💹 How a modern finance media company came to be

Ft. Vincent's Eric Cantor and Adam Katz

The word "creator," as it has been used in this newsletter, is slippery. Since taking over editorial duties, I've adopted a three-part definition.

A "creator" is someone who:

  1. Is consistently creating and distributing content online.

  2. Has a direct relationship with their audience (no middlemen).

  3. Monetizes that content or uses it to pursue career goals.

I'm constantly testing the edges of that definition. One thing I keep coming back to: "creator" is often a synonym for "independent media company." This applies to nearly everyone I've interviewed this year and has shattered one of my original assumptions: that “creator” is synonymous with “personal brand.” I no longer believe that to be a foundational truth.

— Francis Zierer, Editor

If you have feedback on this issue, please fill out our usual poll at the bottom of the newsletter. I read every reply.

To work as a creator for the long run, regardless of niche or media, you need an authentic, obsessive interest in your topic. Building an audience and shipping quality content consistently over many years will wear you down otherwise.

In 2020, a company called Vincent launched as an aggregator: a tech platform for people looking for alternative investment opportunities. Investors could use the platform to discover deals listed on some 50 partner platforms; Vincent would take a fee from these platforms for the redirected traffic. 

Vincent’s founders included Slava Rubin (founder of Indiegogo) and Eric Cantor, the latter of whom Creator Spotlight spoke with for this newsletter, alongside another team member, Adam Katz. Longtime private market investors themselves, they saw a growing interest in alternative asset classes but a shortage of easy-to-access information in these spaces, so they set out to build a solution. 

The company’s original mission hasn’t changed, but the medium of their output has. From platform origins, it's become a full-on media company and the hero product is Vincent Spotlight (no affiliation with Creator Spotlight), a newsletter with around 70,000 subscribers that has been part of the company's operations in one form or another since 2019.

The company’s other flagship product is the Smart Humans podcast, hosted by co-founder Slava Rubin. Guests — leaders from the world of private market investing — come on the pod to discuss their personal and professional journeys. The past roster includes Masterworks founder Scott Lynn, entrepreneur and influencer Gary Vaynerchuk, and venture investor Jason Calacanis.

In the second half of 2023, Vincent launched two additional newsletters: Pre-Money, which is focused on venture opportunities, and Real Estate Reportwhich is focused on investment opportunities in the titular industry.

Creator Spotlight asked Eric Cantor, co-founder of Vincent, how the company he operates today compares to the company he expected to build four years ago:

“Look, getting our thoughts together and building this honest, complete, and thorough communication with a broad audience — it’s been part of what we’ve been since day one. If you asked me four years ago whether the newsletter would be the focus, I probably would have said no.

But you’ve gotta follow where your passion is and where the opportunity is. I feel like this has been the best quarter we’ve ever had as a business, probably because we’re doing the thing we’re meant to be doing.

Startups are fun. You find where the opportunity is and go after it, and by the time you perfect that, you realize it’s already obsolete, and you’ve got to take it to the next level.”

Eric Cantor, co-founder of Vincent and the writer behind Pre-Money

Former Smart Humans guest Gary Vaynerchuk has been sermonizing this idea for over a decade: Every company is a media company. Equally, every person is a brand — both of these ideas are core to digital life. If the point isn’t clear enough: Every Single One of You is a Media Company.

There are nuance we could pick over here, but this much is true: All creators are media companies. Either the individual creator is the media company, or their brand (like Vincent) is the media company; in either case, the creators are in control of the content.

“Adam and I would be geeking out on how much this baseball card went for at auction, and what the factors are in that, even if we weren’t sending an email about it, even if we weren’t trying to build a company.

So to do this as a service is just to let you in on our thinking and save you some time. We tell you what the important stuff is because we studied it anyway, and we’re not going to shut up about it.”

Eric Cantor

For today's newsletter, alongside Eric Cantor, we also spoke with Adam Katz, who is Vincent's Head of Research and Content.

Vincent is the fifth company Eric has started. He’s a technologist by trade with a deep history in private market investing, having sent a little less than 100 angel and seed checks to early-stage companies. Eric writes Vincent’s Pre-Money newsletter.

Adam Katz, who writes the Vincent Spotlight and Real Estate Report newsletters, has a legal background. His interest in sports, arts, and collectibles drew him into the alternative investing space half a decade ago, and he's been researching and writing on the topic ever since. Says Adam, "I was drawn to this idea of opening up historically difficult asset classes to everyday investors."

For our part, at Creator Spotlight, we were drawn to the fact that, as a company, Vincent operates in much the same way as Salary Transparent Street, who we profiled last week. The former started as a tech company and became a media company; the latter started as a media company and is becoming a tech company. This overlap challenged our definition of what it means to be a "creator" enough that we had to write about it.

We recently spent an hour with Eric and Adam discussing:

  • 🏋️ Building a solid core audience over four years

  • 📰 Deciding not to put names on the newsletter byline

  • 👎 Knowing what not to write about

  • 💰 Generating revenue through partnerships and trust

  • 😌 Not worrying too much about competitors

Read an excerpt of our interview below or listen to the full podcast here.

No time to read or listen to the rest? Before you go, here are a few quick lessons from Eric and Adam’s work on Vincent, applicable across niches and platforms.

  1. Passion is the key to success as a creator. With the right combination of luck, capital, and timing, you can build a successful media business, but it's not a coincidence that every creator I speak with is passionate about their field. It takes a great deal of work to build something of sustainable quality. Passion is the flame that lights the way.

  2. Don't fear change. Vincent wasn't originally a media company, but it made sense to become one after a couple of years of operating as more of a tech company. It's little different from former Creator Spotlight guest Jade Buffong-Phillips starting a generalized founder advice newsletter before pausing and returning with a different angle but the same core mission a year later. What matters is forward motion.

  3. Brand partnerships only generate sustainable revenue if you have a well-defined, loyal audience. Vincent partners with finance brands and leaders who want access to a trusting, high-value audience. Look at last week’s issue — Salary Transparent Street does the same thing in a different space. Your ability to monetize through partnerships is inseparable from your brand and the quality of your relationship with your audience.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview as a podcast on any major podcast platform, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Vincent started as a tech company but became a media company. Tell me about that.

Eric Cantor: Our mission has always been to help solve the problem of information access in this space. We've built some tech, websites, apps, and raised a fund, but now we're focused on telling the story and engaging with a range of investors. The newsletters and podcasts are just how we're delivering that mission today.

TechCrunch headline from December 2020 — the vehicle has changed, but the mission of "alternative investments discovery" remains the same.

Our evolution is sensible and consistent in terms of what we want to accomplish. We've just realized if the first approach doesn't work, try the next one.

Who is your audience? Are they all active investors, or are they more just people who are interested but not actively investing?

EC: We've been building this audience for four years now. At every stage of the business, since 2019, we’ve had this weekly newsletter, Vincent Spotlight. When we were more in the investing game, we were writing a lot of memos, deal analysis, and quantitative analysis.

Our audience is the accumulation of all these different pieces of outreach, all these programs and people we know, and people who have seen us on LinkedIn. And it really runs the gamut.

Whatever your investment level, you can engage. At a high level, our audience is largely US-based, and they're all somewhere on that investment journey.

Adam Katz: When we've done surveys, we found that about 70% of subscribers come in already having invested in one of these alternative assets, but there's not necessarily a lot of knowledge overlap between real estate, collectibles, venture capital, and crypto.

How many people make up the Vincent team?

EC: We have a team of five now. We have a couple of contributors on the content design side. Adam and I run the research and publications, and Slava does the podcast.

Do you see Vincent as competing with other finance content? Financial Times, Robinhood's Snacks newsletter, r/wallstreetbets — what draws people to your work as opposed to content like that?

EC: We believe that newsletters and this more intimate, affinity-based communication is how people are going to get their information: they trust the source, they're interested in the material being covered, and they want to save time.

We're not breaking stories. What we can do is tell a certain type of investor about what's happening. That's not a big hedge fund — we get a couple of those, but we're not focused on that institutional need. And it's not somebody who just got their first Robinhood account and a few free shares.

We serve the people in between who are really fascinated by these asset classes, who know there's an opportunity there, and who want to learn about it as they go.

Recent issues in the Vincent Spotlight archive.

That in-between need isn't being served as much. There's a lot of inside baseball and 101, beginner-level stuff, but there's not much of what we'd call 201-level content. It's for people who know enough to be dangerous but need help refining. That's our audience, and we feel there's a massive, unserved opportunity there.

AK: To be frank, we don't think about other people doing this stuff. We're not sitting around thinking about how we can differentiate ourselves from Robinhood Snacks or Morning Brew or whatever. We are comfortable with our place in this particular ecosystem.

Your flagship newsletter has 70,000 subscribers. How did you get there? 

EC: That number has come from every chapter of the business since 2019. The first thousand were just people we knew, being fairly well-connected in the venture startup community. We said, “Hey, we’re starting this company; sign up.”

Attracting user 70,000 isn't so different from those first users. It's still about putting out something interesting and compelling that people will care about. I unsubscribe from newsletters almost daily; you have to keep it compelling.

As the business has evolved, we've lost subscribers, but the ones who've stayed want to be there. It takes years to build up that strong core.

There's been a lot of growth through word-of-mouth, press, and launches. We do a bit of acquisition through some of the ecosystems we're in, like beehiiv recommendations or Boosts, as long as it's cost-effective.

A few of Vincent’s growth levers.

Is Vincent profitable? What does the revenue structure look like?

EC: We’re pretty close to being a profitable business. We have investors, so we have capital to run experiments with, or to invest in a new person on the team, or a new growth tactic.

Our revenue right now comes mainly from partnerships. People sponsor our newsletters and specific links in our newsletters, create events with us, appear on our podcasts, and incorporate us into other pieces of their own marketing and content efforts. We believe we can grow that revenue stream substantially.

Some of the partnership packages available on Vincent Spotlight’s Passionfroot page.

This whole ecosystem of investment managers, platforms, providers, and issuers has come to light after the JOBS Act. These people need to tell their stories, but they’re generally consumed with regulatory and compliance work or just general operations; the idea of going out and finding customers by telling their stories doesn’t always come naturally. That’s where we step in.

People in that ecosystem trust us, and our audience trusts us. We have to convey that trust, and it's challenging. These are edgy assets. Our test is: Would you evaluate this for your grandmother's retirement account? There's always risk in a startup or any of the deals we're talking about, but you want to feel like it's mitigated enough; if it's not, we won't run it.

Luckily, there's this whole ecosystem of providers and managers who want help telling that story. That's really the opportunity for Vincent Media.

Are ads and partnerships 100% of your revenue?

EC: That is our revenue to date on the media business. We have had other types of arrangements in the prior chapters of Vincent, some of which still pay royalties to us, but this is all we're selling and doing right now, what needs to sustain the business, and where the opportunity is.

There are 70,000 people reading your flagship newsletter. What's your responsibility to that audience?

EC: We talk to our audience the way we would at a cocktail party or in a text message with a cousin: "I don't know everything, but I want to give you the guidelines to be successful in this space."

We talk about partners and sponsors in a way that people understand we're giving them a platform or introducing a deal, but you still have to look at it for yourself. That's the ethos we're trying to perpetuate.

AK: This is something we talk about a lot because we want to make sure we're acting with the utmost integrity and honesty in all our communication; we don't want to lead anybody astray.

There's a lot of risk inherent in some of the asset classes we cover. High potential reward, but with high levels of risk. It's really, really important to communicate that.

The types of assets Vincent covers.

Our goal for these newsletters is, if you read them every week, you will come away not necessarily as an expert, but you will have a strong understanding of what is currently happening in these worlds we cover. That’s our promise to our audience.

You switched to beehiiv last year after running the newsletter elsewhere since the start. What did that do for you?

EC: The newsletter business is evolving. In prior email systems we've used, you'd put in a subscriber list and send some emails, but there was no notion of how much that was worth, how to monetize, or how to grow the list. The end-to-end tooling has influenced our approach to the business.

AK: We moved to beehiiv last May, and that has profoundly changed how we've conceived of this business and this business model. At that time, we hadn't fully committed to focusing on the newsletter as our primary product and source of income.

Transitioning to beehiiv is a large reason we've been able to turn the business into what it is now.

Onboarding surveys are the most reliable way to learn about your audience.

The Vincent team has a well-defined audience profile. This data helps them secure brand partnerships (their network is another reason) and set them up to launch two additional newsletters.

Why onboarding surveys are so important:

“The easiest way to get audience data is a quick onboarding survey. That’s when people have the highest intent and willingness to give you attention. It’s also a way to filter out people who didn’t know exactly what they were signing up for.

The other side is you don’t want to bother people with surveys too often.

If we hadn’t run these surveys, we might not have known to launch real estate and venture newsletters; I wouldn’t have expected those to be so overwhelmingly the most requested verticals.“

Adam Katz

Rules for a good onboarding survey

“Keep it short and sweet. It should never take more than one minute to complete. Test it, and remember that it might take most people twice as long as it takes you.

Pick three things you really want to know. You're going to see a huge drop-off after the first question.

Make it multiple-choice; you'll get a lot more answers than with a text box. It's just less of an ask. You can throw in an additional thoughts question at the end, but make sure it's not marked as required.”

Adam Katz

Content we've been thinking about while working on this issue.

Thank you for reading today's issue. If you want more of the story, check out the full interview podcast

On to next week's issue, featuring a writer and youth-culture analyst quitting her day job to go all-in as a creator and build a business around her 3-year-old, 38k-subscriber newsletter.

— Francis Zierer, Editor

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