Why it’s no longer enough to have 1,000 true fans. 

Kevin Kelly’s seminal essay was written over 15 years ago, and for a long time it’s held true. There’s no doubt that it has helped many founders transform online communities into large scale businesses, and provided many creators with a reliable income stream.  But everything has changed. Thanks to TikTok, you’re more likely to be sold to by a 30 second clip of a stranger on the other side of the world, than you are by an influencer sharing a sponsored ad on your feed.

The social currency of a lot of followers may no longer be worth anything. I spoke to several founders recently who have driven more revenue from 1 hour on TikTok shop than an entire month of paid ad spend. In fact, many e-commerce founders are shifting their 2024 acquisition budget to focus entirely on TikTok. We are in an age of de-influencing, a new algorithm is shaping our reality, and 1,000 true fans may no longer be attainable. In fact, growing a community of 1,000 true fans in a fiat world, may be the entirely wrong approach…

After years of building internet community platforms, from my Y Combinator backed startup Zyper, to leading community growth at Discord post the company’s acquisition, to writing a book, The Rise of Virtual Communities, I’ve formed a different view on why certain community wrapped products take off.  Whilst 1,000 paying fans may sustain a newsletter writer; for companies and brands, can a community strategy truly drive business returns outside of focus group style insights? 

Consumers are now more aware of when they’re being sold to than ever before, which has led to distrusting their favorite, polished influencers who they know are getting paid to say positive things about a product. In fact, TikTok’s key metrics page doesn’t include followers. This is no mistake. The platform repeatedly exposes users to anyone and everyone, rather than just networks of friends and family. TikTok’s latest update to insights means you can now see traffic driven to your content via search, including impressions, clicks, and average position. Your suggested content is based on what you watch, not who you watch. 

Roblox, like TikTok, encourages an open-world style of play, with limitless opportunities for social discovery. As LLMs, Gen AI and spatial computing usher in a new computing wave, the next generation of great consumer companies won’t look anything like what we’ve seen before. It’s more likely they will feel like endlessly playable games that offer daily novelty through the discovery of new characters and products. 

In an era where consumers are spending more time in virtual realities that are limitless, there is an uncapped potential in the number of points of influence. The result is a move away from being influenced by those closest to you, and a move towards a reality where you can be influenced by anyone around the world, at any moment in time.

For these reasons and more, I’m excited to continue backing founders building new types of consumer experiences at the seed stage.  Learn more about the Patron thesis on our homepage at: patron.xyz

Related articles

Our Investment in Arya

Today, we are excited to announce that we have co-led the seed round for Arya, the AI-powered concierge platform reimagining wellness, starting with couples’ intimacy. Arya arrives at a critical moment when many couples are seeking support in their relationships. In the US, of the approximately 130 million couples, 25% admit to cheating, and 40%... Read More

Mastering the Rewards Game with Kudos

Credit card rewards represent a global phenomenon played by hundreds of millions of consumers daily. 77% of U.S. adults have at least one credit card, with the average American holding 3.84 cards. It’s also a booming segment – a recent CFPB report found that consumers earned $40bn in credit card rewards in 2022, a 50%... Read More

We’re leading the Seed round in Altera

As an investor, it’s a rare occasion to encounter a startup demo that hints at a true paradigm shift in how humans interact with computers. Games have long served as fertile ground for testing emerging technologies, acting as a gateway for mass consumer adoption—from the early days of personal computing to the ubiquity of smartphones... Read More

How to Make Your Product Feel Like a Game

Over the past 10 years, some of the largest outcomes in consumer tech have involved companies whose products feel like games. From Chime to DuoLingo, startups that make tasks that were previously boring or hard, like online banking or learning a new language, feel less like work and more like play are winning.  Best in... Read More