Hey there, Justin here.
As we wind down the year, I’m taking some time to reflect on the year that was and plan ahead for next year. This “where we’ve been and where we’re going” process has been aided a bit by my friends at Afrobility, who had me on their show, along with Frontier Fintech’s Samora Kariuki, for a creator round table. You can listen to that episode here.
Last year in October, I published State of The Flip. And now it’s time for an update.
As always, if you enjoy The Flip Notes, please do forward to a lucky friend. And if you’re that lucky friend, join us by subscribing here:
The Flip Notes is sponsored by Flutterwave.
We write a lot about enablement here at The Flip. How many users would shop online, for example, if payments worked better? Or, if the process of opening and managing a store were easier?
It’s one thing to launch an ecommerce store; it’s another for customers to discover it.
Last year, Flutterwave launched Flutterwave Stores, offering merchants a simple and easy way to set up an ecommerce store, accept payments and integrate with delivery partners. And last week, Flutterwave shipped Flutterwave Market, bringing together a collection of merchant stores in one place.
The market will not only make it easier for customers to shop from a range of Flutterwave merchants but will also enable customers to shop across a variety of products, from fashion and beauty to food and professional services.
State of The Flip, Year Two
Back in 2019, I asked my friend Sayo Folawiyo, the Co-founder and CEO of Kandua, if he was interested in being interviewed for this new podcast project I was trying to start. We recorded that initial conversation and afterward Sayo stayed involved in what later became The Flip.
In those early days, Sayo talked a lot about the value of archiving – of developing a record of his thoughts and perspectives at a specific point in time, and of having that archive to go back to in the future. It was part of our initial pitch to startup founders, as well, for why they should agree to be interviewed for the show. Our memories can deceive us, but publishing on the internet reminds us of what we were really thinking at that time. So, for me, it’s fun to re-read what I wrote last year in the inaugural State of The Flip.
At the time of last year’s writing, I had built an audience but had yet to monetize. And that was, it seems, my primary concern – to show audience growth to prospective sponsors that wanted to associate with The Flip brand and that wanted to speak to our niche audience.
One year later, I’m proud and fortunate that The Flip is a profitable media business, with long-term podcast and newsletter sponsors. Now that I don’t have to worry about where revenue is coming from on a day-to-day basis, my primary focus is – how do I sustain and grow this thing?
Today, we publish our narrative-style podcasts on a seasonal basis (roughly ten episodes per season) and a weekly newsletter, The Flip Notes. This year, we published 19 podcast episodes (including an experimental interview-style season that we probably won’t do again) and a newsletter for 49 (🥵) weeks straight.
The ability to grow The Flip’s business is to a large degree constrained by the numbers above. So far, we are strictly an ad-driven media company. And while we have an increasing number of sponsors that are interested in coming on board, we have a bit of an inventory problem.
We could put more sponsors in our podcasts and newsletters, but I’ve preferred to give exclusivity and 100 percent share-of-voice to the sponsors that have backed The Flip thus far. Plus, I don’t want The Flip to become an F1 racing suit.
Alternatively, we could produce more content.
But our narrative-style episodes take an incredible amount of time, work, and coordination – the eight episodes published thus far for season three include 34 interviewees, not including the retrospective conversations between Sayo and me – and I just don’t know how much faster we can produce episodes. Nor do we plan to sacrifice quality for speed.
On the newsletter front, while I think it is possible to publish twice a week on occasion during the offseason, increasing the volume from where The Flip is today will be a considerable (and unsustainable) undertaking, as well.
Sure, I could hire writers and editors and producers to help scale production, but that goes against what I originally set out to achieve. The Flip is my mechanism to learn and understand the African tech ecosystem. Its relative success, I think, hinges on my ability to continue to create interesting and useful content through my own interaction with the ecosystem. Plus, a media business in which I manage a bunch of writers and editors is not the kind of business I want to build.
And while the per episode or per newsletter price will grow over time as our audience continues to grow, I also believe The Flip’s sponsorship revenue growth is constrained somewhat by the specificity of our content and the niche community for whom we are creating content.
All of this is to paint a picture of the challenges and constraints solo creators face (and especially solo creators with a niche audience). But it also gives a clear indication of how creators like me should further monetize.
A decade ago, Kevin Kelly coined the term 1000 true fans, speaking of the internet and social media’s ability to enable creators to make a living off their creations by getting their “true fans” to pay them ($100 each) directly. Since then, Li Jin has argued that creators only need 100. And we’ve seen that creator monetization strategy manifest in merch and courses and subscriptions and events.
For a while, I thought that a membership model was the logical path for The Flip. I was inspired, in part, by the model that Stratechery’s Ben Thompson employed, in which he publishes a free essay every week, and then three daily updates for subscribers only. I liked that the membership was additive. When Stratechery launched its paid membership in 2014, he wrote,
My sincere belief is that this is not a paywall, which I view as being punitive and arbitrary. Instead, I wanted memberships to be additive, giving my most loyal readers more and different premium content, while the long-form articles this site is known for remained free.
But the idea of making some content – that which I work hard to create – available to only a select audience, is a tough pill to swallow. And it lessens the organic growth opportunities created by shipping all of my work publicly, as well.
Plus, the creator tools and monetization landscape has evolved considerably since 2014, as have the representative examples of success from solo creators like me. So what does that mean for The Flip?
These are the hypotheses we intend to test this upcoming year.
We can create better content and engage more deeply with the ecosystem by spending more time on the ground across the continent.
Sayo and I are going to take The Flip “on tour” this year (if the COVID and public health gods allow us to).
Season three of the podcast explored value chains. An important part of our focus was on understanding the way in which the value chains in question create problems for real people, and how the entrepreneurs and operators we spoke to are using technology to address those problems. But to talk to founders is one thing – in the future, we want (and need) to talk to users and operators and those at the last mile of these value chains. We can only do that from the ground.
Spending time on the ground is also an important exercise in discovery and exploration. I live in Cape Town – it’s not exactly a representative experience of the continent. I want to spend more time with the people and in the environments that will best help me understand the nuances and complexities of the ecosystem.
And finally, taking The Flip on tour could allow us to create some additional inventory – live shows or ecosystem events or perhaps even some documentary-style video content? We’ll see…
How do we add additional value for our audience above and beyond content?
Our audience comes to The Flip to get smarter about African tech. What else could we provide to create greater utility for you, our reader?
While in the past that would have meant that a company needed to build out a product itself, today it’s easier than ever to leverage third-party SaaS tools to test new utility-creating and revenue-generating products with a creator’s existing audience.
(Something here coming soon 😏)
The type of content The Flip creates lends itself well to doing venture capital.
20VC’s Harry Stebbings, Not Boring’s Packy McCormick, Afrobility’s Olumide Ogunsanwo. Whereas a lifestyle creator’s product for their true fans might be merch, or a YouTuber’s product a filmmaking course, for these creators, it’s VC.
As there’s a proliferation of tools (e.g., AngelList, Sydecar) to enable solo capitalists, is venture investing in my future?
We’ll find out. I plan to become a more active angel investor in 2022 and will be writing more about my investor journey early next year. (Please send deal flow 🙏)
Web3 infrastructure and tools may create incentive-aligned mechanisms to tap into The Flip to help build stuff in the ecosystem.
I have personally gone deep down the Web3 rabbit hole this year by participating in and learning more about DeFi, NFTs, and Web3-enabled communities. I am particularly excited by the way in which e.g. DAOs create incentive-aligned ways for people to come together and build stuff.
I’m thinking a lot about the extent to which The Flip can enable or participate in more experiments of this nature in the ecosystem.
All of the above hinges upon my ability to scale myself somewhat.
The Acquired podcast published an episode on solo creator Packy McCormick and his Not Boring newsletter recently. They talked about growth and scaling his business, much like I am thinking and writing about with The Flip.
Packy remarked, “This works if I don’t get greedy”.
For Packy, “greedy” looks like lowering the quality bar to produce more content or hiring more people to scale content and products, thus diverting his time and attention away from the core thing.
The core thing is working – and I have to remind myself that I’m not venture-backed, nor do I have the same growth expectations as the venture-backed founders I speak to. I’m playing a different game.
But at the same time, there are for The Flip non-core activities I can hire for to free up time and energy to test the hypotheses above. And I plan to do so.
In the aforementioned Ability episode, Olumide asked me – this guy with no prior connection to South Africa or the continent, in general – what I was doing here. I shared my story – I visited SA for the first time in 2016, to visit a good friend from University, and a year later I quit my job and moved there with a vague sense of what I wanted to be doing from a work perspective.
And I shared that several years later, as I’ve gotten deeper into the African tech ecosystem, I feel genuinely and overwhelmingly passionate about the opportunities here. And of the need to tell better and more representative stories about all of the amazing things that are happening on the ground. I feel proud and grateful that this is what I get to do, and that I get to make a living from doing it.
And so I owe a huge thank you, first and foremost, to you, my audience, for taking me in, and for reading and sharing and spending time with me every week.
Thank you to Sayo for doing this with me. Thank you to my partner Aneeqah for putting up for the nights and weekends, and for the pep talks. Thanks to Dare and Zama from MFS Africa, and Yewande and Noel from Flutterwave. Thanks to all of our podcast interviewees and all those who have helped me navigate.
I hope to make 2022, year 3 of The Flip, the best yet 🙏