All big tech companies are, in a sense, aping Patreon Inc., the tech startup that’s spent the past eight years building tools to allow content creators to accept recurring payments from their fans. Patreon is in the midst of a hiring spree, and in April it raised $155 million from investors who valued it at $4 billion, triple its valuation from an investment round in September 2020. It plans to go public in the near future, though the timeline remains uncertain.
If success has inspired others to imitate Patreon, it’s also leading the startup to become more like the competition. The company is dedicating a significant portion of its most recent investment round to finance original programming for the first time. Patreon’s plans, which haven’t been previously reported, include courting podcasters, video game livestreamers, YouTubers, and major celebrities such as Will Smith and Jennifer Lopez to make content that will appear live on Patreon before showing up elsewhere.
For Patreon, the move could be transformational. The company is hiring engineers and product executives to build new tools for content consumption. This is what fans want, says Jack Conte, its chief executive officer. Creators, he says, will benefit from a single platform that allows them to not only access the back-end services required to run a media business, such as billing and audience management software, but also publish the content they create. “We focused on that foundational layer for many years, the whole first chapter of the company, and now it’s quite clear that creators want better native media features,” he says in an interview at a deli near his East Bay apartment. “They’re asking for them loud and clear.”
During the height of the pandemic, Conte gathered his team and investors to discuss growth options, including the plan to fund original material. They debated paying creators to shift their entire catalogs onto Patreon but quickly dispatched with the idea. Conte has hired a team to oversee partnerships with new creators and added a head of product from Instagram to develop better tools for hosting audio and video across its service.
The goal isn’t to supplant bigger companies. “We’re not trying to get 2 billion people on Patreon to compete with YouTube,” Conte says. He argues that his company doesn’t even need to take a slice of existing platforms’ businesses to succeed. “It’s a new pie,” he says.