- The creator economy has surged in 2021, and a new crop of startups has emerged to cash in.
- These upstarts are launching tools to help creators connect with fans, film content, and earn money.
- Here's a breakdown of Insider's recent coverage on up-and-coming creator companies.
- See more stories on Insider's business page.
From gamers to beauty influencers, interest in building a career as a content creator has spiked in the past year, with over 50 million people now considering themselves creators, according to investment firm SignalFire.
And a new crop of startups has emerged to service the various needs of these digital stars.
These companies are reimagining the ways influencers connect to fans, produce content, and run their businesses. And they've caught the attention of venture-capital investors who have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into content creator startups in the past year, according to data from Crunchbase.
"The creator economy will comprise a vast percentage of the workforce of the future, and those creators will need financial services to meet their needs - both as businesses and individuals," Alexa von Tobel, founding partner at Inspired Capital, told Insider.
Startups building new monetization tools for creators
Many of the new startups in the influencer industry are developing products to help creators make money.
One such company, Pearpop, runs a marketplace for TikTok and Instagram creators to pay - or get paid - to collaborate on content with other users, brands, and marketers.
The company got its start by building a platform to make TikTok "duets" and sounds monetizable, and it has since expanded to Instagram.
"The goal here is to be the epicenter for opportunities to scale and monetize as creators," said Spencer Markel, Pearpop's president.
Other startups are building creator marketplaces designed to service a particular niche within the creator economy.
Agnes Kozera and Dave Kierzkowski cofounded Podcorn to help connect podcast creators with brands, selling the tool to audio giant Entercom (now Audacy) earlier this year for $22.5 million.
Another upstart called Kollyde launched a tool to help Asian multinational brands run influencer campaigns in other markets.
"China has its own internet ecosystem," Amy Vida, Kollyde's cofounder and managing director, told Insider. "They have their own local video platforms, social media, ecommerce, and live video ecommerce ... But when it comes to cross-border marketing, it's an entirely different set of platforms and also a different set of creators."
Other startups in the creator economy are building tools to help influencers launch their own direct-to-consumer brands.
One company called Pietra built a platform to connect creators with product designers, manufacturers, and warehouse companies in order to launch their own consumer goods. Users of the tool can choose to create products in a variety of categories, including coffee, clothing, and fragrances. Pietra charges a handling fee for any samples ordered, a production fee, and fees for product assembly, quality assurance, warehouse work, and additional services such as shipping and fulfillment.
"Anyone with the drive and motivation to bring their idea to life can get access to the same infrastructure that the top creators historically have gotten," Pietra cofounder Ronak Trivedi told Insider. "You no longer need to fly around the world, find a factory, beg them to work with you, plead for low minimums. We're trying to build a world where a creator, a single creator, can create the next best-selling brand."
Another company in the space, Virtual Dining Concepts, has worked with creators like YouTube star MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) to launch influencer-branded restaurants. Virtual Dining Concepts recently helped the MrBeast team design a menu and create a network of hundreds of "ghost kitchens" (some that it owned), which paid an all-inclusive platform fee to cook and sell MrBeast Burger menu items in the US and Canada.
Helping creators optimize their finances and the backend of their businesses
Another focus among creator economy startups is helping influencers manage their finances.
While these companies are "underhyped," says UTA Ventures' Caroline Jacobs, they are key to providing the "picks-and-shovels backend of the creator economy."
One startup, Stir, created a payments network that lets creators track their finances, and compensate employees and collaborators directly. Another upstart, Karat, launched a custom charge card designed to meet the spending needs of YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok stars. It looks at a creator's social metrics, like follower count and engagement rates, rather than their FICO score to assess whether they qualify for its card.
"For typical consumers, using social ranking or grading generally is not a good idea and doesn't work," Karat cofounder Will Kim said. "However, what we're focused on is a segment of businesses that are driven by creative metrics. These are all leading indicators for exactly how your business works."
Other companies are building tools to support creators financially. Influencer-tech company ChannelMeter launched a cash payment app called "Creator Cash," that gives YouTube stars a cash advance on their advertising earnings.
"A lot of these creators are credit thin," ChannelMeter CEO Eugene Lee told Insider. "They're underbanked. As these creators grow, they're going to need the support of financial institutions."
Companies developing new ways for creators to distribute content
Another category of creator startups are finding new ways for influencers to connect with fans and distribute content.
Jellysmack, for example, helps YouTube stars like PewDiePie redistribute their videos onto other apps like Facebook and Snapchat where they can earn additional ad revenue.
"A lot of creators realize that their time is better spent when they focus on creating content instead of trying to optimize for every platform," Jellysmack cofounder Michael Philippe told Insider. "Number one - it's really difficult. And even when they do it themselves, it's obviously very time consuming."
Creator+, meanwhile, looks for new ways to distribute long-form content that features internet stars. The upstart, which functions as a production company, raised $12 million to produce movies starring digital talent that it will release to fans on a pay-per-view basis.
"Our intention is that the movies that we're going to be working on and bringing to the market, we want to be perceived and stand up to any other movie that is being released today," Creator+ cofounder Benjamin Grubbs told Insider.
And some startups are building tools for creators that focus on a particular content category.
The company Trading.TV launched a new Twitch-style platform focused specifically on finance influencers. Creators who join the platform can stream about stocks, ETFs, cryptocurrencies, and other assets like NFTs and playing cards. They can also upload on-demand content to a Trading.TV video library. The company plans to introduce a feature that will let users trade stocks in real-time as they watch livestreams.
"You could be like a trading card guru or you could be like a sneakerhead that's just been crazy about collecting sneakers forever," Trading.TV CEO Tobias Heaslip told Insider. "It's not just about being a stock analyst or a bitcoin expert or something like that."
Here's a list of the creator economy companies we've covered recently:
New startups helping creators make money:
- Pearpop helps TikTok and Instagram creators get paid to collaborate with other users and brands. Here's how it works.
- Pietra is a startup that connects influencers with designers and manufacturers to create their own products.
- Virtual Dining Concepts works with influencers like MrBeast to launch "ghost kitchen" restaurant brands.
- Podcorn created a marketplace to connect podcasters and marketers.
- Kollyde helps Asian multinational brands connect with influencers in other markets.
- ProGuides is a platform that allows gamers to purchase coaching from high-level players.
New companies helping creators optimize their finances and the backend of their businesses:
- Karat created a custom charge card designed to meet the spending needs of YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok stars.
- ChannelMeter created a payment app to give cash advances to YouTube stars.
- Stir is a payments network that helps creators track their finances and compensate employees and collaborators directly.
New upstarts helping creators make and distribute their content:
- Jellysmack works with creators to repurpose content from YouTube onto other ad-supported apps like Facebook and Snapchat.
- Creator+ produces long-form movies featuring internet stars.
- Community and Subtext are betting that text messaging will surge as a way for influencers to reach fans.
- Spore, Linktree, and Beacons are link-in-bio startups offering webpage tools and money-making features for creators.
- Trading.TV built a new Twitch-style platform focused specifically on finance influencers.