Y-Combinator co-founder Paul Graham’s 2013 essay Do Things that Don’t Scale is etched into the minds of startup founders. His stories about Stripe and Airbnb recruiting customers manually are reminders of the importance of understanding customers in the early stages. But like many things, there are countless examples of hip-hop doing this before Hacker News was even a thing.
Necessity or strategy? In my recent Twitter thread, I cited examples like Megan Thee Stallion’s Hottie house parties, Donald Albright’s podcast street team, Loud Records and Bad Boys actual street teams, the Ciroc Boys, and J. Cole’s Dollar & A Dream Tour.
Most of those tactics were done out of necessity. They didn’t have massive audiences or unlimited budgets. They rolled their sleeves up because it was the only way.
Meanwhile, venture-backed tech founders have access to funding. But great brands aren’t built from Facebook and Google ads. Those ads can boost brands that are already great, but the brand is built by the customer focus established in the early days.
This goes back to the constraints I mentioned in my post about Songfinch. Limited financial resources can breed creativity. Startups that rely too heavily on targeted social media advertising may lose out on the creativity and personality that comes with brands.
Today, that creativity may come from companies built from audience-first products. Today’s media companies built passionate newsletters, podcasts, and YouTube channels have an advantage when launching products because they’ve taken the time to know their audience.
For more on audience-first products, check out ConvertKit CEO Nathan Barry’s Billion Dollar Creator essay. It’s a great breakdown on this.