18 investors and VC firms funding innovative startups in the creator economy and influencer industry
The creator economy is exploding.
Startups are popping up left and right to help creators make money and turn digital content into a viable business. And tech platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok are adding new features to try to entice influencers to use their apps.
Investment firm SignalFire recently estimated that over 50 million people now consider themselves creators.
“It’s just evolved as this massive new industry and new form of gig economy, particularly for content creators,” said Caroline Jacobs, an executive at UTA Ventures, the investing division of United Talent Agency.
“If you look at how influencers are shifting culture and consumer behavior, you can see that a majority of consumers respect and listen to an influencer’s or talent’s recommendation when making a purchasing decision,” Jacobs said. “And so when you look at that all collectively, to us, we see tremendous opportunity in not only what represents the future of these businesses built on the backs of creators, but also in the way that creators can help individual brands outside of that.”
Investors and VCs have taken note, pouring money into creator-focused startups and even into the individual businesses of influencers themselves. Audio chat-room app Clubhouse and newsletter-platform Substack have both raised tens of millions of dollars in the past year. And Creative Juice and Slow Ventures have started funds to buy equity in creators themselves.
Insider has compiled our second annual list of the top venture capital and investment players who are funding startups that are shaping the creator economy. This list was determined by Insider based on our reporting and the nominations that we received. We considered factors like the success of the startups in an investor’s portfolio and their relative focus (and impact) on the influencer business as a whole.
John Smothers (scout and ambassador program lead)
Back in February, Insider named John Smothers as a Gen-Z VC to look out for. He’s only 25, but he’s been on the forefront of building the creator economy and made angel investments in companies like Buy Me a Coffee, a platform for creators to get paid, and Rosebud.ai, which went viral for its realistic animated photos.
Smothers is now the scout and ambassador program lead at Acrew Capital, a $250 million fund founded in 2019. Since Smothers has been at Acrew, the firm has invested in Lolly, a TikTok-style dating app.
Relevant investments: Buy Me a Coffee, Rosebud.ai, Motif.land, Homebase.io, Lolly, and Loverboy.
Andrew Chen (general partner), Connie Chan (general partner), and Chris Dixon (general partner)
Founded in 2009, the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz has made several high-profile bets on creator economy startups. Most recently, the company led funding rounds for Substack and Clubhouse, the latter of which it valued at $4 billion, according to The Information.
The company also invests in earlier stage startups. General partner Andrew Chen, for example, made an early investment in Pietra, a startup that is helping influencers design and manufacture their own products.
Before joining Andreessen, Chen led the rider growth team at Uber. Chen has worked on the firm’s investments in Clubhouse, Substack, and Maven, and sits on the board for all three companies.
Chan is a general partner at Andreessen who has worked on deals for creator-focused startups like NewNew, Beacons, and Run The World. Prior to joining the firm, Chan held roles at Elevation Partners and HP.
A former startup cofounder himself, Dixon focuses on investments in seed and venture-stage companies at Andreessen. Dixon is on the firm’s crypto team and has made several investments in NFTs and blockchain tech, including Rally, OpenSea, and Foundation.
Relevant investments: Clubhouse, Substack, Pietra, Rally, Maven, Roblox, and Teespring.
Li Jin (founder and general partner)
Jin is the founder of Atelier Ventures, an investment firm that focuses on early-stage investments in creator economy startups.
The firm started last year, but already has become a prominent player in the creator industry based on its strategy of funding companies that are part of the “passion economy.”
One focus area for Jin is supporting companies that are building products for creators that may not be famous — what she’s referred to as the creator “middle class.”
“Broadly, I would say in the creator economy today, one of the biggest challenges that creators face is they are social-capital rich and financial-capital poor,” Jin told Insider in an interview in May following Atelier’s investment in the fan-engagement upstart Pearpop. “In the creator economy, everyone does have something to offer to everyone else and everyone is in a position to help someone else.”
Jin previously served as an investment partner at Andreessen Horowitz.
Relevant investments: Substack, Stir, Pearpop, and
Chapter One Ventures
Jeff Morris Jr. (founding partner)
Jeff Morris Jr. founded Chapter One Ventures in 2017 with the goal of “building well-designed products that make lots of money,” according to the website. It’s also investing in some of the biggest creator economy companies out there right now.
Morris invested in the seed round for non-fungible token (NFT) startup Dapper Labs, the company behind CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot. A few years later, the startup has reportedly cinched a $7.5 billion valuation, as reported by The Information.
Chapter One Ventures also invested in Cameo, a personalized video service now valued at $1 billion.
Morris previously led revenue at Tinder, where he helped create features like Tinder Gold and Boost.
Relevant investments: Cameo, Circle Dapper Labs, Fanhouse, Maven, and Pearpop.
Dustin Blank (creator partnerships and investments ) and Sima Gandhi (cofounder and CEO)
There’s no shortage of creator economy startups, but only a few actually have top influencers on their side. YouTube superstar MrBeast has thrown his considerable influence behind Creative Juice, a startup that builds financial tools for influencers.
MrBeast and Creative Juice are teaming up to take $2 million of the company’s recent $5 million seed round and invest it directly into creators. The initiative, called Juice Funds, will write checks ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 to a handful of YouTubers in exchange for a stake in their channel’s earnings.
By removing financial barriers, the Creative Juice team hopes it can help creators make better, more innovative content.
“A lot of these creators have a sense of where they want their channels to go, but they’re limited by funds,” cofounder Sima Gandhi told Insider in May. “Being able to remove that hurdle so they can actually go execute on this vision is just the best feeling ever.”
Juice Funds is currently taking applications for influencers.
Gandhi is the cofounder and CEO at Creative Juice. She was previously the 15th employee at fintech heavyweight Plaid, where she was the head of business development and strategy.
Blank is in charge of creator partnerships and investments at Creative Juice. He has a background in the entertainment industry, working at Fox, MGM Studios, and NBCUniversal before coming to Creative Juice.
Relevant investments: Will be investing in influencers with at least six months of upload history on YouTube.
Rex Woodbury (principal)
It’s safe to say Woodbury understands influencers: after all, he is one. With over 230,000 followers on Instagram and a weekly newsletter about digital culture, Woodbury has spent years studying what drives the internet. Now he puts that knowledge to work as a principal at Index Ventures, where he specializes in creator economy startups.
Index Ventures has been around since 1996, with $6.83 billion assets under management, according to PitchBook. While at Index Ventures, Woodbury has placed bets all over the creator economy. His first investment at the firm was in Creative Juice, which he wrote is “building Square for creators.”
The firm has also invested in Gather, a startup creating custom virtual gathering spaces, and Fanbase, an NFT platform for creators.
Woodbury’s confident the creator economy will change the world.
“We’re seeing a Renaissance in art, content, and creativity,” he wrote. “This is a decades-long shift reshaping the future of work, self-expression, and economic opportunity.”
Relevant investments: Creative Juice, Gather, Sanlo, and Fanbase.
Alexa von Tobel (managing partner)
Von Tobel’s first love is fintech: she’s written two books on the subject and founded LearnVest, a fintech startup acquired for $375 million in 2015. She said when she heard about Creative Juice, she loved the idea of fintech merging with the creator economy.
Von Tobel invested in Creative Juice through her $200 million early stage fund, Inspired Capital. The New York-based fund also participated in the pre-seed round of social-media startup Geneva, which has raised a total $22 million from investors like Coatue and Li Jin, according to Crunchbase.
Relevant investments: Creative Juice and Geneva.
Zibo Gao (founding partner)
Intonation Ventures is an early-stage consumer fund based in New York City and Beijing.
Its mission is to invest in and build products that have a strong focus on broadening access to creation, and supporting the long-tail creators.
Founded at the beginning of the pandemic, the firm backs early-stage founders in North America and all stages in China.
Prior to Intonation, Zibo was a strategy consultant at PwC Strategy& and an investment banker at the Raine Group.
Relevant investments: Stadium Live, Boomy, Pipeline, and Astro.
Blake Robbins (partner)
Ludlow Ventures is a Detroit-based venture firm that has invested in the gaming organization and lifestyle brand 100 Thieves (which has also received financing by Drake and Scooter Braun) and the collectible figures company YouTooz.
Robbins started at Ludlow Ventures as an associate and was later promoted to partner. He is interested in gaming, esports, and the future of media generally.
Robbins was featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 for Venture Capital in 2019.
Relevant investments: Stir, 100 Thieves, Stream Labs, Hooked, YouTooz, and Brud.
MaC Venture Capital
Marlon Nichols (founding managing partner)
MaC Venture Capital is a VC firm focused on seed-stage investments in tech and media startups. The company formed in 2019 as a merger between M Ventures and Nichols’ Cross Culture Capital.
MaC invests in both digital media businesses like Blavity and creator-focused companies like Brud, a virtual-influencer startup.
Before cofounding Cross Culture Capital, Nichols served as investment director at Intel Capital. One of Nichols’ early investments was PlayVS, a software startup that organizes esports competitions for high school and college students. Nichols also invested in podcasting company Gimlet Media, which was acquired by Spotify in 2019.
Relevant investments: PlayVS, Brud, Brat TV, FaZe Clan, Genies, and Locker Room (now Spotify’s Greenroom).
Next 10 Ventures
Benjamin Grubbs (founder and CEO)
Founded in 2018, Next 10 Ventures focuses on seed-stage investments in creator economy startups.
The company told Insider it’s backed over a dozen founders at the pre-seed and seed stage. it said that 70% of its portfolio have closed up-rounds, 40% have closed Series A rounds, and 15% have been acquired in the past year.
Before founding Next 10 Ventures, Grubbs was a global director for creator partnerships at YouTube. Alongside his work at Next 10 Ventures, Grubbs cofounded two startups focused on working with digital talent: influencer content studio Creator+ and influencer-marketing firm Kollyde.
Relevant investments: Koji, SuperBam, Podcorn (acquired by Entercom), Influence.co, Stir, and Kollyde.
Reed Duchscher (general partner), Ezra Cooperstein (general partner), and Ben Mathews (general partner)
Night Ventures is an early stage fund based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
It is part of Night Media, a talent management firm for creators across YouTube,
Night Ventures was founded in April and focuses on early stage investments related to fintech, SaaS, crypto, and health.
Its first investment was in Beacons, a link-in-bio platform for social-media creators.
Mathews was previously the vice president of Bessemer Venture Partners. Duchscher is also the CEO of Night Media and Cooperstein is the president.
Relevant investments: Beacons, Bitski, Pearpop, Zora, and Tensil.
Seven Seven Six
Alexis Ohanian (general partner and founder) and Katelin Holloway (founding partner)
Seven Seven Six is an investment firm started by Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian that has recently made a flurry of investments in creator economy startups, primarily at the seed stage. Seven Seven Six partner Katelin Holloway and chief of staff Lissie Garvin also have founding positions at the company, which recently announced it had closed its first $150 million fund.
Ohanian is perhaps best known as the cofounder of Reddit. Prior to starting Seven Seven Six, Ohanian also cofounded another investment firm called Initialized Capital.
Holloway worked with Ohanian at Reddit as head of people and culture and as an investing and operating partner at Initialized Capital before joining Seven Seven Six.
“Founders, especially founders that have been paying attention to the past few years, they are more concerned with not just the check but who is writing the check and how can they partner long-term,” Holloway told Insider in October.
Relevant investments: Pearpop, Dispo, and Clash.
Chris Farmer (CEO), Wayne Hu (partner), Yuanling Yuan (vice president), and Josh Constine (principal investor and head of content)
Founded in 2013, SignalFire is an investment firm focused on funding companies between the seed and Series B stages of financing.
The firm has become particularly homed in on the creator economy in recent months, putting together a “market map” on the size of the industry and various business opportunities for creators. It’s an investor in the audio chat-room app Clubhouse, where its principal Josh Constine has become an influencer himself with 4.4 million followers. SignalFire also invested in Karat, a fintech startup that builds financial products for creators.
Farmer is the founder and CEO of SignalFire. Before starting the firm, Farmer worked as a venture partner with General Catalyst Partners and as a VP at Bessemer Venture Partners.
Hu leads seed-stage investments at SignalFire where he focuses on consumer tech and emerging platforms. Before joining the firm, Wayne was the global strategy lead for YouTube’s ads monetization platform.
Yuan is a VP at SignalFire where she focuses on venture and growth-stage startups. Before joining the firm, Yuan worked on the investment team at Blackstone’s Strategic Opportunity Fund.
Constine joined SignalFire last year as a principal investor and head of content. As an investor, he focuses on early-stage startups tied to social networking and other forms of digital communication. Before joining the firm, Constine was an editor-at-large at TechCrunch.
Relevant investments: Clubhouse, Karat, and RedCircle.
Sam Lessin (general partner)
It makes sense that Slow Ventures would invest heavily in the creator economy, as it was started in 2009 by early Facebook employee Dave Morin and was originally backed by five Facebook alumni.
The firm has since made over 300 early stage investments in startups like Breakr, which helps musicians promote their music, and Pearpop, a fan-interaction platform. It also announced in 2019 that it raised $220 million across two funds.
Now, the firm is experimenting with buying equity directly in influencers. It recently announced it would set aside $20 million to give creators upfront capital in exchange for a percentage of the influencer’s future profits. The initiative is spearheaded by Slow Ventures general partner Sam Lessin, who was formerly a vice president of product management at Facebook.
Lessin said he believes that giving capital to “great people at the right time in their career” can be life-changing for creators, enabling them to take risks with their content and overall business.
Relevant investments: Pearpop, Breakr, Creative Juice, Shagmag, and Direct Creator Investment Fund.
Ezra Galston (founder and managing partner) and Ade Olonoh (Venture partner)
Founded by Ezra Galston in 2018, Starting Line is a Chicago-based venture capital fund that invests in consumer startups and brands.
As managing partner, Galston has invested in creator-focused startups like Cameo, investing first in its pre-seed round and leading the seed round. Galston spent six years at Chicago Ventures before launching Starting Line, beginning his career as an intern in 2012 and working his way up to principal.
Olonoh is a venture partner at Starting Line and
Relevant investments: Cameo, Substack, Soona, and Kapwing.
Caroline Jacobs (executive)
UTA Ventures is the investment division of the talent agency United Talent Agency.
The group leverages its relationships with celebrities and digital stars to help its portfolio companies. Thus, many of its investments focus on startups in media and entertainment. UTA also works with its talent as they look to grow into investors and entrepreneurs themselves. The company worked with Emma Chamberlain to launch a direct-to-consumer coffee line called Chamberlain Coffee.
Jacobs coleads UTA’s corporate venture fund where she has worked on funding rounds for creator economy startups like Cameo, Masterclass, and Moment House. Prior to UTA, Jacobs was an associate at BAM Ventures focused on early-stage investments in consumer brands and tech platforms. She currently serves as a mentor in Andreessen Horowitz’s Talent x Opportunity Fund, PledgeLA’s College to Career Program, and Vice Ventures’ Young VC Program.
“UTA itself is a massive platform in the TV space, the digital talent space, podcasts, esports, we even have a digital asset division supporting NFTs now,” she said. “And so with that comes tremendous insights into the entire media and entertainment landscape that we can leverage to directly help all of our portfolio companies.”
Relevant investments: Cameo, Moment House, Patreon, Chamberlain Coffee, Pocket.watch, Masterclass, and AwesomenessTV.
Brianne Kimmel (founder and managing partner)
Worklife is a venture capital firm that describes itself as “distinctly designed” for creators and builders reshaping modern work life.
Founded by Brianne Kimmel in 2019, the firm is backed by investors such as Marc Andreesen and Alexis Ohanian. Kimmel leads Worklife’s investments in startups — including seven unicorns — like the audio-app Clubhouse.
Prior to launching Worklife, Kimmel worked at Zendesk and Expedia.
Relevant investments: Clubhouse, Public, Hopin, Deel, Webflow, and Pipe.
This article was written for Business Insider.