For years, I've been singing the praises of niching down. My core belief was that focusing your energy on one specific market or subculture was the surest way to build a thriving creator business.
So, when I set out to build two new ventures last year, I followed all of my own advice. I did extensive market research, documented my findings, started creating content and making friends, etc. Basically, I did everything in this article, down to a t.
I was working my way towards Creator-Market Fit for both Ungated and Citizen Within. Or so I thought.
One year later, however, neither project fits within a niche. And I'm increasingly confident neither of them ever will. Somewhere along the way, without realizing it, I stepped off the well trodden path into something new.
When "Creator-Market Fit" No Longer Fits
My aim for the last few years has been to help creative people find Creator-Market Fit. This is where you identify one niche or subculture you deeply vibe with. Then, by immersing yourself in that space, you can build a thriving business around creative work (and people) you enjoy.
I still believe that's a viable path for many creators. That's what I did with my first business, which was radically focused on entrepreneurial indie filmmakers. And I've seen it work for a ton of other people over the years. Targeting one specific niche is the path of least resistance for building a creative business.
But for me, it's not the right approach anymore.
One of the things I've learned about myself this past year is that I'm allergic to labels. In this season of life, my goal is exploration and personal evolution. I enjoy being a cultural and intellectual chameleon. I value the ability to upgrade my beliefs as I move through different corners the world and learn new things.
That's why I don't want my identity too firmly rooted in any one group, ideology, or problem. When a label or group membership becomes a core part of your identity, it's much harder to see, let alone question, the culture around you. As tribal animals, we're hardwired and incentivized to think in lockstep with our social circle.
(This isn't necessarily a bad thing, by the way. It's one of the core mechanisms that allows communities and societies to cohere and function. But it's a dynamic I'm wary of in this season of life, as I break away from my old identity, and figure out who I want to be going forward.)
So whatever I do with my business and creative work, I want to be agile and adaptable. I want to find ways to harness the power of an internet that's fracturing into thousands of distinct subcultures, without necessarily rooting myself in one of them.
In other words, I need a new business philosophy that isn't centered around Creator-Market Fit. And I think I've stumbled into just such an approach without realizing it.
I'm calling the new territory I find myself in "Niche Adjacency" (although that name isn't great, and is subject to change).
Basically, my businesses exist at the intersection of multiple distinct markets and subcultures, without belonging to any of them.
Broadly speaking, Ungated started by taking aim at the "creator economy" space. I quickly learned this term is way too broad to be useful, and is mostly used by Silicon Valley types instead of creators themselves. So it was never a market suited to my work.
From there, I started diving into a bunch of creative and artistic sub-markets—newsletter writers, course creators, YouTubers, podcasters, musicians, etc. And more recently, I've started vibing with the Friendly Ambitious Nerd scene, as coined by Visakan Veerasamy. That's where I've felt most at home.
Citizen Within, on the other hand, started with a focus on political depolarization. But my niche research took me into some fascinating and unexpected territory. The more I dig on this one, and the more I listen to my intuition, the more I stray from my initial hypotheses.
I'm now digging around in several subcultures looking at wholesale paradigm change for humanity. Then there's rationalist/post-rationalist discourse, the sensemaking community, the intellectual dark web, and whatever the hell is happening in places like Rebel Wisdom, The Stoa, and Interintellect. I also find myself dabbling in political science, futurism, and sociology. There's a lot going on with this one.
In the Creator-Market Fit model, I'd mold my business to live within one of these spaces. But in the niche adjacent model, it's like I'm building my own house right next door, while still living in a tight knit community with my neighbors.
I find myself dipping into and out of all of these niches with ease, and integrating parts of them into my own designs. So whatever I'm building with Ungated and Citizen Within will contain recognizable elements of the surrounding world, while being their own unique, distinct thing.
What's interesting is how this changes how I think about the act of marketing and creating fans.
Finding The Others
Both Ungated and Citizen Within are still radically focused in who they serve. In other words, they're still super niche. Just not quite in the way I've defined it before.
Ungated doesn't serve all of the markets and subcultures I mentioned in their entirety. Same goes for Citizen Within. Instead, I'm aiming my work at a narrow slice of all of them.
Basically, I've stopped looking for my ideal niche, and started looking for my ideal fans.
For Ungated, I'm seeking out people who want to do vibrant, meaningful creative work that breaks the mold of what "online content" usually looks like. I'm looking for people who want to play infinite games in business in a way that aligns with their values. And of course, I'm looking for people who are fed up with all the "get rich quick" and "growth hacking" nonsense that's become standard in the online business world.
For Citizen Within, I'm looking for fellow truth seekers and live players. People who are sick of rampant, simplistic ideology, and who want to work together to solve messy problems and build a better world.
During my niche research phase last year, I learned that these types of people are out there. In fact, there are a lot of them. But they don't exist in a single place. They're scattered across many of the disparate niches and subcultures I mentioned.
So now my job as a marketer is to send the bat signal into all of these niches, and try to pull my ideal fans over into my world. I need to broadcast my values and philosophy into these spaces, knowing they won't resonate with the majority of people who come across them. But that's ok, because I'm not looking to serve the entirety of any one niche. I'm looking to find those small handfuls of people who will vibe with the work I'm doing next door.
Basically, I've ended heeding the advice that Seth Godin has been giving all along. Instead of trying to find my niche, I'm now trying to "find the others."
Let's be real for a second. Marketing and business are a hell of a lot more straightforward when you're aiming at one specific market or subculture. That's why the strategies I've been using and teaching these last few years are centered around finding Creator-Market Fit. Again, it's the path of least resistance for creative people who want a reliably functioning business.
So frankly, I'm in a strange place right now as I try to figure out what marketing and offer creation look like in this new niche adjacent context. It feels like I'm in no man's land.
I'm of two minds about how to proceed.
On one hand, being niche adjacent could be substantially more complex than the single niche model. You could take all of the tools I've developed—market mapping, audience mapping, etc—and scale them up. Instead of deeply studying and understanding one niche, you could put in the extra work to study 4-5 niches.
On the other hand, I also suspect there's a simpler path available here. Instead of taking a rigid, top down approach where you're relying on market research to define your strategy, perhaps you can take a bottom up approach where you run a lot of little experiments and let strategy emerge organically.
I've been playing with the latter approach for most of this year. I've largely abandoned the strategic, intentional approach I relied on for so long, and am effectively "winging it." I'm no longer aiming content or products at any particular niche. I'm no longer trying to "network" with influential people. Instead, I'm just making cool shit I want to see in the world, making lots of friends, and seeing what sticks.
It's uncomfortable to be on that path, and to admit it in public. There's a big part of my brain that wants to have all the answers. I'm so used to strategizing and planning my business that it feels irresponsible to just wing it.
It's also scary to admit that I'm winging it on this site. Up until this year, I thought I had this "niche online business" thing all figured out, and I projected that certainty and authority out into the world. But now it feels like I'm back to being a student again. It's a real mindfuck, given that my identity and ego have gotten used to being perceived as a smart business guy on the internet. There's definitely some work to do there to unravel those internal stories and expectations.
Anyhow, I'm not really sure how to end this article other than to stress one more important point.
This whole transition from Creator-Market Fit to Niche Adjacency is about me following my intuition, and walking my own path. I'm in no way saying you should do the same.
It's still 100% viable to identify a single niche, then build your business there. You might take that approach, and live a deeply fulfilled life. But for me, that path just isn't vibing anymore.
So I'm off to explore other options. And I'll be sure to keep documenting everything I find along the way.