12 Oct The 5 savviest creator economy investors of 2022
The creator economy, now at 50 million strong as defined by one of the venture capitalists on this list (though other analysts put it even higher), is proving to be fertile new ground not only for creatives but also for the investors who see the opportunity to back the kind of tech and tools that can open up more opportunity for more people to make a living pursuing their passions. Venture capitalists today serve two essential roles within the creator ecosystem: They are finding and funding additional platforms, products, services, and marketplaces (or more efficient ones) that help creators capture, grow, and monetize audiences. They are also increasingly creators themselves, using newsletters, podcasts, and social media to bring insight and transparency to investing, company building, and the trends shaping the markets they’re funding. These five rising-star investors are shaping the creator economy in ways that affect creators and all of us who enjoy what they do and want them to keep engaging and entertaining us.
Josh Constine, venture partner, SignalFire
Every investor needs a significant advantage that makes their capital stand out. In the creator economy world, a notable edge would be having a track record as a creator and even sticking with it while also investing. In other words, you’d be Josh Constine, a venture partner at SignalFire, who was—and remains—a creator himself. For more than eight years, Constine served as editor-at-large for TechCrunch, writing more than 4,000 pieces of content. Today he has an interview podcast called PressClub with Josh Constine, a Substack newsletter exploring creator economy trends (though it’s been on hiatus this year), and of course, he’s a good Twitter follow for almost 92,000 fans.
But ask Constine what has helped shape his view of the creator economy more than anything else, and he cites the time he spent managing audience-building projects and merchandising for two musical artists: Bon Jovi and the Killers. “That experience taught me a lot about how the short list of ‘superfans’ is where the real monetization is—it’s not nickel-and-diming everybody else,” he says. “You can be a big business as a creator, but to get really huge, you need to find superfans who are price insensitive.” At SignalFire, Constine seeks out founders “creating tools that help creators seize the means of distribution—it’s all about owning attention, and owning that audience.” That includes companies such as Clubhouse, the audio-based social network currently refining its experience to consider more intimate, private conversations, and Karat, a creator-focused financial services company, alongside many other startups that populate SignalFire’s portfolio. Constine says that by investing in companies creating solutions for creators, he hopes to unlock value for those “who can focus on niche content that resonates with a much more passionate group of fans.”
Em Herrera, investor, Night Ventures
Em Herrera, a 23-year-old Investor at Night Ventures, is perhaps the youngest VC in the country—but that’s not what earned her a spot on the Creator 25 list. The self-described college dropout has a wealth of grassroots experience going back to her high school days, serving as a social media manager for Days for Girls International and later as a brand rep for Glossier, among other experiences. All of it makes her a creator-economy native if there ever was one in the VC space (not to mention her more than 14,000 tweets to her more than 15,000 followers that she’s amassed over the past nine-plus years). Since April, she’s now putting her expertise in the space to work at Night Ventures, the investing arm of the creator management juggernaut run by Reed Duchscher, which represents Jimmy Donaldson, aka MrBeast. Night Ventures has backed such creator-centric startups as Pearpop, which connects brands with creators and influencers, and NFT-focused companies Zora and Cyber.
Herrera says that her main goal is finding female founders, and “allowing them to deploy capital into and network within the spaces they actually care about.” Further, at Night, Herrera looks to connect with founders and creators who exemplify a sense of responsibility to their communities, because they are unearthing massive amounts of value within small subcultures that have long been ignored by brands and the media. “Creators are an unlocked resource for microcommunity insights, and I really want to see the VC community respect that,” she says. “I’m super passionate about finding deals and people who have been opening up and garnering influence in a previously overlooked field.”
Katelin Holloway, founding partner, Seven Seven Six
“I’ve seen a lot of people have their ‘plan B’ become their ‘plan A,’ getting a boring job and letting go of their creative dreams,” says Katelin Holloway, a founding partner at the venture capital firm Seven Seven Six. “When people have the tools to turn their creative pursuits into a livelihood, that is where true innovation is going to come from.” Her mission, along with that of her cofounder, Alexis Ohanian, is to back innovative, creator-centered startups—and there is no plan B.
Since Ohanian and Holloway started Seven Seven Six in 2020, she has quickly helped establish the firm as perhaps the most aggressive fundraiser for creator and creator-adjacent startups. The list of Seven Seven Six-backed creator economy companies is prodigious, including the Gen-Z-targeted social networking app Realtime, short-form video platform Huddles, creator-collaboration platform Pearpop, back-end all-in-one platform Fourthwall (see the Supporting Acts section of the Creator 25), along with many crypto startups that share the same ethos of having people accrue value for their creative contributions. In many ways, Holloway’s work is an organic extension of what she did at Reddit, where she ran people and culture at the iconic social media site cofounded by Ohanian, as well as her angel investing, where she backed the likes of groundbreaking social audio platform Clubhouse and creator crowdfunding platform Seed&Spark. (Holloway, who herself has 13,500-plus Twitter followers, has also found a clever way to bridge her history in HR with her creator orientation: She’s hosted three seasons of a podcast series called All Hands interviewing CEOs and other top execs about their people strategies.)
As creator tools proliferate and become more commonplace, Holloway says that she’s seeing her vision for the future come to fruition: Creators can now actually connect directly with and grow their audiences, and make a living doing what they love. The opportunities afforded to the creators of the current generation, she says, “are totally endless.”
Nicole Quinn, general partner, Lightspeed
“If you’re building a company, it’s tremendously helpful to have an influencer, creator, or celebrity as a cofounder,” says Nicole Quinn, who has been a general partner investing at the A-list VC firm Lightspeed since 2015. “It’s much easier and cheaper to turn a fan into a customer.” Although she cites Dr. Dre and the Kardashians as examples of how creators become entrepreneurs, the charming Brit is merely being modest in choosing not to talk up her own book. Quinn has invested in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and Lady Gaga’s Haus Labs. She’s also facilitated the ur-creator economy platform that has driven hundreds of millions in gross revenue for tens of thousands of creators: Cameo.
Quinn developed a taste for early-stage investing at Morgan Stanley, where she worked on large IPOs for companies like Facebook and Pandora. After landing at Lightspeed, she says she set her focus on the power that influencers and creators can have as entrepreneurs, which is why she’s dedicated so much of her attention to the creator economy. When Quinn meets with founders and startups, she brings a similar lens to what she looks for in a creator turned founder—specifically, focus, a drive to succeed, and the ability to develop and cater to an audience. (Quinn, like so many VCs, has developed her audience on Twitter, where she has more than 12,600 followers.)
But her favorite part of being an investor is learning what’s next before it goes mainstream. One can get a glimpse of what she’s seeing and excited by considering her investments in such startups as Fizz, a social network for college campuses (you may recall a certain business that started with that mission in the mid-2000s), and FlickPlay, a platform for creators to make money from augmented reality digital collectibles. “I love my job,” Quinn says. “When I meet founders, they give us a nugget of what the future will look like.”
Rex Woodbury, partner, Index Ventures
Rex Woodbury, 29, “grew up fascinated by how people interact with each other online,” an excellent creator economy coming of age that led him to becoming a VC after jobs working on growth at buzzy startups such as Airtable and Calm. Fittingly, Woodbury collects his thoughts on tech and culture and shares them via his popular newsletter (which has more than 30,000 subscribers) that’s called—what else?—Digital Native. (He also tweets regularly to his more than 33,400 Twitter followers.) His early experiences engaging in online communities on an amateur and professional level have helped him shape and guide many of his investing decisions as an investor. Index Ventures has several creator-focused companies in its portfolio, including Discord, Etsy, and Roblox, and Woodbury, who joined the firm in 2020 and became a partner earlier this year, says he’s focused on finding founders who are looking to “bring down the barriers to creation.” Among his portfolio “relationships,” as Index describes them, is Creative Juice, a banking application for creators that helps them aggregate all the revenue they generate across such platforms as Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube. “[Creators had] previously been limited by the tools that were available. But the internet has blown that wide open.”
Source: Fast Company