Full Stack Creator

Traditionally creators and businesses were separate things. But recently there was been a surge in full stack creators merging the two.

April 20, 2022

The full stack creator (also known as the founding influencer) is someone who first builds an audience, then serves that audience with services, education and products.  

Traditional businesses build a product, then try acquire an audience through marketing. But full stack creators build their audiences first (through differentiated content), then tailor their offerings directly to their audiences needs.

This approach to business has a few distinct benefits:

  • Learning in public positions you as an expert in the industry.
  • Audience-first makes marketing your product practically free.
  • You're able to capture more value than the typical creator who is only selling attention (usually through ads / sponsorships).

Becoming a full stack creator requires two distinct skill sets. In this post, I'm going to break down what's needed to become a full stack creator.

What is the full stack creator business model?

A full stack creator is a new breed of founder. Someone who first builds an audience, then serves that audience with an offering.

Creators used to sell their audiences' attention to companies. Those companies believe that the attention they receive is worth more than what they pay.

Take Squarespace for example:

When they pay [insert YouTube creator here] to promote their product Squarespace believes that they will capture more value from the sponsorship than that payment costs them.

Let's say the creator is paid $1500 for the sponsorship. The company believes that the sponsorship is worth $3000 to their business so it's a no-brainer.

The creator is the one putting in the hard work, yet their upside is far less than if they promoted their own business.

Deals like this can make creators good money. But the real value is captured when creators build a business to serve their own audience.

Full stack creators capture the upside of being a creator while later capturing the upside of running a stand-alone business.

Nathan Barry is the perfect example of the full stack creator. He began as a freelance designer, then taught himself how to build and sell iPhone apps.

Along the way, he built an audience through writing on his blog. He then started to leverage that audience to sell digital products, before eventually starting a software company called Convertkit. 9 years on Convertkit has 60 full-time employees doing over $28,000,000 in annual revenue.

Nathan started as a creator and built his influence through writing. He then used his influence to serve his audience. First with services, then apps, then education + digital products, and finally with a software product.

But full stack creators don't just build software companies.

David Perell runs an extremely successful business through writing and online education.

He first started writing essays on his blog and sharing the best parts on Twitter. This built an engaged audience of entrepreneurs and investors.

David first served them with his consulting company North Star Media before transitioning into online education, teaching others how to build their own audience through writing online.

David has productised his education through his popular cohort-based course Write of Passage.

While everyones stories are wildly different, all full stack creators follow a similar path:

  1. They have a desire to create.
  2. They want to make a living from their creations
  3. They start a service business because the barrier to getting started is low (optional)
  4. They build their audience while running the service business or working a job
  5. They package up their expertise and teach others how to do what they do
  6. They serve their audience with a product (something scalable)

Each step along the path requires a new skillset. As the creator learns that skillset they increase their leverage and their income.

The Full Stack Creator builds a portfolio of small bets. Their revenue is not reliant on one singular point, they mix income from freelance consulting, education, and selling their own products.

Credit to Ben Issen for the inspiration here

Each type of income has it's own levels of risk, earning potential and leverage.

Eventually the Full Stack Creators portfolio of projects looks something like what Ali Abdaal has built.

Ali built an audience of over 2 million subscribers on YouTube through videos on studying and productivity.

He started monetising through ads and sponsorships before moving into online education on Skillshare.

This built a profitable business but Ali knew the real value would come from building his own products. So he started the Part Time YouTuber Academy teaching students how to build YouTube channels.

Since launching the Part Time YouTuber Academy the course has done millions in revenue with a small team.

Recently Ali and his team launched Essentiali a stationary brand further diversifying his Full Stack Creator business into products.

Combine that with a whole host of other revenue streams the Ali Abdaal brand becomes antifragile.

How to become a full stack creator

There are two components to the full stack creators audience-first approach:

  • Content Creation - This is the more typical creator side of things. How do you create something that is valuable and grabs people's attention? (audio, writing, video...)
  • Product Creation - How do you build something of value that serves your audience? (info-product, community, education, physical product, software...)

The full stack creator business is a long-term play. You can't just spin up a product, buy ads and see results.

You need to provide value to people through differentiated content. Your work needs to provide insight and help people get something they want.

Over time you build trust with your audience and cultivate a community of people interested in what you're talking about. You then serve those people with products.

Everything starts with finding your audience.

But building an audience isn't easy. People need a reason to follow you. What can you help them with?

Can you save them time? Entertain them? Help them make money? Teach them to write better?

The most difficult part of creating is finding your voice. You likely won't know what your "niche" is until you start creating.

But moving forward with uncertainty is hard.

When you look at other creators it will be easy to let self-doubt creep in.

To combat this you need to gamify the process. Pieces of content (videos, newsletters, blog posts etc) become the levels - they are the main thing to focus on. Each piece of content just needs to be 1% better than the last.

Once you get going you can keep iterating until you get good. Once you get good you can start to optimise your approach.

The wrong way to approach creation is to focus on subscriber counts, they are largely a vanity metric.

If you're able to focus on consistently making things, improving 1% each time the rewards will come.

Full stack creators focus on the things in their control. That's writing everyday, recording videos every week, publishing often.

Full stack creators don't focus on things out of their control, like number of subscribers or praying for a video to go viral.

Full stack creators are masters of thinking long-term but acting short-term.

Why become a Full Stack Creator?

This business model is not for most people, like with anything there are downsides. Often full stack creator businesses become reliant on the creator to continue creating, cash flow is not easy in the begining and they require the creator to be good at a range of skills.

If money is the goal then there are much easier ways to make a lot of money. But if freedom, autonomy and creative expression are a priority then the full stack creator path might be the answer.

Done right it can become a business that doesn't feel like 'work'. You can focus on things that excite you, help a lot of people and make good money.

You decide what you work on, when you work on it and how your days look.

While it's not easy, putting the work in on something you believe in is much easier than working hard for money.

Becoming a Full Stack Creator

I'm writing this post because I've spent years deconstructing full stack creators in awe without ever taking the action required to build a full stack creator business.

This post is a way for me to layout the game plan as I look to become a full stack creator over the next few years.

If you also want to become a full stack creator then I've recently launched a project to help creators build businesses over at Creator Story.

Thanks for reading and if you're interested in this idea then let's continue the conversation.