Playbook, a fitness platform that puts creators first, raises $9.3 million

Playbook, aiming to be the Patreon of fitness content, has raised an additional $ 9.3 million in Series A funding from E.ventures, Michael Ovitz, Abstract, Algae Ventures, Porsche Ventures and FJ Labs.

The pandemic has hit the personal trainer and fitness industry incredibly hard. With gyms closed, trainers’ primary funnel for new customers has been shut down or slowed. Playbook looks to give them a revenue stream through their content.

Playbook creators are given tools to create videos and grow their audience. Unlike many fitness startups, Playbook really focuses on the creator side of the business rather than the final end user, believing that trainers can attract their own audience if they have the right tools and a platform to monetize them.

The company pays creators who bring their own audience to the platform (via their own unique link) an 80% cut of all revenue from those users. If users come to the platform agnostic of a certain creator, the trainer gets paid out based on seconds watched.

For the end user, the pricing is simple — it’s an all-you-can-eat model with a monthly subscription priced at $ 15/month or $ 99/year.

Playbook raised $ 3 million in seed back in June. The company has also attracted an impressive roster of trainers to the platform, including Boss Everline, trainer to Kevin Hart; Magnus Lygdback, trainer to Gal Gadot and Alicia Vikander; and Don Saladino, trainer to Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.

Playbook co-founder and CEO Jeff Krahel said the main focus for the company is to double down on the technology services offered to creators, and the rest will follow.

“That’s part of the reason we brought on Michael Ovitz as a strategic investor,” said Krahel. “We are a tech-driven talent agency, a great tech platform with tools for creators. The future of the company is around supporting creators, almost like an accelerator, to maximize impact.”

Krahel is joined by two co-founders: Michael Wojcieszek and Kasper Ødegaard.

This latest round brings Playbook’s total funding to $ 12.3 million.

Startups – TechCrunch

Creators need better community tools — Circle wants to fill the gap

Entrepreneurial creators have to do a lot with limited time. They need to, well, create, but then they also need to build their marketing funnels, convert users to their paid products and manage business operations. Yet, perhaps the most important task they face is keeping their existing fans engaged, because ultimately, that engagement ties directly to the health of their brand long-term.

Social tools are abysmal on platforms like YouTube and Instagram, particularly when it comes to creators owning their own communities and building deeper relationships with them. Other products like Discord have been used to some success, although Discord was built with a different focus in mind and is being hammered in to fix the problem.

Circle believes there is a better way. The New York City-based startup officially launched today for creators (following eight months of product beta testing). The platform is designed from the bottom-up to offer better community building and engagement tools for creators, while also integrating with other software typical in the creator toolkit.

Circle co-founders Sid Yadav, Rudy Santino and Andrew Guttormsen. Photo via Circle.

The key DNA for the company is another NYC-based startup called Teachable. Two of Circle’s three founders, Sid Yadav and Andrew Guttormsen, hail from the edtech platform, which helps entrepreneurial teachers setup online storefronts for their classes. Teachable was sold to Hotmart earlier this year for what was reported to be a quarter of a billion dollars. Yadav was VP of Product there, and Guttormsen was VP of Growth and Marketing. Their third co-founder, Rudy Santino, knew Yadav from previous work.

Yadav spun out of Teachable and actually got his start as a contractor for Sahil Lavingia, the founder of Gumroad we were just talking about last week because he launched a new seed fund. He worked part-time as a product and design consultant, allowing him the flexibility to begin spending time thinking about new product ideas.

“I always knew that my next startup was going to be in [the creator] space,” Yadav said. “I just loved what they’re all about, which is about making an income from what they love doing.”

Teachable’s rapid growth in a small slice of the creator space taught Yadav some of the key challenges that creators face, and what a new product needed to solve in order to help them. With his co-founders, he enlisted a group of creators — including Pat Flynn at Smart Passive Income and Anne-Laure Le Cunff, who operates a newsletter called Ness Labs — to actively build communities on Circle to prove out their various design and product decisions.

The growth of the platform and the engagement of potential customers attracted the attention of Notation Capital, a NYC-based pre-seed fund that just announced its third fund late last month. Notation led a $ 1.5 million seed round into Circle, which also included Lavingia, Ankur Nagpal (the founder and CEO of Teachable), Dave Ambrose and Matthew Ziskie, among others.

There is a growing movement of software designed to help creators start their businesses. Substack of course has gotten the most attention in Silicon Valley, with a platform designed mostly around email newsletter subscriptions. Pico, meanwhile, has focused on building out more of the infrastructure of the creator business through a CRM that integrates with most other platforms. Patreon handles more of the payments and revenue engagement of fans.

Circle may end up touching on those areas, but today, wants to be the destination where you send all your creators in between newsletters or blog posts or Instragrams. It’s a smart part of the creator stack to play in, and with strong early customer enthusiasm and a chunk of funding, seems ready to make a mark in this burgeoning market.

Startups – TechCrunch

Special raises $2.26M to build a subscription platform for online creators

Special is a new startup offering online video creators a way to move beyond advertising for their income.

The service was created by the team behind tech consulting and development firm Triple Tree Software. Special’s co-founder and CEO Sam Lucas told me that the team had already “scrapped our way from nothing to a seven-figure annual revenue,” but when the founders met with Next Frontier Capital (Next Frontier, like Special, is based in Bozeman, Montana) they pitched a bigger idea — an app where creators charge a subscription fee for access to premium content.

While Triple Tree started in the service business, Lucas explained that the goal was always to create “a product company that we could sell for $ 100 million.” Now Special is announcing that it has raised $ 2.26 million in seed funding from Next Frontier and other investors.

It’s also built an initial version of the product that’s being tested by friends, family and a handful of creators, with plans for a broader beta release in October.

With online advertising slowing dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, YouTube recently highlighted the fact that 80,000 of its channels are earning money from non-ad sources, and that the number of creators who receive the majority of their income from those sources grew 40% between January and May.

One of the main ways that creators can ask their viewers for money is through Patreon. Lucas acknowledged Patreon as a “very big inspiration” for Special, but he said that conversations with creators pointed to a few key ways that the service falls short.

Special

Image Credits: Special

For one thing, he argued while contributions on Patreon are framed as “donations” or “support,” Special allows creators to emphasize the value of their premium content by putting it behind a subscription paywall. patreon supports paywalls as well, but that leads to Lucas’ next point — it was built built for creators of all kinds, while Special is focused specifically on video, and it’s built a high-quality video player into the experience.

In fact, Lucas described Special’s spin on the idea of a white labeled product as “silver label.” The goal is to create “the perfect balance between a platform and a custom app” — creators get their own customizable channels that emphasize their brand identity (rather than Special’s), while still getting the distribution and exposure benefits of being part of a larger platform, with their content searchable and viewable on web, mobile and smart TVs.

Creators also retain ownership of their content, and they get to decide how much they want to charge subscribers — Lucas said it can be anywhere between “$ 1 or $ 999” per month, with Special taking a 10% fee. He added that the team has plans to build a bundling option that would allow creators to team up and offer a joint subscription.

Lucas’ pitch reminded me of startups like Vessel (acquired and shut down by TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon in 2016), which previously hoped to bring online creators together for a subscription offering. In Lucas’ view, Vessel was similar to newer apps like Quibi, in that they directly funded creators to produce exclusive content.

“It’s a billion-dollar arms race, with what used to be a technology play but is now a production studio play,” he said. Special doesn’t have the funding to compete at that level, but Lucas suggested that a studio model also provides the wrong incentives to creators, who say “Hell yeah, keep those checks coming in,” but disappear “the moment the checks stop.”

“I almost think it’s an egotistical play,” Lucas added. “The company thinks they know best what a creator should produce for an audience that doesn’t exist yet. We say: Let them do it on Special. Do whatever you want, as long as you follow our terms of service, and own your creative vision.”

It might also seem like a big challenge to recruit creators while based in Montana, but Lucas replied that Special has more access than you might think, especially since the town has become “such a hotspot for extremely wealthy people to buy their third home.”

More broadly, he suggested that the distance from Hollywood and Silicon Valley “allows us to not follow the trends of every new streaming platform and [instead] truly find those independent creators underneath the woodworks.”

Startups – TechCrunch

CALA Raises $3M to Help Influencers and Creators Launch Fashion Brands From Scratch

CALA is a full-stack managed solution for people looking to launch their own fashion and clothing line. Design, sourcing, sales, and fulfillment are all handled on the platform, which is also supported by a network of experts. Newbie fashion entrepreneurs are often overwhelmed with all the moving parts and CALA makes it easy all for a monthly subscription fee and percentage of sales. CEO Andrew Wyatt shes some light about the company’s traction which includes clients like NFL player Travis Kelce, rapper A$ AP Ferg, and model Tatiana Ringsby. The company, founded in 2016, also just closed its seed round from investors that include Maersk Growth and Real Ventures.
AlleyWatch

Valencia-based Voicemod raises €7.1 million to help gamers and creators change their voice in real-time

Today Voicemod, a leading audio avatar company, has announced the closing of a €7.1 million Series A round, led by BITKRAFT Ventures. The startup will use this investment to launch mobile applications, expand further into Asian markets, and invest in neural network-based voice and speech conversion technologies to create even more unique and realistic voices. 

Using a combination of artificial intelligence and ‘Digital Signal Processing’ technologies, Voicemod (2014) offers users the ability to change one’s voice in real-time in order to enhance the overall gaming and streaming/social sharing experience and empower players’ desires to experiment with alternate personas. Voicemod allows gamers to switch among various voices, integrate sound memes, or experiment with game play-context related voice effects. From adding the effect of being out of breath after parachuting onto the island in Fortnite to creating an echo while driving through a tunnel in Grand Theft Auto, Voicemod makes the gaming experience more engaging. 

With over 10 million downloads on PC alone, Voicemod has doubled the size of its team since January with a total of 55 employees. It is compatible with online games such as Players Unknown Battleground, Apex Legends, League of Legends, VALORANT, CoD Warzone, Minecraft, Roblox, GTA V, and Fortnite. It also works with popular social, chat, and video tools like Discord, Skype, and Zoom.

“We create sound effects that can take gamers and content creators anywhere and allow them to become anyone or anything. We believe that everybody should be able to express themselves creatively through sound so that every experience is amplified,” said Voicemod’s CEO and co-founder Jaime Bosch. “Image and video filters have increased in popularity and Voicemod is bringing the missing piece – a voice filter that enhances gameplay with fully immersive audio experiences. Thanks to the backing from BITKRAFT Ventures, we will be able to advance our mission to create more entertaining and engaging interactive audiovisual communication.” 

“Voice is a fundamental signature of human identity. Being able to alter your voice in digital platforms/games is an important tool to elevate human expression and create greater entertainment experiences.  Voicemod is changing the way we interact both socially on digital platforms and while playing online and the wide customer adoption of the Voicemod’s service proves that the product is driving the future for real-time voice creation and customization,” said BITKRAFT Founding General Partner, Malte Barth.

EU-Startups

Karat launches a credit card for online creators

Karat is a new startup promising to build better banking products for the creators who make a living on YouTube, Instagram, Twitch and other online platforms. Today it’s unveiling its first product — the Karat Black Card.

The startup, which was part of accelerator Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch, is also announcing that it has raised $ 4.6 million in seed funding from Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, SignalFire, YC, CRV and Coatue.

Co-founder and co-CEO Eric Wei knows the creator world well, thanks to his time as product manager for Instagram Live. (His co-founder Will Kim was previously an investor with seed fund Lucky Capital.) Wei told me that although many creators have significant incomes, banks rarely understand their business or offer them good terms when they need capital.

“Traditional banks care a lot about FICO [credit scores],” he said. “A lot of YouTubers, when they’re blowing up, they don’t have time to think: Let me make sure my FICO is awesome as well.”

At the same time, he argued that creators have become suspicious of potentially scammy financial offers, to the point that if you were to attend a pre-COVID VidCon and tried to give out $ 3,000, “The good creators will not take it, even if you tell them there are no strings behind it.”

Karat team

Karat co-founders Will Kim and Eric Wei

With the Karat Black Card, the startup is giving creators a credit card that they can use for their business-related expenses. When creators are approved, they receive a $ 250 bonus that can be applied to any future purchases of electronics or equipment. The card also comes with custom designs, 2% to 5% cash back on purchases and it even offers advances on sponsorship payments.

Underlying it, Wei said Karat has developed an underwriting model that works for creators. Instead of looking at credit scores, Karat focuses on the size of a creator’s following, their current revenue and whether or not they’re “business savvy.”

“It’s not just the number of followers you have, but what platforms,” Wei added. “I would rather have 100,000 subscribers on YouTube than 1 million on TikTok, because on TikTok, it’s all algorithmically driven.”

Karat has already provided the card to an initial group of creators, including TheRussianBadger, TierZoo and Nas Daily. Wei said the model is working so far, with no defaults.

For now, the card is aimed at professional, full-time creators who have at least 100,000 followers. Wei estimated that that’s a potential customer base of 1 million creators. Eventually, he wants to provide those creators with more than a black card.

“We’re building a vertical financial and biz ops experience,” he said. “People in earlier stages, we do want to get to them eventually, but only after we feel like we’ve developed enough of an underwriting model.”

Startups – TechCrunch

How do I solve the typical “chicken and egg” problem for my startup? I need content creators but in order to get them I need viewers.

I’m hoping this thread could help me come up with some good ideas to get the ball rolling on my app. I have a streaming app similar to twitch where users can upload videos of themselves and viewers are able to tip them through those videos. My issue is in order to get viewers I need people streaming but in order to get people streaming I need viewers to send them tip money.

So far I’ve tried offering people $ 2 per video they upload but that didn’t seem to work, anyone have any other suggestions?

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