Watch Me Build Two Niche Media Businesses From Scratch

T

oday, I’m embarking on a journey to build two solo media businesses—in two different niches—from scratch. If you’re an entrepreneurial creator, you’re invited to join me in the passenger seat.

From day one, I’ll be documenting the exact strategies I’m using to target viable niches, create compelling content, build audiences, and monetize.

For you techies, I’ll be sharing the exact tools and workflows behind each business, including the occasional tutorial.

In the Ungated newsletter, you’ll get monthly updates on the actual numbers I’m generating—traffic, subscribers, revenue, churn.

Don’t worry. This won’t be like those random Instagram influencers touting their six figure paydays in front of a rented Lambo. Barf.

If I fail, you’ll see it. Warts and all. If I succeed, you’ll know what I did, and how to adapt it to your own business.

It’s an experiment in radical transparency for entrepreneurial creators.

As we speak, there’s a new world emerging. Whether you call it the Passion Economy, the Creator Economy, or something else, these shifts are real, and they’re accelerating.

I’ve been a creative and a marketer for damn near a decade. And though my initial plan for this site was to tell you how to thrive in this wild new frontier, I realized it’d be more powerful to show you instead.

If that sounds like something that’s worth your time and attention, let’s dig into the details.

Business 1: Ungated Media

This is the site you’re currently reading. If you haven’t poked around yet, here’s the elevator pitch.

Ungated is a premium publication and community for entrepreneurial artists and creators. It’s an online oasis for those seeking to do meaningful creative work, find their true fans, and build sustainable, enjoyable businesses. No gatekeepers required.

Stylistically, it’ll be a refuge from shallow advice and clickbait—one of those rare places where you can always find something thoughtful, nuanced, and genuinely useful.

Think of it as a sexy hybrid between Stratechery and Farnam Street, but aimed at ambitious, discerning creators.

Ungated will be monetized primarily through memberships. But there will also be a dash of affiliate marketing, consulting, and sponsorship once I’ve got a podcast.

And somewhere down the road, there will be perhaps be a course or workshop. But don’t hold your breath for that one.

Business 2: The Citizen Within

I’ve long worried about political and cultural polarization. It’s one of the things that increasingly keeps me up at night, particularly during the dumpster fire that is 2020.

As a filmmaker, I’d been toying with the idea of making films that inject seeds of empathy and grace back into the culture. Hell, I still might some day.

But for now, I’ve decided to double down on writing. It’s my strongest form of communication, and the one I love most.

So my second business is called The Citizen Within.

It’s a micro publication where I explore, in good faith, what it means to cultivate responsible citizenship in a world that feels batshit insane.

TCW will feature essays at the intersection of polarization, media, technology, psychology, and progress. I plan to document my own journey towards becoming a more responsible citizen, and not succumbing to apathy and existential despair.

Like Ungated, The Citizen Within will be primarily driven by memberships. Readers will have the chance to pay for my sauciest, most NSFW writing, and to leave comments telling me how wrong I am.

Down the road, I may also monetize with podcast sponsorship, speaking, and events. Who knows. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Why I’m excited about this

So that’s the plan in a nutshell.

Two brand spankin’ new media companies. Two different niches in which I’m a complete nobody. And full transparency about what I’m building each from the ground up.

To my knowledge, this experiment is one of a kind. And it should be an interesting ride for anyone interested in creative entrepreneurship and niche media.

But personally, there are three reasons I’m fired up about this that might not be readily apparent on the surface.

1. Bringing the “Identity Theorem” to life

Here at Ungated, my goal is to build the definitive resource and community for thriving in the Passion Economy.

And a big part of that is something I call the Identity Theorem.

Think of it as a guiding philosophy for how to do uncompromising creative work, and earn true fans. It’s an end-to-end worldview (and series of strategies) that bring Kevin Kelly’s vision to life.

Ultimately, building an “Identity Theorem business” results in fans who are so connected to you and your work that it becomes an essential part of their identity. Hence the name.

In the coming months and years, I’ll be laying out the building blocks of the Identity Theorem for you on this site. Piece by piece, you’ll get it all.

But by working in public, you won’t just see the theory, but you’ll see it in practice. And you’ll see the results in real time.

Again, I could just tell you about the Identity Theorem. But it’ll be far more powerful if I show you.

And in a year or two, I hope to come out the other side with not one, but two delectable case studies showing how these principles work across niches.

2. Documenting the messy, ambiguous reality of building a creative business

You may have noticed, but so much of the advice in the online business/creator space is… clownishly bad.

For starters, you’ve got course after course promising to make you an internet millionaire, sipping margaritas on a beach. “If you just follow our simple six-step system,” they say alluringly, “you can live the good life.

The dirty little secret is that none of these programs work. Even the most dedicated, judicious students fail to see a fraction of the results promised on the sales page.

The same is true of every blog, YouTube channel, podcast, or newsletter I’ve ever encountered claiming to have THE secret to business success. Their advice rarely survives contact with reality.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

For starters, so much of our “information ecosystem” is flooded with sexy surface level tactics that may have briefly moved the needle. But the online world changes so quickly that what works one day, tactically speaking, is often obsolete the next.

Another factor is that we’re all different. We all have different definitions of the “good life.” We all have unique values and worldviews. We all start from a different place, and we’re all traveling to slightly different destinations.

That’s why “one size fits all” advice often falls flat, and sometimes does more harm than good. It doesn’t take into account the sheer diversity of creative entrepreneurs, and the ever-changing landscape we live in.

I’m doing my best to take all of these pitfalls into account on Ungated, and acknowledge them throughout my “work in public” journey.

Yes, I’ll be sharing some tactical advice. But the heart of this publication will be rooted in deep, timeless, unchanging principles. We’ll be getting to the heart of how to create work so compelling that people can't wait to support you.

I won’t shy away from the complex, often contradictory nature of our world. I’ll treat readers a capable peers, instead of children who need to be spoon fed overly simplistic, feel-good stories.

Nor will I ever assume that because something works for me, it’s the right answer for you. I’m building these businesses based on my values, my personality, and my worldview. That’s why I’ll be documenting the thought process behind every decision, so that readers will have the full context needed to make the right call for themselves.

This journey will be messy. There won’t be easy answers. And I’ll never sugarcoat reality in order to sell you something.

Ungated is a publication and a journey for people who revel in thinking for themselves, and creating their own path.

3. Radical accountability for a world class self-sabotage artist

Can I be a little bit vulnerable with you for a moment?

For the past five years, I’ve worked tirelessly on another business called Filmmaker Freedom.

It’s the precursor to Ungated in many ways. It’s my hub for teaching indie filmmakers the art of marketing and entrepreneurship so they can break free from gatekeepers.

I’ve made a decent living with Filmmaker Freedom at times, but as a whole, it’s been a rough ride. It never quite took off in the way I believed it should.

The biggest reason for that wasn’t lack of a hungry market, or worthwhile products and services to fill the need.

It was a stream of never-ending self-sabotage.

Truth is, I let imposter syndrome and self-doubt prevent me from shipping 70% of the articles, products, launches, funnels that the business needed in order to thrive. I didn’t put myself out there, because the stories in my head were so toxic and debilitating that it felt safer to hide.

I got in my own way, day in and day out, for years on end. And that business repeatably failed to live up to its potential.

By working in public with Ungated, I’m committing to overcoming some of those dark patterns by creating public pressure for myself.

I want readers to expect me to ship constantly. I want the Ungated community to be like, “Hey Rob, you said you’d ship that email course like 3 weeks ago. WTF man??” I want an email list excitedly awaiting my next report.

Even if that pressure is a figment of my imagination, it’s still a useful story for helping me get out of my own way. It’ll help me put one foot in front of the other, day after day, and show up even when it feels uncomfortable.

I’ve got some valuable shit to share here, and I’ll be damned if I let imposter syndrome prevent it from coming out.

Bring on the pressure. I’m ready for it.

Why I’m simultaneously terrified

Ok, so I told you why I’m excited to build these businesses in public. Now let me tell you what scares me.

I was on a call with Jay Acunzo the other day, and he brought up a question that’s been bugging me a lot lately.

Am I setting myself up for mediocrity by committing to too many things? Am I doing myself, and my audience, a disservice by spreading myself thin?

After all, excellence is one of my core values. I believe that success is a byproduct of focus and commitment. I believe that standing out in a noisy world requires going above and beyond, and creating things that are meaningfully different and better.

It’s entirely possible that I’m biting off more than I can chew. It’s entirely possible this will turn out to be a nightmarish, unsustainable amount of work. And it’s entirely possible that neither Ungated nor The Citizen Within will be great because I took on too much.

I’m open to that possibility, but I’m still going ahead with this experiment. It feels right. And the timing, to me, feels rather urgent for both projects. I would regret it later on if I didn’t try.

All I can say is that this will be another aspect of my radical transparency. If I get burned out, or if things start slipping through the cracks, I’ll cop to it. And then I’ll make adjustments and keep going.

But for now, here’s my plan.

I’ll be giving Ungated 25-30 hours per week. It’s my primary business now, and will consume most of my time. I’ll spend my mornings writing, and my afternoons in promotion-mode.

The Citizen Within is a side project. I expect to give it 5-ish hours a week, or maybe a full day on the weekends. And some weeks, I may take my foot off the gas to catch up on other projects.

And the rest of my time will be spent on Filmmaker Freedom. After all, I’ve still got students to serve, assets to monetize, and audience relationships to nurture.

Luckily, I’ve been preparing to launch Ungated for months, and have started automating a lot of things in the style of André Chaperon and Brennan Dunn. That work is ongoing, and perhaps I’ll write about that as well.

Care to join me?

Well, there you have it.

To recap, I’m building two new media companies from scratch, and I plan to share everything along the way. Especially the stuff that few other people talk about.

The only question left is, care to hop in the passenger seat and come along for the ride?

If so, feel free to jump onto the free newsletter, or become one of the earliest Ungated members.

Pretty soon, I’ll be sharing both the marketing and business strategies for Ungated and The Citizen Within. And then it’ll be time to get to work.

The best is yet to come, friends. Buckle up.

-Rob Hardy

Discuss These Ideas With
Your Fellow Creators

As an Ungated member, you can always jump directly into the conversation for this article by clicking the magical button below. Not a member yet? Learn more here.
Join The Conversation