Mar 15 • 59M

Brands Are Not Human Beings (w/Jack Conte)

A live Dead Cat episode at Newcomer x Volley at SXSW

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Eric Newcomer
A podcast about Silicon Valley, hosted by newsletter writer Eric Newcomer and Tom Dotan, with Katie Benner as a regular special guest.
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Eric Newcomer, Tom Dotan, and Jack Conte. Credit: Sara Joe Wolansky

Patreon CEO Jack Conte took the stage at my first ever SXSW event with a beer in hand.

With Dead Cat co-host Tom Dotan, we discussed crowdfunding, OnlyFans, Substack, NFTs, Ukraine, and whether creators are brands.

Speaking from the stage at the Volley Game Room at SXSW, Conte explained why his company wouldn’t compete with the likes of Twitter and YouTube to build audiences for the creators that it works with. “Patreon set out to solve a very specific problem. The specific problem we were solving was, there are creators who are getting millions of views, creators who have incredible reach, but they’re being undervalued by society,” Conte said.

Conte said that he didn’t think Patreon could compete directly with large social media companies. “I actually don’t know that that’s a war that we would win. Those businesses are solid businesses. They have moats. They have network effects that make it very difficult to break into those worlds. I think Patreon’s best bet at solving this problem of creator payments is focusing very specifically on the problem of creator payments.”

Conte seemed to be interested in exploring NFTs but was reticent to say that the company was specifically considering embracing them after receiving backlash on another podcast for even asking a question about NFTs.

Toward the end of our conversation, Conte disagreed with journalist Taylor Lorenz’s stance that reporters should worry about their brands. Conte objected to the idea that creators of any sort should be thinking too much about their “brand.”

For context, earlier this month, Insider quoted Lorenz in a much-discussed article.

“When you think about the future of media, it’s much more distributed and about personalities," said Taylor Lorenz, a former Times tech reporter who recently left for The Washington Post. “Younger people recognize the power of having their own brand and audience, and the longer you stay at a job that restricts you from outside opportunities, the less relevant your brand becomes.”

A bunch of political reporters — including the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Washington Post reporter Jacqueline Alemany — seized on Lorenz’s comments to take issue with the notion that journalists should shape their “brand.”

Conte seemed to agree with Lorenz that journalists can increasingly operate independently of newsrooms, but he took issue with the idea that journalists should mind their brands.

“Can journalists develop independent followings?” Conte asked rhetorically.

“Of course they can.”

“Do journalists need to be a part of larger institutions and leverage those institution’s historical reach?”

“No, obviously, that is changing.”

“But the more interesting part of what you just said is the distinguishing characteristics between this concept of a brand and the concept of a creator,” Conte said.

“What I would argue is that those are very fucking different things. Very different.”

“A brand is consistent. It has brand values. It builds trust. It has decks of like its style and its voice and what it sounds like. And if it were a person, what kind of jeans would it wear?”

“Like that’s what brands are.”

“Brands are not human beings,” he continued. “They’re not.”

Jack Conte. Source: Patreon

“Creators are fucking people. They’re inconsistent. They’re human. They're beautiful. They’re frail. They’re smart. They’re stupid. They’re strategic. They’re impulsive. They’re human beings.”

Conte said, “We’re all trying to behave like brands today. And brands are corporations. Like we don’t have to behave like brands.”

“When you watch a Prince music video — that fucking guy is just himself, no matter what. And I don’t want him to behave like Walmart. I want him to be Prince. And my favorite creators, I want them to be themselves and I want them to feel human and I want them to not feel trapped by their brand values. I think it’s a mistake for everybody to think, ‘I need a personal brand. I need to create a brand.’”

“Just be yourself.”

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Next week, look forward to VC Jeopardy with Deena Shakir, Julian Eison, Charles Hudson, and Steve Brotman.