Patreon: Building the creator economy

By Barry Schuler, Partner

Nothing is more human than creativity. It distinguishes Homo Sapiens from all other species on Earth. We’ve been doing it for over 40,000 years. It is in our DNA. Artists have suffered over the years because they have had no choice but to follow their burning need to create. Hopefully, Patreon will make the notion of “starving artist” extinct.

It’s quaint to think about a time before YouTubes, blogs, tweets, and live streams but, prior to the World Wide Web, only a chosen few in the creative class prevailed through the gauntlet of gatekeepers for the opportunity to reach an audience.

The internet promised to democratize media and in the process disrupt the media industry and indeed it has. Traditional media models are gasping for air. The print business is on life support. Record labels can’t profit selling records and consumers are cutting the cord with cable TV providers at high velocity. The internet has been cruelly efficient at disrupting the media business, yet it has miserably failed to innovate new business models that support content creators.

Today, the infrastructure and tools exist to make it easy for anyone the with the desire and talent to create content and present it to an audience. YouTube and other platforms are filled with a breathtaking quantity of amazing content from all types of creators, many of whom have been successful building audiences in the hundreds of thousands or millions. Unfortunately, it’s a scant few who are actually able to quit their day jobs and make a living doing it.

Nataly Dawn & Jack Conte

Musician Jack Conte was such a creator. Together with lead singer (and now wife) Nataly Dawn, they amassed a huge fanbase for their group Pomplamoose. But, the meager advertising revenue share from YouTube alone did not provide the revenue needed to grow Pomplamoose into a successful Indie business. Something was very wrong.

That’s when lightbulbs went off in Jack’s brain. Jack saw rabid fans who loved their music, came to live performances, and clamored for new content. If he could create a way for those fans to become regular patrons of Pomplamoose perhaps a new business model for creators could emerge. Jack joined forces with tech wizard Sam Yam, and Patreon was born.

Patreon hit a major key right from the start. It made it easy for creators to offer their fans a way to support them by subscribing to a monthly payment (of their choice) for exclusive premium content. And, when creators set up Patreon, they discovered that many of their fans loved the idea. Today, Patreon is sending over $150 million to 50,000 creators!

The DFJ Growth team had been closely tracking Patreon’s progress because we felt they were addressing a burning need in the market. The insatiable demand for great content combined with an exploding class of creators who dreamt of making their passion their life’s work was a big opportunity looking for a solution. The missing element was an economic engine to bring those forces together, until Patreon. We couldn’t be more excited to partner with Jack, Sam, and the rest of their team on their journey.

Barry Schuler is a partner at DFJ
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Originally published at medium.com on September 21, 2017.

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