I’ve been a creator longer than being a creator was a “thing”.
Having created first on Quora, then LinkedIn, then Twitter, and finally A Junior VC, I have been digitally native for almost a decade. The joy of creating and connecting with millions of people has been a huge motivator.
I have personally seen creating as a way to help people at scale.
Every creator has motivations that are primarily social. That’s because they began creating on platforms that had zero or little monetary incentive. What they earned is what I call social capital, in the forms of likes, followers and comments.
Social capital is powerful, helping many creators go mainstream and become “influencers”.
Not every creator is an influencer, but every influencer is a creator. The word creator is thrown around a lot, without an understanding of what a digital creator really is.
I’d define a digital creator as anyone who regularly creates digitally native content that is produced and consumed entirely digitally. This could be in one or more of the four storytelling formats that humans use: audio, text, images and video.
Creators are therefore almost always storytellers.
They are found on platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Facebook. Each of these platforms scaled to millions, even billions of users, on “user-generated content”.
Creators were behind this “user-generated content”.
For the first decade, creators loved these platforms because they gave creators an unprecedented canvas. With millions of users available at a push of an upload, creators began committing hours to these platforms.
But as the platforms started to become money-spinning machines, creators began to get the raw end of the bargain.
Platforms would generate engagement, driven entirely by creators. YouTube makes upwards of $30 billion a year in ad revenue, of which just some goes to creators. YouTube is probably the best of the lot—other platforms share close to nothing with creators.
As a creator, I’ve never had to rely on my earnings for my livelihood. But I’d be terrified if I had to.
The “influencer” creator friends of mine, who earn some amount of money, tell me that it is very hard. Their biggest grouse is that they’re “hostage” to the algorithm and have almost no leverage. All of these big creators complain that making money from these platforms is hard.
Clearly, the influencers we see do not have it easy at all. Creation is one of the hardest jobs that everyone thinks is easy. It is hard, which is why I expect a market built around creators to be very lucrative.
History is a great teacher of human behaviour. It is surprising, but true, that “working for an organisation” is just a 300-year-old concept. Before the Industrial Revolution, people actually worked from home, as there were no offices.
In the Renaissance of the 1600s, the first set of documented creators were born.
The parallels are striking. Creators such as Da Vinci made generational creations like the Mona Lisa. They were funded by “superfans” like the Medicis, who were called Patrons. Creators worked independently. They too told stories through their creations. Thousands of them existed.
Creators today are living in the Digital Renaissance.
The piece that is missing for creators today is how they get funded. In the absence of economies that are captured entirely by the large platforms, creators struggle to get money. Tools like Patreon -- now you know where they got the name from -- were made for creators to have patrons who could support them directly.
Enter NFTs, or non-fungible tokens
Money is fungible, which means one rupee is equivalent to another rupee. A non-fungible token is by definition not equivalent to another non-fungible token. What this means is that every NFT is unique.
Who makes unique stuff? Digital creators, of course.
Anything digital can thus become an NFT. It could be in any of the four storytelling formats: image ( Beeple’s record-breaking NFT), audio (the Grimes NFT), text ( Jack Dosey’s first tweet) or video (the Crossroads NFT). These NFTs are “minted”, or added to a blockchain, to ensure that there is just one original digital copy.
The creation of the blockchain ecosystem has thus enabled NFTs.
Digital creators can now sell their work directly as NFTs. Fans can buy their work and support them directly. Where are the big tech platforms? Nowhere.
NFTs are a viable and effective way for creators to fund their work. With almost $11 billion worth of NFTs sold in the last quarter, it is becoming an important way for financing creators. Platforms such as Open Sea have democratised access to creators beyond the biggest celebrities.
The wave has arrived in India as well, and Bollywood celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon with their own NFTs.
While I am extremely sceptical about Bollywood stars doing NFTs, I think it could help in generating awareness about them. After all, no publicity is bad publicity, and Indian NFTs currently comprise a low single-digit percentage of the global total.
Every bit helps, because creators in India have generally had a very hard time monetising their creations. Those who can are usually the ones with large audiences. As I mentioned earlier, even they rarely feel that the economics are justified.
Giving Indian fans the ability to “own” creations and have a relationship with their creators is a move in the right direction. Just like the Medicis, “Superfans” will happily spend lakhs of rupees to own or support the work of their favourite creators.
Being a full-time creator is going to become a viable career for many people in the near future. Those who give them the shovels for their careers will be part of the “creator economy”. The gold that the creators will find with these shovels will very likely be in the form of NFTs.
We are entering the Digital Renaissance.
Also Read: NFTs and their uses beyond art
The writer is an investor at Venture Highway, an early-stage seed fund. He is the founder of A Junior VC, a platform that democratises insights into startups in India and Southeast Asia. Views are personal.