Laughable’s Guiding Principles

BACKGROUND: The Rapidly Evolving Media Landscape

Technology continues to transform every corner of the media world, including how content is created, distributed, consumed, shared, and monetized.

Amidst this upheaval, many legacy media companies have struggled to adapt and innovate.

But this is hog heaven for broke entrepreneurs!

Every day fresh holes are opening up for new entrants to establish a foothold. In addition, it keeps getting cheaper and easier both to start a business and to reach a global audience.

That’s one of many reasons we’re so excited to be building Laughable.

In this post we break down the comedy landscape and elucidate the principles shepherding Laughable into the bright unknown. We think abiding by these principles will help us achieve our goal of becoming world’s most impactful, profitable company at the intersection of comedy and technology.


PART 1: Deconstructing the Comedy Market

a) Market Size

Today, there are approximately 300-400 standup comedians established enough to headline one of the approximately 300 American comedy clubs currently in operation, or perform in a theatre or arena. These shows collectively generate over $1bn in annual revenue.

Statistics on the number of people who attend these shows each year are harder to come by, but our best guess is that it’s somewhere between 4% and 6% (10m – 14m) of American adults.

(Note: As you’ll see below, there’s far more to comedy than just standup; as such, the above market sizing is meant to provide some useful – if limited – context, not a comprehensive accounting of the entire comedy space.)

b) Comedic Output

Comedians reach fans with various forms of “comedic output” (“CO” for short).

We define CO as anything a comedian creates with the hope it will be consumed by fans — and, ideally, make them laugh.

In exchange for receiving CO, consumers part ways with two things: their time/attention (always) and their money (sometimes).

CO can generate two main types of value for comedians:

  • Cash Value. Something a consumer pays for directly.
  • Marketing Value. No direct cash, but nonetheless helps comedians attract new fans, bolster their relationships with existing fans, increase demand for other CO, etc.

Below are the major strains of CO comedians are creating these days. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list, and the commentary makes generalizations, i.e. what is true for a majority of today’s working comedians. There are, of course, plenty of outliers and exceptions. But hopefully this matrix helps identify the biggest areas of opportunity for comedians to have an impact and make a living — and for technology companies to help them do it. 


PART 2: Enter Laughable

a) Our Mission

Laughable has a dual mandate:

  • Empower consumers of comedy to discover CO and comedians that most reliably make them laugh, and
  • Empower creators of comedy to grow and monetize their fan bases.

To be more succinct: Laughable helps consumers of comedy find funny, and we help creators of comedy find fans and money.

Our long-run ambition is to be a global marketplace for comedy, running the gamut of CO — from digital content, to merchandise, to live performances — and powered by mobile software, data science, and a kick-ass brand everyone knows, loves, and trusts.

Our Unified Theory of Laughable shows how this all fits together:

b) Progress So Far

Incrementally is the first, most important way to describe our evolution so far. Companies can’t do everything on day 1; things take time. Amazon started by selling books. Netflix, by renting out DVDs. Facebook, by reinventing the student directory.

We decided to start off by building an iPhone app (available here) that shows you all the podcasts any comedian has been on as a host or guest. It has by far the best ratings of any app focused on podcasts or comedy – 91% of our 545 App Store reviews are for 5 out of 5 stars.

Our podcast focus has allowed us to cost-effectively build a rock-solid foundation comprised of:

  • A highly engaged audience of comedy fanatics
  • Brand equity
  • A world-class comedy discovery and consumption app
  • Groundbreaking analytics capabilities
  • Goodwill and relationships with comedians and industry folks (like agents, managers, and club owners)

It’s on top of this foundation that we’re building our marketplace for comedy.


PART 3: Laughable’s Guiding Principles

Now we’ll tie together Parts 1 and 2 of this post by laying out the principles we’ll rely upon to “ladder up” beyond podcasts. Some describe how we’re already operating today; others are aspirational.

1. Execute on a product strategy that minimizes friction by:

  • Prioritizing consistently delighting users and making things EASY for them.
  • Making content easily accessible to users across multiple distribution mechanisms. E.g., mobile apps, web, voice-controlled platforms, and live/brick-and-mortar environments.
  • “Owning the end user” (not literally!). I.e., consumers interact with our own UI and not someone else’s. This helps us ensure a consistently excellent user experience.

2.  Execute on a content strategy that:

  • Leverages engagement data to smartly expand our overall content library and personalize our recommendations to individual users.
  • Over time, focuses increasingly on collaborating with artists to produce differentiated, high-quality original content to supplement the CO we distribute on behalf of 3rd parties.
  • Is diversified across as many types of CO as possible in order to 1) deliver a compelling offering to the largest possible number of highly engaged comedy fans, 2) enhance the value we deliver to artists, and 3) make Laughable a sturdier, more resilient business.

3.   Execute on a monetization strategy that:

  • Is even more beneficial to comedians than to Laughable itself. (That is, it meets Bill Gates’ definition of a platform: “A platform is when the economic value of everybody that uses it exceeds the value of the company that creates it.”)
  • Maximizes the lifetime value of a customer rather than short-term revenue.

4.   Obsessively build competitive moats by leveraging:

  • Proprietary data about our users’ comedic preferences to continually improve content recommendations and make smart investments in original content.
  • Our growing brand equity, and trust with both consumers and comedians, to fuel expansion into new content areas and distribution mechanisms.

5.  Act ethically and transparently, and be known for treating:

  • Users as customers to be served and LISTENED TO, not marks off of which to profit.
  • Comedians as partners to empower, not resources to mine.
  • Employees as family to collaborate with, not cogs to stick in a machine.

These principles will surely evolve over time, alongside our offerings and the broader technology/media landscape. But we think what’s in this post is a pretty decent start.

I’d welcome your feedback on it all. My email is n@laughable.com if you’d like to drop me a line. Thanks for reading!