I’m Justin. I help creators do 10x things and turn their ideas into flagship digital products! AMA 👇

Justin Mikolay
19 replies
Hey Product Hunt! I’m a Senior Writer at Gumroad, host of the Gumroad Podcast, and Instructor of the 10x Creator Course. Today I’m a student of the creator economy, but it didn’t start that way. I was in the U.S. Navy for 11 years, and I served as a certified nuclear engineer aboard a fast-attack submarine. I later served as Director of Communication and speechwriter to senior U.S. officials, including SecDef Jim Mattis, SecDef Leon Panetta, and General (Ret.) David Petraeus. After that, I transitioned into the tech world and spent four years as an Evangelist at Palantir. In 2018, I co-founded a tech company focused on consumer content management (we didn’t make it, but I’m happy to talk about lessons learned!) Since then, I’ve gone full-time as an independent creator. I helped Jack Butcher structure “Build Once, Sell Twice” (a smashing success because of his ability to communicate and promote), and I helped Eric Jorgenson build and launch “Building a Mountain of Levers,” which is picking up steam and scaling! I’d love to answer questions on any of the experiences above and what I learned from teaching my first course. I'll be in and out answering questions all day, so fire away! 🚀 Lastly, my latest project is the “Creator Manifesto” poster collaborating with Ash Lamb and Janis Ozolins. Use the discount code v4zpard to get 50 percent off of the unframed print!


Dhruv Bhatia
What kind of creators do you help? Any specific medium (courses, podcasts, merchandise, anything else) and domain (lifestyle, beauty, fitness, professional, coaching, etc.)? Right now, the creator economy is still in its early days and hence quite spread out. Do you see it becoming more niche in the near future?
Justin Mikolay
@dhruv_bhatia Hi Dhruv! 👋 This is a great question and I have an answer! When I first started partnering with creators on their work, I confined myself (without realizing it) to creators I'd been following for a while -- and to products tailored to creators aiming to improve and absorb a new way of making a living in the economy. Jack Butcher's course starts with this sentence: "Welcome to the field manual for earning a living in the new economy." Eric Jorgenson's course starts with this sentence: "This course teaches a mindset and a method to apply leverage in your life." The macro purpose of each of those two products/courses is the same (though the details and focus differ). There are dozens of gifted communicators on Twitter and elsewhere sharing what they've learned about how to structure their lives and use the internet to give and receive value at scale. I've talked with many of them and in the past two years I've been digesting and seeking to learn from these people systematically. This year I began applying what I've learned by building my own course (the 10x Creator Course), which in turn has taught me more, in a virtuous circle (I call these types of feedback loops "positive spirals.") Before I taught my course I was scared that I wouldn't be able to help creators with certain kinds of products. I focused initially on information products, i.e. writing and helping people structure their ideas. But I soon discovered the creative process is universal in theory and in practice (some things are easier in practice than they are in theory!). I had 18 people in the first 10xCC cohort and they built products that were all over the map! And I could help them. :) Some 10xCC students built info products, but the majority of them built courses, to my surprise. It was possible to use the same creative process to build a course or an info product (a short book, for example). And the students' output was not confined to a particular niche, area, or domain. One student built a film production course. Another student built a guide for freelance writers. Aadit Sheth build Maker's Mark (a cohort-based course) for supercharging your online brand. Another built a product around vacation real estate investing. And so many others... I also learned there's no one recipe or preference (either from me or my creative friends and partners) for the tech stack or tools people use for self-paced, cohort-based, or info products. I like to give people exposure to the huge array and diversity of products, and let their needs dictate which tools they leverage. To your other question (re: do I see the creator economy becoming more niche over time), I agree with your premise: it is STILL early. Quite remarkable, for example, that only a few hundred thousand people have crypto wallets, when the internet is used by 4.6 BILLION people, and many hundreds of thousands of people come online every day. I'm constantly gaining newfound appreciation for the scale of the internet, by the way. If a tweet gets 100,000 impressions in a day, 99.95 percent of the people on Twitter that day didn’t see it. Twitter’s daily active users would fill the largest stadium in the United States 2,000 times. The internet is one million one hundred sixty-five thousand groups of 4,000 people. The internet has already assembled a huge number of people into niche groups and communities, and that will continue, of course. I believe all of the following are true at the same time: (1) power law dynamics govern long-term outcomes; (2) the vast scale of opportunity on the internet means another person's success online hardly effects the scale of your opportunity; (3) there are few areas so niche that thousands of others are interested in the same thing; (4) you can build and launch a successful product into a small audience and niche; (5) success is INEVITABLE through hard work and participation online over a sustained period of time. I further believe the competition for attention is just getting started, BUT attention is not yet so scarce that a person who learns to communicate clearly, quickly, and well will eventually "break out" and compound her success. I once tweeted this and still believe it: Kids in 1991 understood computers Kids in 2001 understood the internet Kids in 2011 understood social media Kids in 2021 understand computers, the internet, social media, asymmetric upside, crypto, compounding, web3.... There will be incredible experimentation and disruption over the next decade. I believe many of the currently successful web3 projects and platforms will end up being like some of the early dot-com companies, and will be displaced by projects and platforms that come along a few years from now. By the way, you didn't ask this, but I'm skeptical of long-term decentralization powered by crypto. This is contrarian right now but to me people respond to economic incentives, and what will powerful people build on top of decentralized networks to protect their interests in an ever-escalating arms race? Institutions. Those institutions themselves may be "decentralized" at every level of a constantly layered edifice. But the net effect will be some people cooperating in ways that help smaller pools, not the whole. That's just my belief about the long-run prospects, but I am now desperately seeking education to disconfirm that belief. That said, I recognize the obvious truth that crypto will shake and remake the internet into a money internet, and that will have PROFOUND implications for all existing and future interactions for everyone on earth.
@dhruv_bhatia @jmikolay Justin and Dhruv, we noticed both your interests in the creator-economy topic. Agreed, there are a ton of complex issues to solve. And while we do not have all the answers; we think we've created a unique solution to help with creator sustainability, and self monetization (esp those small, and new). With that said, we warmly introduce you both to our new creator freelance marketplace VamVam! Think Fiverr.com meets Brybe.com! At VamVam, we enable creators to receive direct brand sponsorships for their videos, and convert their creative content into cash! We believe VamVam places a creator 100% in control of the pre-roll advertisement campaign… How? By allowing creators to simply introduce and splice the pre-roll ad in themselves! On the flip side; the advertiser enjoys an ad campaigns that's seamless, ad-blocker immune, non-disruptive to the primary viewing, brand friendly, and economical! It's nostalgic, it's transactional and it's transparent. We'd be so humbled if you'd 2 would take a look at our new operation. And would so welcome your candid feedback. https://vamvam.market/ Stay well and safe. Cheers for now, Team VamVam,
akhil mk
Hey Justin, the recent gumroad interviews have been fun. You're an affable interviewer! I'm presuming you parleyed the learnings from your company to get in touch with these creators. How did the first few associations happen?
Justin Mikolay
@akhil_mk Thanks for this question! I'm going to broaden your question even further and give backstory on joining Gumroad in the first place. I'd been participating on Twitter for about nine months and consuming the creative output of dozens of creators, including Sahil Lavingia, Gumroad's Founder & CEO. Looking back I've always been drawn to creative people; I'm extroverted and it's always inspirational and motivating to learn from and observe the way other people think -- and as I've said elsewhere, to reverse engineer their worldviews (their specific, strong points-of-view). Over time while participating on Twitter I distilled and summarized the timelines of people I found interesting -- and that gave me my first in-depth exposure to the people articulating what to me was a new philosophy, or at least a new way of thinking about it (and a new vocabulary): divorcing your time and income. Productizing yourself, etc. I reached out to Sahil via Twitter DMs with this note: "Hi Sahil! We've interacted in recent months and I've become interested in the Gumroad product. Then it occurred to me ... Gumroad (the company) aligns super well with my interests and background, why don't I just send you a note about joining the team! I founded a company in 2018 around digital commonplacing (left after a tough co-founder misalignment). Was at Palantir for four years ... speechwriting / Navy before that. Would love to chat! One reason I'm writing is I like how you think on Twitter. All best! Justin" He replied: "sure! you're welcome to delineate what you'd like to do for us along with proof you can do it to sahil@gumroad.com" I LOVED that reply. It was so simple and direct: "prove you can do it." Here's what I emailed him: "Sahil, A modest proposal: Gumroad has extraordinary creators (and content). I like summarizing great content, and I'd like to do that for Gumroad. My proof that I can do it is my summary of your last 3,000 tweets (and my similar summaries of David Perell, Matthew Kobach, James Clear, Jack Butcher, and Dr. Bernice King). I love Gumroad's writing culture. I wrote for senior government officials in a previous life and worked at Palantir for 4+ years. I started a business around consumer content management and raised a small seed round in 2018. It didn't pan out but I learned a ton. Would love to contribute to your mission! All best, and I appreciate your consideration -- Justin Mikolay" We explored a more detailed vision in subsequent emails and ultimately Sahil brought me on to draft creator spotlights and drive more growth in this segment of the economy. It's been a joy talking with dozens of creators over the past year. To me it's been amazing how many parallels there are in the journey of individual creators. The stories are strikingly similar in many cases. It's not "easy" but it is simple in many respects. I distilled some of those learnings here: https://letter.substack.com/p/st... When I write notes to creators and schedule them for podcast conversations, I want to select people with diverse ideas, products, and points-of-view. While many journeys are the same, I've been fascinated and amazed by the HUGE diversity of products and projects that are successful. Everything from free products to products costing thousands of dollars. I also see behind-the-scenes at Gumroad that even incredibly niche products are way more successful (financially) than you would think. To be more specific in reply to your question, the first few associations I made online were purely from (1) close observation and summarization of people I found interesting; and (2) cold direct messages. Over the past two years I've made many close friendships simply by participating and interacting online, and that's taught me a lot about myself! It's a wonderful, positive sum world for so many creators helping and encouraging each other. Gumroad itself is a company of creators, for creators, and Sahil has a decade of pattern recognition around building and selling digital products, as well as a personal mission to help and inspire more people to found and build more companies and products. I've learned a lot from him and colleagues like Randall Kanna, Philip Kiely, Daniel Vassallo, Kyle Prinsloo, Jack Zerby, Yash Poojary, and Alex Garcia. What's been gratifying and educational has been helping people like Jack Butcher and Eric Jorgenson directly. They're first-class talents and my role has been to help channel their ideas and structure their work. They gave me confidence I could build my own course to scale my ability to help more creators succeed (my personal mission this year and in the future). I taught a cohort of the 10x Creator Course and there are more on the way! Check it out at Maven.com if you're interested! :) My final comment is this: by participating online I found "my people," those who I respect and admire: creators. People who help each other. People who put something new into the world. The creative process is messy and HARD. There's huge inertia and ideas are often intertwined and confusing: hence the need for a process to sort them out and order them. The universe tends toward disorder (i.e. entropy increases over time). So it's a miracle, in a sense, when people create great works of art and express ideas clearly. I suppose I've always been empathetic to that challenge, and naturally ally with those overcoming it!
akhil mk
@gumroad @jmikolay wow, you now probably hold the record for the longest answer ever given in an AMA! But it's a great read and filled with so many takeaways.( especially loved the pitches to Sahil and your perspective on the creator economy) Really appreciate you taking time to write this and will be closely following your journey!
Hi Justin, I'm working on a software solution (www.mewatools.com) already halfway into development. The current features are not enough to break into the market. Can you help us identify a market need so we can work on it from now?
Justin Gardner
Since the beginning of my senior year at university I have been taking the deep dive into the digital product community, SaaS, B2B, and especially GumRoad’s incredible tools and information. I would absolutely love to intern under you if you have any open positions for copywriting, digital media strategy, product management.
Jim Kleiber
As a person who likes to create, I find that I tend to not want to release something until it's "done," and thus don't really release things, especially not as paid products. I think I feel particularly scared of letting people pay for something that I still consider unfinished or in progress—yet I logically know that nothing is ever "finished." Any perspective on how to get to a "Build Once, Sell Twice" from a place of "Build Forever, Sell Never"? (PS, I'm super intrigued about the mix of your background and have many other questions, this is just the main one on my mind at the moment)
As the other question mentions that the creator economy is still in its early days, there are more competition with each passing day. To make the situation even more challenging, search engines like Google have been showing more ads up front than non-paying results; SEO is a dying dark art. Many social networks are forbidding or discourage external links for promoting contents. How can a creator get their products out effectively in the current digital landscape?
Maxi Dorline
I am thinking about create something, i think you will be a great helper for me in the future.
Alex Gede
I would love to see how you can help me too
Nickolay Gavrilev
Nice to meet u, Justin!
Lalit Tyagi
Good afternoon Justin pleasant to meet you on PH. We are working on B2B SaaS product www.brightdirectories.com whats your suggestion on it for start to scaling the product.