Listen Up, IH! — Episode 5
“I just want to rebuild the middle class and help people live better lives”
👆That’s Li Jin’s mission statement.
She is a former Venture Capitalist at Andreesen Horrowitz(A16Z) – A VC firm in Silicon Valley that backs early-stage startups – with a portfolio that boasts of gems such as Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB & Stripe to name a few.
She is also the founder of Atelier – an early-stage VC firm that invests in passion economy businesses. They have companies like Substack, Patreon & Contra on their portfolio.
Back in February 2021, she caught up with Courtland Allen on the IndieHackers podcast to talk about her unconventional journey, her interests in the passion economy and her Indie project – Side Hustle Stack – a Platform for creators to find passion economy platforms and monetize their creations.
“Lessons Of A Successful Venture Capitalist”
She was studying and investing in ‘Marketplace‘ companies at A16Z.
The conventional ‘marketplace’ company was modeled around Uber. Founders pitched their companies as Uber for ‘X’, where X can be anything like Pet Care, or Doorstep Delivery, etc. essentially aggregating demand and supply around a specific niche, and then paying the workers to do small gigs.
But with time, she could see a palpable shift towards platforms that enabled people to monetize their skills that they actually enjoyed doing.
She witnessed the emergence of the Passion Economy.
She wrote a blog capturing her findings around this topic — The Passion Economy & the future of Work – it kind of went viral. This where she coined the term “Passion Economy”.
Gig Economy vs. Passion Economy
Gig Economy platforms offer highly commoditized services where every provider is essentially interchangeable with the other.
Doordahs or Uber are great examples of Gig Economy Platforms.
It doesn’t really matter who your Uber driver is as long as they can get you from point A to point B.
Passion Economy platforms offer highly differentiated services which enable creators to leverage their uniqueness and earn a living.
These are non-commoditized services and products that add a lot more meaning to the life of the creator. They help creators monetize their passions – Be it something like pottery or writing or design.
Etsy is a great example of a passion economy platform. What you can get from one creator on Etsy, you can’t get from another.
Here’s a useful chart from her blog that differentiates the two kinds of economies—
Li Jin believes that the biggest problem in the world right now is that of economic empowerment — providing meaningful work to everyone on the planet.
And building passion economy platforms is the best way to achieve that.
Side Hustle Stack — A Platform of Platforms
Side Hustle Stack is Li Jin’s Indie Project.
It’s a discovery platform for passion economy companies.
It started as a simple chart – with the type of creator on one axis, and the platforms enabling those creators on the other axis.
When she started posting it online as part of her blogs, she got plenty of requests from companies to be on the chart. And also from creators for more such information.
Version 2 of the project is a simple website built on top of Notion.
And it’s crowdsourced.
So instead of she having to manually input all the information, now companies could register themselves on the platform.
She marketed it innovatively through TikTok, got more than 2 million page views within the 1st month. (Here is a tweet with a TikTok video that got them this traffic)
Turns out, TikTok is the best place to find young influencers who want to make a living from their passions. (who would’ve thought, right!)
The cool part is, that being a well known VC, she could have easily raised a ton of money, built a team and gone big with the project.
But she chose the indie route.
She deliberately chose to start small, validate the idea, get people talking about, and then make it big.
She says version 3 of the product will be something more substantial than a Notion page.
Lessons for Indie Hackers
Start Below Your Capabilities
Start one level below than your current skill level.
Free up your energy and resources to actually gather feedback and gain some momentum. If you start at your peak level, you will stretch yourself too thin.
Build Something People are Motivated to Use
People are extremely motivated to make money, and companies are extremely motivated to find their first users.
Side Hustle Stack perfectly matches the creators need to make money, and the creator-centered companies’ need to find new users.
Take Chances With Your Marketing
Don’t shy away from different marketing methods. Find out where your audience hangs out and go there. This is especially true right in the beginning, when you need to get eyeballs and validate the idea.
“I just followed my interest and I followed my gut. That intuitive approach has always worked pretty well for me and I don’t think people should overthink things, just follow your heart. That’s what I want to tell people.
I think we’re all on this like personal goal of product market fit, where we are the product and there is a market out there. Whatever we pursue and have a passion about, either we have to be sure that there is a market for this or we have to by ourselves create the market
Maybe if there is no market, you can first create it, which is a much bigger task, obviously, but it involves educating people for why they should even be interested in what the thing is that you’re passionate about.” — Li Jin
“So basically, If no one cares about your passion, educate them and maybe your passion start off as educating people about why it’s important and valuable for them. — CA
- Indie Hacking in the Passion Economy with Li Jin of Atelier | Indie Hackers Podcast
- Her course on building creator economy market places, check it out at – creatoreconomycourse.com
Follow Li Jin on Twitter where she follows truth bombs such as this👇
Thank you for reading🙏
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Thanks to Seth King for editing this post.