For people who don’t know about you, talk about your background. How did you wind up starting Flowbo?
I grew up as an immigrant in Canada with an initial interest in pursuing music. I realized that that path typically leads to one of two outcomes: you make it big, or you don’t. The average musician typically struggles more than, say, the average accountant.
My financial background could not support that level of risk. So I decided to take a more traditional path, and I studied finance at McGill University. I grew an interest in providing accessible capital to people from all walks of life, and looking at innovations like microfinance and crowdfunding.
After college, I worked at Oliver Wyman as a management consultant. Then I worked on investing at Softbank Vision Fund. I worked primarily with fintech investments and marketplace investments, and my primary focus was providing access to capital. I also served as a board observer at Auto1 Group, a public company.
After those experiences, I took some time to pursue a Master’s Degree in public policy at Oxford. Policy is one way to enable accessible capital. At Oxford I realized that policy change takes a long time—it’s not as fast as building and scaling a tech company to make change. Taking the learning from the successful fintech companies I worked with at Softbank, I eventually landed on Flowbo, where we provide access to capital for people in content creation or other unconventional careers.
Flowbo is an exchange connecting investors to online creators. You package assets of creators into investable products so creators can raise money. Talk about the specific problems Flowbo solves for both influencers and creators.
We solve two main problems for creators: getting paid on time and accessing capital to fund special projects, costs, or initiatives.
When creators work with brands or affiliate problems, it typically takes 30-180 days to get paid. At Flowbo, we provide that financing today. For instance, one of our creators used Flowbo to finance the launch of their app and physical product in a matter of weeks as opposed to waiting months. For creators with less than say 100,000 followers, getting paid on time actually impacts their livelihood.
Secondly, we provide up to 3x a creators’ monthly income to fund special projects or pay unexpected costs—health-related, life events, or tax events. We’ve structured this feature as a shared income agreement, which works well for platforms like YouTube, Twitch, Patreon, etc. Shared income protects creators and helps them avoid taking on huge amounts of debt.
Why doesn’t traditional finance understand the emerging creator economy?
I think there’s two broad reasons why:
In 2016, the creator economy was valued at under 2B. It’s only recently exploded. Even today, the creator economy is valued at decabillions—depending on your source—while a market like freelancing is over 1.2TN. All that to say, many banks have bigger fish to fry and it’s not worth their time to modify their business structure to cater to these emerging markets.
Banks and financial institutions make loans based on certain specific metrics: LTV, income, salary vs. non salaried, etc. They’ve never underwritten deals based on social media metrics. Even if they did, banks would need to learn how all the data connects, what different metrics mean, and how they inform the decision to underwrite a deal.
What types of creators have gravitated towards Flowbo? Certain sizes? Platforms? Individuals or groups?
We want to be an infrastructure for creators and companies. We work with talent agencies and networks where we’re an additional service or feature that’s offered to creators.
We also work with marketplaces that connect brands with influencers. We’re aiming to keep doing this with other creator economy companies—to provide access to capital for all creators.
Talk about the largest challenge you’ve overcome while working on Flowbo. How did you overcome it?
Distribution is one of the biggest challenges facing all creator economy companies.
There’s numerous ways to crack distribution. A couple examples are:
Most important thing is probably building trust with creators. Right now we have the amazing opportunity to work with people who are good at distribution. It’s been a continued challenge, but we’ve been able to forge some amazing partnerships.
What is your long-term vision for Flowbo? What are you most excited about moving forward?
The central tension as we grow is cognitive dissonance: we need to simultaneously believe that our thesis is correct with a roadmap to scale, and we need to constantly validate that thesis through customers. This is probably a challenge for most startup founders.
In the future, we aspire to be the NYSE of creator assets. We’re essentially packing creator assets into investable products like income share agreements, factoring agreements, and more. This allows creators to easily access capital, and investors to share in the success of creators. There are investors who want exposure to these products, and that’s where we provide that exposure.