The Wild West of Influence, Creators, and Commerce with Blake Robbins

November 1, 2021
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min read

Content creation is paving the way for influence, optimization, and new brand start-ups, and Ludlow Ventures is at the helm. Blake Robbins explains the phenomenon of content-led commerce, his personal investing criteria at Ludlow, and the next frontier of digital influence and attention.

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The Wild West of Influence, Creators, and Commerce with Blake Robbins

Blake Robbins is a Partner at Ludlow Ventures, an early-stage venture fund with a portfolio that spans Italic, 100 Thieves, Honey, Stir, and Product Hunt. Quite the range, to say the least.

We sat down with Blake to dive deep on the creator-led commerce ecosystem, his personal investing criteria at Ludlow, and the next frontier of digital influence and attention.

Ludlow Ventures: Founder-Driven Investing

For Blake and the Ludlow team, there isn’t a set framework or strict thesis. It boils down to a bet on the founders. You always have to assume there’s another team working on the same idea at the same time, so why is this founder going to win versus another? 

When it comes to investments in the creator-led commerce space, Blake looks for the brand’s unique positioning to win, and whether founders can clearly articulate that advantage. Diving even deeper, Blake elaborates on his criteria at Ludlow.

  1. Can the team tell real stories and can they win off supply chain edges?  
  2. Does a creator’s unique insight lend to clear acquisition advantages?
  3. How do you get consumers to pay attention and use your products? 
  4. What’s your initial wedge and how do you expand out from there? 

“This is my basic criteria. First, who are the founders? Second, are they going after a big market? Third, why are they uniquely positioned to win?” 

The New Era: Creators on the Cap Table

More and more influencers and creators are becoming co-founders and joining the cap tables of commerce brands. According to Blake, the real opportunity is when the creator is genuinely passionate about the company, versus them viewing the investment as a straight-up brand deal. 

All creators should be asking themselves: what categories are uniquely tied to me, and why am I partnering with this brand over another? But, there’s only a handful of creators or celebrities who can truly move the needle in certain categories. More importantly, if the category alignment is there, a creator can fluidly incorporate the product into their content in an authentic way.

In turn, it’ll sell. Not only will this drive short-term revenue, but it also unlocks paths to scale via new acquisition channels. Ultimately, the key is not to force anything, according to Blake.

The real value of getting these creators involved is when consumers are invited behind the scenes: seeing the creator working on the brand, visiting the factory, or testing new products. 

“If a creator isn’t 100% passionate about a brand, nine times out of ten the project will fail. If there is true alignment, that’s when the magic happens.” 

The Wild West of Commerce Analytics

In Blake’s words, it’s the wild west when it comes to data analytics across the creator-led commerce space. Some creators have incredible engagement, but there’s always the risk of tying too much of the brand to one specific person. Plus, there’s the risk of the creator leaving after they’ve invested or been named as a co-founder. Put simply, there’s a ton of unknowns.

More importantly, there just isn’t a gold standard for tracking engagement yet. The best course of action is learning from other creators. For example, if a creator gets cancelled, dive into the event and then ask yourself: how should we plan for this, and what’s our backup plan? 

Without diving into specific scenarios, there’s just so much movement occurring at once. The speed of evolution is completely unprecedented. Culture is breaking down and reforming at a blazing fast pace, and early creators are quickly scaling into multi-billion dollar media brands. 

“The key for creators is getting up to speed, paying attention to every trend that’s unravelling across the digital ecosystem, and then learning on the fly.” 

Influence & Attention Optimization

A creator may get a million views on YouTube or TikTok but still not have any loyalty. In theory, it’s easy to get views if you work the algorithm. You can optimize it in a range of ways, but really getting people to care about you and your content is priceless. That’s true affinity.

It’s more of a balance between views and loyalty versus influence and attention. The real shift is around emerging creators that have outsized influence and loyalty compared to traditional celebrities. Ultimately, viewers feel more loyalty for creators who they’ve watched grow up. 

“In its present iteration, the internet actively decides who will be famous by allocating scarce influence and attention across platforms accordingly.” 

The Next Phase of Creator-Led Commerce

According to Blake, the most controversial creators are translating their loyalty and influence into successful commerce brands, and that’s because they’re the ones starved from the platforms. 

Take the Nelk Boys, a YouTube group. They’re basically a bunch of partiers. Blake describes them as “Barstool meets Jackass.” They don’t make any money from YouTube, and they’re honest about that. Instead, they make their money through merch and limited drops, recently launching their own hard seltzer brand. Fans were camping out at stores just to grab a 6-pack. 

There’s also a growing cohort of impressive beauty creators who are launching their own palettes and brushes, which is a natural extension of their brands. Finally, Blake points out that Barstool might still be the most complete example of a successful creator-led commerce brand in recent memory. They know their audience, and they know how to evolve with the times. 

The next phase of creator-led commerce revolves around this dual ability to deeply understand one’s target audience while also knowing how to adapt, analyze data, and learn on the fly.

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