22 Tech Companies Powering the Influencer Economy
When Jay-Z sang, “I’m not a businessman; I’m a business, man,” in the 2005 “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” remix, little did we know these lyrics were presciently foreshadowing the creator economy to come.
What is the creator economy? It refers to individual creators — think artists, podcasters, YouTubers — building businesses around their personal brands and transacting directly with consumers.
The rise of easy-to-use consumer software tools, social media and other distribution platforms have made it easy for individuals to bypass legacy institutions to make and sell creative work.
There are 50 million creators out there, according to SignalFire’s estimates. That’s 50 million people monetizing their podcasts, newsletters, art shops and video streams. About two million of them are doing it as their full-time job.
Although there are fewer formal barriers to entry than ever to starting a business, monetizing one’s individuality and content requires work. Distribution, operations, payment processing and project management are important, but they can easily suck up time and energy that could be otherwise spent creating.
That’s why lots of companies have sprouted up with the specific goal of giving creators and solopreneurs the tools they need to succeed, freeing them up to efficiently monetize their creations.
We surveyed the landscape and found that these 22 companies fit the bill.
Buy Me a Coffee
This startup created a payment system that lets creators accept support from audiences through one-time tips or recurring payments. More than 150,000 creators, from writers to cosplayers, currently use the platform to set up memberships and build and own their audiences. Buy Me a Coffee was founded in 2018 and is an alum of startup accelerator Y Combinator.
Caffeine allows people to broadcast live video and interact with audiences in real time. Creators can monetize by selling digital items to their followers, and they can join Caffeine’s growth programs to expand their fanbases even more. The San Francisco-based company launched its product in 2016, and has since reached 150 employees and a $600 million valuation (plus a partnership with Drake).
Circle bills itself as “the modern community platform for creators” — it’s a place to publish content, host discussions and cultivate a membership-based community. The white-label platform lets creators customize the look and feel of their spaces. The company itself was founded in 2019, and both its co-founders first worked at the edtech startup Teachable (also on this list).
This Toronto-based startup, which launched in 2019, makes a smart assistant dashboard to help creators and influencers manage their businesses. They can use it to track deals, organize schedules and build out content calendars. That way, users can stop fussing over spreadsheets and juggling various project management tools, and get back to creating.
This email marketing platform is specifically designed for creators who want to grow their audiences through email campaigns and newsletters. It allows them to create landing pages, forms and automated sales funnels. ConvertKit was founded in 2013 and is staffed by a fully remote team of more than 50 people (and the company distributes profits, in addition to equity grants).
Glow is trying to make it easy for podcasters to accept support directly from their listeners. Creators use Glow to build subscription pages and put content behind paywalls for audiences to unlock when they want more. The Seattle-based company started in 2019 and has raised a $2.3 million seed funding.
This platform allows creators to sell digital products directly to consumers. Artists, authors and even movie studios have used Gumroad to sell digital content, process payments and communicate with audiences. The company, which has raised more than $8 million, was founded in 2011 and is headquartered in San Francisco.
Since launching in 2010, Kajabi has been used by more than 50,000 creators to build and manage their communities and sell online video courses. The platform positions itself as an all-in-one software solution that can handle a solopreneur’s blogging, email, marketing automation and digital sales and delivery. The company is based just outside of Los Angeles and has over 100 employees.
A credit card company that looks at your follower count, not just your FICO score, for determining your credit limit. That’s the idea behind Karat, a startup that in 2020 rolled out a credit card specifically targeted for creators and influencers. The company’s CEO told Crunchbase that Karat plans to eventually offer additional creator-friendly financial tools and services too. Karat has raised $4.6 million in seed funding.
The name and coffee-cup logo suggests that Ko-fi sees itself as a way for audiences to tip “coffee money” to their favorite artists, authors and cosplayers. The platform lets people create pages to showcase their work and receive support, and their fans can choose to chip in with one-time donations or set up recurring subscriptions. This startup was founded in 2017 and is based in the United Kingdom.
Being a full-time influencer isn’t always glamorous — there are projects to manage, partnerships to track, invoices to create, revenue to monitor. Moe Assist markets itself as a virtual right-hand person that helps keep creators organized with those types of recurring back-office tasks. The company, founded by fashion blogger Danielle Bernstein, launched in 2019 with $1.2 million in funding.
Patreon is a platform used by creators to build online communities and set up paid subscriptions to support their work. Memberships typically work in tiers, with higher levels of support getting access to more content and perks. Patreon started in 2013 and is now used by over 200,000 creators selling subscriptions directly to more than six million patrons. The company is worth over $1 billion.
This New York-based startup launched in 2014 to help tutors manage their businesses online. It has since pivoted to become a platform for creators to sell memberships, video courses, webinars and digital downloads, billing itself as an “all-in-one digital storefront.” Podia also offers payment portal integration, chat messaging and email marketing tools. The company raised $1 million from investors in 2019.
Popshop Live is like QVC or the Home Shopping Network for the next generation: The mobile platform integrates e-commerce with live video streaming, allowing individual sellers and stores alike to pitch and sell products to a viewing audience — with clickable links for purchasing. It’s interactive too; hosts and shoppers can chat in real time. Popshop Live is based in Los Angeles and has 15 employees. It raised $3 million from investors in the summer of 2020, bringing its funding total to $4.5 million.
Stir is a platform that gives solopreneurs an overview of their financials and revenue streams. It offers collaboration tools, too, allowing multiple creators to launch a collective and have Stir divvy up the revenue between them when they work together on a project. Founded by former Facebook and Google employees, Stir raised $4 million in seed funding from investors in 2020, and is backed by chief executives from Cameo and Patreon, among others.
Substack is an email newsletter publishing platform that allows writers to offer subscriptions and receive support directly from readers. It has an integrated payment processing system, as well as audience analytics. Since its 2017 founding, Substack has brought on several high-profile journalists who left traditional media jobs to launch their own independent newsletters. In 2020, the company reported that more than 100,000 people pay for a Substack newsletter subscription.
This startup allows podcast creators to monetize their content through memberships. With Supercast, creators can, for example, paywall bonus episodes and exclusive content, or offer ad-free versions of their podcasts. It’s not a separate listening platform either; users still access the podcasts through whatever app they typically use. The company, which is based in Vancouver, raised a $2.5 million seed round in 2020.
Superpeer is an app that facilitates video calls between subject matter experts and their clients (or between influencers and their fans). It could be used for a coaching session, or just a chat. Either way, “superpeers” set their price and availability, and the platform books them appointments. The startup launched in 2020 on ProductHunt, and raised $2 million in pre-seed funding.
Think MasterClass, but without the A-list celebrities. More than 100,000 instructors have used Teachable to sell and manage their online courses. (They pay Teachable a monthly or yearly subscription fee to use the platform for creating, hosting and selling their classes — like a SaaS product.) Founded under the name Fedora in 2013, the New York-based startup was acquired by Hotmart in 2020. It has about 150 employees.
Thinkific is a software platform that lets instructors create, market and sell online courses — whether it’s for guitar lessons, a cooking class or a crash course in philosophy. Instructors can use it to design their own websites too. Headquartered in Vancouver, Thinkific has about 100 employees and has raised $25 million to date.
Vibely started in 2018 and is based in San Francisco. Its platform is used by creators who want to give their followers deeper engagement by extending their online communities into offline meet-ups. If an influencer has a popular Facebook group, for example, they can invite their followers to the Vibely platform, where they self-organize into local chapters, which creators can monetize through membership dues.
Zebra is a company for Gen Z creators. Its first product is Zebra Earn, an app that asks users to join communities and follow their favorite influencers, where they complete surveys and challenges in exchange for cash and brand-sponsored perks. Zebra was started in 2017 by Tiffany Zhong, who was on a Forbes 30 under 30 list.