A review of the new “creator” discovery platform of platforms
What is Side Hustle Stack (SHS)?
It is an interesting new web-based resource launched a few weeks ago on December 3, 2020. It helps users find the platforms that offer everything from short-term gig work and “side hustles” to longer term project-based freelance work, as well as the tools and networks creators need to start a small business and generate new streams of income.
A decade ago, there were only a few freelancer platforms matching supply and demand. Now there are thousands. The creators of SHS, Li Jin, Brandon Handoko and Lila Shroff, envisioned the ability to navigate the options via a centralized web-based database. It currently features 150 different platforms, but this number will surely grow.
To their surprise, the launch received a huge response. For example, a post about Side Hustle Stack on TikTok went viral racking up 3.2 million views and 35,000 shares in just 3 days.
It is an impressive showing in a crowded environment where it is increasingly difficult to breakthrough.
How did they do it and why is this platform of platforms getting so much attention?
Breaking it down, four interconnected elements have supported the launch, all of which lean heavily into platforms. These elements include:
Cloud-based tool stack
This system map shows the components of these elements and how they interconnect. For an interactive version see here.
Mapping the Side Hustle Stack
Let’s start with the ideas:
Side Hustle Stack draws on several big concepts--- the passion economy, the creator economy, and the platform economy, which are then related to the current economic squeeze facing the American middle class. The passion economy speaks to the motivation to start a brand, business, or community. The creator economy is a close cousin. It highlights the rise of independent content creators who are writing, recording, filming, and producing but also generate their own demand by building an audience. It also recognizes the growing significance of the platforms to efficiently connect supply and demand not only for things like rides and accommodations but for creators seeking ways to earn a livelihood. Finally, it taps into the need for solutions to the economic stress that Covid-19 has created for creators.
Li Jin links these ideas together in an article published in the Harvard Business Review blog on December 17th under the title: The Creator Economy Needs a Middle Class.
While one can poke holes into the ability of creator platforms to overcome the middle class squeeze, the vision SHS paints is positive and decidedly pro platform. It runs counter to the “tech lash” narrative that has gain momentum, which depicts platforms as self-serving monopolists or worse, soulless giants out to grab every piece of personal data possible, with little or no regard to the damage caused to truth, trust, and democratic institutions.
The SHS vision also links creator platforms to the American Dream. The message is that hard work- i.e. “the hustle”- can open creators to new customers and income streams. Anyone can make a buck pursuing their creative passion if they understand and take advantage of the proliferation of platforms. Side Hustle Stack will be a resource to show the way.
There is now an array of tools available to build web-facing databases and engagement functionality that requires little if any coding. SHS leans heavily into these cloud-based subscription services for its tech stack. Specifically, it taps the San Francisco-based companies Notion, Figma, Super and Airtable.
Notion provides the primary tool to both organize and publish SHS’s platform database to the web. Notion has been used to organize the platforms into 25 “work categories”. Each platform is displayed in the form of a tile with its logo and the type of work category it serves. For example, under the category Fitness Instructor, one can find 8 platforms: Indifit, Lokafit, Onpodio, Sutra, SuperFit, Strydal, Salut and Playbook. With a simple click, additional information on each of these platforms is displayed including a short description, year founded, how many creators are making money on the platform, and the average payout.
SHS also leverages the workflow automation that these cloud-based tools provide. For example, to collect submissions on platforms currently not listed, SHS uses an integration with Airtable. Airtable is a cloud-based hybrid database spread-sheet service. Users can create a database, set up column types, add records, and link various databases together. Like Notion, Airtable allows multiple users to work simultaneously at the same time and avoid version confusion.
These tools enhance productivity by speeding up the capture and process of reviewing new platforms submitted by users and the overall usability of SHS.
To boost discovery, SHS was also posted to Product Hunt, which is itself a platform. Product Hunt goes beyond a simple directory of products by engaging a community to support the discovery and prioritization of products. Community members are encouraged to submit, browse, vote, and comment on products. They can also engage directly with product creators. Votes on products are tallied in real-time. Platform Hunt also sends daily updates to its email list alerting members to top "hunts".
Since it was founded in 2013, Product Hunt has expanded to large base of active users. Investors, tech journalists and others follow the site to what for trends and new innovations.
The Side Hustle Stack reached #5 product of the day when it was posted on Product Hunt. Within a month, it had secured 644 upvotes and dozens of positive comments.
Finally, the SHS team created a presence on all the major social platforms. Here are the links:
This is now standard practice for getting the word out. Rather novel, however, was SHS’s appearance on TikTok. On December 16th, Alexcazam, an influencer with 26,000 followers, created a short video clip about SHS. It featured her surprised face followed by a quick cut to views of various features of the SHS website, all to the theatrical beat of Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” This post drove so many views that it temporarily crashed the SHS Notion.so website.
It also created new material for the SHS team to post to twitter and other social sites.
The social promotion has been working to do what it design to do—drive attention and product discovery.
How SHS will evolve remains a bit unclear. One can imagine a couple of paths.
It could serve as a useful information engine to feed into podcasts such as Means of Creation, a weekly conversation hosted by Li Jin and Nathan Baschez that provides commentary on the passion economy. SHS would provide great fodder for creating a steady stream of additional podcasts.
It could be a resource to support investment decision making. Coordinating a platform of platforms will certainly provide market intelligence useful for venture investments in up-and-coming creator platforms.
While SHS is now free, one could imagine that it could be monetized in the future if it builds a large enough community. It could create a subscription tier if it expands value-added services to users (creators looking for opportunities) or platforms (looking to build supply).
Alternatively, it could open up to advertisers if SHS does grow to become a significant resource hub for creators, creator platforms and related complements.
SHS could also attempt to become a more global resource. The current list is dominated by US creator platforms. The many creator platforms that have emerged in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia are currently not represented. With a focused push, these platforms could be added. If SHS went down this path, the current framing around achieving the American Dream would need to be adjusted to make it more globally appealing and relevant.
Finally, it could also become a talent aggregator and intermediary serving large enterprises, which spend billions annually on the inputs to their marketing campaigns. If it went down this path it could become a competitor to platforms such as SuperSide and Cummuno, which seek to link creators with enterprises looking for creator talent.
It will be interesting to watch which way this initiative goes.