We're kicking off season 2 of the podcast with Kinsey Grant, co-founder & editor at Smooth Media. The former Business Casual host talks about building her company, Smooth Media, and her own experiences as a content creator and entrepreneur. She's interviewed the likes of Mark Cuban, Chamath Palihapatya, Mary Barra and the Winklevoss Twins, and we have the immense privilige of turning the mic around to interview her.
Kinsey gets candid about what it's like to build and leave an immensely popular podcast, what she's learned from going independent, and how that informs the company she's building now.
Listen to the full interview or check out some highlights below:
What is Smooth Media?
Smooth is a company that builds other media companies with creators. So, effectively a creator comes to us and says, I have this great audience. I'm really excited about the work that I'm doing, but I have no time. I really want to build something that gives me equity and I want to be able to scale beyond just me. That's really our specialty. We will help you build out a full-fledged media company, operationally, editorially, business strategy, all of that good stuff start to finish.
But we hope there's no real end in sight for these media companies because our ambition is to build media companies with and for these creators, that can be self-sustaining, that are going to scale beyond just them and are going to be a meaningful contribution to what can be a lot of noise for media companies, these days.
On starting her career in media:
When I went to college, I pursued a career in broadcast media, did a bunch of stuff that was setting me up for that very career in broadcast television and then when it came time to take one of my prerequisite classes for graduating, I had to choose between reporting on business and reporting on the economy. I chose reporting on business and that was a really exciting switch for me. It was something I never really envisioned myself doing and I'm super glad that I did it because now it's led me down a very interesting path.
That path started with a job as a breaking news reporter working on Wall Street. I was covering basically just the stock market all day long. 20 stories a day, some days it was pretty wild but I got a little frustrated with that, just the lack of creativity. It wasn't super fun. I wasn't speaking to people who were like me or had any similar interests to myself and so I decided to start looking for other jobs around.
Then I heard from Morning Brew, had been a longtime reader of Morning Brew and ended up joining the company as the fifth employee, our second writer and did the main newsletter for about a year and a half before going full-time at Morning Brew on the podcast that I started, Business Casual. I did that for about a year and a half as well and just really got into interviewing people. So it's fun to be interviewed sometimes. I'm still new at it.
On moving on from Morning Brew and Business Casual:
It was incredibly bittersweet. The sweet part was that I was so excited about what I was doing. I got a really good piece of advice from a mentor of mine when I was trying to decide if I was ready to move on for Morning Brew. He said, "You have to be excited and not scared. Are you afraid if you stay at Morning Brew, that you'll get bored or you won't be appreciated?" It couldn't be a decision like that. It had to be a decision that you were just drawn to the opportunity in front of you, that you couldn't say no to it.
The bitter part of it was that I had really poured my blood, sweat and tears into Business Casual, probably to a fault. I worked too hard on it. I have a better work-life balance now, I can draw boundaries a little bit better now but when it was starting out, there was a lot of pressure knowing that Morning Brew was this company with a ton of potential, a lot of opportunity in front of it, and that I was going to become, effectively, the face of this big arm of the company. So much pressure and so I really tied a lot of my self-worth to how well the show was doing, and it did great so I felt great.
Then when I decided to leave, all of a sudden there was this vacuum. So, in that way it was a real adjustment personally, and honestly, emotionally and mentally. And to watch someone else step in, there were the struggles of trying to figure out what to do next with my baby. It was tough, it was a really difficult time. But that said, what I was doing was still so gratifying and exciting and I really got into it right away. So I didn't have a whole lot of time to sit back and think about how sad I was. It was more like better hop to! Yeah, definitely bittersweet.
What kind creators does Smooth Media partner with and what is the opportunity at hand within the creator economy?
You're catching me at an interesting time because I have been really fixated on this. Of how to draw boundaries around the creator economy. It's incredibly difficult because, to me, everything touches the creator economy and the creator economy touches everything else.
There's this really interesting, mental picture that I have in my head where I see the energy sector, right? Or the retail sector, or I don't know, right? These specific sectors that exist within our broader global economy, that are so often tied to what they do specifically in that sector to make money. An energy company is really only going to make money doing energy, right? They're not gonna make money going viral on TikTok. Same thing for retail. Your end goal is to sell clothes, sell food, sell whatever. But when you think about a creator, creators have hands in everything, right?
You can have a merch line, you can have real life meetups, you can make money from AdSense on YouTube. There really aren't any boundaries to what the creator sector is. You really can operate in any of these spaces, covering any of these spaces, talking about really anything without bounds and that's super interesting to me. It sounds so corny, but the opportunity really is boundless and at Smooth, what we look for in creators, knowing that that definition is everyone, what we look for specifically are creators who are focused on a niche.
We have tried here and there to have conversations with general interest creators. Thinking is Cool and myself being one of them, and it just doesn't work as well as working with a niche creator who can rally a community around a specific idea, a specific feeling, a specific topic, those are the people who we like to work with the most. When you know how to talk to people who all have some sort of something in common, you are set up a lot more effectively, and I would say more beneficially, to then capitalize on that, to give those people what they want and to make money doing it and to really build something that can be lasting, that's not just a flash in the pan. You know, you can have a great idea once, but if you can create something that people can keep coming back to, that's what I'm interested in.
Kinsey's advice for brands that are on the fence about the creator space:
I would say start niche. Start with our roster of clients at Smooth Media! The value in having a niche community is that you're not just casting a wide net and hoping that something sticks because not only is that ineffective, it's really expensive and it's just the Nike-types that can do that. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't.
In the economic scenario that we're in right now, I'm gonna bet on the more efficient and less expensive way of going about meeting customers and that is focusing on a niche. So an example from a recent integration that we did, we just started a new newsletter called Workdaze with Rod Phil, that focuses primarily on improving your relationship with work. So work culture, mental health, all of that good stuff. and we actually launched with Peloton Corporate Wellness as our sponsor and had a great run with them because they knew that the people who were reading Rod's content were specifically interested in improving their relationship with work. Peloton Corporate wellness is based entirely on selling Peloton memberships and Peloton gear to businesses as a benefit for their employees.
The synergy there just made so much sense, right? That these were people who wanted to know about making work better. Peloton's entire goal is to make work better. We could match that up and we could make it happen in a really fun and creative way that was true to Rod's brand, but also was getting Peloton what it wanted out of that relationship.
And probably not surprisingly, they had a really successful, campaign with us. I think that is a perfect example of why media works even in an economic situation like the one that we're in right now. People aren't going to unfollow Rod because their 401k is smaller than they thought it would be, right? The S&P 500 might be down for the year, but we're still gonna follow the creators and that's not going anywhere. Investing in those relationships now puts brands in a really positive position once we do get to the other side, which we always do, that they will still have a relationship with the right people and that the, the payoff will happen at some point, if not immediately, down the line.
How Kinsey Grant stays organized and gets it all done:
In terms of of productivity, I am probably one of the last proponents of the Notes app as a a to-do list. I have tried to switch over to Notion permanently, and I'm a rudimentary user, I would say. I am very old school. I will use the Notes app on my phone. I'll write a to-do list every day. Then I will just rely on my trusty Slack reminders to keep me in line and make sure that I am where I need to be at the right time, and prepared for what I need to be prepared for.
When it comes to working in a creative space, I would say it's not impossible but it's pretty difficult to show up to a meeting empty-handed. My job is to come up with ideas for people and so I take that very seriously and I don't want to just show up and bullshit my way through a meeting. I'm on their team to help them come up with ideas. So, I am a big proponent of waking up early because that's when I am most creative. Most of my team is on the West coast, so the hours of like 6:00 AM to 11:00 AM are pretty quiet for me. That's when I look at my calendar for the day, figure out what I need to come up with ideas for and do it then.
Steering into the times when I feel the most creative has really been the biggest productivity hack for me. So instead of trying to come up with ideas when it's 7:00 PM and I'm exhausted and I've been staring at a computer screen all day, like, I'm not gonna be at my best then, I steer into when I do feel my best, and other than that, I kind of fly by the seat of my pants and it's worked out okay for me so far. It's also just in having a great team of people who I can trust to get things done.
What else is on Kinsey Grant's Someday List?
For me, personally as Kinsey Grant, my ultimate goal is to write a book. For a long time thought I would write a book before I was 30. I don't think that's gonna happen. That's okay, I'll get to it eventually but I love writing and I have really been lucky in working with my team that they are supportive of the fact that at my core and in my heart, I want to write, I want to be a journalist.
I want to go out and talk to people and understand the world around me and synthesize that world for other people. That's kind of my nature is to do that and so that is the ultimate goal for me personally, is to write the book that I have had an outline for, for years to, to finally get it done. That will be a Someday thing, because right now the opportunity is so enormous with Smooth that that's just what I am excited to focus on and quite frankly, what I have to focus on. Over the next year, I would say it's just growing the company, hiring more people, bringing on more clients, and being really specific in those decisions and being as strategic as we can, knowing that we are at a very unique moment in the economy, in the creator world, in the tech world, and I really want to seize that.
I think that's kind of broad but it's just doing good work, building these media companies, scaling beyond these entry-point projects that we've created and doing it with people who are really, really great at their jobs. I think hiring is a huge part of our plan for the coming months just need some more people. Specifically people who are, like some of our, our early hires right now. Our first employee, Ali, is just the definition of the corporate rockstar. She keeps everybody excited and happy to be at work, but she also has this uncanny ability to read people's minds. She knows what you're gonna ask her for before you ask her for it
So finding more people like that. More people who are super excited about the creator economy, and helping creators grow, that's, definitely in our. Plan for the next couple of months and years. Yeah, the rest is unwritten. Follow Kinsey online:
Find Kinsey on Twitter @KinseyGrant or Instagram @kinseyrgrant Learn more about Smooth Media at smoothmedia.co