The Internet Is Like Tokyo

Note: This post is an excerpt from a longer article entitled: A Manifesto for the Impact Generation. Our newsletter is where we share our vision for a different kind of marketing.


We live in extraordinary times.

With a decent smartphone, you now have the power to broadcast a message to half the world’s population using professional grade audio, video and image. It also means that you can create an online business around virtually any topic, passion, or interest since you can get very specific given the size of your potential audience.

The best illustration of this principle is captured in the metaphor “The Internet is like Tokyo” which we adapted from an an interview that Derek Thompson did with Masters in Business (full interview).

Derek is a writer for the Atlantic, and in answering a question about how writers can break through, this was his advice.

It is applicable across any discipline or market.

There’s a paradox to scale. People who want to be big sometimes think, “I have to immediately reach the largest possible audience.” But no, weirdly. The best way to produce things that take off is to produce small things. To become a small expert, to become the best person on the internet at understanding the application of medicaid to minority children or something like that.

And the reason I think this is true is I call it’s like my Tokyo example. If you go to Tokyo, you’ll see there are all sorts of strange shops. They’ll be a shop that’s only nineteen seventies vinyl and nineteen eighties whiskey. And that doesn’t make any sense if it’s a shop in a Des Moines suburb, right, to exist in a Des Moines suburb, you have to be Subway. You have to hit the mass market immediately.

But in Tokyo, where there’s thirty, forty million people within a train ride of the city, right then your market is forty million. And within that forty million, there’s a couple of thousand people who love nineteen seventies music and nineteen eighties whiskey.

The Internet is Tokyo.

The Internet allows you to be niche at scale.

– Derek Thompson

Here are my takeaways from this idea.

Takeaway #1 – You Can Be [Very] Specific About Your Niche

To be niche at scale means that even though your passion or interest might be very specific (needlepoint for new moms), you can scale it given the size of the potential Internet audience.

Currently, five social media platforms give you access to nearly five billion people. Even half of 1% of that amount is 25 million. Thus, you can afford to get as granular as you like when thinking about the markets for your business.

After all, you are only after 1,000 true fans.

Takeaway #2 – You Can Be Different

Another takeaway is that if your vibe is more offbeat, eccentric, weird, or quirky, it won’t matter. Again, there are large pockets of weirdness (in a good way) in a virtual city of 5 billion people.

I mention this because often we are tempted to choose a niche because it is popular, has the biggest audiences, makes the most money, etc.

Ultimately, if you don’t feel like a kid in a candy store when you share, talk, or write about your niche, you won’t make it. Not only that, you’ll lose interest, and that will come through in your writing.

By the same token, when you share something meaningful and personal to you, this will also come through in your communication.

So embrace the weird, if that’s you!

Why Tiny is Mighty

There are many advantages to adopting this tiny is mighty approach to building an audience (at first).

  1. Your research can be more focused and in-depth – When you concentrate on getting to know a tiny audience, there is less background material to cover. You can also do deep dives on your audience’s profile. All of this helps with messaging and product development.
  2. Your messaging will pop – When you try to reach the masses, you get plain vanilla messaging. Blah. But when you focus on a tiny audience you get message coherence combined with emotion. An ad for motorcycle riders will not create the same visceral reaction as one for white collar weekend warriors who drive a Harley. Do you feel the difference?
  3. Niche audiences tend to be more passionate – People love to be part of groups, especially VIP groups, or those who have particular hobbies or passions.
  4. You escape the noise and hype of traditional marketing – There’s a certain grind now to traditional marketing campaigns and having to create complicated funnels with persuasive copy. Let all the piranhas fight it out in a race to the bottom.


“The Internet is Like Tokyo” is a liberating concept.

Because of the vast size of the Internet audience you can afford to be picky on the markets that you want to serve with your online business.

Tiny and weird is now cool. So embrace it, and grab your share of the pie.

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

5 thoughts on “The Internet Is Like Tokyo”

  1. Hey I completely agree really have to niche down today. Especially with affiliate marketing it is very competitive out there. But there is still room for the sub niches. With that being said be  prepared to work your butt off anyway it’s not like the good old days it’s too competitive now. Have a good day.

    • Thanks Jake.  When you mention sub-niches, there are literally 100s that are untapped. Also, if you combine it with a particular audience, you get a double shot.  Email marketing just for musicians, or something like that.

  2. Although my niche is very tight and passionate, I feel like Google doesn’t really “see” me anymore, and that is frankly a hassle. People on social media, however, “see” me better these days, so I am focussing on this more and more. Doing good SEO just doesn’t seem to work anymore, what is your opinion on this? thanks

    • Hi Lizzy, thanks for your comments and questions.

      Lots of folks still swear by SEO.   However, I think with AI created content, it just became 10x more competitive. Also, it takes a while to see results (6-12 months maybe, depending on your niche), and you have to write 2-3 articles per week which is not sustainable for most folks. Finally, it’s not scalable.  You cannot generate 1000 more visitors with a switch like you can with ads, for example.

      Whatever you do, you are still going to need good content.  If you go to, I describe Signature Content, which is 7-10 deep dive articles on your topic, and your unique solution to a big problem in the market.

      Then take that and start dividing it into smaller pieces to post on social media (short videos work great).  If you have an ad budget, promote those posts. 

      Finally, my take on social media is that it’s good for one thing: to move a portion of your audience into your own eco-system. This means, having a clearly defined offer and groups of people that would benefit.

      Reach out personally if I can be of help.  

  3. I believe that we live in a time and age where there are so many opportunities that are at our fingertips, we are far from the days of our forefathers. This age is known as the information age. You can build a successful business and learn so many other things without leaving the comforts of your home. Thanks for sharing.


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