Creator Cash: New Creator-centric Financial Services Backed By Experience
Content creators are often two things: young, and underserved by financial institutions, but with content creation being a $15+ billion business, you can bet that second bullet point won’t hold true for long as fintech companies have already started gearing up products targeting this demographic.
Among the growing competition, there’s one trick ponies like Stir and Karat, and then there’s the more full-featured approach from Creator Cash, an app – and impressive support program backend – that’s being launched by ChannelMeter. Creator Cash offers creators easy, early access to their earnings from the platform they work with, integrated with YouTube at the outset, along with a slew of free tools that come from ChannelMeter’s history with enterprise customers, according to CEO Eugene Lee.
“When ChannelMeter started we were always around like the RedBulls, the GoPros, those were our clients and we always helped them with data,” Lee remarked during a July 11th interview. “Around 2015 or 2016 we started getting approached by these YouTube networks, MCNs is what they used to be called. They came to us and said ‘Hey, I’ve got a bunch of creators, I need to build dashboards – can I get these dashboards to show my creators so they understand how they’re performing?’ and as an engineering-driven company we said ‘Yes, exactly – we can do that.’
“So that led to ‘OK I see that you’re calculating this huge volume of data for us, can you help me calculate how much to pay my creators?’ and we asked ‘Why? Like, why is it difficult – you get a report from YouTube every month that’s very straightforward, it should be very straightforward’ but it isn’t because each creator differs, and each creator has different terms in their contract. This creator might have different CPM rates, they might be paid on performance and the more creators you have it just becomes a harder and harder and more laborious problem.
“At the time when networks were having thousands of creators, they would spend something like 25-40 hours every month figuring out how much to pay them. So, we as an engineering team, we took that challenge and we figured out a process that turned that into uploading a csv, clicking a couple buttons and it’s done in less than four minutes.”
Lee said that ChannelMeter started on the road towards providing more financial services to creators after providing a basic service got a big response.
“We were one of the first to do this, but we generated a pay stub that showed creators why they earned what they earned. The Verge just covered this feature, just recently, they came out with an article that shows YouTubers why they earned what they earned. We solved that four years ago, because we felt that creators should know. If you get a paycheck from your employer, you get a pay stub and you know exactly what taxes are taken out. You’re clear on that, there’s transparency there, but with creators they didn’t know that, so we solved that, and we solved it by creating a pay stub and that pay stub became our most widely used feature,” Lee laughed. “It wasn’t the dashboard it was a PDF that was emailed to everybody and we saw the open rate on that and were like ‘Wow, I can’t believe a PDF is our most-used feature.’
“So that led us to ‘OK let’s help these clients of ours do a better job of not only paying their creators but servicing their creators financially.’ What does that mean? Things like KYC (Know Your Customer), filing taxes – and that’s something we automated – to being able to not only pay the creator but the creator might have a manager, or the creator might need to pay somebody else, or maybe they share the channel or share the assets, so splitting the payments easily.
“We got really good at this process and we saw as we kept paying more and more creators, and more and more dollars that there was a real need here. We saw that creators are becoming businesses, they’re not just a person or an individual who’s like a freelancer, many of them are growing and the population of that is growing. And the second thing is that a lot of these creators are just not sophisticated financially, I mean they treat PayPal as their bank account.”
Lee understood this was an opportunity for ChannelMeter to broaden its scope into financial services when he realized convenience – or the lack of it – was why content creators weren’t using banks for their services.
“Last year we paid $170 million in payments and 50% of it, literally almost $100 million went to PayPal and digging at this we saw why,” he said. “A lot of these creators are credit thin, they’re young, they’re underbanked, and this is an easy way for them to get money rather than them going down to their local Wells Fargo or Bank of America or whatever bank they have, getting a social security number out, getting a credit check and all that. Those were circumstances they didn’t want to endure, so we saw an opportunity here and we were like ‘Let’s go figure this out, there’s a real economy here, these are underserved people. YouTube’s paying out $8 billion each year, we can figure this out.’
“I look at creators this way. Your income comes from the platform you’re on and sponsorship deals you have, maybe some ancillary revenue like merchandising or maybe you’re driving affiliate sales. So there’s this hodgepodge of revenue that’s supposed to come to you, right? You’re supposed to make sure you get that – you’re aware of what you’re getting paid, you get paid, and then you do the things you necessarily have to do like filing taxes. Even something as simple as sending a receipt to a brand who paid you and giving them data for a campaign that they endorsed you on, or working with other collaboration partners and making sure that their fair share is getting paid. And all those backend things that we’ve been doing for the enterprise side we were like ‘let’s go simplify this for creators so they can actually run a business’ Convenience was the main reason for this.
“Most of these creators run their businesses through their phone, as crazy as it may sound, but it happens, and we’ve seen that, and it’s become the language of operators in the future. Like Quickbooks has built a mobile app, and it’s a sophisticated mobile app. We see that as this group of creators become more and more reliant on their phones, and more and more reliant on operating their business on their phones. We want to give them similar functions. We helped the media companies, the networks, and the brands do that – we can help creators do it at their scale.”
Lee isn’t some fly-by-night CEO running a company spun up overnight thanks to investment capital either, with experience first at TubeMogul and then ChannelMeter, which has been operating for eight years. He said it’s those early days that really shaped his desire to advance the tools available to creators.
“Thanks for bringing that up most people don’t even know what TubeMogul is,” he laughed. “What’s crazy is that in 2008, 2009 – I think the creators back then, I think of some of the very first creators. One of them was a creator named Lisa Nova, who eventually took that money that we paid her and turned that seed money into Maker Studios. I got to see, even though it wasn’t even a lot of money that we paid back then, it was 500 bucks or a couple grand at most, I got to see these creators and how it impacted their life because a lot of them were aspiring actors and actresses who did this as a hobby that put their demo reels up.
“When we paid these creators I saw the change and some of them took that to ‘I don’t want to be an actor anymore, I want to go start a company around this space’ – and Lisa Nova was a great example of that – and other creators went and dived deep into this and became a YouTuber and it was their new craft, and so I was so excited about that, it was amazing to incite that change or to be part of that change.
“So always in the back of my mind I was like, I knew I wanted to work closer with creators.”
Where Karat offers a single product, a credit card for content creators that doesn’t use their credit score to determine if they’re eligible, Creator Cash is rolling out new features as quickly as they can get them out the door.
“The first thing we started with YouTube, but we’re going to add more platforms,” Lee remarked. “So if you’re a Patreon creator, if you’re a creator on Spotify, if you’re on iTunes, all those are dependent on the platform when they want to say when you’re going to get paid, so if we can help creators get access to their earnings, I want those earnings to get paid faster and we think that’s the first area to win creator’s trust.
“The second thing is we want to get creators smarter about what’s yielding them. The entire dashboard of earnings is meant to show you ‘You’re a creator here’s what’s yielding you the most’ If you’re, let’s say you’re a creator who’s covering tech products. You cover stuff around Apple that will get you more dollars than stuff around Android. If you upload on Thursday, five-minute videos, that will yield you more than uploading on Friday at 2 o’clock. We’re going to get you smarter, we’re going to spoon feed you the data.”
In addition to early access to their earnings via the app which has already launched, Lee said Creator Cash will have its own card, but it’s planned to be a feature-rich addition to the creator’s toolbox, not just a simple debit/credit card.
“The very next thing is that we’re doing is we’re going to offer the people that we pay, a card,” he said. “It’s called Creator Card and think of it as a charge card for creators. The goal of that card is two functions: first helping them to use that money. Think of it as you upload a video to YouTube and you can immediately start spending the money that you will earn on it. The second thing is we want to start introducing products for creators to be a little bit more financially savvy. Ways that they can go and say ‘ok if we’re spending this way on this product, maybe we can save a bit’ – maybe take a dollar out every transaction and put it into a savings account for you so you can start build your pool, turning your channel into actual net worth, their earnings into net worth. We believe that’s important, for creators to become financially aware for themselves.
“The third function of that card is, as payment technology becomes more and more sophisticated, you can actually send that card to somebody and say ‘pay me at this card’ and we’re going to make that process super, super simple. So if you’re working with a brand or collaborating with another YouTuber it’s literally just saying ‘here’s my card or here, you’re going to be able to pay me this way’ but you know, that’s a ‘nice to have’ and the core functions, first, is to give them access to spend, pay bills or whatever, the second thing is to help them start saving and building that net worth.
“The card is coming this quarter and we’re intending to release this sometime next month or September. We’re in a beta test right now, and then from that is the saving account and checking account that we’re going unlock so creators can now have a business banking account that they can use to really start growing and fueling their business.”
The Creator Cash app has already launched, and creators won’t have to wait long for the card to arrive, if Lee can keep things on track during the pandemic, but Lee said ChannelMeter’s not done there.
“And then from there, again in this quarter, the things we’re planning to do is to help creators be smarter about how they get paid,” he remarked. “So, if a creator works with a brand, they have a way to automate invoices. If a creator works with an affiliate partner or they work where they get referral commissions as the revenue structure, that’s tied into their accounts receivable so they can see how much they earned so they can make sure they get paid.
“And then along with that, something really easy for us to do and we’ve done it already, is capture all those earnings, put it all where you just enter the banking details, zip it all up in a 1099 or a 1098-T if you’re outside the United States, send it to the IRS so it’s all done for you.”
Convenience is king when it comes to customers in all business, and as that’s doubly relevant for content creators, Lee said they’re working on making the process of finding and working with brands as simple as possible.
“We have a product called media kit that’s already built and we’re trying to figure out when to deploy it,” he said. “We’ve already issued hundreds of thousands of media kits, where we take all the data put it into an easy to use PDF they can send out. We’re going to couple that with an inboxing system so a creator can say ‘Hey, if you want to use media kit then click on this PDF’ and immediately you get an inquiry to start the process. Along with that a lot of creators, when they do campaigns, they just don’t have the process down, so they get screwed on pricing or contracts. They don’t have that upper hand, and we’re going to give them that upper hand. We’ll give them ‘here’s your price, here’s what you should ask based on your views, based on your CPM, and based on your reach.’
“The second thing is we’re going to supply a template contract that you should use to get executed. Now those are the terms that you’re going to be held to, and that the brand is going to be held accountable to.”
The result, according to Lee, is a transaction that’s as simple as it can be and beneficial to both sides.
“When a brand wants to work with you and sponsor your content, they do the due diligence to make sure they feel comfortable working with you. You send the media kit, you tell them who your audience is, what your reach is, all that necessary information so that brand can make the decision to purchase that content from you. We want to simplify that process,” he said. “A brand says they want to work with you, you share your data, they get a quick glimpse of your data: what your demo/geo is, what’s your reach, and the price for those different posts. From there they say yes, you initiate the contract and the two sides say yes, figure out the date and the creative together, the content goes up in an unlisted state and the brand approves it and the video goes live at that date. No more hounding the creator to get the video live, it’s already set and goes live when it’s supposed to.
“What happens then is the creator gets paid, and on the brand side the data gets unlocked and they can see the data for that buy. No more sharing screenshots of data, that’s all done. Then after 30 days there’s no sending an invoice, the creator just gets the rest of their money paid automatically. It really leans on convenience, driving automation to both sides to make it convenient for both.”
In fact, Lee is so confident in the offerings that ChannelMeter and Creator Cash bring to the table that he’s not losing sleep over the idea of having competition in the sector.
“You know, first I think it’s great to have the Karat and the Stirs and these other ones out there, and I say that because it energizes the market and really at the end of the day they’re free marketing for me,” he said. “They’re going to sell to creators, they’re going to evangelize the creators who are going to go out there saying ‘get a credit card, get a credit card, get a credit card’ so creators will start thinking that way.
“But ultimately why I don’t think of that as a threat is that we’ve been in the business of getting creators paid, that’s been our business. [Karat is] starting at the top, they’re starting at you need a minimum of a 100,000 followers or subscribers just to get into their beta and we had a creator close to us go through that process and right now it looks like vaporware. There’s no card, they didn’t get anything, they’re still waiting, and they don’t think it’s even real. That’s what they said, so…”
For Lee, it’s all about the trust they’ve built up over the years and the trust they’ll continue to build in the future.
“On our side, I’m going to give you something tangible right now. I’m going to give you access to your earnings and I’m going to give you some data that makes you smarter about what’s making you money and then I’m going throw in free tools – the media kit, the invoicing tools, tools to optimize your metadata, free tools to optimize your thumbnails. All for free, with the goal being that creators are now using this as their daily workflow tool. The whole purpose of this is to get creators entrenched into the workflow. We know that’s important because we’ve done it before,” he said.
“We believe that the more we help you get paid, the more you’ll trust us and want to work with us. Then when we start offering product that can help you scale further; we’ll be the first option. When that bank account’s ready, you’ll be like “I trust these guys with my money, I can park it there.’
“We’re going to win over trust with our workflow, because that comes from experience. Years of giving analytics and tools to creators has proven to me that the more I help a creator and improve their lives the more they’ll trust me and that trust is so invaluable. There are so many scams in this world, you remember those MCNs? They always took advantage of creators and we want to amplify creators.”
When I asked how Lee, just some kid from Castro Valley, California, wound up on the leading edge of redefining financial services to serve a customer base for an industry that didn’t even exist when he was a kid, he said it’s always been about the medium.
“When I was a kid a long time ago, I always knew…I’ll tell you what, I always thought media, and I didn’t realize, when we were kids the TV was a big floor unit with knobs on it, but I saw media and I thought ‘How come nobody looks like me on there?’ because the only people who looked like me where Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan,” he said. “But at college I had a really cool mass communications teacher at the college I went to and he told me it’s really all controlled by a small group of people who want an outcome – to make money, and that outcome is driven by how they were raised, their upbringing and who they are, and I thought that should be changed.
“So when I joined TubeMogul, I was blown away because I saw online video as the future of TV, and when I spent more and more time in this space I realized it’s creators who are the future of TV. Everybody has a voice. What’s unique about you, someone will find interesting. My best story is about creators, not the Ninja’s of the world, but the creators you and I have never heard of.
“Like, for example, there’s this guy out there who’s an elevator creator, I kid you not, he goes around and he films videos of these elevators and uploads videos about the elevators he’s been to and saw. And he thought he was the only guy in the world who’s done this, but what he found was that there’s tons of other people who were uploading videos of elevators. So they banded together and created a community on Reddit and it turns out almost all of them had some degree of autism, so it’s a community of people who were largely all on the spectrum and they bonded through YouTube, and I LOVE those stories because that’s what media is to me – media is connecting people.
“Who knew, even 15 years ago, would you think watching someone playing a video game would be exciting? And now through the pandemic, the trends we see – clean with me, bake with me. Who thought that would be exciting for people, watching someone clean up?
“There’s a real economy here, and we want to power that economy. So the kid from Castro Valley saw this opportunity, saw the change, was driven by personal reasons, but he thinks there’s a bigger outcome – it’s more than just me, it’s more than just income, it’s bringing the world closer together and that’s what excites me.”
Interested content creators can check out Creator Cash here.