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What ‘Schitt’s Creek’ can teach startup founders about tapping into astronomical growth

The wildly popular Netflix series ‘Schitt’s Creek’ illustrated the two factors that can lead to astronomical growth. This is how to identify and own both.

What ‘Schitt’s Creek’ can teach startup founders about tapping into astronomical growth
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Why do you watch Schitt’s Creek?

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Because it’s a good show? Sure—it’s funny. I’m four seasons in.

But it’s not a great show. Good versus great is subjective. Why does it even matter?

Because Schitt’s Creek is massive. It’s grown like crazy—like it’s the best show of the past decade—and growing from unknown to ubiquitous is important if you’re an entrepreneur. So I want to know the how and the why.

Let’s dig in.

Thanks to the pandemic, we’re quarantined with unlimited streaming options, and yet the same conversation has taken place in households across the world millions of times: “We need a new show. What should we watch?” The response: “Let’s try Schitt’s Creek.” A show that started as an indie series with a small budget on Canadian network TV (after most U.S. networks and HBO and Showtime passed) now consistently ranks as the second most-watched show Netflix acquired. For context, there were 532 original scripted series produced in 2019. And Schitt’s Creek gets watched more than just about all of them.

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely got a startup or you’re growing a product. That decision moment—”What should we watch?”—will happen in some form for your customer. How you perform in that moment will determine whether you grow or fail.

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In maybe the most competitive market on Earth, Schitt’s Creek has owned that moment. And it’s not because the content of the show is shareable. There’s no powerful lead character like Michael Scott’s in The Office or Leslie Knope’s in Parks & Rec who are stealing scenes. There aren’t supporting characters like Dwight Schrute or Jean-Ralphio (Go U) being quoted by your friends. It doesn’t have romantic tension like between Jim and Pam in The Office, and it hasn’t become a pop culture conversation piece like Tiger King.

The fact that Schitt’s Creek has grown by word of mouth without having shareable content as many of the other top-watched shows on the list do drove me to dig in and figure out exactly what the heck is going on here. I came out with a killer growth framework and a new appreciation for Schitt’s Creek.

Inflection points

I’m a part of a couple, and when you’re a part of a couple you do dinners (or Zoom calls) with other couples. At some point during those dinners or Zooms, the conversation hits a wall. After a few silent beats, someone inevitably asks: “So . . . have you two seen any good shows?”

At my company, Tacklebox, we call this an inflection point. These are the moments that build up to behavior change. I think of it as a conversation that goes like this: “As you can see, your friend mentioned us, then your other friend who’s an expert—remember you went to their apartment for an Oscar party—mentioned us, and now you added us to your watch list.”

The “influence” moments were from other people telling me about the show. The “action” moments were things I did to reinforce in my mind that I’d like to watch the show. You’ll need both, and they’ll play off each other.

The most important part of these moments is understanding that you have no control over them. You can’t create them. Your job is to find them and latch on to them. If you’re building a startup, this is the most important thing you can focus on early. You’ll need to identify whatever version of this moment happens for your customers, and you’ll need to figure out how to get there.

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When I was running Find Your Lobster, a dating app I started back in 2011, I found an inflection point that drove most of our early growth. Through customer interviews, I learned how people joined dating sites. At the time, most people weren’t on dating apps. The ones who were told me about the moment they joined, and their stories were eerily similar.

They lived with a roommate who used to be single too. But now they were in a serious relationship. They sat at home, frustrated and bored, for a few weekends. Eventually, on a Saturday night around 10:30 p.m. when they were watching TV instead of out meeting people, they literally said “F*ck it” and joined OkCupid.

There was my moment. I ran a Facebook campaign on Friday and Saturday nights from 7 p.m. to midnight with a (funnier) version of: “Your roommate is on another date and you’re stuck at home. Let’s find you someone.” Our conversion rates were astronomical.

Conversations

How would you describe Schitt’s Creek to a friend who’d never heard of it? Exactly how I would. And that’s powerful.

“It’s about a family that’s super-rich but lose all their money and have to go live in a motel in a small town in the middle of nowhere called Schitt’s Creek.”

It’s easy to remember and easy to understand. The dirty little secret about movies, TV shows, and products is that people don’t actually want to be surprised. They want to know exactly where the boundaries are. Schitt’s Creek sets exceptional boundaries.

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When you hear that one-sentence pitch about Schitt’s Creek, subconsciously you know exactly what will happen from the first episode to the last. You know the rich people will come to the town and immediately hate it. They’ll be spoiled, they’ll be obnoxious, and they’ll look down on the locals. Then, they’ll start to change. They’ll meet people they like. They’ll learn to appreciate the different way of life. They’ll realize that what they had before wasn’t all that great. They’ll fall in love with the locals and get hurt and be hurt by the locals. There will be a culminating scene where they get shown their old life and reject it for the new one. It’s incredibly moving because we subconsciously knew it was coming the whole time.

We know lots of people learn about new shows from conversations with friends. When the key moment comes: “Seen any good shows lately?”—three things need to happen. The person asked needs to

  1. Remember a show
  2. Quickly describe that show
  3. Be confident in what the show says about them

No other show can possibly compete with Schitt’s Creek in that scenario. We remember things that are easy to understand. Schitt’s Creek is as easy as it gets. So every time that inflection point conversation occurred, if the people involved in the conversation had watched it, it was the most likely show to be remembered. There weren’t any YouTube videos shared everywhere, or GIFs and memes that went viral. Just that word-of-mouth inflection point.

Which would indicate slow, compounding growth. Sort of like this (as Vulture reported):

“Since launching on cable’s Pop network in 2015, the show has seen its linear ratings more than double and its overall audience soar past 3 million viewers. Word of mouth around the series has also exploded, fueled by critical acclaim and a 2017 deal which put past seasons of the show on Netflix. But Schitt’s didn’t just happen overnight. It’s been a slow-rolling success, blowing up at a point in its run when most other shows would just be starting to wind down.”

You watch Schitt’s Creek because it’s funny and you probably enjoy it. But there are hundreds—maybe thousands—of shows that are funny that you’d enjoy. Schitt’s Creek beat out thousands of other shows by owning an inflection point.

About the author

Brian Scordato is the founder of Tacklebox Accelerator, a four-week program in New York City for early-stage founders (many of whom have full-time jobs) to go from idea to validated product. He teaches at General Assembly, writes here, and loves Tar Heel basketball.

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