Divide & Conquer - Musk's Attention Hack for Startup Founders

Last year Bounty got wrapped up in a little controversy which gave us a lot of media attention and ultimately boosted our growth quite a lot.

Since then, we have been very careful to avoid controversy and focused on building our product.

As you might predict, this was a mistake, and we should have been seeking out more attention. We should have been getting feedback from the market and pushing out imperfect things, but instead, we worked on features endlessly.

Not only did we waste a lot of time building stuff our customers didn’t really use or care about, but we also overcomplicated the software. To make matters worse, we hid behind a waitlist through this entire period, only letting in a few customers at a time.

Once we were ready to launch again, our waitlist was stale, and the buzz around our company had died down. We had a product that could not handle self-onboarding customers. It was basically a dud, and we lost all momentum. We are still working through the aftermath.

Attention is divided

The attention economy is fragmented. People essentially only see their own feeds of spoon-fed content that elicits a strong emotional reaction. They either love or hate everything.

Your Reddit feed, your Twitter feed, your Instagram, your TikTok - it’s all hyper-local and hyper-focused on things that will appeal to you. The only way to get people to interact with the deluge of social media content is to do things that cause a strong emotional reaction.

Love and hate are, of course, the ends of this spectrum.

Love and hate

Let’s boil this down and crystalize the solution:

If you are neither loved nor hated you are nothing.

If you don’t evoke love or hate you might as well not exist. You are invisible.

That’s basically the gist of things now. I don’t make the rules I’m just telling you the situation.

You can’t make people love you without making others hate you

If you watch Elon Musk everything he does now arouses strong emotions. People love or hate basically everything he does.

The simple fact that some people love a thing he did makes others hate it.

This is exactly what you want. If you are not hated by some you are probably not loved by any.

person surrounded midjourney

1000 true fans

You have heard of 1000 true fans theory, right? Of course you have, it’s old and much discussed.

What if you had to make 1 million people hate you to get 1000 people to love you?

I think it would be worth it.

Hate, after all, is destructive and pointless but love is worth everything. If you can make even one 1 person love you for every 1000 people who hate you, it seems fair to me It might even be worth 10,000 people hating you to get one person to love you. Love of course is intrinsically valuable, hate just makes people comment and share (which has it’s own value).

I’m not saying you need to make people hate you. I’m saying if they do, what of it? If you were a god (Horus) and you had loyal followers and your rival gods’ (Set) followers hated you, would you care?

Trump recognized this, you can’t deny it

If you look at Trump, he used the same playbook. The polarization he elicits is remarkable in its depth. Almost every person in the country has a visceral reaction of either love or hate. I think even a majority of people might have a negative reaction to him, but it doesn’t matter. Not that many people vote, so you only need 60 to 70 million people out of the 300+ million to love you. That seems doable, and he did it.

I would even argue that this in fact the only way to succeed as a politician in the current era. You must be evocative and speak to a very specific audience who will love you. Broad appeal is meaningless (worse - it’s boring), TV is dead, if you are aren’t going viral on a controversy you are screwed.

Case in point: I am watching Vivek Ramaswamy with interest since his campaign announcement one month ago, he is leaning deeply into controversial issues and quickly being talked about more than I would have expected. He’s doing the Trump playbook (e.g. - he just said we should give a gun to every Taiwanese family 🤣).

The lesson

My personal twitter account is boring. In fact it probably evokes no emotion at all. I have always hated shouting my opinions publicly (I think it’s distasteful, especially political opinions I find crass and lowbrow).

I’m sure you can guess I have virtually no followers, and I might as well be shouting into the void when I tweet. It’s pointless.

As soon as I tweet a genuine opinion that might cause people to feel something, I’m sure I will lose some followers, and I don’t enjoy playing this game, so I never do.

But this is the game.

The game is love and hate.

If you are not hated you cannot be loved. It’s just how it works now.

Go out there and make people feel something. Maybe I will too.

Written on April 19, 2023