Memo: The Economy of One

Standing in Harvard Hall of New York’s eponymous Club years ago, I was privileged to overhear a conversation among Vernon Davis, Arian Foster, and John Elway. Together, the Hall of Famer and two NFL greats were promoting a new venture called Fantex, which, months later, would be written up by the New York Times.

Through Fantex, fans could buy stock in star athletes they supported, granting them rights to their share of the athlete’s future earnings. As contract values increase, so do endorsement deals, and the stockholder would be paid a greater dividend in step with that growth. They could also sell their holdings in the secondary market to another potential shareholder and profit. The value proposition was said to be the first of its kind.

Not everyone was convinced. One older gentlemen in the room argued that the value proposition wasn’t, in fact, the first of its kind. He witnessed the internet’s role in the demise of Fantex’s predecessor, the Bowie bond. In 1997, famed musician David Bowie and banker David Pullman marketed and sold asset-backed securities that gave investors a 10-year stake in future royalties.

The securities, which were bought by US insurance giant Prudential Financial for $55m (£38m), committed Mr Bowie to repay his new creditors out of future income, and gave a fixed annual return of 7.9%. He struck a deal with record label EMI which allowed him to package up and sell bonds on royalties for 25 albums released between 1969 and 1990 – which included classics such as The Man Who Sold The World, Ziggy Stardust, and Heroes, according to the Financial Times. [1]

Timing was against the success of the Bowie bond. By 2001, Napster launched and would soon change music forever by commoditizing it and making it freely and readily available. Pirated music pummeled the music industry and the record sales required to mint royalties for music’s biggest acts. As Bowie bonds sold and rose in value, the market closed to many of the other musicians hoping to duplicate Bowie’s efforts. Then Bowie bonds tanked.

In 2004 rating agency Moody’s Investors Services downgraded Bowie bonds to only one level above “junk”, the lowest rating, after a downturn in the music industry. Mr Bowie had himself predicted the decline in traditional music sales, telling the New York Times in 2002 that music would become “like running water or electricity”. [1]

The gentleman finished his brandy, placed his glass on a wooden table and left with a parting shot to Fantex. If I remember correctly, he said, “I have seen this before. The market is not ready for this bullshit.”

Nearly 20 years after the Bowie bond, it appears to be ready. The Bowie bond walked so that Fantex could fly. Fantex flew so that today’s creator economy could take orbit.

The same internet that commoditized music is today its own commerce destination. Where Napster once diminished value, today’s internet is capable of taking a commodity as irrelevant as a .jpg file and turning it into a multimillion dollar asset. We’ve witnessed a fundamental shift in how we monetize the value of digital creation. Through technologies like non-fungible tokens (NFTs), new wealth is being minted through the sale of digital art and properties. In the process, it is making creators the revenue that they’ve long desired. But there’s a much bigger picture to understand.

Consider 2PM’s Law of Linear Commerce: “the lines of demarcation between media and commerce are fading. For the brands that are most suited to the modern retail economy: media and commerce operations work to optimize for audience and sales conversion. This is the efficient path for sustained growth, retention, and profitability” [2PM, 2]

Linear commerce is now a business model for everyday individuals. The digital economy that once rewarded media companies or professional creators with eCommerce opportunities has made its way to the individual by allowing them to market themselves as growth opportunities.

The Economy of One

In a recent report by New York Times technology reporter Taylor Lorenz, she highlights a third wave of the shareholder creator economy pioneered by David Bowie and then Fantex, this time with a unique spin. Consider NewNew, a creator platform that allows users to sell moments in their own lives to fans. Lorenz writes:

Courtne Smith, the founder and chief executive of NewNew, said the company was “similar to the stock market” in that “you can buy shares, which are essentially votes, to be able to control a certain level of a person’s life.” “We’re building an economy of attention where you purchase moments in other people’s lives, and we take it a step further by allowing and enabling people to control those moments,” she said.

While NewNew received most of the attention, is the closest analog to the shareholder system that Bowie once pioneered. Lorenz highlights Bomani X, a Clubhouse icon who recently launched his own coin with the hope of monetizing his trajectory as a creator.

With 25,000 followers on Twitter, you would expect that the digital strategist and musician would not have the audience to live solely as an “Economy of One” creator. The difference is that today, the velocity of creator development has never been faster. Bomani X boasts 3.4 million listeners on Clubhouse. And with creation comes the constant need for activity and access that Courtne Smith of NewNew seems to be working towards remedying.

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I’m off @joinClubhouse for a bit

The Rally coin allows you to buy futures in the individual much like a bet on the value of an NFT presents the opportunity for the art or its creator to grow in esteem, increasing the value of the NFT itself. For Bomani X, his temporary departure from Clubhouse led to a succession of sell orders on Rally, a short-sighted action but an indicator that even a creator’s 100 fans can be fickle.

The Incredible Kat Cole

When I stood in Harvard Hall, I listened to a stodgy older gentleman explain why the individualization of the stock market would never appeal to retail investors.  Perhaps the best example of why he was wrong lies in the well-earned trajectory of former retail executive Kat Cole’s transition from COO and President of FOCUS brands to coveted speaker, board member, and creator.

Cole has accumulated 1.2 million listeners on Clubhouse and became a cultural icon in her own right. You can find Cole on a Clubhouse stage with R&B singers, rappers, startup icons, mentors, investors, and even spiritual leaders. She seems to be the one person that has found a way to belong wherever she speaks. As a result, the New York Times recently published a report on the creator house she helped found, Audio Collective.

Audio Collective’s founding members produce all kinds of content. Mir Harris produced a performance of the Disney musical “The Lion King” on Clubhouse. Leiti Hsu runs a popular dinner party variety show. Kat Cole, a former business executive, hosts rooms focused on leadership. [3]

Her recent departure from Focus Brands allowed her to contribute more of her time to the genuine and caring mentorship that has become her trademark. With a platform opportunity, Cole was able to maximize her abilities in ways she couldn’t on Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook. This is what shareholders are betting on as platforms arise and monetization opportunities continue to evolve.

Cole is exactly the type of creator that our new culture seems to be looking for – one that sort of comes out of nowhere. It’s often the banter found on Twitter or in private forums where you would hear mentees, friends, and colleagues suggest:

If I could buy stock in anyone, it would be Kat Cole.

Bowie bonds and Fantex were before their time. Thanks to newly popularized technologies like NFTs and platforms like Rally and NewNew, consumers technically could buy stock in Kat Cole. The commerce and decentralized finance technologies of today have enabled us to monetize our belief in the potential of others. Though, knowing Kat, it’s unlikely that she’d profit off her potential as a creative icon or media personality. Her generosity is what’s helped her transition from inspiring retail executive to a solo creator and professional mentor known beyond the confines of retail or business.

It’ll be her sincerity and generosity that sends her rocketing beyond where she is today. She’s become an economy of one by positively impacting many.

By Web Smith | Editor: Hilary Milnes | Art: Alex Remy 

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