No taxes, no algorithms: Why creators deserve websites
Spore's creator site-maker is my first lead investment as a VC. It solves the creator economy's two biggest problems
Some personal news! I spent the year since I left TechCrunch to join SignalFire researching the creator economy. I found creators trapped on social networks, exploited and underpaid for their content, burned out, and overwhelmed by the sea of startups trying to help them.
Then I found Spore, a free all-in-one tool that lets creators design their own self-branded websites where they can collect contact info, deliver content directly to fans, and keep 90% of the revenue they earn.
Creators are building on borrowed land when they rely on social networks that can wall them off from their audience. Spore offers creators the foundation for growing an independent business on their own terms. That’s why my first lead check as a VC at SignalFire is for Spore’s $1M pre-seed round.
I rarely ask for favors, but if you’d be willing to give Spore an upvote on Product Hunt and share this here post or this Twitter thread, I’ll owe you one. And lend your creator pals a hand by letting them know Spore can build them a proper website.
How the web can unshackle creators
Websites as a medium will live on longer than most of today’s apps (and humans).
"The web is the one place on the internet you can truly own—no middlemen. You can really tell your story, and it will outlast every channel" Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke told me. That's why his commerce tools were built to give merchants a place on the web. And that's why creators deserve the same. Spore's website maker gives creators a home on the Internet that they truly own. Spore launches today and SignalFire is honored to lead its pre-seed round.
The concept of "platform risk" is well-known to developers. When you're dependent on some big tech platform that doesn't share your priorities or incentives, you're vulnerable. You live by their rules. If they want to cut you off from your audience, change the functionality you need, or charge you taxes for transactions or growth, you're at their mercy. Just ask Zynga, the gaming empire built entirely on Facebook that saw its share price drop 85% in 7 months when the social network suddenly decided it didn't want games in the News Feed. One algorithm tweak, and poof, Zynga's virality evaporated. 9 years later, its valuation still hasn't recovered.
The same could happen to creators. Right now, they're in double jeopardy. Creators rely on social network profiles on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch for their internet presence and their connection to fans, which could be severed or locked behind ad spend at any time. They have followers but no direct contact info for their fans. To maintain their ability to reach people who already asked to see their art, creators burn themselves out feeding the fickle and inscrutable algorithms. Opaque and unevenly enforced content moderation policies lead creators to be suspended, shadowbanned, or booted entire, robbing them of their livelihoods and communities. If they try to walk away from the big social apps, creators are left with nothing.
Meanwhile, those social networks are built on iOS and Android, where Apple and Google collect 30% taxes on transactions. These operating systems aren't helping creators get discovered, produce. Add up the fees from both, and creators often keep well under half of the revenue they earn while the platforms become hundred-billion and trillion-dollar companies. It's labor exploitation at a grand scale that's choking a huge new class of small businesses and the best opportunity for creators to turn their passion into a fulfilling profession.
Two trends and two problems for creators
I spent the last year since leaving TechCrunch to be an investor at SignalFire researching the creator economy. We discovered two big trends that beget two big problems:
Creators are sick of pouring their hearts into building atop someone else's platform, so they're trying to move their top fans towards dedicated tools for community and monetization. But most of the tools are just more platforms that put their own brands first instead of the creator's. It's a laundry list of "Platform.com/CreatorName" links instead of a single, central "CreatorName.com"
Creators are becoming founders, cobbling together an array of point-solution software and teams to run them. They need help with analytics, CRMs, ecommerce stores, content distribution, subscription payments, and more. But most creators can't afford all these tools and teams, and don't have the time to manage them. They want to make art and connect with their communities, not become web developers manually integrating fragmented APIs and datasets.
Spore lets creators build websites, not just profiles
After reviewing the pitches of tons of single-purpose creator tools, I found the answers to the platform risk and fragmentation problem.
Spore is a free, all-in-one solution for creators that lets them control their own destiny on the open web. With Spore, creators can easily design a self-branded website, collect contact info, send text and email blasts, grow a CRM, run chat rooms, review analytics, and accept one-off payments and subscriptions to content.
Since all of Spore's tools are seamlessly connected, creators can spend more time making art and less time dealing with web development. It's free to try, offers custom URLs and text messaging at cost, and creators keep 90% of their revenue since it's built on the open web. That's a lot more affordable than paying monthly fees for multiple separate tools, or the 30% to 45% taxes charged by social networks and mobile app stores. Spore only earns money when you earn a lot more.
Spore is launching today, but already combines the functionality of dozens of tools into powerful websites where creators' brand comes first. Spore offers:
Website creation: Squarespace, Wix, Weebly, WordPress
Custom domains: GoDaddy, Namecheap
Contact info collection: Forms, MailChimp, SurveyMonkey
Fan CRM and scoring: Zoho
Content analytics: Sprout Social
Email newsletters: Mailchimp, Substack, Revue
SMS blasts: Community
Link hubs: Linktree, LinkInBio
Link tracking and shortening: Bit.ly
Chat and polls: Discord
Podcast listening pages: PodLink
Event listings: Eventbrite
Merchandise (coming soon): TeeSpring
Tipping/donations: CashApp, Venmo, PayPal
Paid subscriptions: Patreon
How do these all work together? With Spore, you can choose a URL and instantly populate it with your branding, best content, social links, and color scheme without dealing with domain registrars or CSS. Perhaps the most important feature is the ability to prominently collect email addresses and phone numbers, that are loaded directly into the CRM from which you can send newsletters or automated content drops and event reminders.
When you create something new like a video, you can share it with a custom short-link that asks people to sign up, create a temporary banner promoting on your site, track its performance, and identify your super fans who engage most across all your content. Podcasts have special landing pages where fans can listen directly or get linked out to download on their preferred app. You can run chat rooms with polls where fans give donations or tips, or make your community or content exclusive to paid subscribers. And at any point, you can export all the contact info and upload it somewhere else like a dedicated newsletter service because you own the fan relationships.
Evolving with the creator economy
What's especially remarkable is that Spore built all this since starting up in December. Co-founder and CEO Austin Hallock is the highest horse-power product developer I've ever encountered. He goes from idea for a feature to launch in mere days, which is exactly the superhuman agility you need to keep up with the rapidly-evolving creator economy.
Austin and I met when he pulled a legendary forgiveness-not-permission move. Instead of pitching me his startup, he showed me what it could by voluntarily sending me a website he'd already built for me on Spore called Constine.club. It let me run second-screen chatrooms for my Clubhouse shows while collecting contact info so I could ping people the next time I went live. A few months later, I already had thousands in my Spore community. When I request a feature like a podcast landing page, 48 hours later, he's got it running on my site. By working directly with his early users, Spore built precisely the tool creators need.
That’s why I'm so excited for Spore to be my first lead investment since leaving TechCrunch to join SignalFire. The $1 million pre-seed round is joined by some of the top creator-founders, including Twitch co-founder and rising TikTok star Justin Kan's GOAT, leading Substack author Lenny Rachitsky, and newsletter bundle pioneer Nathan Baschez of Every. We're also joined by Zynga founder Justin Waldron, Brat TV founder Darren Lachtman, Bleacher Report founder Dave Nemetz, and our friends at Canaan.
Spore's mission is to help creators overthrow the gatekeepers, escape the taxes and algorithms, and build their own homes on the web. Social networks will come and go, mediums will rise and fall, but creators will always need a place to unify their community. With Spore, everyone can have the tools to turn their passion into their profession.