Mapping the Creator Economy
I spent the past couple of months going down the Creator Economy rabbit hole. Here is a map of 150+ companies I found.
The Internet is magic. Let’s not forget that just 15 years ago, in order to reach an audience, you had to go through a hyper-selective process where one person had the power to decide if you’d be allowed to speak to the general public. Then the internet came along (for real), and suddenly anyone could put anything online. Today, curation isn’t done by any one person, but by the public who votes with their attention. This new democracy has seen a new class of citizens emerge: The Creators.
The internet is magic and creators are its purest expression. Where most people see a cultural oddity, I see an entire generation bypassing traditional gatekeepers for the first time in history. It’s a phenomenon that has fascinated me for more than a decade and I wanted to finally sit down and write out my thoughts about it.
The first step was to define what a creator *really* is. In a previous article, I argued that a creator isn't someone who creates but an individual who scales without permission. They are to the individual what startups are to the organization. They are the future of scalable entrepreneurship. As a result, a new economy is growing up around - and through - them: The Creator Economy.
I’ve curated a list of 150+ companies that are focused on one thing: Arming The Creators! You'll find below 1) my map of these companies, with some commentary and a favorite for each category, 2) the list of companies I didn't include and why, 3) the Airtable list with additional data (amount raised, lead investors, location, CEO's contact info, etc.) and 4) the next step, which will consist in gathering all the resources about creators at ArmTheCreators.com, a Notion-based website.
In the meantime, feel free to subscribe to my newsletter and don't hesitate to ping me, my DMs are open!
The Creator Lifecycle
Mapping means categories. I've decided to categorize companies according to their function in the creator lifecycle. Some companies address more than one step of the creator lifecycle, so I included them where I thought it made the most sense.
1. Create Content
These companies are building stand-alone tools to help creators create more and better content. They’re not tied to any aggregator (TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) and are solely focused on serving creators and their specific needs. For existing content formats, they are very often unbundling enterprise-focused all-in-one desktop suites like Adobe Creative Suite to nail just a few use-cases for a fraction of the price. For new content formats (livestream, highlights, games) they create completely new tools that fit the new usages that creators are exploring.
- Photo: Mojo, PhotoRoom, Lightricks, VSCO, Later, Unfold, Instasize
- Video: Aria, Kapwing, Triller, Trash, Vochi, Snippet
- Audio: BeatStars, Landr, Splice, eMastered, SoundTrap, Castbox, SquadCast, Descript, Artlist
- Livestream: Restream, StreamElements, StreamLabs, Xsplit, StageTen
- Highlights: Lowkey, Athenascope, Donut, Replai
- Games: Roblox, Manticore, Hiber, Unity, Epic Games
👏 Special Mention: Aria is a mobile-first vocal studio that lets you transform any vocal sound clip into an amazing animated subtitled video. Think Mojo, but for audio. The product is superior to anything else on the market and the team is moving very fast. I’d follow them very closely.
2. Grow (rent) your audience
Once creators have started creating content, they need to find their audience, and this usually happens on media networks. Because media networks are obsessed with the consumer, not the creator, I initially didn’t want to include them here since my intention was to list companies building tools for creators, not roads toward them. But as these aggregators remain the main growth driver for creators, it's impossible not to include them. You probably know all of them, they benefit from incredibly strong network effects and their valuations show it. In some ways they are the new gatekeepers; but they’re still way more democratic than all of their gatekeeping predecessors. But that's another story :)
- Media networks: Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, Caffeine, Medium, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope, Audius, SoundCloud, Udemy, Twitch,
3. Own your audience
Once a creator has built an audience on one - or ideally several - media networks, the next step is to export that audience off those platforms. As long as their audience is on the media networks, they’re only renting it, not owning it. There’s a whole class of startups whose main purpose is to help creators convert media network followers into owned community members. It usually means that they’ll focus on creating new contextualized spaces where the audience can interact with the creators, like community platforms, interactive live-streaming experiences, an email-based newsletter, etc.
- Website builders: OnUniverse, Carrd
- Community: MightyNetwork, Zebra, Community, DSM, Fourthwall, Notify.me, Circle, Discipline Media, Oooh.tv, Laylo, Geneva Chat, Bunches, Commsor, Discord, Vibely, Wavium
- Livestream: Reach Live, Crowdcast, Mandolin, Stream Club, Maestro
- Email: ConvertKit, Substack, Revue, Ghost, Letterdrop
- Crypto: Zora, Roll, Rally, Cent, OnScout, Foundation
👏 Special mention: Circle is building an all-in-one community platform for creators. They’re obsessed with creators when they could have already turned to focus on B2B and I think that this discipline will help them win over the medium term. And the product really is a dream come true. If I ever host a Creator Economy community, I’ll definitely host it there.
4. Monetize your audience online
Even if the border is somehow blurry, I decided to separate owning and monetizing an audience. Where the former is mostly about moving the interactions off the media networks, the latter is mostly about extracting direct financial value out of it. And there’s a lot of ways a creator can directly monetize their audience: Sell courses, members-only content, fan interactions (1-1, shoutouts), donations, digital downloads, events, brand deals.
- Memberships: Patreon, Memberful, SpecialProjects, LaunchPass, Glow, Supercast
- Courses: Teachable, Thinkific, Podia, HeightsPlatform, Virtually, SkillShare, Uscreen, Didactic, GamerzClass, Airsubs
- Link in bio: Flooz, Koji, Beacons, LinkTree, Snipfeed
- Fan interactions: Superpeer, OnlyFans, Jemi, Starsona, Fundo, Cameo, Looped, StreamLoots
- Events: MomentHouse, RunTheWorld, Luma
- Donation: BuyMeACoffee, Ko-fi
- Digital Downloads: Gumroad, Ejunkie, Payhip
- Brand deals: HashtagPaid, PopularPlays, Tribe, ThePlug, Popcorn, Loots
👏 Special mention: Flooz is building a mobile-first business-in-a-box to help mid-tail creators easily transform their audiences into customers. It’s like Linktree on steroids. The product is already super-sharp despite being just 2 months old, and the team radiates creator vibes. Check out my Flooz Link and read my tweetstorm on the topic.
5. Monetize your audience offline
If we recently discovered that fans were willing to pay for digital products, we've known for a while that they spend massively on physical products! The physical world used to require high fixed operating costs (design, produce, ship, support) and the number of creators who could afford it was very limited. That time is (almost) over! Platforms like Teespring and Cala are building physical-infra-as-a-service platforms to help any creator move past the operational overhead of the physical world. They can launch product lines and convert the trust they’ve earned into commerce. The 2 major changes are that these platforms 1) aren’t tech-enabled agencies and 2) aren’t starting as marketplaces. They aspire to be creator-first scalable platforms.
- Merchandising: Cala, Teespring, Selz, Printful, BigCartel, Printify, Spreadshirt, Motefe
- Others: Pietra, Popshop, GlobalBelly, Sellfy,
👏 Special mention: GlobalBelly helps creators launch physical & virtual product lines by taking care of everything for them, from product design and tech to operations and delivery. Imagine a pastry chef who has amassed millions of followers with cookie decorating tutorials now being able to launch their own DIY cookie kits, books & e-tutorials -- all powered by GlobalBelly. They're building infra-as-a-service for creators who already have an engaged audience, not a marketplace for anyone to create and sell their products. Read my tweetstorm on the topic!
6. Manage your business
Being a successful creator requires a healthy dose of rebellion. It’s no wonder why Shopify’s mission statement is “Arm The Rebels”. They represent the fastest-growing emerging category of customers which lies between prosumers and SMBs. According to Yuanling Yan, there are 50M creators around the world, of which 2M are able to make a full-time living out of it. Creators are entrepreneurs and they need specific tools to meet their specific needs. I’ve encountered various startups building these tools that empower creators to run their business. Some are focused on specific verticals like project management, CRM or lending; the others are building platforms to enable a specific type of creator to run their whole business all in one place.
- Business-in-a-box: Shopify, Pico, Sounder, Anchor, RedCircle, Strydal, Playbook, SamCart, Kajabi, CreatorOS, Quorum
- FinTech: Karat, ReleasePlan
- Analytics: Stir, Kobalt, VidIQ, TubeBuddy
- Project management: FamePick, CloutJam, MoeAssist
👏 Special mention: Pico is empowering mid-tail new-media creators (think WaitButWhy, Ben Thompson) with horizontal infrastructure to run their businesses (CRM, payments, etc.). I really think they can win the mid-tail creators and grow with them. Then 1) going downstream is easy (free tier stuff) and 2) bundling their modulable product intro frameworks can enable them to tackle new verticals (for example the music business). I’m pretty bullish on their position + vision to become the Shopify for media companies (short-tail) and ultimately for creators (mid/long-tail).
Companies I didn’t include and why
It hasn’t necessarily been easy to define the scope of the Creator Economy, and there were many companies I decided not to include on my map. Here's which ones and the reasons why:
- Adjacent B2B, non-creator-focused tools: Creators are SMBs. They might not be small in terms of reach or revenues, but they’re definitely small by their headcount. There are a lot of B2B tools that creators could be—and often are—using. But as great as these tools can be, I’ve decided to not include those that are primarily targeting businesses. (ClickMeeting, Casted.us, HiveBrite, Hopin, Prox.io, TillyPay, Tribe, PlayPlay)
- EdTech marketplaces: These platforms are changing how school works. They’re incredible at enabling teachers to unbundle themselves from university and go direct-to-student. But in my opinion these teachers have no intention to scale (yet) and are fine with selling their time. (Juni Learning, Outschool, TakeLessons, Lingoda, VIPKID, Chegg)
- Consumer content subscriptions (or New Media companies): These companies are bundling creator content into consumer subscription and sell D2C. They aren’t primarily empowering creators to independently scale themselves. (Knowable, Luminary, LearnMonthly, SimpleHabit, Tingles, FitPlan, Meet Cute, NextUp)
- Tech-enabled merchandising agencies: Selling merch is one of the most efficient ways to make money for creators, especially in times of Covid. But these entities, however good they are, are tech-enabled agencies working with a limited number of clients. (CrowdMade, DFTBA, FanJoy, Killer Merch, Instaco, MerchLabs, Represent.com)
- Indie Hacker products: I love the Indie Hackers movement and I believe they have more in common with creators than most people think. But in these cases, the products they’ve built for creators are often side projects, so I preferred not to include them. (LiveKlass, JoinHologram, Qazy.co, Shinypass, Twine.video, Buttondown)
Download the Airtable
I’ve manually listed more than 150+ companies from the Creator Economy and included a lot of data that I found interesting. You can download it here for free (tips welcome, it's the Creator Economy after all 😇). I hope you find it useful!
After having written my definition of a creator so I could logically list the startups arming them, I'm now building ArmTheCreators.com – a Notion-based website to centralize the best resources around all things “Creator Economy”: the best companies, thinkers/writers, podcasts, newsletters, investors, operators, etc.
The goal is obviously for me to structure my exploration around the topic but also to involve like-minded people. Ultimately, I'd love this to be a place where any young wannabe creator goes to find inspiration, education & support. A sort of Indie Hacker for Creators! DM me if you want to talk about it :)