Ingenuity Live’s Jeff Duncan Breaks Down What It Takes To Succeed As A Content Creator
The difference between successful influencers and social media talent comes down to one word:
Content creators who have management working for them are able to focus on what they do best, which is creating the viral clips that everyone endlessly watches, while their team is in the background taking care of the behind-the-scenes work. Management brings structure to a content creators life akin to how venture capital supports high-growth startups. Unfortunately, the latter is professionalized, and the former lacks clear standards for content creators to reference when selecting their new team members. Jeff Duncan, founder and CEO of Ingenuity Live, which manages Harry Jowsey and a slew of digital talent, provides much needed insight into how management can effectively support the current generation of up-and-coming social media talent.
Frederick Daso: Jeff, I appreciate you joining me today. I’m excited to cover you in Forbes. I’ve seen firsthand what you do for your clients and the industry as a whole, which has been wonderful. It’s a privilege and honor to put the spotlight on you. Without further ado, let’s get into it. During what stages should content creators and influencers consider getting full-time management to help organize and grow their careers?
Jeff Duncan: This is a big question. I get hit with probably a dozen DMs a week from content creators and people who want to explore management. I think many creators and influencers feel that management is an opportunity for them to be able to make it or allow them to ascend to the next level. There’s some confusion in the market, especially around newer, smaller content creators, about when it makes sense to get management. At the end of the day, you need management when your life is too complex to have the absence of management. That means having a real, comprehensive need for life and business strategies, and helping make good strategic business decisions instead of expecting them to make you into a star.
Daso: Perfect. I agree concerning the lack of complexity that wouldn’t necessitate the need for full-time management. What can content creators reasonably expect managers to do versus not do? What are some common misconceptions talent have of their management that works for them?
Duncan: I think that the biggest misconception I’ve touched on is they want to become a star, and they think management will do that for them. That’s not our job. The second disconnect is that management is there to get them brand deals. That’s not the purpose of management; proper management acts as an umbrella over a talent’s entire life and career in all aspects. That then gets into the discussion about what management is versus what an agency is. An agency’s business is to find business for a talent. That’s sometimes a side benefit of what occurs in management because management has a lot of industry connections, but that’s not its job. Its job is to help them decipher the right decisions and help them determine what makes the most sense for them in their career.
Specifically, management helps you figure out what makes the most sense for the short, medium and long-term. Agencies oversee putting a talent forward for modeling, acting, singing or brand sponsorships. They get paid when the deals get brought in, but management is there to help them determine these offers that are coming in from brands, whether they’re coming in organically from inbound email or inbound DMs, or they’re coming in from an agency. The job of management, in this case, is to say what makes the most sense for the talent and to be able to negotiate and contract something that aligns with their long-term vision for themselves.
Daso: That completely makes sense. I appreciate you making clear the distinction between an agency and management. That’s a common misconception that many people have, including me, up until now. I would use those two terms interchangeably when that’s not necessarily the case. How does management help content creators avoid the common pitfalls, such as partying, lack of motivation, and an absence of patience that often derails the talent’s career?
Duncan: I think you’ve just hit the nail on the head about what we would categorize as the three pitfalls for talent. These pitfalls that occur are quite common. There is a lack of motivation to do anything or they feel entitled just because they’ve amassed a social following. It can become an issue and then make them complacent. And I think that laziness is quite common, and one of the most impactful pitfalls that they can fall into. The second thing that you mentioned is the “party trap”. I feel like many content creators, especially those that maybe are new and received a large influx of followers which in turn gives them a taste of clout and notoriety inside a new sphere of influence and inside of the industry as a whole. A lot of them do fall into this trap of partying.
If you have an opportunity to live in LA or any major city for that matter, you have an opportunity to be out partying potentially seven nights a week. There are house parties, there are club appearances, and all of these distractions can lead to an inability to be effective at actually working. When you’re out until four o’clock in the morning, every morning, the odds that you’re making that 9, 10 or 11:00 AM meeting with a prospective brand, with your manager or with your agency becomes less and less likely.
The last thing you touched on is the lack of a plan. There’s also the patience to execute that plan. They don’t have a plan to attack. They’re just going wherever the wind blows them. With having a plan comes the need to have the patience to diligently and effectively execute that plan and make sure that there is a team of people to help you execute that plan, working through methodically, checking things off, and working through and into a place of significance inside their talent. Also, talent tend to have a lot of people in their ear; most of which mean well but have no idea on how to create success. Be careful who you listen to; everyone has an opinion, most are not worth listening to.
Daso: Fantastic. Let’s shift the perspective to the talent who are mature enough to avoid these pitfalls. What are some of the smartest ways that you’ve seen these influencers with a good head on your shoulders expertly leverage their teams to get stuff done?
Duncan: I would say if we covered the pitfalls from the talent that tend not to succeed, we kind of bundle the attributes that the talent that does succeed into five different categories. The first is that they’ve got hustle, and they’ve got the drive. Drive is one thing, but being able to hustle through it is another thing. Some of the, if not the most successful content creators that we work with, have a burning desire to create something for themselves. They’re not complacent. They might be content and happy with what they’ve done so far, but they don’t have that sense of complacency. Every day they wake up and hustle; they have that drive for success.
The second attribute of talent that succeeds are those who tend to have the ability to network. Those master networkers are people that can go out and connect with a whole range of people from inside of the industry, people from outside of the industry, people that are content creators on different platforms, and people that have reach in other areas of the entertainment industry. The most successful talent creators that have been able to amass followers from other platforms have had that ability to network.
The third attribute is diversification. When a talent can diversify across multiple platforms, that inevitably will help them create success. That means how do we take, if you’re an Instagram primary and have a large audience on Instagram, how do you shift those followers over and build success on other platforms? We view having an audience as your asset. If you’re a content creator and have an audience, that’s your monetizable asset. Taking your Instagram primary following and bridging it over to and growing on TikTok, as an example, could be a good move. Having that capability of advertising and making sure that people are aware that you’ve got a YouTube presence and bringing the followers over could also be the strategy. Growing organically on those platforms by yourself and bringing your followers from one place to the next, and getting as wide as possible as quickly as possible is almost always advisable.
The fourth is discipline. This kind of falls into that patience piece. When you’ve got the discipline to stay the course as it will not happen overnight. You’re not going to wake up tomorrow and have a Justin Bieber-sized following. You’ll have to work and hustle and drive for a long period. You need that discipline to stay that course instead of cutting bait. I see a lot of content creators that come out of the gates, and three months later, they don’t have all the success they want in the world, and they stop working or change course. They are ships without a sail that tend to just get blown around by the tides and the winds. They end up two years down the road in the same place that they started from.
I think the last piece is when a talent knows what their role is, and they effectively utilize their team. When you’re a content creator, the only person that can create content as you is you, so focus on doing what you do best. Then, rely on people capable of creating and helping make effective decisions and solutions with you. Make sure you’ve got a team that’s being utilized to its full capacity.
Daso: Perfect. So, we’ve talked a lot about the pitfalls and in great ways that smart influencers, content, creators, and talent in general leverage your teams. One thing I’d love to talk about is more specific to you. The thing I love about you, Jeff, is that you were a CEO of a software company before managing talent, and still are to this day. How have you leveraged that professional experience to excel in talent management within the social media sphere?
Duncan: I think effective business strategies are portable from one business to the next. There are probably 80% of the business fundamentals that can be brought over from one successful entity to the next. That’s how we focused on building and growing Ingenuity Live the same way we would build any other corporation. We’ve worked with each talent as if they were their own company and helped them scale their talent into a place of significance. One of the big differentiators of Ingenuity Live is our ability to help a content creator cast a vision. We work through what we call the “3-1-3 Process” , which is starting with the three-year vision they’ve painted for them. Once we’ve created the vision, we can reverse engineer that three-year vision into a 12-month strategic plan.
If we do everything in the annual strategic plan, we ask ourselves, will that point us in the direction of where we’re taking our three-year vision? Once we have an annual strategic plan, we can take that further and dive into what we call “quarterly sprints” and go through and create actions that we need to do in the next 90 days. Each team member is required to push in the direction of that annual strategic plan. That’s what I brought over from the world of software: dealing in sprints, which are bite-sized chunks of work, and then further to that, making sure that everything is binary, so it’s done, or it’s not.
There’s accountability as to who owns those actions. Are they done, or are they not at the end of the quarter? If they’re not done, why wasn’t it done? Who’s responsible, and what’s the lesson that’s been learned? Do we carry it over to the next quarter? Or did we modify, The world is riddled with quote-unquote “managers” that happen to be a person that is willing to take 20% of brand deals that come in but don’t have an effective team or process in which to help them execute and have experts in each one of the categories of your talent. You need to have an expert on legal, finance, accounting, brand sponsorships, strategic planning, and more. You need to ensure that you’ve got the right people at the helm.
The next area is knowing when to bring in new people into the team; management should be a generalist across everything. They understand everything to help you make good decisions and know when to bring in the specialists. This is when our talent gets to a significant place where, for example, our in-house PR team, maybe needs to be extended. This could be the addition of PR, or a talent agency, or outside lawyers, accountants and such.
The last is similar to the talent succeeding. It’s about having the discipline to stay the course; the right management has the discipline, and consistent execution on what they need to do to work through and knock off the strategic plan..
Daso: I appreciate the detail there. This is me going off script here, but I want to ask this question.
Duncan: It sounds very much like you, Fred.
Daso: Oh, you know me too well, Jeff. I’ve noticed that the more mature content creators will take on the responsibility of figuring out, Hey, here’s who I need to add to my team for this particular venture endeavor. There comes the point where they’re large enough, and there’s one content creator who comes to mind, Charly Jordan. In my recent interview with her, she talked about how she delegated the responsibility of bringing new team members into the fold to someone else. Using her as a reference, when does the content creator or talent delegate that responsibility of building out their team to their management?
Duncan: I think in a perfect world, a talent trusts their management to the extent that they know management will help them make better decisions with a team than they could make alone. Again, if we think of management as being an umbrella across the talents entire life, that goes from figuring out when to change your residence or when you should lease versus purchase a car or determine when to buy foreign real estate or what percentage of your income should be put toward a passive or active investment, or putting seed capital and organizing it into startups. All of these factors should likely be made with management’s input. Talent makes a final decision because they’re the CEO.
They’re going to make the final decision, but leading up to that, they should be passing those who are best at it to come to the table with potential solutions to the problem that they’ve put forward. I think the less effective talent would tend to select individuals for their team ad hoc, which maybe don’t gel with the overall vision for themselves in the long-term. They are effectively working with a group of people on some aspects but have many different people for different purposes without having alignment between all of the people complicates matters unnecessarily. It only takes one person on the boat to be rowing in the wrong direction to spin that boat around in circles.
From the beginning, in an ideal situation, talent trusts their management to assist them and help make those decisions, not making the final decision but providing the best guidance to reduce the risk of making a wrong hire.
Daso: You don’t know how much I loved hearing this answer. I hope that this next question will be viewed holistically in a manner that kind of wraps up everything we talked about over the months that we’ve been corresponding. As you continue to pioneer your approach to the industry, what impact do you hope to have across the board? What standards are you hoping to bring to the industry?
Duncan: Ideally, all talent could view themselves as a scalable corporation that needs to make sure the right people are in the right seats and that everyone has alignment. Everyone is working through the disciplined execution of a predetermined set of goals. We’ve got a place where talent can create greater success because they’re treating themselves as seriously as they would if they were the CEO of any major corporation. The ideal objective for any talent is to create something like Harry Styles has, where Harry is known for being Harry Styles. He’s less known for being Harry Styles from One Direction. He’s rarely known as Harry Styles from One Direction, who came out of a reality TV show called the X Factor.
Styles is the epitome of what you’re trying to accomplish as a talent. You may have got your start in one place, but that dovetails into the next place. You continue to level up until you get to where you’re famous for being you, not from where you came from. That takes all the things that we just discussed previously, which was creating a plan and going through and methodically and with discipline, knocking things off of that plan with the right people at the table to help you make the right decisions.
Daso: No way! I had no idea that was true about Harry Styles. Incredible! As you’ve gone about your career, who are the people who have the most impact on you and shaped how you do things today?
Duncan: First, my business partner and my chief financial officer, David Ebert. He has been around from the beginning and been an important anchor for our businesses. Secondly, my early mentor, Peter Armstrong, the founder of Rocky Mountaineer. He was invaluable to me in the early days for helping me make better decisions for myself and our business. Also my Entrepreneur’s Organization community both locally and globally. Lastly, my father, Bill Duncan, who helped create the initial foundation for the success that I’ve had so far.