Technology businesses generally fall into one of two groups.
The first, business to consumer (B2C), has focused on bringing solutions to the masses. They’re easy-to-use and generally inexpensive (or free). These business have created some of the most popular products in history: Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook, Venmo, and more. They tend to focus on single usecases, and are, by design, easy to adopt, with a minimal learning curve.
The second class, business-to-business (B2B), has brought technology to commerce. Often, these solutions begin by focusing on smaller businesses (SMBs). Over time, they raise their complexity–and price points–to service enterprises. As they grow, their learning curves often steepen. Some B2B companies, like Amazon Web Services, even off their own educational products–and certificates of completion–to help their customers take advantage of their products.
For many years, the line of division has been simple: money. B2C products aren’t generally focused on making money for their customers. B2B products exist to support the world of commerce.
With the rise of the creator economy, these lines have begun to blur. Commerce is no longer the domain of traditional businesses. Individual creators, ranging from streamers to podcasters to home artisians, have recognized the potential to transform their skills and personalities into revenue streams. Now, B2B and B2C businesses must recon with the blurring lines beneath their very existence.
Where B2B and B2C Fall Short
Often, both B2B and B2C solutions fail to service the creator economy. Joseph Albanese, the founder of Stir–a company aiming to bridge this gap–tells a story about a customer he met while doing interviews at Facebook. This stay-at-home mom had replaced her family’s full time income with revenue generated by her Facebook Group. And she was running the entire operation through Venmo, with her accounting in Apple Notes. She didn’t see herself as an entrepreneur, and had found the business-oriented tools out there (like QuickBooks) to be too cumbersome for her needs.
In this gap lies opportunity. The creator economy calls for revenue-focused products that solve B2B challenges, but with the usability and accessibility of B2C solutions.
Pricing models must also adapt. Upstart creators are unlikely to invest significantly, if at all, in unfamiliar products. Lowering the barrier to entry–and aligning cost growth with business growth–empowers creators to build their relationship with your product as they build their businesses.
The Products Leading the Way
Over the last several years, products have emerged that bridge small portions of this gap. Let’s look at a few.
Shopify, an e-commerce store platform, has become the standard bearer for the world of independent entrepreneurs. Since its launch in 2006, it’s led to the creation of hundreds of thousands of online stores. It’s easier to use than other e-commerce players like BigCommerce and WooCommerce. Still, its growing library of educational content suggests there’s opportunity to be simpler.
Blogger Nathan Barry’s own frustrations led to the creation of ConvertKit, an email marketing tool focused on bloggers. Its growth is a response to the complexity of enterprise-focused email platforms. These incumbents proved too complicated for the mission of helping bloggers to build their audiences. Since its creation in 2013, ConvertKit has gone on to claim over 10,000 customers.
Gumroad to become the de facto sales platform of choice for thousands of online courses, digital artists, and authors. It carved its niche after it realized what it wasn’t. After raising VC backing, founder Sahil Lavingia realized that his long-term vision was best realized by focusing on smaller, independent content creators–not in attempting to become a platform for giants. He’s since bought it back, and runs it as a successful bootstrapped company.
While these examples have carved out niches servicing independent creators, they represent enterprise takes on what’s increasingly a consumer problem. Over the next few years, I expect that we’ll see more and more tools cut from a similar cloth, but with a key distinction.
Many creator economy businesses stay small by design. They start with a solo operator, and will, at most, grow into a team of two or three. Many B2B tools, though, are tailored towards the needs of large teams. It’s essential for this new class of tools to remember its fundamental goal – creating leverage for independent creators – by replacing the roles these large teams often fill. Every aspect of the platform, from creation to maintenance to strategy, must be easily accessible for a team of one.
By approaching the business challenges faced by independent creators from the lens of a consumer application–rather than as a B2B entrepreneur–we’ll see a new class of tools that focus on usability, ease of onboarding, and a very flat learning curve. In doing so, these tools will become accessible to the long tail of would-be entrepreneurs who don’t even think of themselves with that title. Better still, they’ll create opportunity for creators who don’t even realize that these kinds of tools exist–let alone that they should be using them.