Today, I’m talking to Jay Clouse, a creative entrepreneur and all-around amazing human being. We’re talking about keeping it all together as a solo creator, what makes a personal brand work, and how important authenticity is in building an audience.
Arvid Kahl 0:00
Hello everyone and welcome to the Bootstrapped Founder Podcast. Today, I’m talking to Jay Clouse, creative entrepreneur and all around amazing human being. We’re talking about keeping it all together. As a solo creator, what makes a personal brand work, and how important authenticity is in building an audience that respects you. Here’s Jay. You’re the kind of person, the kind of creator, that when I thought about it, I wanna be when I grew up, that’s kinda how I see you.
Jay Clouse 0:27
Oh, really? Unpack that for me.
Arvid Kahl 0:31
Well the thing is, like, ever since I followed you on Twitter, I’ve seen you doing a newsletter super well. I’ve seen you doing this podcast that you have extremely well. You have all these courses out that people seem to really enjoy. And you seem to still find time to be kind and friendly with other people on Twitter. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. Because that’s quite literally my goal. And you’re like, always a little bit ahead of me in terms of numbers and in terms of things that you do.
So I always been highly inspired by how and what you’ve done. So my biggest question that I have is how do you keep this world that exists outside of us that is just constantly trying to grab for our attention? How do you keep that out? How do you stay creative? Because that’s one big thing that I struggle with being my own media company, essentially.
Jay Clouse 1:17
It’s hard. I mean, like, the reality is, I work a lot. I don’t think I probably have the same amount of inbound noise as you do. Because you have a following. That’s like a factor of, you know, four or five acts of mine. So if I just imagined my reality, on social media, 4 to 5x. Yeah, it’d be a lot. I don’t know how I would correctly create boundaries. So sometimes I think about this because I’m like, “Okay, I do have monthly goals in terms of growth on social. Am I setting myself up for a reality that, then I can’t undo easily?” And I don’t know.
So otherwise, you know, I have what I call creative commitments that are just non negotiable. This is gonna happen, you know. I’m gonna publish a newsletter on Sunday. I’m gonna publish a YouTube video on Monday night, which becomes a podcast episode on Tuesday morning. And typically, I’ll publish once to twice a day on Twitter and LinkedIn, and lately, Instagram. So those are like the non negotiable things that I just know, those things are gonna happen. Maybe they’re not gonna always be like, amazing, but they’re gonna be pretty good. And they’re going to happen.
And everything else kind of filters around that. Like, you’ve probably seen that story of the professor who had like a glass jar. And he’s like, I put a bunch of rocks in there. Is it full? The students like, yeah, it’s full. And he’s like, here’s some smaller rocks, and they still fit. Is it full now? Yeah, well, here’s some sand. Social media is like sand, you know. And the creative commitments are the rocks. And the members of my membership community, the lab, those are like the stones. So there are things that I just weighed more heavily. And so those things are taken care of. I can’t even open my eyes and ears to this world outside of us, because I’m too busy fulfilling the bigger obligations.
Arvid Kahl 3:11
Oh, wow, that sounds like you have a lot of discipline. Where can you buy that? Now, how did you develop this? Because discipline is one of the hardest things in this attention seeking situation to maintain, right? To having consistency and staying on top of what you really need and setting those priorities. Did you always have that or is that something that you develop throughout the journey?
Jay Clouse 3:34
I think I did develop it. The thing that I’ve always had is kind of a selfish desire to be seen as really good at the things that I’m doing. I also have a fear of public failure. So those things just always kind of been there innately. But I developed a love and respect for deadlines when I studied Journalism in college, because like, those are clear constraints. Like if you don’t finish your story, then it can’t go into the physical print paper that goes out tomorrow morning. There’s gonna be a hole in the paper.
So if you don’t meet your deadlines, like basically, you get fired. And that taught me a lot of respect for, “Okay, well, this deadline seems aggressive, but I have to do it because I committed to it.” Even if it’s not the best story I can do, like something has to be done. And when you build a muscle with yourself and like trusting yourself that when you say I set a deadline, that means I’m gonna hit it because that’s what I do. I hit deadlines. That can be a really strong muscle.
And I think anyone can develop that. I think what a lot of people have is they have these experiences where they set a deadline, and they don’t hit it. And so now the actual relationship you have to yourself is “Oh, deadlines are negotiable. Like I can get myself out of doing this if I don’t wanna do it and that’s okay.” And I’ve just never had that relationship to it.
Arvid Kahl 5:00
Yeah, that sounds like a pretty reasonable way of dealing with that. Like, honestly, you know because if you have so much choice in what you do, if you essentially you’re beholden to nobody
That it takes some effort to convince yourself, right? To do it right.
Jay Clouse 5:17
That’s the other thing though, like when I make a commitment to my audience, even though that’s like an amorphous entity made up of a bunch of different individuals, to me, that is a promise that I am afraid of reneging on, you know. Like, I’m not willing to fail on that. Because I’ve made that promise to other people, and that I will constantly declare things to external parties, because I know once I do that now is non negotiable, because I’m not willing to go back on that promise.
Arvid Kahl 5:54
Yeah, forcing yourself to do things that you publicly committed to, it’s kind of building in public, almost, with the intention of it being out there so you actually have to do it. And then you do it. I see this as an accountability scheme. And I use it for myself as well. Like for my newsletter, my podcast, I know, it has to be out at a particular date. And even though nobody really would get upset, I think, right? I don’t know, I’ve never experienced anybody getting upset, because I actually have met all the deadlines.
But I would assume that if I don’t hit a deadline, people wouldn’t really complain to me about it. They would expect me to, you know, finish it up at some point, but I don’t wanna disappoint them. Is that the same for you? Is it like, is your accountability, disappointment based? Is that what it is?
Jay Clouse 6:36
Yeah, totally 100%, 100%. And it also, like, I know, the currency in this business is trust. And if I betray that trust, the next time somebody is making a decision, whether or not to trust me, usually with their money or their attention, they’re going to think. Like, maybe I can’t trust Jay. Like, I want every decision where you decide to trust me to be rewarded with, and you get that thing that I said, I’d give you.
Arvid Kahl 7:05
Not trust, trust is such a central thing. I completely agree. Which is also funny, because if we think back to the kind of like sizes of audiences that we just talked about, like the amount of people that might follow you. Like, the more people you follow, the more people follow you, the kind of thinner the relationships get. They kind of get sparse, that you kind of have less of a intense relationship.
And trust is built on intense relationships. So an audience growth trajectory doesn’t necessarily mean a trust growth trajectory. The one number is not exactly the other. Since you’ve been around for quite a while building trust in communities and building trust, like with your brand, and with your products. What do you think is the most important action that you take to maintain that and to increase it? Whereas there are many ways of, you know, getting followers without necessarily using trustworthy methods. What is a trust based paradigm that you have for your work?
Jay Clouse 8:09
I think that there’s an implicit promise with all of my content that there’ll be more of this next week, like my frequency is weekly. Like I publish my newsletter every week for five years. I publish the podcast every week for two and a half years. So to me, like just showing up and continue to publish on the schedule that I’ve set. That is a promise that I’m keeping every week and building trust because of it. Because people just see, like when Jay says he’s gonna do this, like he does it. I think that’s the biggest one.
And it’s also like really easy to lose trust, because not only are people trusting that they’re going to get a certain artifact from me on some basis. They’re also trusting that I’m gonna continue to show up as the person that I’ve shown myself to be. So every message I put out there, every way that I show up online is also reinforcing or betraying that trust that they’ve made of. I understand who Jay is as a person or as a creator, at least. And so just like showing up, not only consistently, but in alignment and in integrity with the way that I’ve shown up over time is important too.
Arvid Kahl 9:30
Do you think that limits kind of the scope of what you can do, particularly the capacity of changing what you’re doing over time?
Jay Clouse 9:39
Maybe. I think it depends on how you approach change. Because like if you build an expectation that you are a tinkerer or an experimenter and you try different things like trying new things that is also just part of my understanding of you. Where I think people screw up is just like not owning that a change is happening and thinking that people won’t notice or will like, subtly go along with it.
But like, if you’re taking a right turn, just say, “Hey, guys, I’m taking a right turn. In fact, let me tell you why I’m taking a right turn,” and own that. And then I don’t think there’s really a problem at all. You will see some people decide to like unsubscribe from that journey. You know, they’re saying, well, that’s a turn, I’m not making like, I wanna continue going straight. Or maybe I’d go left. But if you’re going right, I’m not going over there. And that’s okay. But there will be people who continue to follow along, but I think you have to, like call out and own these things and give people more credit for being intelligent, observant people, then it’s fine.
Arvid Kahl 10:36
Yeah, I guess I mean, if you communicate that people have to expect the unexpected, then you can pretty much go wherever you wanna go. And people will still
Along because they join you for that, right? They want you to surprise them.
Jay Clouse 10:48
I struggle with this too. Like, I don’t think I forever want to be the creator who helps creators create, you know. Like, there’s this meta aspect to what I do that is working. And it’s fun, and is great, and I love it. And I will continue to do it for the foreseeable future. But I probably won’t do it forever. So if I don’t do it forever, what does that change look like? I would prefer not to build from scratch. So if I were to ever one day make some sort of right turn, how would I own that with a relationship with people who like that thing to pull them off elsewhere? Does it become like an all in I’m going over here? Does it become a second thing that starting over here? And I’m inviting you to that journey?
And if there is gonna be a second thing, how closely aligned should it be to the first thing? Those are things that I do think about and are kind of scary when you spend so much time building equity behind a certain idea and a certain identity of yourself and then thinking well, maybe I want to reinvent myself at some point. Starting from scratch is scary. Not great thing because there’s so many benefits to just like starting new projects within the umbrella of affordability. You see like oh, wow, there’s compounding benefits to this audience that had built over here because now I just started a “new thing.” But it’s applicable to all these people. And things get easy. You spent so much time where things are hard. It’s nice when things are not hard.
Arvid Kahl 12:15
Yeah, it’s like when you read Compound Effects. I think that’s the phrase, right? Like, and particularly in our little community on Twitter and all the other places that we’re in, like the creator economy, the creator community, the indie hacker community. There’s always this kind of thing looming over our heads, like this project is gonna end at some point. Either you build a business and it gets acquired, wonderful, right?
And now you get to do something else, or you have this one project going and it kind of you get bored of it and you go to something else. Like things don’t last forever, particularly not in a creative field, and entrepreneurship or design or just knowledge acquisition. With things change all the time, you change. So what I’ve seen people most successfully doing, and that’s why I think you’re such an inspiration as well, it’s no matter what you do, you become more valuable as a brand like you the person, you the educator, you the interested person, like the human being that does these things, not on or off CEO. Like that is not the role. You are the person from whom sprang the idea of, the source.
I think that for many founders and for many creators, focusing on that personal brand, being a human being for others to relate to, is so much more valuable than being this person that does the project like trying to embody a project or a particular business, because they can go. You will always, hopefully, stay you.
Jay Clouse 13:44
Yeah, yeah, I think about that a lot too. And a lot of the people that are like in our membership, the lab that I talk to, they’re like, “Well, should I build this behind my name? Or should I have like an entity name?” And really, that’s like a personal decision. And there’s cases to be made either way, but the side of the fence I usually fall on is like, consider you as like always in progress, hub of all these things that you’re doing. Like, try to have a home for you that reflects the current state of all of these things.
But is not something that is housing the long term equity of one particular thing, because you’re always gonna have you. Like you’re saying, you’re always gonna have you and there’s always gonna be value there and you’re always gonna wanna retain that. So that’s part of the reason why basically all my projects, I build their own digital footprint for them. At least in terms of like a website, because that creates an asset associated email list to it. I try to build assets in a way that they are saleable if necessary, and it’s like building something on your name. It’s just not super saleable.
Arvid Kahl 14:58
Not at all. Maybe I mean, look at the whole MrBeast situation, right? Like that has been a big discussion that
Jay Clouse 15:06
That’s MrBeast, that’s not Jimmy Donaldson.
Arvid Kahl 15:08
Exactly. So name might mean a lot of different things, right? Like a brand, a pseudonym or something that is a name but it just because it is related to a person doesn’t mean it is the person mean. That’s the whole plot point really of the book Built to Sell. John Warrillow spoke about making or building a sellable business. It starts with an agency owner, who has an agency, wants to sell it and figures out, “Oops, I’m so important to my agency, can’t sell the thing.”
And then the whole book kind of goes through the idea of how can you make the business less driven by you and more driven by process and by automation. I got the stuff, which is a great book for any founder, was like highly recommended, really helped me build a sellable business and then sell it. It was great. But the idea is that if you can remove yourself from the business or from the act of running the thing, and still have the capacity to own it, or to find some kind of yeah, some kind of money flowing back to you from it. Perfect, right? That is exactly how you should set things up.
And I love that about how you’re setting up your things, right? You have The Lab, you have the Elements, the podcast, and you have the newsletters as well. Like all of these things are obviously connected, but they look distinct. And they are distinct. They feed each other. But they are essentially their own little thing. And that’s what inspires me because I kind of wanna do the same. And I still have the problem that all of this for me is under one umbrella, I feel. And I wonder like should I diversify it out? Should I make it different? Or should I turn it into its own entities and hire people only for that one or the other thing? It’s just so much, there’s so much to do. How can I do it?
Jay Clouse 16:47
I think of its immediate properties, where it’s like podcasts newsletter membership, like I actually wish all those things were under the name, Creator Science. Now the lab kind of is like that, then you only get to that from the Creator Science domain. But like the podcast, Creative Elements, there’s no reason that shouldn’t be the Creator Science podcast.
Other than that brand, Creative Elements predates the brand of Creator Science and changing audio is difficult, more difficult than changing website stuff. So personally, like if it’s all under one umbrella and we’re talking about different media properties that are all connected, I would try to keep them as similar as possible. Like to me, project should be different names. But if there are media properties under one project, I would try to align them. I think you’re in a better spot than I am is the short answer.
Arvid Kahl 17:40
I think so. Isn’t that hilarious? Like isn’t the kind of self perception of our businesses? Funniest thing. Yeah, I mean, that’s kind of how it naturally grew. And I feel your properties grew differently. But they also just grew into whatever you have now, right? It’s just how it happened. You have the things that kind of connected slightly, and obviously, you’re the person behind them. So honestly, the name probably means less, because it’s always your face. And it’s always like your personal kind of branding associated with it.
Jay Clouse 18:11
Well, here’s the challenge that I find. And the reason I bring this up, and while I’ll show you like, you showed me the grass that you think is less green than mineLet me show you why I think my grass is less green. So whatever you’re currently doing, you know, as an individual as Jay Clouse, as Arvid Kahl, you basically show up as like a public figure in all these different areas. And people will say this is Arvid, he is the blank of blank.
And in my situation, what often happens when I come on podcasts like this or something. It’s like, this is Jay. He’s the writer of Creator Science. He’s also the host of Creative Elements. He also has a membership community called The Lab. And now you’re just confusing people, even though like these are all really the same thing. But like it starts a conversation off on like a complicated, hard thing. And people like, ‘There’s no way he’s doing all those things.” And they’re all good, like what actually matters here.
Whereas if you could just say this is Jay and he’s the founder of Creator Science, cool. Go down that rabbit hole. Find out what these different things are, and figure out what is most interesting to you. But by being Jay of Creator Science, now that points all attention in one direction, which flows those different areas, as opposed to like fragments from the origin point, and is really challenging to deal with. That’s my perspective, like the challenges I feel currently and why I would say alignment is something I covet and screwed up. But like, you know, some projects are wildly distinct, and you can’t have them all under one umbrella.
Arvid Kahl 19:39
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. And it’s an interesting point that you’re making with things that should be the same being super hard to align after the fact. Let’s talk about audio. Because I feel as our communication happening on this medium, it’s something we should be talking about. Something you just said really made me think, like the fact that you can’t just retract or change the name of your podcast because you would have to go through hundreds of episodes and do a hilarious like overdub every time you say the name or just have a robot voice hilariously mispronouncing the whole thing.
That is hard. And that also means that audio generally super hard to search, right? Can’t index really well, can’t search it really well, can’t be discovered easily. Like podcasts in particular still suffer from just being technically unwieldy, right?
Jay Clouse 20:32
I can’t control F and change the audio in all of my podcast episodes. Every episode starts with “Hello, my friend, welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements.” Sure, I could probably record like one sound bite of that and clip it in and put it in there, that would sound terrible. And start every episode off on a weird note, every episode has unique artwork, which the title is plugged into. There are all kinds of links all over the web, talking about Creative Elements linking back to the website.
So those links would be confusing, or they would no longer link back to a website, which has pretty good SEO value because of all those links. If I did put it under the Creator Science website, and brand name, now I’m moving a ton of different like, pages for each episode. So there’s like so many complications, the point where it just doesn’t make sense. But, man, I love the brand, Creator Science. And that is, in some ways, even more accurate of a depiction of what goes on, on the podcast. But it’s just too complicated to unravel.
Arvid Kahl 21:34
Well, if I learned one thing is pick your good name first, and then build properties around it.
Jay Clouse 21:40
I know. I think about this all the time, actually, and I haven’t like made too much of a public stance on this. But I think names are actually really important. And the advice that you should give to beginners is like, don’t worry about it. Like you need to create, and you need to learn who you are and your perspective on things. And there’s definitely truth to that too. But if you don’t struggle with like, direction, and consistency and showing up and making stuff, there’s actually so much magic in good names that have an emotional, intuitive response, that are suggestive of different product lines and expansion to IP that you can own from a trademark perspective.
Like I wrote this post about the rebrand from what used to be called Creative Companion by newsletter to Creator Science. And I did like this full breakdown on that rebranded. I got so much inbound because of it because people were like, wow, this is really tactical and really smart. How you went about this? I wish I would have done that from the start. It’s fun. But it’s hard to tell somebody like actually, like your name matters a lot. You should spend a lot of time thinking about this and not creating because that’s probably the opposite of what they should do. But there is so much magic in a good name.
Arvid Kahl 22:54
I would assume that your change of name happened because you found a better name for what you were already doing. Is that right?
So could you have ever come up with this name if you hadn’t done the thing you were doing?
Jay Clouse 23:09
Good question. I don’t know. Probably not. I mean, the reality is, I’ve changed the name of my newsletters, so many times, like the Creative Companion brand only lasted for a year. And that happened because I was originally going to rename my newsletter. I was gonna call it the Infinite Creator, because I was really into the idea of infinite games. And then I Google, I had the whole brand on. I still have the whole visual brand for Infinite Creator.
And then I Googled it. And it’s so synonymous with God, that I was like, this will never work. Like it’s so strong. Yeah, well it’d be so confusing. And you’ll be like, “Whaaat?” And I was like, I can’t do it. So then I had like a branding agency that was already on retainer that I was paying. I’m like, “Okay, this brand we just made, like, actually, it’s all dead. And we have to restart. We’ll keep the colors and stuff. But I gotta come up with a new name.” And so I felt like I was on a clock, and I had to accomplish something quickly. So there’s some regret there, because maybe I could have come up with this. But yeah, I think there is a catch to it too, like, you have to have a pretty good sense of what you’re trying to do for you to really find the right name.
Arvid Kahl 24:20
Names are hard. Also, availability is hard, right? If you come up with a good name, doesn’t mean you can actually use it.
Jay Clouse 24:27
Yep. Yep. It’s a huge challenge. Like, the reason I moved from Creative Companion ultimately was I could never own the IP around it because the .com was owned. There was a trademark on it. It was a huge national organization. So like, I’m not gonna wrestle it from their cold dead fingers. Like it was unusable to me. And that’s a challenging thing. There’s a lot of people like start building equity on a name that they think is good and ostensibly could be good, but is from an intellectual property standpoint, on available or difficult to build a path forward.
And it can be really important actually, you know, as your business grows. Like that those considerations become really important things that you think about a lot. And you’ve gotta learn that, usually learned the hard way. And a lot of times people are lucky. And like, yeah, I mean, I did a basic Google search on this. I didn’t see anybody else using this name. Sometimes that’s like enough. Sometimes it’s not.
Arvid Kahl 25:28
I do wonder, sometimes, if I could have picked a shorter and more succinct name for my work. But I ran into the same issue. It’s like the things I came up with like indie founder or something, they were pretty much taken. Like, there were whole, like you said, organizations out there with that name, registered trademarks, registered domain, since like, 2008. Like that kind of stuff, you just can’t fight that, or you don’t even want to. Now I wonder, I just took whatever sounded good enough and was available.
And I think it worked out for me until this point. If somebody starts today, and they wanna come up with something that is impactful from the start, and it’s useful, and it’s available, is that something they should spend a lot of time on? Or where is the balance between doing the thing you actually have to do to give meaningful, valuable things to people to build a brand on versus the name of the brand? And all the effort that goes into that? What would be your balance here?
Jay Clouse 26:29
It’s tough, there’s not like a perfect answer. But I kind of, I would say it this way. Like, if you could spend an extra month on it today, then accrue all the benefit of that better name for the next six months, and then not have the pain of trying to undo and rebrand that six months from now, it’s worth spending an extra month today. I know that kind of sucks and slows you down. But ultimately, I think that’s the fastest route. And people have a really hard time caring about anyone else, but themselves.
So if you’ve already built an audience behind some name, and you wanna change it, there is a long process of socializing that change, even if it’s coming from a different email address, even if the colors are different, even if the logo is different. People won’t understand that you’ve made a change until you socialize it many, many times. So it’s just like, so much better to not have to do it. And if you feel like yeah, I can come to the right answer with a little bit more time, it’s worth doing. But you know, where is that balance? I think it depends.
And, you know, there’s also an argument to be made here that you don’t have to not create, while you’re doing that process. Maybe you just aren’t publishing yet. And another thing I wish I could go back and do differently with the YouTube channel, specifically, is spend more time creating before I start publishing, so that I have more of a backlog to fall back on. Because most of the time with these creative commitments I’ve outlined to you, I’m creating that week for the thing that’s going out that week. And it’s high stress. Most people won’t deal with that well and be as consistent as I have been. And it’s hard for me too. So it’s so good to have a content backlog.
And there are other ways to do it. Like if you’re publishing consistently, you can just say, “Okay, I’m gonna make two podcast episodes this week. And I’m gonna make two episodes next week too.” At the end of next week, you have, you know, two extra weeks of content now, that is ready to go. But with the high production that I do on my work, it’s really hard to get ahead in a week’s basis, while maintaining everything else that I’m doing. So all that to say, if you’re gonna spend extra time finding the right name, doesn’t mean that you should let yourself off the hook for creating. You can also be creating some runway and a little bit of a backlog for yourself.
Arvid Kahl 28:57
I love that, like runway, and backlog are things that I regularly use, like for my own work. I have a list of probably hundreds, if not 1000s of topics at this point that it will never get through. Which is awesome, because I always will have something. There’s never gonna be a week when I don’t have a topic to think about.
And I have found in doing these interviews now, which I’ve only been doing for at this point, I guess a couple months. The conversation itself generates at least 10 ideas
Oh, my gosh!
Or whatever I might even be talking about this week, let alone in the future, like building idea generation loops that end up as a little list of items that you might tackle in the future. The best way of creating a content backlog is to have an outline backlog and then filling it up whenever you can, and then use the same thing in preparation for when I have trips coming up or when I have a vacation coming up, right? I don’t wanna work for a couple of weeks.
Well, let’s just do two, a couple of months before every week for two or three weeks. And all of a sudden, I have a month’s worth of whatever I’m doing that I could just splice in there. And everybody’s happy, right? I get to do what I wanna do. People get to keep consuming the things that I put out there. I think that level of preparation is incredibly valuable for any kind of content that you create. Now, you create a lot of stuff like you have the podcast, you have the video, you have the newsletter, you have your gigantic Twitter presence, which I feel is extremely, yeah, for me, it feels like you’re very present.
And I mean, this in the best and most empathetic of ways, right? You are on Twitter. When you talk to people, I feel that you’re there. You’re not just engaging for the sake of engaging. You’re there having a conversation with a person. And that takes attention. And that means less attention for other things. Now, you’ve built this over the many, many years. I don’t even wanna ask for how many years you’ve been doing all of this, but I will. How many have it been?
Jay Clouse 30:52
Really, since the beginning of 2017. And beginning of 2017, I was working a job at a startup. And I realized that I had a limiting belief that I thought I was not creative. And so to combat that I decided I’m going to write a blog post and publish it every day for a year. And that activity was the start of my email list that is still like the core of my business today. The podcast started two and a half years ago. The current newsletter is really like in its current form, like I guess two and a half years old, because it like things started to shift in the direction of creators when the podcast started.
So in some ways, it’s been a long time and I look at other people who got started around 2017 and think, “Damn, they’re farther ahead than I am.” And then I remember I haven’t really found my direction other than like two and a half years ago, like I’ve been creating, but it wasn’t moving in the same direction. It’s hard. Comparison traps are a very real thing, like comparing your race to somebody else’s is so hard to avoid doing. Because it feels like I’ve been doing this forever. But like in the form that I’m doing now, not really.
Arvid Kahl 32:04
I know the feeling though. I think we both have similar internal mechanisms that you know, like the little lizard brain stuff, the imposter syndrome and the comparison traps. I think that’s just the creator life. Like you’re constantly exposed to other people’s content. And I’ve noticed something like I’ve been watching movies. I’ve been reading books. And I’ve been listening to podcasts, always through the lens of a consumer, obviously, but then now there’s always the second layer of how is this produced?
Yes, always the best.
How is this made and why, right? It’s awesome but it also kind of cheapens the effect and then at some point, it makes you wonder could I ever get to this point? Like
I love it.
Like turn it off, right? Yeah. Oh, it’s great.
Jay Clouse 32:48
I’ve never met somebody who has preempted me with this thought because I bring this thought up all the time. If I love media because I love to look at the production choices that were made. Like we’ll be watching, we watched this shitty television series called The O.C. Have you heard of The O.C?
Oh my gosh! So we’re watching The O.C. Were watching this cheesy scene and behind the actors, in the set, walks in. Actually, the extra walked in front of the actors. And I was like, “What?!” And I rewind it and watch it like this was a controlled set. This was a decision that somebody made. It added nothing to the scene. It actually detracted from it. Why did they do that? And my wife will just be like, “Can you hit play, please?”
Arvid Kahl 33:44
Yeah, I’m sorry for her but I’m also happy for you. What can I say? That is hilarious!
Jay Clouse 33:50
Like it really, it does make you a better creator because you can like watch somebody else’s YouTube video and be like, “Oh, damn, there’s sound design here.” Like that’s what I’m talking about lately in the podcast like, “Man, this guy is putting so much work into like the sound design, the first 60 seconds of this video. I haven’t even touched that yet.” It really it’s fun as an artist, like that’s the artist part of me, which I love to indulge. And I love it.
Arvid Kahl 34:15
I love it too. But it does sound the same thing. Earlier, I watched a 30 minute video about Parmesan cheese, just saying. And it was highly instructive. And now I know what to buy. Yeah, because it was a comparison video, right? He show different kinds of cheese imported from Italy. And obviously that’s the best because of these chemical reasons, like 30 minutes of cheese. I love that.
But you could see like that he used a different camera for his close up shots than he used for the cheese. And he used, when he was blindfolded, trying Parmesan cheese like he was standing at a certain distance and the light was like a key light here and the backlight here. Like you see these things and you wanna, “Oh, Will I ever be able to do this myself? Will I ever get to this level of quality? While all you should be thinking is wow, that cheese looks interesting, right? It makes the consumption of the actual theme and the knowledge in there kind of hard.
And it’s not that I’m not confident that I can get there. Like every little piece of equipment I get makes everything a little bit better. And I’m learning how to use this camera and I’m learning how to use the lights and stuff. It’s fine. But you see other people’s polished products, and you compare it to your own work in progress. And that’s just soul destroying in many ways.
Jay Clouse 35:34
Meanwhile, this cheese guy has spent like 20 years studying cheeses. He spent 10 years as, you know, a documentarian. He went to film school. He isn’t doing a newsletter. He isn’t doing a podcast, you know. All of his attention is directed here. These are things that like I also have to remind myself of constantly is like, these are different games. This person has chosen different trade offs than I’m willing to me, like one thing I’ve been doing lately. You’ll probably appreciate this. I will study people who have what I see as like aspirational creator businesses and creator lives.
And I’ll take a look at their left hand and be like, “This person married?” And a lot of times, like this person is still single, maybe by choice, maybe perfectly happy with that. But I’m like they’re playing a different game. Like there are different constraints at play with the things that I’ve chosen are important to me not just as a creator, but as a human, that have an impact on the level of input that I can put into my creative business on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis that other people don’t have.
And it is psychotic, to think that you can have the same results as somebody else who wants it as bad or more than you, who also has more time and resources to deploy into that problem. Of course, they’re going to be doing things better. And I have to tell myself that every day.
Arvid Kahl 37:02
That makes sense to me. It’s a priority thing, right? Like you choose what you prioritize. And also you choose how much of an operation it turns out to be. Because when you look at YouTube creators like Ali Abdaal, or other just every essentially, every successful YouTuber, there’s a team. There’s some kind of team behind them at some point. And I’m not willing to have a team just yet. I feel like I enjoy the process of doing every single thing, even though I might add to it like do it burrito of, whatever. That is an enjoyable process, because I get to learn all these things.
And then at some later point, when I feel the need for it, I will get people to do these things that I already know how they should be done. And I can give them better instruction. I’m just not at that point just yet. But I’m comparing myself, obviously to the outcome, which is one guy or girl sitting in front of a camera. If there’s like an eight people team behind them, and like holding weird boom mics and stuff, you don’t get to see this. And you don’t get to see that priorities either. Like are they filming? Yeah, I was watching, spend a lot of time on YouTube, some documentary about German influencers and the kind of hardship that they sometimes go through like doing 12 hour days of just filming video with each other. So they can appear on each other’s YouTube channels and create clicks and sponsor impressions and all that stuff.
Like these people, they were essentially suffering through a worse day of work than somebody in the factory doing hard labor, because they were just sitting there like acting and editing and acting and editing. Obviously, hard labor can come in many forms. But you could see that the things they did in front of the camera did not reflect the reality of their lives.
Jay Clouse 38:37
That’s so true of so many people. Like you just don’t know what that reality is. You don’t know what their nightmares are, the fires in their lives, where they are completely failing. And being self conscious. Like, you got like, in a perfect world, you can find models, people who are doing the exact same things. You have the same priorities, the same levels of privilege in things. Like in reality, it’s really hard to find, but often we are just comparing ourselves to absolutely the wrong models, where we are only going to make ourselves unhappy because we don’t have the same inputs to get the same outcomes. And it’s like it’s horrendous, but it’s widespread.
Arvid Kahl 39:30
That’s an authenticity problem too, right? People don’t really share much of their authentic selves or have until now been highly encouraged not to share vulnerabilities and you know, honest things about their lives. I think we’ve been seeing a change here in that building public movement and being just more relational in communities with other people. I also think we’ve seen this kind of shrinking of communities like look at the indie hacker or creator community. We know each other pretty well.
And we build long term relationships where we kind of have to be honest with each other. You can’t maintain such relationships in an infinite game sense if you wanna keep maintaining the relationships, if that’s the idea of the whole thing, and be dishonest with each other. So you kind of have to be honest. And in that comes more trust. And in that comes a more realistic appreciation of the real life that the other person is leading, which is why I always encourage people to just be honest, and sharing the journey. Not just the highlight reel, but everything, because that just makes you more relatable as a founder or as a creator. And it also just allows other people to feel good about their own journeys.
Jay Clouse 40:41
Yeah, yeah, totally. And like, the other thing is, there are a lot of people who are reaping a lot of rewards for not being authentic. You know, so it’s like
Arvid Kahl 40:52
Oh, yeah. Sure.
Jay Clouse 40:54
It’s tough. Because then, you know, the question is like, well, would I be more successful if I was less authentic? And there’s a spectrum too, where it’s like, could I be, can I lean a little bit more into the way these people are doing things? And then you start to negotiate with yourself like, well, even if I’m a little unauthentic, at least then like, people find their way to me, and I’m a better option than this person. Like these are dark roads that you go down when you start, like looking around and seeing who’s being successful and why.
And ultimately, you have to like decide, you know, your values. And it’s to me, it’s exhausting to be anything less than authentic, because it is like you’re performing. You’re a performative version of yourself all day, every day. And that’s not what I got into this for. But you host the podcast long enough, and you talk to people who are at the top of this game, and you find some people you’re like, oh, this is a mask. Like, this is a version of you. And I had that completely wrong. And damn, sometimes it’s a bummer, but it’s the reality.
Arvid Kahl 42:03
Yeah, it’s never meet your heroes, small edition, right? So it’s the kind of community edition.
Jay Clouse 42:08
Sometimes, but then there are other people who completely surprise you or like they’re even better version of themselves and you meet them like Hrishikesh Hirway. He’s the host of Song Exploder like my favorite podcasts, and he has a Netflix documentary called Song Exploder also, which is like the best. Have you watched this yet, Arvid?
I have not. No.
Dude, please. Have you heard of Song Exploder, the podcast?
Okay. I guarantee you, if you watch the Netflix series on it, you will lose it because this is exactly what we’re talking about, like production decisions. It’s the best produced piece of media I’ve ever seen. Anyway, he was even more incredible when I interviewed him for the podcast. Like he was the most generous guest. He was totally there. He was exactly himself. He was an open book, like we got on the call. And there was like, a presumed rapport that he initiated with me, which was just like, such a gift. And so there are some people, sometimes you meet your heroes, you’re like, “Damn, you’re even more my hero now.”
Arvid Kahl 43:11
That’s the nicest reframe of never meet your heroes, ever. It’s awesome. It’s really nice. And that’s kind of, that rapport that you’re talking about, that comes from somewhere, right? That is your activity in the community. It’s your contribution to the community that builds that for you. Even without having an actual interaction with the person, they see you’re interacting with somebody else. And that’s kind of, I wanted to talk to you about this, because I feel like you’ve been doing this long enough to understand the mechanics of building community and building relationships with people.
And most people struggle with like, what are like the core things that I need to get right. Because you can, you know, depending on the niche you’re in, depending on the platform you’re on, and the communities that already exist, can do a lot of things to you know, build relationships. But I have the sense that you have understood a couple of things very clearly, and how to approach like building an audience, a group of relationships with people that like flourishes into a community. What are these for you? What have you got?
Jay Clouse 44:09
This is very top of mind right now. Because as I was telling you, like, I’ve been building this into a course and it became like this huge course. And even the things I thought I knew, when faced with teaching it, you have to teach in a way that makes sense. So you have to like crystallize even more. So this is very top of mind for me right now. What I have found is that the first step is setting appropriate expectations.
Like when people come into your world, whether it’s a membership community, or whether they’re following you on Twitter, they made a choice to tune in because of some expectation that you set or some expectation that was set for you. And you’re best served, if you know what that expectation is because then you know how to like succeed with that person. And if you don’t set the expectation and they make their own assumption, you have no way of knowing like, am I fulfilling what you wanted me to do or not? So it behooves you to actively set your own expectations up front, so you know how to succeed.
And then, like in a community, I would call that your purpose. Then when you get people in there, you need to, you know, show them how to achieve the results that you’re promising to help them achieve. And the shorter you can make that distance, the easier you can make it, the more reliably that they can get that outcome, the better off they will be. But a lot of times, it comes down to what I would call modeling, which is, you show the behavior that you want other people to take. When you see people take that behavior, you reward it. It’s not different than training our dogs, unfortunately. But like, you reward that behavior and say, “Yes, this is okay. And in fact, it is correct.” That will encourage more behavior in that way.
And conversely, if you see bad behavior, you have to call it out immediately. Because if you don’t, then you’re sending the signal that this is okay also, which can degrade the culture of a community of relationships. So you have to be on the lookout for people who are following the correct behavior. Recognize it privately and publicly, that will create more good behavior that ripples outward. And when there’s bad behavior, you have to shut it down immediately.
Arvid Kahl 46:15
Wow, that does sound a lot like parenting to me.
Jay Clouse 46:18
Probably is, I mean, like, at the end of day, like you want, you’re trying to get some result and you wanna exercise whatever level of control you can over that while still granting agency within that. And parenting, helping people achieve a result, training a dog like it’s probably all the same thing.
Arvid Kahl 46:40
Yeah, yeah. It’s training sentient beings to do things that are good for them. And good for you. Generalizing things
Okay, that yeah, that is great advice, I feel. Like particularly the modeling part, that resonates with me a lot. Because I try to be as like, empowering as I can to celebrate as many people as possible because I want other people to do the exact same thing.
I want the people around me to celebrate other people. And I want to help the people so they can help other people. It’s kind of this rippling effect, this meta idea that what I do to others they should do for and unto the others around them. And then we can all live in like a more interesting place, a more supportive and enjoyable community.
Jay Clouse 47:24
The one thing I’ll say about the way I show up on social media that I’m currently trying to evaluate is if it’s correct or not. Typically, if I see behavior that is not harmful to other people besides myself, like if I see a troll who’s just like, “You suck!” I will typically just ignore that. Because to me, like, any form of attention is a reward that encourages that type of thing. And typically, what I see is, if you just ignore the trolls, ignore the haters. They just go away, because it’s boring. They didn’t get anything out of that interaction that they wanted.
But I’m trying to understand where that line is with calling out bad behavior and standing for good behavior. Because there’s a lot of places where like, I just see people get into firefights that are gonna go nowhere, because all this person wanted to do is engage in a firefight. So it’s tough for me to understand where that line is, because most of the time, I’m like, if it’s a fire that I don’t want to burn anymore, I’m gonna rob it of oxygen. But as a person of privilege, I’m trying to understand where that line is a little bit more.
Arvid Kahl 48:38
I had a very similar experience earlier today, funny enough. Like I had, yeah, I was essentially browsing Twitter as I am. And one of my friends had a business success that they shared. And somebody commented, like, among 40 different replies, or a couple less, maybe, but lots of replies. There was one negative one. And the only reply that I actually felt compelled to reply to was that one, because it was wrong. There was something like a judgment of character that I knew to be false. Then I thought, yeah, just like you, if I give into this, and if I actually reply, that the only thing in this whole thread of powerful positive emotion is the one thing that saps it of that power is the one thing that is negative, that brings it down, also, algorithmically.
Twitter now thinks that this is the thing they should show people.
Which is a whole other problem. That’s the engagement is the measurement of the quality of the interaction. So I’m very much with you. I chose to block the person which I think sends a signal through a different channel that is not conversation related. But this is generally a big problem is to not call out for fear of it getting more attention. I think that’s a problem mostly that the platform’s have not solved, at least not well enough. Like a downvote button would be a solution to this or the idea of being able to kind of infer the quality of the post, without having to actually engage with it in the sense of, you know, user engagement. But I guess that’s a technicality. But I feel the same way. Yeah, it’s a problem.
Jay Clouse 50:12
Did Twitter have a downvote recently? I feel like I haven’t actually seen that in my app for a while. Did they get rid of it?
Arvid Kahl 50:18
I don’t see it either anymore. What I do see is that I now can edit my tweets. It has been useful twice. So there you go, greatest feature that anybody ever wanted. It’s been useful twice in two weeks for me, great. Yeah, it’s these little things. And I love the fact that they did experiment with it on Twitter that there was a downward situation. And it’s the same on YouTube, right? There is a downvote, it’s just not shown. It’s just kind of an internal metric that they use, which is also interesting, because, you know. No matter if you like it or not, like all of these systems can be exploited in some capacity.
And yeah, we all struggle with that. Interesting. I would not have thought that this is the thing you were thinking about. I thought you were like, maybe thinking about a much, much deeper approach. But that particular feature, or that particular way of engaging with people, interesting that you think about that.
Jay Clouse 51:17
Yeah, I mean, I’m always thinking about this type of thing. Like, I mean, it’s been like a two year journey now of like, trying to reckon with my own privilege in ways because, like, the things you and I get to worry about are different than other people. Like the same process we were talking about of looking at other creators and saying, like, “Will I ever get there?’ There are other people looking at our stuff that are wanting the same things, because we also start from a different place of privilege, both like, racially and from like a gender perspective. But also, like, you had this life changing exit. I’ve had more modest eggs, but like eggs nonetheless. So like, there are things that we can do that other people can’t do.
And I try to be cognizant especially in the content that I create, to help other people, because it’d be very easy for me to write an article to say, here’s how to pre sell your course. Put up a sales page and send it to your audience. And now think about all the people who don’t have an audience. You know, like, you have to bring things back down to people’s level to equal the playing field where you can.
Arvid Kahl 52:25
Do you think like building an audience is something that every creator should be doing? Or is there an option for people to not go through this gauntlet?
Jay Clouse 52:33
If you are a creator? Yes, I don’t think it’s something that every person should be doing. But if you’ve said like, “I’m gonna do this creator thing.” Then I think, yes, because it just gives you so much optionality. And in a lot of ways, it’s almost like an insurance policy on what you wanna do. I’ve been thinking more and more about how can I ensure that my efforts today have compounding, durable value? Because a lot of our efforts are like, put out a thread. And there’s like some ways to mind some additional value out of that, but like, it’s not super long term. And I want like more of my effort to go into things that are more enduring. And I think an audience is one of those things.
Arvid Kahl 53:23
Yeah, that’s an amplifier for sure. I get it allows you to reach more people, obviously. But it also kind of gives you the things you do, a memory, or a place in somebody else’s memory, to one of the most impactful and gratitude inducing things in my life is seeing somebody when I have a chat with them. Having a hard copy of my book, somewhere in the house, like that is one of the most mind blowing things for a writer.
It’s just see your work in somebody else’s bookshelf. Like doesn’t matter how many sales you get, two books. One book is enough, seeing somebody else having a physical manifestation of your thoughts, that alone that made my whole year at that point.
And I feel that that’s what an audience does, right? An audience kind of gives you the opportunity to spread the things that you know, and you want to share with other people.
Because they can amplify, they can carry it around for you. And obviously, the things you do to build an audience create this long tail of content, that kind of traces of your ambition, traces of your knowledge for other people to find and then kind of lead all the way back to you where you are right now and see what you have going on today. Which is the whole personal brand angle that we’ve been talking about. So let’s close this up with the world’s best transition to the question of where can people find you to include you in their audience and to be part of yours?
Jay Clouse 54:54
Probably Twitter is the best place you can find me,@jayclouse on Twitter. I’m on pretty much every platform. If you’re a podcast listener, check out Creative Elements. And if you’re a newsletter reader, go to creatorscience.com.
Arvid Kahl 55:06
These are all wonderful names, distinct but wonderful.
Thank you so much for being on.
Jay Clouse 55:12
Yeah. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Arvid Kahl 55:14
And that’s it for today. Thank you for joining me on the Bootstrapped Founder. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl, ARVID KAHL and you’ll find my books here too, sold in The Embedded Entrepreneur and my Twitter course, find your following there as well. If you wanna support me and the Bootstrapped Founder, please like and subscribe to my YouTube channel. Add the podcast to your podcast player of choice. Leave a rating and a review by going to ratethispodcast.com/founder. Any of this will really, really help the show. Thank you so much for listening and have a wonderful day. Bye bye.
Topics We Talk About
00:00:00 What to do about all the attention-grabbing out there
00:05:00 A trust-based paradigm for your work
00:12:15 The importance of being a human being and not a brand
00:18:11 Challenges of aligning all of your projects under one umbrella.
00:23:02 Can you even find good names at the start?
00:28:57 The importance of having a backlog of ideas.
00:32:37 Will I ever get to this level of quality?
00:37:05 Choosing priorities
00:43:11 The mechanics of building community & building relationships with people
00:46:15 Teaching sentient beings to do things that are good for them (and good for you)
00:50:42 An audience is like an insurance policy