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Sydney Bradley, Amanda Perelli, Madeline Renbarger, and Samantha Stokes
- In spite of a slowdown, creator-economy startups are still raising millions of dollars.
- From Karat to Spill, venture capitalists are betting on creator-focused companies in 2023.
- Insider is highlighting 14 VC firms that are backing startups in the space right now.
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About three years ago, the "creator economy" was a fiery buzzword that emerged out of the bustling influencer-marketing and social-media industries.
By 2021, the space had raised approximately $939 million in venture capital, according to Crunchbase data.
"There was a massive push on how do we serve all these independent, small creators?" said Marlon Nichols, cofounder and managing partner at MaC Venture Capital. "How do we create not only communities for them, but productivity tools for them?"
But in recent months, the creator economy — like many other industries that have taken a blow from turbulent economic shifts — has had fewer dollars flying around.
"A lot of those companies didn't do so great," Nichols told Insider, adding that many were too focused on solving one pain-point in the industry. "And so we saw some consolidation in the space."
More than , and there were only a small handful of newly minted unicorn startups during the same year.
Still, creator-economy startups aren't throwing in their towels — and the strongest are thriving.
Many startups have raised money in 2023, from pre-seed stages to larger later-stage rounds. For instance, Karat, a creator-focused credit-card company, announced it had raised $70 million in July. Karat raised a $40 million Series B led by venture firm SignalFire, and also raised $30 million in debt financing that will be used to back creator-led businesses, per the company.
Other startups that have raised money this year include influencer pay transparency platform Hashtag Pay Me, digital goods marketplace Whop, and link-in-bio startup Hype.
"The solutions that remain relevant and the newcomers in the space, they have to address both the creators and the consumers alike," Nichols said.
Who are the venture capitalists backing these startups in 2023?
Insider is highlighting over a dozen VC firms, as well as their partners who specialize in creator-focused startups, that are funding the next wave of creator-economy companies. This list was determined by Insider based on our reporting and the nominations that we received. We considered factors like their relative focus, number of investments in the space, and impact on the creator industry as a whole.
Here are 14 VC firms funding the creator economy in 2023:
Note: Firms are listed in alphabetical order.
Animal Capital started as a Gen-Z-focused venture fund.
Investors: Dylann Sands, partner, and Marshall Sandman, managing partner
Animal Capital started as a Gen-Z-focused venture fund and has evolved into a consumer tech investment platform with over $50 million of committed capital. Influencers like Noah Beck and Griffin Johnson are involved in the company as advisors.
Sandman is a former Goldman Sachs and Jordan Edmiston Group investment banker. Before starting Animal Capital in 2020, he worked in venture capital at WarnerMedia focused primarily on leading the sports betting, podcasting, adtech, and AR and VR verticals.
Sands is also a former Goldman Sachs investment banker as well as a consumer-focused equity research analyst. She left to join General Atlantic's technology and internet growth equity team. Most recently, she worked as vice president of AF Ventures, a consumer-focused venture capital firm.
Beyond providing capital, they also assist with introductions to stakeholders, strategize approaches, and provide guidance during fundraising rounds. The firm says it's focused on creating sustainable business models with a hands-on approach.
The fund focuses on seed (and seed-adjacent) investments in B2C and B2B2C businesses.
Among these investments is newsletter publishingstartup Workweek, whichhas capitalized onthe rise of the creator economy by building a team of influencers and journalists to create content around topics from healthcare to social-media marketing.
Fund size: Animal Capital's second flagship fund is $25 million, according to the firm
- Workweek, a newsletter platform
- Trips, a financing platform for creators' future revenue streams
- Zurp, a Gen-Z-focused bank and credit card
Behind Genius Ventures' Paige Finn Doherty is a "creator at heart."
Investor: Paige Finn Doherty, founding partner
A content creator and venture capitalist, Paige Finn Doherty focuses on investing in startups that shape the future of work and play.
At 23, Doherty launched the fund Behind Genius Ventures, which has invested in creator-economy startups like link-in-bio startup Beacons and creator pay transparency platform FYPM. The firm has also backed several gaming startups.
"I am a creator at heart," Doherty said in an episode of her podcast, Seed to Harvest. "I feel it's an integral part of our business at Behind Genius Ventures."
Doherty's fund specializes in backing pre-seed and seed-stage startups.
Fund size: $5.4 million, according to the firm
- Beacons, a link-in-bio platform
- Capsule, an AI-powered video-editing platform
- Creator Testing, a platform for on-demand feedback from creators
- Statusphere, a micro-influencer-marketing platform
Crossbeam Venture Partners invested in creator-economy unicorn Spotter.
Investors: Ali Hamed, cofounder and general partner, and Ryan Morgan, partner
Ali Hamed cofounded two venture firms, Crossbeam and CoVenture.
Hamed has led Crossbeam's investments in the creator economy, including industry unicorn Spotter, which has deployed more than $775 million in capital to YouTube creators, according to a spokesperson for both Spotter and Crossbeam.
When looking for new creator-economy investments, Hamed wants to see startups that understand the financial needs of creators and offer tools to help them.
In addition to Hamed, Crossbeam partner Ryan Morgan is involved in the firm's creator-economy plays. Morgan focuses on fintech, enterprise SaaS, and consumer technology. He wants to see founders who have a "firsthand understanding" of creators' problems, according to a Crossbeam spokesperson.
The firm focuses on pre-seed to Series A startups that are "building tomorrow's economy," the company said.
Fund size: $70 million, according to the firm
- Infinite Canvas, a gaming studio powered by AI
- Warren James, a brand development firm that works directly with creators
- Spotter, a financing startup for YouTube creators
Crush Ventures is the investing arm of music-management company Crush Music.
Investor: Andrew Kahn, head
The investing arm of music-management company Crush Music — whose artists include Miley Cyrus, Lorde, and Sia — Crush Ventures focuses on early-stage startups building at the intersection of pop culture, consumers, and tech-enabled experience.
Khan, the firm's investing lead, was previously a founding team member of venture-backed SaaS startup Greenfly and also worked at Ticketmaster. He told Insider that he's looking for startups that can help Crush Music manage and grow artists' careers and that the VC arm's investing thesis is to bring creators and fans into deeper and more purposeful relationships.
In practice, Crush Ventures focuses on new ways to interact with and consume creator content, new ways to buy creator IP, and creator- and artist-led brands.
Fund size: $30 million, according to the firm
- Beacons, a link-in-bio website builder
- Levellr, which creates instant message groups on Discord and Telegram
- CreateSafe, a CRM artist platform
- Sound.xyz, a Web3 music app
Hustle Fund backs founders building infrastructure startups for creators at pre-seed and seed stages.
Investors: Eric Bahn, cofounder and general partner; Elizabeth Yin, cofounder and general partner; Shiyan Koh, cofounder and general partner; Will Bricker, principal; and Haley Bryant, principal
Hustle Fund is a generalist pre-seed and seed fund, but the team regularly invests in creator-economy-infrastructure startups that "enable creators to focus on producing their best work," said cofounder and general partner Eric Bahn.
"All investment team members are looking for 'picks-and-shovels' companies that serve the creator economy," he said.
The firm was founded in 2017 by Bahn, Elizabeth Yin, and Shiyan Koh, all of whom are actively looking for deals in creator-economy startups, alongside principal investors Will Bricker and Haley Bryant.
Some of the investments the team has made in the last year include Canopy, the "Blind" for creators to anonymously review their employers, and ReachMe, an app where brands can pay for creators to join in on viral TikTok trends.
Fund Size: $46 million, according to the firm
- Canopy, anonymous employer review for creators
- Karat, a financial services company for creators
- ReachMe, a platform to pay creators for brand-led TikTok trends
- Rivet, a personalized fan engagement platform
- Slic TV, a premium streaming platform for sports and lifestyle creators
Investing juggernaut Lightspeed Venture Partners is pushing into the creator economy.
Investor: Nicole Quinn and Faraz Fatemi, partners
Investing behemoth Lightspeed Venture Partners focuses on early-stage enterprise software and consumer startups. In recent years, the firm has expanded into the creator economy thanks to the work of Quinn and Fatemi, who joined in 2015 and 2022, respectively. Prior to Lightspeed, Quinn worked in equity sales and research at Morgan Stanley, while Fatemi completed stints at Bain Capital Ventures and Clubhouse.
The pair told Insider that AI is top of mind when looking at creator-economy startup investment opportunities.
"AI has the ability to democratize creativity and expand the definition of 'creator' dramatically across mediums including art, storytelling, audio, video, and games," Fatemi said. Quinn added the firm is looking for tools that will impact the future of work for creators, including finance, banking, and sales.
"The thread we look for across all of these sub-sectors is AI which we believe enhances all aspects of creator economy businesses," she said.
Fund size: $7.1 billion across four funds, according to the firm
- Beehiiv, a newsletter platform
- Gardens, an independent video-game studio
- Circle Lab, an AI avatar builder
- Joopiter, a digital-first auctioneer
- Lightyear, an investing platform
Liquid 2 Ventures aims to invest in founders who understand creators and their needs.
Investor:Michael Ma, general partner
Ma founded in 2022 CreatorDAO, a decentralized community that invests in creators by providing capital and resources. He previously founded TalkBin, which was acquired by Google in 2011.
With Liquid 2 Ventures, Ma looks for founders who understand creators and their needs, as well as companies that help creators make more money without taking up more of their time.
Fund size: A $75 million generalist fund that specializes in seed investing, according to the firm
- Karat, a creator-focused credit-card company
- CreatorDAO, a decentralized community that invests in creators
- Rella, a digital workspace for creators to manage their business
- Oneof, an NFT marketplace
- 1stCollab, an influencer-marketing platform
M13 is looking for founders who can solve unique problems faced by creators.
Investor: Carter Reum, cofounder and partner, and Brent Murri, partner
Changing consumer behavior has been at the core of M13 and its investment thesis since the firm was founded in 2016,partner Brent Murri told Insider. He said he looks for founders who have a "unique pulse on what problems creators face and have a clear vision for how their product will solve those needs."
Carter Reum, a firm cofounder, added that he's looking for platforms that allow operators to scale faster, cost-effectively.
"Through my own consumer operating and investing experience, and watching firsthand as my wife has built a creator-led brand that grossed more than $4 billion in revenue over the last decade, I have had a unique vantage point in seeing the excess cost and re-creating the wheel that e-commerce operators experience every day," he said.
The firm focuses on early-stage through Series B investing.
Fund size: $400 million, according to the firm
- Rebuy, an e-commerce startup
- Pietra, a creator product-line facilitator
- Arena Club, a sport and entertainment card marketplace
- Huddles, a startup talent matching service
- Ampla, a startup financing solution
MaC Venture Capital's Marlon Nichols is eyeing innovative creator startups built by underrepresented founders.
Investors: Marlon Nichols, cofounder and managing general partner
MaC Venture Capital was formed in 2019 after a merger between investment firms M Ventures and Cross Culture Capital. MaC focuses on pre-seed and seed-stage investments.
Marlon Nichols, cofounder and managing general partner at the firm, strategically invests in underrepresented founders. For instance, he has spearheaded investments into startups like the Black-owned Twitter rival Spill, which hit the top of Apple's US app store in July.
Nichols has led investments into creator-economy startups for several years, backing companies like esports giant FaZe Clan, creator-focused video production company Brat TV, and virtual-influencer startup Brud. When eyeing new creator-economy startups, Nichols looks for companies that help creators focus on their content "without having to worry about protecting or monetizing their work," the firm said.
Fund size: $203 million, according to the firm
- Spill, a new social-media platform
- Take Back the Mic, a creator compensation platform by AMP Global Technologies
- Mansa, a streaming platform showcasing content by Black creators
Position Ventures helps early-stage startups and founders with their strategies.
Investor:Jenny He, founder and general partner
Position Ventures is an early-stage venture fund backed by Tiger Global and Bain Capital Ventures. Position Ventures invests in early-stage startups and works to help founders with their positioning and communications strategies.
Prior to founding Position Ventures, He led communications at Square, Microsoft, and Expa.
"At Position Ventures, we are constantly looking at how new technologies like AI and blockchain are enabling the creator economy," He said. "With AI, creators can gain insights into their audience, optimize their content, and boost monetization."
1stCollab, for instance, is a platform that streamlines the creator-marketing process by providing AI-enabled search functionality. Users can use the platform to find influencers for their campaigns.
Fund size: $5 million Fund 1, pre-seed through Series A, according to the firm
- CreatorDAO, a decentralized community that invests in creators
- 1stCollab, an influencer-marketing platform
Precursor Ventures will back creator-economy startups at the earliest stage possible, often before a team has a live product.
Investor: Charles Hudson, founder and managing partner
Founded in 2015, the generalist fund Precursor Ventures likes to back founders and startups at the earliest stage possible, often before the company has a live product.
For founder and investor Charles Hudson, that investment strategy has paid off: Precursor has raised four funds, invested in more than 375 companies, and supported more than 400 founders.
Within that generalist thesis includes several creator-economy startups, including the digital museum Arkive and the portfolio-management company Brkaway.
Hudson looks for startups that build products that "remove the complexity and friction of building and running creator-led businesses, so that creators can focus on producing great content and growing their audiences," a spokesperson for Precursor told Insider.
Fund Size: $84.9 million, according to the firm
- Arkive, a digital museum for NFTs and other digital art
- Brkaway, a portfolio management platform for creators
- Glow, a crowdfunding platform for creators to monetize their fans
- Rella, a creator's digital assistant
SignalFire looks to lead seed rounds in creator-economy startups.
Investors: Wayne Hu, general partner, and Josh Constine, partner
Founded in 2013, SignalFire has grown into a massive early-stage fund with over $1.8 billion in assets under management. In February 2023, SignalFire announced that it had closed over $900 million in fresh capital across its most recent funds.
Some of SignalFire's biggest creator-economy deals include Karat, a credit-card and financial-services platform for digital creators, and Storycraft, an AI-powered game-development tool for designers.
Two venture partners at SignalFire who are particularly interested in the creator economy are former-TechCrunch-editor-turned-VC Josh Constine and Wayne Hu, who previously led strategy for YouTube ads monetization.
Fund size: $900 million, according to the firm
- Karat, a financial services startup for creators
- Storycraft, an AI-powered game development company
Torch Capital focuses on investing in consumer-facing creator-economy startups.
Investors: Chris Harper, principal, and Katie Reiner, principal
Torch Capital only began raising its first fund in October of 2017, but since then it has become one of the top consumer venture capital funds in the country, with multiple IPOs including Sweetgreen and Compass.
Within its overall consumer-focused investing thesis, the team at Torch has bet on several creator-economy startups.
Principal investors Chris Harper and Katie Reiner have been behind many of the firm's creator-economy deals, including VoyceMe, a platform for manga and anime creators to manage and monetize their content, and Durable, an AI-powered website builder for solo entrepreneurs and creators.
Harper told Insider that the firm is primarily focused on backing tools that can help creators do their work more efficiently, and find new angles for monetization.
"We look for technology platforms that empower people to become creators and entrepreneurs, turning everyday activities they are already doing into profitable pursuits," he said.
Fund size: $200 million, according to the firm
- Durable, an AI-powered website builder
- Liftoff, a monetization platform for mobile-first businesses
- Re:Collect AI, an AI-powered organizer for entrepreneurs
- VoyceMe, a network for manga and anime creators to share and monetize their content
XRC Ventures looks for creator-economy founders who can keep up with product changes at big social-media platforms.
Investors: Pano Anthos, founder and managing director; Al Sambar, general partner; and Diana Melencio, partner
An early-stage consumer investor, New York-based XRC Ventures focuses on pre-seed to Series A startups building products in consumer health tech, consumer goods, and retail technology.
Within these categories, though, founder Panos Anthos and his team have made deals with several creator-economy startups that have shown that they're "adaptable" to media platforms, a spokesperson told Insider.
"We look for founders who show us they've done the market research to find white space, have done their best to crowdsource and get firsthand feedback from their target consumer, and can clearly articulate their product," the spokesperson said.
Some of the firm's more recent deals include ReflektMe, an agency that sources retail models from an inclusive variety of backgrounds, and The Lobby, a platform for managing influencer gifting.
Fund size: $38.3 million, according to the firm
- Radd, a tool for e-commerce video reviews
- ReflektMe, an inclusive retail model hiring platform
- The Lobby, a platform for managing influencer gifting
As an expert in the field of venture capital and startup ecosystems, I've been deeply involved in tracking trends, investments, and the overall landscape of the creator economy. My expertise spans across various domains including market dynamics, investment strategies, and the key players shaping this rapidly evolving sector.
The article you provided delves into the thriving ecosystem of creator-focused startups and the venture capitalists backing them. It highlights the significant investments made in companies catering to the needs of content creators, influencers, and other participants in the creator economy. Here's a breakdown of the concepts and key players mentioned in the article:
Creator Economy: Refers to the ecosystem comprising individuals who create and distribute digital content, often leveraging social media platforms and other online channels to engage with audiences and monetize their creations.
Venture Capital (VC) Firms: These are investment firms that provide capital to startups and early-stage companies in exchange for equity. The article mentions several VC firms actively investing in the creator economy, including:
- MaC Venture Capital
- Precursor Ventures
- Lightspeed Venture Partners
- Crush Ventures
- Hustle Fund
- Animal Capital
- Liquid 2 Ventures
- Behind Genius Ventures
- Crossbeam Venture Partners
- Torch Capital
- Position Ventures
- XRC Ventures
Investment Strategies: Each VC firm has its own investment thesis and approach to backing creator economy startups. For example:
- MaC Venture Capital focuses on underrepresented founders.
- Precursor Ventures invests at the earliest stages of startup development.
- Lightspeed Venture Partners emphasizes AI technologies in its investments.
- SignalFire aims to lead seed rounds in creator-economy startups.
Key Individuals: The article also highlights key individuals within these VC firms who play crucial roles in identifying and nurturing investments in the creator economy. These include Marlon Nichols from MaC Venture Capital, Nicole Quinn and Faraz Fatemi from Lightspeed Ventures, and Eric Bahn from Hustle Fund, among others.
Startup Examples: The article mentions several startups in the creator economy space that have secured investments from these VC firms, such as Karat, Hashtag Pay Me, Whop, Hype, Beacons, FYPM, Spotter, and many others. These startups offer various services and platforms catering to creators, ranging from financial tools to content monetization platforms.
Overall, the article underscores the continued growth and investment opportunities within the creator economy, as well as the strategies employed by VC firms to identify and support promising startups in this space.