'So here we are in front of the elephants today, and the cool thing about these guys is they have really long trunks' is hardly the phrase that many believe would change the world, but it has. This video, published on April 23, 2005, by Jawed, it is the only video that he's posted in 17 years, it runs for only 19 seconds, doesn't really say anything, but has been seen by 42 million people.
This video was 'Me at the zoo'. It was the first ever video uploaded to YouTube, 12 years later, over 5 billion hours of videos are watched on the platform every single day and the company is worth an estimated $90 billion. The 'Jawed' who created the video was Jawed Karim, one of the co-founders of YouTube, who is now worth around $140 million. YouTube itself creates almost no content, it supports its uploaders financially, and gives preferential treatment to those at the top of the tree, but in essence it creates nothing itself.
However, the company has done more than simply make a ton of money, it has shown the power of the little guy. Justin Bieber, for instance, gained most of his fandom through his Youtube videos, PewDiePie, the most widely known YouTuber, has averaged over $9 million per year since he started his channel, and lifestyle vloggers like Zoella have made millions from branching out into areas outside of Youtube. Without the platform, they would likely be unknown, but through having a strategy of unknown people creating almost anything they want, the audience was limitless without YouTube needing to do much at all.
The same can be said of eBay, Amazon, Uber, and AirBnB, each of which utilizes this now common theme of basically using the talents or products of others through their platform as a business model. However, increasingly companies are now using a similar 'little guy' method for more mainstream business models.
For instance, Netflix recently announced that it was investing $8 billion in new programming in the coming year. Due to the online format and already established audience, it has allowed the company to utilize smaller companies, independent filmmakers, and more niche programs to increase their appeal and pick up otherwise ignored programming options. This works well for creators too, as the format allows them to be more expansive and experimental than traditional media. Charlie Brooker, the creator of Black Mirror, which moved from traditional TV to Netflix in 2016, explained that 'From story to story, we can reinvent the wheel and produce massively different tonal pieces. We have the freedom to do absolutely whatever we want.' Trusting the smaller, more experimental guys to use your platform to create something they want that will bring significant value to the larger brand.
This move is not only in films and shows though, it is something we are also seeing in the fast-growing podcast industry. According to Edison Research people between 13-34 spend more time listening to podcasts than AM/FM radio content. The number of monthly listeners is also increasing, with monthly listener growth increasing from 21% to 24% annually. This has given smaller content creators the opportunity to utilize platforms like iTunes, TuneIn, and Stitcher to spread their content. Podcasts like Revisionist History, Serial, Harmon Town, and My Dad Wrote A Porno have huge audiences looking at subjects that are slightly off the wall and unlikely to be picked up by mainstream media formats.
When the iPhone was originally conceived, Steve Jobs's vision only extended so far. What has become the most attractive feature of modern smartphones was something that he initially rejected - apps. The idea has since netted Apple billions of dollars and has become the defining feature of modern phones to the extent that the Apple App Store is now home to over 2.2 million apps, from simple card games, through to complex AI driven business platforms. Companies like King have prospered because they took these very simple games that wouldn't really have worked on traditional desktop or console formats and transferred them over to smartphones, netting billions in the process. After its founding in 2003, it had huge success with games like Candy Crush which appeared exclusively on app stores which led Blizzard to acquire the company for $5.9 billion in February 2016. They are one of the better examples of giving power to the little guy, but they are by no means the only ones, with companies like Citymapper and Snapchat exclusively used through apps and now worldwide names, making millions for the app stores on which they're hosted.
Ultimately, taking this approach has led to success for many companies, you could even argue that in some ways it is what social media giants also do. Many are unwilling to take the plunge because it removes certain elements of control, but the reality is that by giving opportunities to others through what your platform offers can create great things.