How Jay Clouse made $600k in 2023 from The Creator Economy

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I cannot remember how I came across Jay. But at some point in my journey of building an audience on Twitter, I came across his content and have been deeply inspired by his curiosity to learn and authenticity in a sea of microphone-holding gurus.

Then I saw his revenue report and I realized I needed to figure out how he did it. Specifically, how he has been doubling his income almost consistently since 2017 as a content creator who is still figuring things out. Today’s article will hopefully inspire you to start growing your audience and give you some practical tips do that effectively.

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What we will learn

  • What it takes to build a $600k creator business
  • The shortcut to becoming an authority figure in any industry
  • The strategy he used to double his income in 2023
  • The best asymmetric bets you should take as a creator
  • Using scarcity tactics the right way as a creator

Who is Jay Clouse?

Jay Clouse is a content creator, a community builder and the founder of Creator Science. He runs The Lab, a community of professional creators who are looking to make money creating content.

Before we dive into his background and what we can learn from him about grow an audience and community, let’s take a look at the revenue report that inspired this article

Jay Clouse - Creator Science Revenue

As you can see, he almost doubled his income every year since 2017!

Let’s take a look at the numbers behind this revenue report.

His background

Creator Science wasn’t his first startup. It wasn’t even the first community business he built.

Back in 2015, he co-founded an events marketplace called Tixers, which was a startup he sold for mid 6 figures. A few years later, he built his first community start-up called Unreal Collective. This time he sold it to Smart Passive Income, a popular personal finance blog run by Pat Flynn.

On both occasions, he took a job with someone else after his exit.

Fast forward to 2020, he was ready to try again. This time, he freelanced on the side and said yes to multiple opportunities, from podcasting to creating films to organising hackathons.

Eventually he decided to build a community and a suite of products centred around the Creator Economy, with a mission to help creators grow their business. This ecosystem of products generated $600,000 for Jay Clouse in 2023.

“People don’t understand they need to be poor for 1000 days.

Our basic hypothesis: you’ll be doing worse than you were at your job for 1000 days after you start your muse business. I’ve seen it happen a bunch of times.

For many of us it’s been almost exactly those 1000 days it took for us to get back to the level of income we enjoyed in our corporate days.”

Jay Clouse

How did he become a $600k a year creator?

Jay Clouse now has an ecosystem of products centred around the Creator Economy. This includes a podcast (Upside), a YouTube channel (Creator Science), a membership site (The Lab) and a range of courses.

Here are 5 growth strategies he implemented to grow his business.

  1. Create opportunities by doing things that don’t scale – You may have heard of the phrase “do things that don’t scale” that originated from Paul Graham, investor and co-founder of Y-combinator, a popular early-stage startup accelerator. Today, you will learn how to actually implement this advice.
  2. Take asymmetric bets with huge upsides – Not all opportunities are created equal. When you are trying to grow your audience or distribution by an order of magnitude (i.e. 10x instead of by 10% a year), you need to start prioritising bets that can generate that level of growth.
  3. The short-cut to becoming an authority figure – The fastest way to grow your audience as a creator is to teach something. You will learn how to transform yourself into an authority figure on a topic and figure out WHO you are competing with in the space.
  4. Segment your audience – This strategy is how he doubled his income in 2023. You will learn how he segments his audience, the tools he uses and what kind of goals you should set for each audience segment to maximise revenue.
  5. Engineer scarcity – You already know that scarcity techniques work. It is harder to deploy this technique for a digital product business where, theoretically, you can offer an unlimited supply of the digital product you create. Jay shows you how to authentically incorporate scarcity into your marketing efforts without alienating your audience.

Let’s dive into each in detail:

1. Create opportunities by doing things that don’t scale

Many of us know that in the early days of a startup, we need to experiment and do a lot of things that don’t scale. But what types of experiments should we run and how?

In the case of Jay Clouse, he is known as “the community guy”. Looking back, every experience he had – from organizing hackahonts for Startup Weekend to building Unreal Collective – appeared logical and led to where he is today.

But it wasn’t as clear-cut in the early days.

Here’s an entry to his blog back in 2018…

As you can see, he was dabbling with a bunch of stuff including building WordPress sites, writing email sequences and taking a part-time role as Entrepreneur-in-residence for Columbus’s Smart City.

This exploration phase, though seemingly random and unscalable, is crucial for gaining valuable insights about what’s working.

The key to getting out of this stage is to figure out a way to priorize these opportunities… which is exactly what we are going to look at next.

2. Take asymmetric bets with huge upsides

You do not have infinite time. But there is an infinite number of opportunities, growth hacks and tactics available at your disposal.

In the early days, you need to prioritize asymmetric bets. These are opportunities with limited downsides if they don’t work, but potentially transformational payoffs if they do. As a startup with few customers, you can’t afford to grow by “only” 10% every year. You need opportunities that can completely transform your growth.

Jay Clouse - Asymmetric Bets

One such bet that turned out well for Jay was becoming a paid course creator on LinkedIn. Reading his annual year in review, it looks like that’s a major component of his first 2 years’ income. But how did he find such an opportunity? After some detective work, I found my answer:

In 2018, LinkedIn was leaning into courses and invited him to be a “subject matter expert”, after stumbling across a presentation he uploaded onto YouTube.

This tells us 2 things:

  • You should record and share content about a topic you’re an expert on. You never know who’s watching and what opportunities it might create.
  • You should lean into social media giants’ strategic priorities. For example, LinkedIn is encouraging people to contribute to articles and plans on rolling out 20 generative AI courses. Tap into these opportunities. (You can track LinkedIn’s Product Release here)

Jay’s bestselling Freelancing Tips course ended up kickstarting his career as a content creator attracting over 40,000 students, many of whom became his followers.

3. The short-cut to becoming an authority figure

Another reason why Jay’s LinkedIn growth strategy worked well is because it positions him as an authority figure. No matter his background, most people would assume that being a subject matter expert on LinkedIn means he is someone worth listening to.

But if you’re wondering how on earth are you going to pull off something similar… don’t worry. There are plenty of opportunities beyond LinkedIn.

In fact, when I Googled Jay Clouse… it looks like he applied this strategy to appear everywhere.

Jay Clouse - Guest Appearances

Although it is not clear whether he actively seeked out these opportunities or whether they found him… What’s clear is that he made many guest appearances on other people’s platforms to get in front of their audience.

This strategy is particularly useful if you operate in an industry without formal training and qualifications (so, not a medical doctor) and you don’t have a track record to point to.

Making guest appearances builds your credibility so that you can establish yourself as a knowledgeable and trusted voice with a new audience even without traditional credentials or a well-established track record.

4. Segment your audience

But showing up everywhere and talking to a diverse range of audience has one downside: your audience is all over the place, ranging from total beginners to those striving to advance to the next stage in their journey.

This creates a need to segment your audience to match your audience to your most relevant digital product.

Jay Clouse implements this strategy by segmenting his email subscribers upon subscription.

Jay Clouse - Right Message for email segmentation

It looks like he also embeds the questionnaire on The Lab’s website:

Jay Clouse - Right Message for email segmentation (2)

He then creates something called “goal-oriented onboarding pathways” which basically means showing users different content depending on what they selected on the questionnaire.

These pathways serve a dual purpose: providing tailored, high-quality free content and making an offer for his best-fit paid product(s) when appropriate.

The tool he uses to do this is called Right Message, which costs $79/month. However, I think it’s possible to manually recreate a simplified version of this segmentation approach using free tools like Tally, which allows you to redirect users to different URLs depending on a user’s answer.

This strategy will double his income from $300k per year to $600k per year.

5. Engineer scarcity

Understanding the psychological impact of scarcity is crucial in marketing strategies, as demonstrated by seminal frameworks like Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence, particularly the concept of scarcity, and the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) phenomenon discussed in behavioral economics and consumer psychology.

Scarcity capitalizes on FOMO (fear of missing out), making you desire stuff or opportunities that are perceived as scarce.

Let’s look at what happens when Jay Clouse limited his community membership to 200 individuals.

Jay Clouse - Scarcity (2)
Scarcity posts you can steal for your startup

As the membership approached its cap, he strategically heightened FOMO by actively sharing this fact on Twitter. This tactic encouraged individuals who were on the fence about joining to sign up quickly.

By the end of February he got to his 200 limit. Assuming everyone signed up to his standard plan at $1999 per year, that’s $399,800 in revenue!

Here’s how you can replicate this:

  1. Figure out if you can craft a compelling narrative around the limitation. For Jay, it is so that he can offer attention to each member (he calls everyone that signs up).

    Interestingly this strategy isn’t exclusively for service-based businesses. OpenAI observed a surge in sign-ups when they approached their capacity limit following the launch of their custom GPTs.
  2. Determine your revenue target (for a product segment) – This doesn’t have to be for the whole business. It can be for a specific product or even a pricing tier for one product. Make sure your goal is sufficiently big to keep you engaged on the project.
  3. Translating this into the number of customers required – this is your cap

Employing scarcity can stimulates urgency and nudge potential customers to take action to avoid FOMO. Do this as you approach a revenue target for a particular product or pricing tiers.

Juicy ideas to replicate success

Jay Clouse is a great example of someone who hustled their way to success. He shares many of his experiments in his newsletter and his community The Lab (I’m tempted to join the waitlist myself!). Here’s what we can takeaway from his journey so far.

  1. Take asymmetric bets. When starting out you can’t rely solely on efforts that generates 10% growth. You need to take bold bets that has the potential to transform your business.
  2. Use social media companies’ new features. They have a vested interest to make their own product launches look successful and will likely push contents with those features. Use them.
  3. Say yes to PR opportunities that presents you as an authority figure on a particular topic especially if you do not yet have track record in the space you want to operate in. This is the short cut to increasing your credibility in a space
  4. Consider goal-oriented onboarding pathways to increase conversion. Send users to different product or pricing pages depending on their goals and where they are on their journey.
  5. Announce you are approaching your capacity limit. Consider setting limits for one of your product, product category, or even pricing tier if it makes sense for your startup. Announce you are approaching this limit on social media to drive sign ups.

What’s next

Here’s another article that helps you become an authority figure in a space fast. If you are building a SAAS product, read this story about how Tim Bennetto built a $74k MRR business as a solo entrepreneur after teaching himself how to code.

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Growth Strategies of Top Indie Makers Delivered to Your Inbox

Each week, we will reverse engineer the growth and distribution strategies used by top indie makers to grow their startups past $100k annual revenue. Subscribe so you don’t miss the latest issues!