Dan Runcie started Trapital in 2018 as someone who was casually interested in the intersection of business of Hip-Hop.
Now he gets to interview top names in Hip-Hop like Master P, Rick Ross, and Issa Rae.
His newsletter is read by record label executives and highly influential people in the Hip-Hop space.
I’d heard of Dan’s work a number of times but hadn’t fully dove in until this week, and wow, I’m impressed. I think you will be too.
How Dan Makes Money
The ways Dan has made money from his newsletter have changed over the years, but let’s walk through some of them.
Dan started a paid version of the newsletter in 2019 and was charging $10/mo or $100/year at the time.
He knew something was off with that model when he realized that his mom (who just wanted to support him) was paying the same $10/month that a music executive was paying.
He decided to shut it down (more on this later).
After he realized he was leaving money on the table with the paid newsletter, he dove in and focused more on the consulting side of things.
Because he is so ingrained in the business side of Hip-Hop, top names happily pay him to do custom work for them and help them out.
Those industry executives are paying much more for his insights (and his mom is saving a little money!).
I don’t have insights into what he charges for consulting, but I’d venture to guess it’s quite a bit. After all, he’s done deep dives into tons of artists and their business strategy, people will pay for that kind of knowledge.
Each year, Dan puts out the Trapital Report showcasing the latest numbers and what’s happening in the world of Hip-Hop.
He has a free version of these reports, but also sells a premium version for $1,250 each (at the time of writing).
Even if he sells 0.5% of his audience on these reports, that’s 175 sales.
175 x $1,250 = $218,750
That would be a heck of an income just from these reports. And I’d hope he’s able to sell more than 0.5% of his audience on buying these.
I’d also like to note that this is more than he would be making with a paid newsletter even with 35,000 subscribers. I’d say he made the right call by shutting down his premium newsletter.
Sponsorships (Newsletter & Podcast)
Dan also sells sponsorships for the newsletter and podcast.
Because he has such a specific audience, he’s able to find perfect partners for his audience (and probably make a decent chunk of change with these).
His packages do often include social posts as well, here is an example:
While I don’t have insights into how much he’s making from these, in December 2022, he did mention that sponsorships were his largest revenue stream.
Dan also does some public speaking on occasion. Again, no insights into what he’s bringing in from these engagements.
The Trapital Growth Timeline
Dan started Trapital in February 2018 and was focused on growing via Twitter.
As you’ll see, he hedges his bets so he doesn’t miss other opportunities on social.
And that’s paid off, because he now has more LinkedIn followers than he does on Twitter.
The Growth Levers
Dan has tried a lot of things and has grown sustainably since he started in 2018.
✌️ 1. Skip the conventional advice. Instead of listening to the advice many people give, he took his own path and followed what he wanted to do.
🌲 2. Evergreen insights, not news. Even though the business of hip-hop is constantly changing, Dan isn’t just sharing the news. He’s putting out evergreen content on top of the news, and it’s built a much more sustainable content library.
🗣️ 3. Industry Reports. Instead of writing “the book” on a topic, Dan puts out “the report” for his industry. And it’s earned him a ton of recognition.
🧪 4. Experimentation. Dan has tried a lot of things over the last 5+ years, and while some have paid off, he’s had a few that didn’t work out as well.
🎙️ 5. The Trapital Podcast. Starting the Trapital podcast has been a huge growth lever for Dan and his brand. And the way he did it is awesome.
Alright, let’s dig in. Starting with how this whole thing came to be.
Dan got started thinking about the intersection of culture and business during an exercise in business school in 2014.
He was going through and reading case studies of businesses, as you do in business school, and came across one of that was wildly different than the rest.
It was a case study from Harvard Business Review about how Beyoncé had dropped her latest album without any marketing beforehand.
No other music artists would do such a thing. The conventional advice was to tease out the album, drop a single, etc.
As you would expect, this created a LOT of buzz.
Even though it was released on December 13, 2013, (after many lists had already finalized their winners for the year) that album went on to be ranked the best album of the year by Billboard, Houston Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Times.
As of January 2015, Billboard also named Beyoncé as the 2nd best album of the first half of the 2010s.
This whole story got Dan thinking: why do we only learn about business from these top entrepreneurs and business people when artists and musicians are killing it in plain sight?
They are the ones rewriting the rules around traditional marketing and business.
So he took matters into his own hands and embraced this opportunity head-on.
“We can learn as much from Rihanna as we can from Elon Musk.”Dan Runcie
1. Decide What You Want to Be Known For, and Do That ✌️
“Teach what you know.”
If Dan had followed the traditional advice creators often hear, he would have started a website about education and tech companies, since that’s what he was doing for a living at the time.
Instead, he decided to become the Hip-Hop Business guy. He dug in and started researching and learning everything he could.
He didn’t have a history or insider knowledge about this space. He didn’t work as an intern for Beyoncé or spend tons of backstage with upcoming artists when he was young.
He simply loved the music and culture, and wanted to learn how creators are turning their music and image likeness into a business.
Even though in the beginning he didn’t have a ton of experience, he’s now become one of the go-to people in the industry for this kind of information.
Jay Clouse said it best:
“Dan didn’t start Trapital because he was the most experienced, knowledgeable, Hip-Hop insider. He became an most experienced, knowledgeable, Hip-Hop insider because he started Trapital.”Jay Clouse on Dan Runcie
Without just taking the leap and following his passion and what he was seeing signals around, he would not be the Dan Runcie we know and love today.
2. Evergreen Insights, Not News 🌲
Dan does talk about current events and some of the latest happenings in the space.
But he doesn’t stop there.
He provides the narrative and insights behind these stories, not just the story itself.
This reminds me a lot of Heather Cox Richardson and her historical angle on current events.
Just read this quote from his 2022 year-in-review:
As I often say, Trapital isn’t journalism. I’m not a journalist. Trapital is focused on research and strategic analysis. You can read any outlet to find out the “what,” but Trapital is about the “why” and the “how.” We share insights in a way that’s digestible and relatable.Dan Runcie
It’s so true. His writing isn’t just about what’s happening in the world of Hip-Hop, it’s about the why and how it’s playing out.
He doesn’t cover news. He covers news in a way that adds meaning and relevancy to what’s happened in the past or how artists are doing things now.
This makes his content evergreen in a way. And that allows him to link back to past articles over time, continuing to build the narrative as new events play out.
He’s written about Beyoncé at least 12 times, and each piece is insightful and stands on its own.
- 2018 – Beyoncé, Jay Z, and the Collaboration Paradox
- 2018 – Rethinking “Mean Tweets” for Hip-Hop, Why “12% of Industry Revenue” is Different for Desiigner and Beyoncé
- 2019 – Beyoncé’s Streaming Strategy, Explained
- 2019 – Beyoncé, Uber, and Getting Paid in Equity
- 2019 – Mathew Knowles on Beyoncé’s Streaming Strategy, Solange’s Marketing, and Dinner with Jay Z or $50,000
- 2020 – Beyoncé’s Streaming Strategy, Revisited
- 2022 – Frank Cooper III Brokered Beyonce-Pepsi’s $50 Million Deal. Here’s Where He Sees Industry Going Next
- 2022 – The Evolution of Beyonce’s Marketing
- 2022 – How Drake and Beyoncé Drop New Music
- 2022 – Sherrese Clarke Soares Explains Why Content Is Queen
- 2023 – Why Beyonce’s Ivy Park – Adidas Partnership Has Struggled
- 2023 – The Evolution of Beyonce’s Marketing
And since these are all mostly evergreen posts, he can link back to past ones that are relevant.
And this helps with ranking higher in search.
If we look, he’s getting around 50% of his traffic from search engines.
That’s how many articles Dan has written since February 2018. He’s averaging more than one article a week for the last 6 years.
Talk about a ton of content that’s being published! And since most of it is evergreen, he’s able to keep earning traffic and eyeballs to those posts long after they are published.
3. Industry Reports 🗣️
Dan started writing annual industry reports in 2022 and it seems to have been one of the most impactful things for growing his brand.
In my view, these reports convey the same level of authority as “I wrote the book on XYZ.”
Dan literally wrote the industry report on the business of Hip-Hop.
These have gotten him coverage in huge media publications like Billboard and Music Ally.
These reports might not look like a huge thing for Dan, but the people who are going to find these reports are the exact audience he wants to join his newsletter.
This is also part of the Dan Runcie funnel, because while there is a free version of the report, there is also a premium version as well.
And when you download the free report, the last page is an upsell for the premium version.
The premium version costs $1,250 to read and get access to. And if you’re a top name in the Hip-Hop industry, that’s well worth your money.
But wait, there’s more. Do you see that additional upsell on this page?
“The premium report also has an option for a 45-minute call to meet with Dan.”
Brilliance on Dan’s part – especially since he doesn’t really advertise this 1-1 call anywhere else.
But if you download this report, you’re much more likely to be his ideal customer for consulting.
4. Experiment 🧪
Dan has tried a lot of different things to find what works and what doesn’t for his audience.
When Dan was still on Substack, he started a paid newsletter in May 2019.
By July of 2020, he had sunsetted the paid version of the newsletter.
He was charging $10/mo or $100/year.
He was hoping to get around 10% of free subscribers to convert into paid. He got more like 6% conversion.
Initially, these members would get access to a Slack group to talk about all things business and Hip-Hop. They also would get 3 additional articles per week about the most important new story that day.
When I read this I was thinking, whoa, that’s a lot of extra work for Dan. And it was.
These additional articles took a ton of his time. Instead of focusing on growing the business, he realized he was spending far too much time trying to deliver what he had offered paid members.
He ended up shutting down the paid version of the newsletter about a year later in July 2021, and shifted his focus and business model.
Instead of trying to get free subscribers to join the paid side of things, he’s using the free newsletter as a funnel to get higher ticket consulting gigs.
Of course, he could have done both, but the paid subscriber side of things was taking up far too much time.
One of the really interesting ways Dan has added some spice to his content is with his visuals.
When he’s talking about the business of top names like Rihanna, he’ll create visuals to go along with it.
One of his more popular ones was around the business of Beyoncé that looks like this:
These visuals help break down more complicated insights.
I created a visual like the ones Dan does but for his own stuff.
It’s not as good, but I do like how he shows these business models in such a visual way.
Focus on One Channel, But Don’t Miss The Upside
Dan isn’t shy about talking about how Twitter had historically been his biggest platform. And while he doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of followers, I think we’ve seen that he doesn’t need the quantity, it’s about the quality.
So he focuses 80% of his energy on social media towards Twitter, but he spends the other 20% of his time on other platforms.
“So I’m not spread too thin, but also have a little bit of focus into other areas so that if something takes off, I’m not completely left out of it.”Dan Runcie
This strategy has paid off pretty well for him.
Because now his LinkedIn following has exceeded his Twitter audience.
If Dan hadn’t tested out other platforms and cross-posted his content, he would have missed out on all of those followers. Not to mention the subscribers and relationships that have come through LinkedIn.
5. The Trapital Podcast 🎙️
In July 2019, Dan launched the Trapital podcast to complement his newsletter and writing.
His first episode? Dan landed Beyoncé’s father, Mathew Knowles.
Talk about coming out of the gate hot. Mathew was Beyoncé’s business manager until 2011, so he knows the ins and outs of her marketing funnel and business strategy.
Dan was able to get Mathew on the podcast because he had written a detailed piece about Beyoncé.
Dan mentions that he had written an article (here) back in April about her streaming strategy”
Mathew said “Dan, you actually nailed it quite frankly.” Geez, that’s gotta feel good having Beyoncé’s manager tell you that the piece you wrote and the way you were thinking about her business was exactly right.
Questions From The Community
Dan included questions from his community in these episodes. About 25 minutes into the episode, he started including some of these questions.
Dan could ask Mathew tons of his own questions and “steal” the entire 40 minute long episode. But he doesn’t.
He gives some of the spotlight to his readers and people who don’t have this opportunity.
Start and Then Improve
Dan started this podcast doing 42 episodes without video. He posted the audio on YouTube, but never included a video component until that 43rd episode.
And he didn’t overthink it. This first video was blurry, he didn’t have a professional camera, and he even had his office door open during the conversation.
I love this. Dan didn’t overthink it, he didn’t wait until everything was perfect. He just got started and let himself improve over time.
In the second video, you can see he got a better light and camera, and he started improving.
And the third video, got even better with the lighting and he seems much more comfortable.
And the YouTube artwork is the same by the way. He started with just the same image for all the audio posts, and eventually added some more compelling artwork over time.
I don’t show these to say his first videos were bad, I’m reminding you all (and myself) that you don’t have to wait to start putting out content until the timing is right, or the conditions are perfect.
Start now and get better over time.
Thanks to Dan for showing us how it’s done.
This podcast has been a great way for Dan to connect with top music executives, and even the artists themselves.
Some of his guests include:
- Rick Ross
- Issa Rae
- Master P
- Troy Carter
And tons of other industry experts. And some of those people are likely the ones who are hiring him for consulting.
If not, you see Dan’s episode with Issa Rae and you’re probably thinking you should hire him.
These interviews and podcast episodes are probably creating a nice little flywheel for Dan.
How You Can Replicate Some of Dan’s Success
Dan’s story is one of my favorites. He doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media like many other “top” creators do.
But he doesn’t need all of that. He just needs a core group of valuable people in his audience to make a great living.
Focus on Quality Over Quantity
It can be easy to look at someone with hundreds of thousands of subscribers and think you need to have a huge email list to be successful.
But that is not the case at all.
Dan has 35,000 subscribers, and he’s been supporting himself with the business of Trapital for 5 years (congrats, Dan)!
If you have a highly targeted and valuable audience, you don’t need hundreds of thousands of subscribers. You only need a few thousand to make a great living.
Do the Thing You Want to Be Known For
Instead of going the more straightforward route of writing a newsletter about education and technology companies (because that was his background at the time), he did a complete 180 and wrote about the business of Hip-Hop.
And it’s paid off. You can just feel the excitement Dan still has around this top years after starting.
Is there something you want to be known for but don’t have much experience?
Become the researcher.
That’s how I got started with Growth In Reverse. I was curious how people were growing their newsletters, and since I didn’t know many people doing this thing, I just started researching.
I compiled that research and now people feel like I’m an expert (even though I’m just researching the work of others).
Let yourself “play” around and experiment with the content you’re creating. It just might turn into your full-time “job.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Try Things
Dan started the paid version of his newsletter May 19, 2019.
By July of 2020 he had shut it down.
Does he look at this as a negative? Definitely not – it was something he’d been wanting to try and he wouldn’t have known if it would work until he tested it out.
With his podcast and videos, he just got started. He didn’t hold back and wait forever to try and create the most perfect show.
When you just get started, you learn much faster what you can do better than if you just guess your way along for weeks or months trying to figure it all out ahead of time.
Thankfully, this is the internet, and we can make changes as we go. If you’ve been holding back on starting something, why not give it a try?