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TI Creator Economy: What Clubhouse’s New Hires Say About Its Future; Goldman Sachs Exec Says It’s The ‘Year of the Creator’

The Information | June 10, 2021, 8:05 p.m.

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A hiring spree isn’t unusual for a startup that’s just raised a lot of money, as Clubhouse did when it brought in an estimated $300 million since January, but its recent recruits hold clues to where the social audio app is headed after a roller-coaster year. In recent weeks, the 40-person startup hired a former long-time Google engineer, a TED executive and a Facebook product director who worked on creator tipping tools. It’s also hired a quartet of engineers from Coinbase. These all indicate Clubhouse could be trying to make its product less of an open-mic free-for-all and more of a formal programming destination. The one-year-old startup also looks to be improving its listening experience and product features. As for what it plans with engineers who understand crypto? Feel free to DM me your tips!Here’s what we know: last month, it hired Justin Uberti to lead streaming technology, which should help the company improve the quality of audio, including lag time. He’ll also work on “the ability to use spatial distance when multiple speakers are talking,” Clubhouse said, referring to a technology that gives a surround-sound experience. Apple exec Eddy Cue recently said spatial audio could be a “game changer” for the music industry. Kelly Stoetzel, who led conferences and speaker curation for TED Talks, is joining to recruit and work with prominent speakers and celebrities on Clubhouse. Justin Bieber, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk have already dropped into the app to much fanfare. Besides deepening this roster, Stoetzel could also help address another listener complaint: many of the conversations are all over the place.“A lot of live audio goes on far too long and kind of loses its purpose,” said Rich Greenfield, a partner at research firm LightShed Partners. While some Clubhouse hosts prepare in advance to interview someone, you also get “chaos, where very little work has been done, and it’s sort of unclear what the point is.” Stoetzel could help ensure speakers do their homework first. Clubhouse is also going hard after the individual influencers who can get fans to keep coming back. Job postings include a head of creators and someone to work on creator partnerships. It’s already brought in leaders with similar expertise. Earlier this month the startup hired Aarthi Ramamurthy, who worked on its Stars tipping feature, to head international efforts. And Fadia Kader, who previously worked on music partnerships at Instagram, joined in March as Clubhouse’s new head of media partnerships and creators. Then there are the Coinbase hires. The company has brought on at least four engineers from the newly public crypto exchange, including Mohammad Almalkawi, Luke Demi, Michelle Pokrass and Graham Jenson, who joined last month, according to their LinkedIn pages. Engineers frequently shift from firm to firm, particularly after events like public listings that allow early staff to cash in shares. Coinbase also experienced a wave of departures last year after CEO Brian Armstrong basically told staff who didn’t like a policy discouraging political discussions at work that they were free to leave. Still, given the proliferation of creator-focused startups offering social tokens and other products based on the blockchain, it’s hard not to speculate about whether Clubhouse could get into the crypto space.Here’s what else is going on...🔦 Creator Spotlight: Katie SturinoKatie Sturino. Photo courtesy of Katie Sturino. Katie Sturino, 40, runs an Instagram account with about 600,000 followers focused on body positivity and fashion. The New York-based former PR specialist is known for her “#SuperSizeTheLook” series, where she replicates outfits from celebrities such as Kendall Jenner and Eva Longoria for plus-sized women. Sturino also has a blog, podcast, and smaller accounts on YouTube and TikTok. “I’m posting everything for women as inspiration, hopefully leading by body example,” she said, such as wearing a bikini. “Someone can see me doing it and feel less scared to do it themselves.” How she makes money: Her main revenue comes from working with brands, such as clothing company Madewell and personal styling service Stitch Fix. She posts sponsored content and also advises brands on adding a wider variety of sizes. Sturino recently wrote a book about body acceptance called “Body Talk: How to Embrace Your Body and Start Living Your Best Life”. She declined to disclose her annual earnings. Launching her own brand: Sturino started body-care line Megababe in 2017, which she said has been profitable since its first year. She sells deodorant, a thigh chafing stick, body scrub and other products. She didn’t raise any funding from investors, instead relying on her brand partnership earnings as she launched the business. This year was the first time she began taking a salary at Megababe. Who’s watching: Her audience is made up of about 97% women, mostly in the U.S. The bulk of her fans are between the ages of 25 and 34. “I post the thirst traps for women,” she said. What’s on her wishlist: A better way to handle all the products she receives from brands, ranging from organizing them to tracking returns. “That’s a part of the [influencer] business that’s not streamlined at all,” she said.Coping with burnout: “I’m on the hamster wheel,” said Sturino about her work on social media. “I don’t think I can take a week off.” She deals with stress by meditating in the morning, walking her dog (who is also Instagram famous) and going to bed at 9 p.m. While she sometimes talks about anxiety and mental health, she mostly tries to keep her account positive. “At the end of the day, I get to do exactly what I dreamed about doing,” Sturino said. “I’m grateful for it, but there is a darker side to this.”Deals & DebutsTikTok is quietly exploring gaming. Under the “Me” section of a user’s profile, a small animated carrot now appears in the left hand corner. From there, users can access a FarmVille-style game where you can grow carrots. (The game was first spotted by Max Lowenthal, who writes about creators.)Alexis Ohanian’s Seven Seven Six said it had closed its $150 million first fund. Since The Information reported last year that Ohanian was raising money for a new venture firm following his departure from Initialized Capital, Seven Seven Six has invested in creator economy startups including short-form video app Clash and PearPop, where internet personalities can buy and sell collaborations with other influencers. (For example, a TikTok creator could charge $50 to comment on a video.) Big NumberCameo CEO Steven Galanis said more than 80% of the celebrity shoutout platform’s revenue comes from web vs. its app. That’s notable because Galanis is joining a chorus of large and small app developers complaining that the 30% commissions Apple and Google app stores charge customers for digital purchases are holding back smaller businesses, including creators. As we reported last week, some sites that act as platforms for creators, such as Patreon and Medium, side-step those commissions by focusing primarily on purchases over web browsers. Count Cameo in that camp. The app takes 25% of a customer’s purchase; the celebrity takes home the other 75%. But if the sale happens on Apple’s iOS, after paying the fees, “the creator is getting 52.5%,” Galanis said. “The big issue here is that if Apple continues these policies, it’s really putting a tax on creators.”He appeared alongside Fanhouse cofounder Jasmine Rice, a pseudonym she uses to protect her privacy, who launched her own startup as a safe-for-work alternative to OnlyFans. In a Twitter thread on Wednesday, Rice criticized Apple for its App Store commissions. What’s HappeningWebsite builder Elementor is hosting a virtual conference for creators called #webcreators2021 on June 16. Speakers include internet personality Gary Vaynerchuk and marketing guru Seth Godin.OverheardThis is “the year of the creator,” said Jane Dunlevie, global head of internet banking for Goldman Sachs, in a conversation about capital markets with the investment bank’s CEO on Clubhouse Thursday. People on the MoveJesse Cohn, managing partner at Elliott Investment Management, is stepping down from Twitter’s board. The activist hedge fund pushed Twitter to make changes, and the social network has since released new features including a subscription offering and tipping to attract more users. Mimi Alemayehou, senior vice president of public-private partnerships at Mastercard, will join Twitter’s board as a new independent director.What’s That Trend New TikTok food trend: Yellow mustard on watermelon. It seems to have been popularized by an account called @yayayayummy, which posts odd food combinations, like pickles and peanut butter. (The hashtag #watermelonmustard has been viewed more than 16 million times on TikTok.)The reviews are mixed. What We’re Reading and Watching• TikTok changed the shape of some people’s faces without asking (MIT Technology Review)• The creator economy is running into the Apple Tax. This startup is fighting back (The Verge)• YouTube is poised to overtake Spotify as music’s biggest bankroller (Rolling Stone)Thank you for reading the Creator Economy Newsletter! I’d love your feedback, ideas and tips: kaya@theinformation.com.If you think someone else might enjoy this newsletter, please pass it forward or they can sign up here:

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