from creators.
Jenny shares that sustainability has always been and will continue to be a considerable part of Smooth Media’s growth strategy.
Jenny notes about the possibility of an upcoming recession, “We’ve kind of been prepared for that because that’s how we think anyways… We’re building a company that can grow on its own profits and be sustainable and pay people fairly, and just build a really solid core business, so we’re excited to execute on that, even though it may be in a bit of a more difficult climate.”
They are also planning to scale their company and team. This can be tricky because many platforms, like TikTok, haven’t been around long, so potential hires won’t have a lot of experience with these platforms yet.
On hiring others, Josh shares, “There’s a lot of training involved. There’s a lot of finding very ambitious people from different fields, but we’re going to get more people on our team. We’re going to get more partners. We’re going to launch a lot of new products. We’re in growth mode right now, [which is] super exciting.”