The creator economy, like most economies, is stubbornly divided into haves and have-nots. Online platforms offer huge payouts to boldface names with big audiences while everyone else toils away for the equivalent of digital peanuts. This unequal distribution of resources and money is not unique to online creators—Hollywood types have complained for years about the slow-motion death of their creative middle classes—but it’s a problem that could theoretically be remedied by giving creators more control over the very thing that makes them monetizable in the first place: their audiences.
That’s the intriguing value proposition offered by Mighty Networks, a software platform that aims to give brands and creators full ownership of their own online communities. Its “business plan” model sets creators up with a suite of tools—memberships, payment options, online courses, event integration—that lets them build their own platforms from the ground up. The Palo Alto, California-based company was launched by CEO Gina Bianchini in 2017, back when “creator economy” was not part of the lexicon in the way that it is today. Since that time, and especially since the pandemic, the value of creator-based economies has become infinitely more apparent with the rise of such platforms as OnlyFans, Cameo, Substack, and others.
Now Mighty Networks is looking to capitalize on the moment, positioning itself as a place where “middle-class creators” can seize control of their own destinies. The company said today it has raised $50 million in new funding, in a round led by Owl Ventures, a VC fund that focuses on the edtech industry. In addition to Owl, Ziff Capital Partners and LionTree Partners also took part, joining existing investors Intel Capital, Marie Forleo, Gretchen Rubin, Dan Rosensweig, Reid Hoffman, BBG Ventures, and Lucas Venture Group.
“Content alone will kill the creator economy,” Bianchini said in a statement. “We can’t build a thriving creator movement on an exhausting, unfair dynamic where content creators rent audiences from big tech platforms, are required to produce a never-ending stream of content, and get paid pennies for it, if they get paid at all.”
Bianchini has been at this for a while. In 2005, along with Marc Andreessen, she launched Ning, a kind of build-your-own social network aimed at giving people the tools to compete with entrenched giants like Facebook. Ning failed to slow Facebook’s scale-at-all-costs strategy to dominance, but these days, even Mark Zuckerberg is paying attention to creator-based economies, saying in a recent interview (on Clubhouse, no less) that creator-based platforms have “leveled the playing field a bit and make it so that you can grow a more vibrant sector of creators and small businesses.”
Mighty Networks’s latest funding round brings its total capital to $67 million. The company says it will use the money to speed up the development of new products and payment options, and expand into new markets.