Startup explorations #7 / Creators follow creators

January 20, 2021

I enjoyed this podcast episode from How I Built This with Guy Raz—an interview with the founders of Patreon, Jack Conte and Sam Yam. I think theirs is a great story not only because I love seeing musicians and artistic types venturing outside of their particular bubbles, but also because it's a great example of finding a very specific problem and addressing it in such a succinct way that it seems like a no-brainer. In this case, the problem was that creators who already had a sizable following were making very little money on the "traditional" platforms such as itTunes and Youtube. The solution, then, was to give them a better way of getting paid directly by fans through a subscription or patronage model.

As Patreon grew, and more and more creators began to sign up, its limitations became clear. The ones who find most success in the platform are creators who have followings on other platforms and are able to direct them to Patreon, while creators in the early stages of growing their audiences struggle to gain traction. The founders admit this; this is a gap for which Patreon was not designed. How to fill this gap? This is a worthy problem indeed, a good solution to which would allow a greater range of people to join the creator economy—perhaps not as superstars or celebrities, but a "middle class," which I referred to in my last post.

Conte and Yam themselves give us a clue in the podcast. They describe the early stages of Patreon: how they started with just a handful of artists (including Conte, who is himself a musician), and how they struggled at first to get people to sign up. What eventually did it was artists seeing other artists getting on the platform and getting visible results—a slow process at first, but with compounding effects. Creators follow creators.

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