Created Economy 32: Interview with Joe Fernandez (Co-Founder of Klout)

Klout's co-founder shares stories about starting a company measuring online influence, what he'd do differently, his thoughts on the overall Creator Economy and more.

Created Economy 32: Interview with Joe Fernandez (Co-Founder of Klout)
Joe Fernandez co-founded Klout and joins "The Created Economy" podcast to discuss how influence is changing in the Creator Economy.

He started one of the first companies trying to quantify online influence before selling it for $200 million. If he could, would Joe Fernandez do it all over again? We ask him and get his thoughts about the Creator Economy, a space where influence plays a big part.

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Highlights From the Interview

Here are some insights Joe Fernandez shared during the episode.

Starting Klout and how influence has changed since:

  • It was an early bet that every person was going to be a broadcaster, surfacing people who you trusted the most, those that wanted to hear your opinion on anything. It wasn't about pages but "about people and their reach and distribution. And any person with a phone can basically build an audience."
  • Today, there's a lot more noise and harder to get access to data. Fernandez says in the 2000s, "there was this movement data. Twitter was open, Facebook was open, everyone was relatively open and it created the ability to get access to the data." With Web3, however, it's "swinging back the other way, where...the Blockchain is a public thing."
  • "If I were thinking about what a more modern version of Klout would look like, you would certainly be looking at what's put into the Blockchain."

On why Klout had a polarizing effect on people:

  • "I really struggled to recognize this, because as an entrepreneur, we're all about change do we change the world? Most people hate change...Klout was a bet on change."
  • Fernandez believed the way information was distributed would change along with identity, the birth of influencers at scale, as well as crypto and NFTs. This thinking led to resistance from people: "Not because they actually understand what it means, but just that it's a change was Klout, it was it."
  • "It was definitely like a lightning rod and that made it a lot of fun to build. But I would get...death threats and...there would always be...major drama."
  • However, years later, the feelings on Klout have changed. "If I happen to wear a Klout shirt, I will almost always get stopped. And like literally, people have offered me money to buy the shirts and stuff."

Do we need a Klout for the Creator Economy today? Is it possible?

  • Fernandez says yes there "definitely needs a Klout-like service today."
  • "To understand the value that these influences have, because there's a lot of faking of stuff...but there's also just...making sense of the information around us. Klout was a way to understand who's saying what online and how much authority or reputation or trust you should have in them. And with disinformation and all the things we've seen over the last five or six years, especially...a Klout-like service would be really valuable. It should be a foundational layer of what the internet is today."
  • He admits Klout was too early and that there were things the team executed on that failed to help the company "ride that wave as far as we should have."

What is he working on today after Klout and Joymode?

  • "The 2008-2010 era was everyone waking up to 'oh wow, I need to have an online personal brand and it's going to help me in my social life and my career...' Then it was, 'oh crap, I don't want everything I do online part of that brand so now I want to decentralize it and fragment it and anonymize it in different where we are now where, in some ways, it's better now because we went through that backlash of 'oh crap, somebody found a picture of me from college doing something stupid on my Instagram account, and now I can't get a job I want.'

    Well now people are mostly over that because everyone has stuff online they're not proud of, but there is still a fear. You have a lot of people trying to narrow down and want to be less find-able, which is a challenge from, like thinking of as a product builder."
  • Fernandez admits he's still in "exploration mode" but he's looking at Klout from the professional side — it won't be a metric like before, though.
  • "Klout was this moment where people were coming online and trying to put identity online, and I was trying to make sense of that...the professional counterpart to that was something I was always really fascinated in and how does the world know not just our pedigree and a resume structure of schools, companies, but our character, our ambitions, our achievements, our working style, whatever?"
  • He wants to find a modernized version of the resume, a "500-year-old artifact."

Advice for brands running influencer campaigns and how to engage with creators?

  • Fernandez feels there are too many tools out there and he hasn't seen one he feels "really ups the game." "There are tools to help manage the process, do some basic tracking but give you insights to really know who the right person is up-front."
  • He's skeptical, to say the least.
  • Something he described that's changed since Klout started was instructions from brands to creators: "Klout was like, we would never tell the influencers or the creators what to say. Our thing was...if you put the right product in front of the right people, they will create the right content. And I see mixed results on that now. Some brands look like they do very...cookie-cutter on, 'Hey, here's what engagement with us looks like, use these exact hashtags, these exact brand story....'"
  • "I've always really liked when they give the creators, the influencers the room to tell the story in their language. And for us, that even literally meant no guarantee that this person will create content...We would put stuff in front of influencers in the form of these Klout Perks. [Creators] could take them. There was never an explicit [message] like you have to tweet seven times or you have to create three Instagram pictures. It was a bet that we know these people create content about these topics."
  • "If we put them in the right scenario, they'll do it. And it seems like things have gotten a lot more formulaic and cookie-cutter, and maybe that's just how it has to be with scale."

About This Episode