We sat down with Dan Runcie, author of Trapital, to discuss how he built his media business by writing about his hobby, how he writes to a specific audience, and how he has experimented with different monetization models. Below are some edited excerpts from the full interview, which you can listen to on your favorite podcast app here.
Let’s start with the line that brilliantly captures your work: “We can learn as much from Rihanna as we can from Elon Musk.” Can you elaborate on what that means and what Trapital is all about?
That line is the thesis and background for why I started Trapital.
When I was in my second year at business school, there was a Harvard Business School case study that came out about Beyoncé and the surprise album she dropped in 2013. The case study itself had made headlines because you didn't see places like Harvard putting out case studies like that about people like Beyoncé.
And it was rich. It went into the same depth as their other case studies. It was one of those things where I thought, “why aren't there more of these?”
Did you feel that other business people would be interested in more studies like the Beyoncé one? Or was your instinct to write for people who were already interested in hip-hop?
I think the readers who get the most value out of Trapital are the ones who work in the industry. They're the ones making money off of these insights, whether they work for a record label or as a manager for one of the artists that I’ve covered — or even if they’re working in areas that are tangentially related to hip hop.
That said, the entertainment aspect of hip-hop attracts a broader audience. If you're a fan of someone like Drake or J. Cole, you might want to read something that is more insightful than a headline about what he posted on Instagram last night or a quick blurb about how much money he made from something.
Hip-hop is culture at the end of the day and, in many ways, that’s what increases the addressable market for something like Trapital.
When you started Trapital, you didn’t have a long track record in the music industry. Did you feel any imposter syndrome when you got started?
The biggest feeling of imposter syndrome was putting out my first few blog posts on Medium. I had just graduated from business school and was looking for jobs primarily in the tech space, but I was so inspired by what I saw from that Beyoncé case study that I finally said to myself, “Hey, I have all these ideas that could work as an article too. What if I started something around hip-hop and business?”
Over time, though, I got over it. I’ve been able to meet so many of the people that I ended up writing about, which leveled up the insight in my writing more and more.
And much of my writing has turned into consulting work or speaking opportunities where I've been able to gain both access and understanding of how things actually work in this industry.
Now that you’ve been writing consistently for years, have you noticed any types of writing that seem to resonate most often?
I try to make my writing conversational and clear. I think of how I talk to my friends about hip-hop and how we’d talk at a barbershop or pre-gaming before going out. Then I take that approach when I make a comparison or an analogy to what’s happening in the business of hip-hop.
But I also want to make sure I’m writing clearly. There’s a balance to strike between how you write a case study for school and how you write in a relatable way.
Is there any advice you’d give on how people can avoid an academic tone and get more comfortable and real with their voice?
You want to write your newsletter in a way that sounds like you’re talking to someone. There are so many newsletters that read like a corporate statement from the board of directors.
To help with that, I read my writing aloud and think, “Does this sound like a sentence I would actually say to someone else?”
Writing on Twitter can help too. It forces you to be concise with your thoughts since you can’t say ten different things in one tweet. Fewer words can be better, but make sure you're not losing your tone.
You’ve experimented with a few monetization models. How do you think about which monetization strategies make sense for which types of writers?
There are two broad ways to monetize newsletters: either selling directly to your audience or selling to people who want access to your audience.
The approach you take depends on who your audience is and their willingness to pay. Paid memberships aren’t your only option. And, depending on your niche, you may not need to pick. Having different income streams can be beneficial, but it’s best to focus and double down on one monetization strategy to start off.
For me, people started reaching out after they saw my analysis on Beyoncé, Travis Scott, and others. They wanted something similar for their business. I have some clients now, but I’m also building more scalable ways to monetize long-term and diversify my income streams.
Given that Trapital just turned three, it seems like a fun time to reflect on the journey so far. What have been some “wow” moments you’ve had that wouldn’t have been possible without the newsletter?
There are so many people who have been guests on my podcast who are more established in the industry or who I'd looked up to growing up. And now to be able to talk to them as a peer, those are some “wow” moments for me.
It’s also still great anytime I get a reply from someone well-known who I didn't even know was on my email list. Those moments are nice little pick-me-ups, especially during the days that are rough or long.