Mindset, an artist-driven mental wellness audio platform, raises a $8.7M from Scooter Braun and others

Mindset, a platform featuring personal story collections from recording artists, announced today that it raised $8.7 million in seed funding.

As co-founders of the K-pop focused podcast production company DIVE Studios, brothers Brian Nam, Eric Nam and Eddie Nam noticed that the studio’s best performing content came from podcast episodes where stars discussed how they handle struggles in their personal lives. So, the Nam brothers came up with the idea for Mindset, an off-shoot of DIVE Studios.

“We found that this was a unique selling point people really wanted more of — so we started to think about ways to really double-down on that aspect,” said CEO Brian Nam. “How do we provide more of this valuable content to Gen Z and young millennial audiences? We decided that there wasn’t really the right kind of platform out there for this type of storytelling, so we decided to develop our own mobile platform to uniquely share these stories in an audio format.”

In its current format, Mindset features four audio collections from artists like Jae, Tablo, BM, and Mindset co-founder Eric Nam, who happens to be a K-pop star himself. Each collection has ten episodes of around ten to twenty minutes long — the introductory episode is free, but to gain access to the rest of an individual artist’s collection, users need to pay $24.99. The app also has free Boosters, which are Calm-like, five-minute clips of bedtime stories and motivational mantras.

“Up until now, the primary source of income, especially for musicians, has been touring, music streams, and then maybe some endorsement deals, but we’re able to unlock this fourth one, which is monetizing your stories,” Nam said. “The pricing is similar to how they might price a ticket, or how they would sell merchandise.”

Mindset isn’t meant to be a therapy app. “We’re not licensed therapists, we don’t try to act like we are,” Nam said. Rather, it’s a way for artists to share more intimate experiences with their fans to show that behind they music, they’re people too.

Mindset launched in an MVP (minimum viable product) version in February. Nam declined to share active user or revenue numbers, but said that the app gained enough traction that by May, it raised venture funding. The $8.7 million round is led by Union Square Ventures with strategic participants like record executive Scooter Braun (of TQ Ventures), who has more recently made headlines over the Taylor Swift masters controversy. Other backers include Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Opendoor Co-Founder Eric Wu, and more.

“Scooter Braun was a strategic investor,” Nam told TechCrunch.

Braun has also worked with artists like Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, and Demi Lovato.

“He’s really opened a lot of doors for us to branch out into the Hollywood and Western space, where we traditionally came from the K-pop space,” Nam added.

Mindset is putting its seed funding toward content creation, hiring, and product development. The app is currently available on iOS and Android, but it will officially launch on September 14. After that, Mindset will release another audio collection from an artist or actor every two weeks. Nam declined to share who these artists will be. 

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A bank for the creator economy, Karat Financial raises $26M in Series A funding

The creator economy is changing the way that people earn a living, whether you’re an Instagram influencer or a freelance graphic designer. But traditional banks haven’t caught up.

Take Alexandra Botez for example. The Stanford graduate earns six figures playing chess on Twitch, where she has 877,000 followers. But when she tried to apply for a business credit card, she was rejected twice. Meanwhile, when the creator behind TierZoo, a YouTube channel with 2.7 million subscribers, tried to rent an apartment, he was rejected because his landlord didn’t see his business as legitimate.

Eric Wei noticed this disconnect while he was a Product Manager at Instagram, where he helped build Instagram Live. With co-founder Will Kim, a previous investor with seed fund Lucky Capital, Wei launched Karat Financial, a better banking system for digital creators. Today, Karat Financial announced a $26 million Series A round led by Union Square Ventures with participation from GGV Capital and SignalFire.

“Banks need to understand you in order to trust you, and it’s only when they trust you that they’re willing to give you credit, process your payments, and hold your money,” Wei told TechCrunch. “If Alexandra Botez has 800,000 followers, and let’s say a tenth of them are paying a monthly subscription fee on Twitch, you can actually back into what these creators’ income streams are, and develop a better underwriting model than what the banks have today.”

But Karat isn’t solving a problem exclusive to the 1% of digital creators. Even for someone like a self-employed small business owner or a gig worker, it can be challenging to find a landlord that will rent an apartment without a proof of employment letter and regular paystubs. But the creator economy remains a fast-growing sector — more than two million creators make over $100,000 per year, and according to VC firm SignalFire, over 46.7 million people have enough of a following to monetize their content part-time.

“This whole industry exploded,” said Kim. “If it’s a flash in the pan, it’s a fifteen-year-old flash.”

Wei and Kim founded Karat in 2019, then earned a spot in Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 accelerator. By June 2020, Karat launched its first product, the Karat Black Card, a credit card for creators, and earned $4.6 million in seed funding from investors like Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin.

Image Credits: Karat

“Our vetting process is we try to evaluate creators as the businesses they are,” Wei said. The Karat Black Card doesn’t charge interest or fees, and only turns a marginal profit off of bank interchange fees. Karat will also advance credit for sponsorship payments at no cost to the creator. So if you’re an influencer and get paid $1,000 to make a video sponsored by a clothing company, it could take months to get paid. Karat will give you that $1,000 now, so long as you pay them back once the clothing company pays you.

Karat proved its concept with 50% growth from month to month and eight figures in transactions since launch last year. More than 30 creators have invested in Karat, including Jared Leto, 3LAU, Nas Daily, and Josh Richards — that’s all without any spending on influencer marketing.

“It turns out that when you do a good job for creators, they share you around with other people,” Wei said.

Since then, their portfolio of investors has grown to include YouTube co-founder Steven Chen, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, Former TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer, and Former Wealthfront CEO Adam Nash, among others.

But Karat’s ultimate ambition isn’t to give creators a line of credit. They started out with the credit card to prove their concept, but in the long term, they hope to create a financial infrastructure for creators. That means helping them launch merchandise lines, incorporate their business, get a mortgage, take out business loans, and file their taxes. Wei says that would come after the company’s Series B, opening a more lucrative income stream than collecting bank interchange fees.

“We decided to roll Karat out with the same tried and true fintech playbook,” Wei said. “Start out with something simple before wedging and scaling into those other products. So for us, the card is just a means to an end. Our whole model is, we use the cards to develop our underwriting model and gain trust from creators, and eventually, we can build to be Square for creators.”

Already, Wei and Kim are getting texts from their internet celebrity clients, asking them to be their de-facto financial advisors.

“We’re just like, oh my gosh, we love you, but we’re not building those products yet,” Wei said. “We’ll do that when we hit our Series B, and yes, we’ll charge you fees, because we’re going to provide you with better service than what’s out there now.”

With the newly announced Series A round, Karat plans to double its staff with new hires and begin looking toward new product development.

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Polywork gets $3.5M to blend professional and social networking

Life is complicated and so — increasingly — is work-life. That’s the premise underpinning Polywork, a new professional social network founded by Lystable/Kalo founder, Peter Johnson.

It’s announcing a $3.5 million seed round today, led by by Caffeinated Capital’s Ray Tonsing (who it notes was the first investor in Clubhouse, Airtable and Brex), with participation from the founders of YouTube (Steve Chen), Twitch (Kevin Lin), PayPal (Max Levchin), VSCO (Joel Flory), Behance (Scott Belsky), and Worklife VC (Brianne Kimmel) — to name a few of its long list of angels.

As the list illustrates, Johnson, an ex-Googler (and TC battlefield alum), isn’t short of contacts to tap up for his new startup — having pulled so much VC into Lystable/Kalo.

Albeit we’ve also learned that his earlier startup, which was focused on tools to help companies manage freelancers and gig workers, is no longer active. Kalo/Lystable has hit the deadpool.

We’re told the founders took the decision to pull the plug after being unable to convince investors to keep supporting the business — which had, presumably, been severely impacted by the pandemic as companies laid off freelancers.

Although, in parallel, VC investment has been flowing into startups building marketplaces to help companies work with external talent (as the remote work boom is clearly driving more flexible ways of working) so it’s not clear where exactly Kalo went wrong — perhaps its focus on management tools was simply being overtaken by more fully featured marketplaces which are baking in the kind of admin support its SaaS offered.

Lystable/Kalo had raised close to $30M over its seven year run, per Crunchbase, including from some of the same investors putting money into Polywork. Though most of the latter’s investors aren’t the same and look to be coming more from the social/entertainment side.

So what is Johnson’s new startup all about? It’s still focused on the world of work. It’s his “moonshot mission” — which, we’re told, has been fed by learnings gleaned from Lystable about creating a professional network.

But if you take a look at the site it’s a lot more Twitter in look and feel than LinkedIn. So the social element is really being put front and center here.

A Polywork profile (Image credits: Polywork)

In short, Polywork sums to a Twitter-style social feed where professionals can post updates about what they’re up to (in work and, if they like, in life too).

Users skills and interests (e.g. “UX design”, “founder”, “dinosaur enthusiast”); personality quirks (“introvert”); and achievements (“life partner”) — or indeed the opposite (“bad golfer”, “failure”) — can be displayed as custom badges at the top of their profile — again with the chance to blend personal and professional to offer a fuller portrait of who you are and what you offer.

In the feed itself, individual posts can be given related tags (e.g. “conducted user research”, which files under “UX Design”) — to illustrate relevant activity. (Clicking on a specific badge shows the sliced view of that user’s related tagged content.)

The result is an interface that feels gamified and informal — where you’re actively encouraged to inject your own personality — but which is simultaneously intended for showing off work activity and achievements.

On the professional networking side, the approach allows users to get a quick visual overview of an individual — perhaps fleshing out some of the dry details they already saw on their LinkedIn account — and quickly navigate to individual examples of specific activity. Recruiters or others looking for professional ice-breakers will probably relish the chance to find more up-to-date material to work with, ahead of making a cold pitch.

Polywork also lets users send collaboration requests to others on the network — aka, its version of LinkedIn’s in-mail. But (thankfully) it looks like users have controls to set whether or not they’re open to receiving such requests or not.

It’s certainly true that home and work have never been so blended as now, given the pandemic-fuelled remote work boom.

At the same time professionals may well — out of necessity — be more focused on the range of skills and interests they have or can acquire, rather than viewing any single job title as defining them, as was true for earlier generations of workers. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a ‘job for life’ anymore. Careers paths are complicated, multi-faceted — and, for some, may be more a tapestry, than a linear trajectory.

Polywork’s Millennial-friendly premise is thus to offer a place where people can present a more personal and well-rounded flavor of themselves as professionals and individuals — encompassing not just their skills and work achievements but their passions, quirks and obsessions — showing off a lot more than feels possible (or sensible) in the staid environs of LinkedIn.

That said, LinkedIn isn’t the only place for professionals to express themselves of course; People are already doing that all the time over on social media sites like Twitter (or indeed Instagram for more visually minded professions). Either social network is basically already an informal professional network in its own right — without the need for badges or labels (hashtags do a fairly decent job).

So while Polywork’s product design may look inviting, trying to reinvent the networking wheel is undoubtedly a massive challenge.

It’s not only fighting for attention with boring professional networks like LinkedIn (which everyone loves to hate), it’s treading directly into highly contested social media territory. Er, good luck with that! 

Convincing people to duplicate their social networking activity — or indeed ditch their existing hard-won social media networks — looks like a big ask. So the risk is irrelevance, despite a pretty interface. (Sure LinkedIn is boring — but, guys, the whole point is that it’s low maintenance… )

Polywork’s name and philosophy suggests it might be okay with being added to the existing mix of professional and social networks, i.e. rather than replacing either. But, well, a supplementary professional network sounds like a bit of a sideline.

Polywork launched in April but isn’t disclosing user numbers yet — and is currently operating a wait list for sign ups.

Commenting on the seed funding in a statement Caffeinated Capital’s Tonsing said: “There’s a new generation that wants to work and live on their own terms, not destined for a single track identity. The pandemic accelerated this trend and humans are reevaluating who they are and what’s most important to them in life. Polywork will usher in and facilitate this permanent shift in human behavior. We’re excited to partner with Peter again!”

#behance, #brianne-kimmel, #caffeinated-capital, #fundings-exits, #instagram, #joel-flory, #kalo, #kevin-lin, #linkedin, #lystable, #max-levchin, #professional-networking, #saas, #scott-belsky, #social, #social-media, #social-networks, #startups, #steve-chen, #twitter

Collective, a back-office for the self-employed, raises $20M from Ashton Kutcher’s VC

With so much focus on the ‘creator economy’, and countries hit by the effects of the pandemic, the self-employed market is ‘booming’, for good or for ill. So it’s not too much of a surprise that
Collective,a subscription-based back-office for the self-employed has raised a $20 million Series A funding after launching only late last year.

The round was led by General Catalyst and joined by Sound Ventures (the venture capital fund founded by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary). Collective has now raised a total of $28.65 million. Other notable investors include: Steve Chen (Founder YouTube), Hamish McKenzie (Founder Substack), Aaron Levie (founder Box), Kevin Lin (founder Twitch), Sam Yam (founder Patreon), Li Jin (Atelier Ventures), Shadiah Sigala (founder HoneyBook), Adrian Aoun (founder Forward), Holly Liu (founder Kabam), Andrew Dudum (founder Hims) and Edward Hartman (founder LegalZoom).

Ashton Kutcher said in a statement: “We’re proud to be supporting a company that’s making it easier for creators to focus on what they do best by taking care of the back office work that creates so much friction for so many early entrepreneurs. I would have loved something like this when I was getting started.”

Launched in September 2020 by CEO Hooman Radfar, CPO Ugur Kaner and CTO Bugra Akcay, Collective offers “tailored” financial services, access to advisors that oversee accounting, tax, bookkeeping, and business formation needs. There are currently 59 million self-employed workers in the U.S. (36% of US workforce) who mostly do all their own admin. So Collective hopes to be their online back office platform.

Speaking to me over email, Radfar said that the start-up fintech market tends to serve companies like them – other start-ups and growing SMBs: “Companies like Pilot have done an amazing job at building a back-office platform that handles taxes, bookkeeping and finances for start-ups. We want to offer that same great value to the underserved business-of-one community, since they are the largest group of founders in the country.”

He added: “Before Collective, consultants, freelancers, and other solo founders had to string together their back-office solution using DIY platforms like Quickbooks, Gusto, and LegalZoom. If they were lucky, they had the help of a part-time accountant to advise them. Collective makes handling finances easy with the first all-in-one platform that not only bundles these tools into one platform, but also provides the technology and team to optimize their tax savings like the pros.”

According to some estimates, the number of lone freelancers in the US is projected to make up 86.5 million, 50% of the US workforce by 2027, with the freelancer space projected to grow three times faster than the traditional workforce.

Niko Bonatsos, Managing Director of General Catalyst said: “Collective is serving the $1.2 trillion business-of-one industry by building the first back-office platform that saves individuals significant time and money, while providing them with the appropriate tools and resources they need to help them succeed,” said “We’re excited to support Collective as they expand their team and build an exceptional service for the business-of-one community.”

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Maestro nets $15 million for its interactive commerce, community and engagement tools for livestreams

Making money on livestreams has never been easier thanks to a suite of tools from the Los Angeles-based startup Maestro, which just nabbed $15 million in financing to grow its business.

As video commerce becomes the norm and entertainers, brands, businesses, and franchises of all sizes and stripes look to cut out the middle man, the array of services on offer from Maestro may be the scissors these entities need to cut the cord.

The company has already worked with names as diverse as the Golden State Warriors, the Dallas Cowboys, and pop sensation Billy Eilish on embedding its interactive tools into various live events and promotions.

Initially the LA-based company launched to the gaming community with interactive features that folks could use in-stream to create better engagement with fans. But what started in the gaming world quickly spun out as the company slashed prices to $500 per month for its services.

The pandemic also helped as artists who were cut off from their audiences began to explore alternative ways to reach fans — and make money.

We were targeted to a small number of very premier customers. It was around 50 to 60 and we grew to in the hundreds,” said Maestro chief executive, Ari Evans, said. “2020 was a blowout year… People needed an interactive streaming platform that they could spin up quickly that they could launch on their website.”

Celebrities from Katy Perry to Post Malone to Billie Eilish all turned to the service and so did other streaming platforms like the Los Angeles-based virtual concert platform, The Wave.

Now the company has $15 million in new financing to capitalize on its growth from investors including NetEase, Sony Music Entertainment, and Acronym Venture Capital, alongside a host of industry titans including Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and Moonwell Capital, founded by former Activision Blizzard executives Michael and Amy Morhaime, the company said in a statement. 

Existing investors like SeventySix Capital, The Strand Partners, Stadia Ventures, Hersh Interactive Group, and Transcend Fund, as well as early Zoom employees Richard Gatchalian and Aaron Lewis, also participated. 

Since the launch of monetization tools in May of last year, Evans estimated that the platform has paid out at least $5 million to entertainers who used the service.

“We are pleased to be supporting the continued development of Maestro as part of our ongoing investment in new technologies that provide artists with cutting-edge tools and solutions for growing their careers. Maestro gives artists greater flexibility and control to build the most engaging and customized events for their fans, allowing creators at any stage of their career to put together a world class live stream event,” said Dennis Kooker, President, Global Digital Business and U.S. Sales, Sony Music Entertainment, in a statement. 

“Maestro is at the forefront of redefining the relationship of content owners and creators with their viewers. Instead of relying on incumbent distribution platforms, customers control the audience relationship directly and maximize engagement and monetization in a way that fits with their brand objectives. We are very excited by Maestro’s potential to be a fundamental driver in the growth of the creator economy,” said Joshua Siegel, General Partner, Acronym Venture Capital.  

“Maestro… started off with the content and now we’re adding membership and community management and ticketing and all that stuff,” said Evans. 

The next step, and a big part of what Evans and his team of 55 employees will work on building will be a developer ecosystem, so software designers can start building out new tools to sell through the Maestro platform.

“The third piece is a developer ecosystem,” Evans said. “We’re really copying Shopify, Squarespace for video or Shopify for video. It’s kind of strange that this has taken so long to develop.

The one thing that Maestro won’t do is discovery or search services, Evans said. “We’re helping creators make money and build a business on top of video. That’s something creators need to be aware of if they’re going to  build that direct to consumer channel,” he said. “If you do do that and you’re successful you’re in control over your audience.”

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Karat launches a credit card for online creators

Karat is a new startup promising to build better banking products for the creators who make a living on YouTube, Instagram, Twitch and other online platforms. Today it’s unveiling its first product — the Karat Black Card.

The startup, which was part of accelerator Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch, is also announcing that it has raised $4.6 million in seed funding from Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, SignalFire, YC, CRV and Coatue.

Co-founder and co-CEO Eric Wei knows the creator world well, thanks to his time as product manager for Instagram Live. (His co-founder Will Kim was previously an investor with seed fund Lucky Capital.) Wei told me that although many creators have significant incomes, banks rarely understand their business or offer them good terms when they need capital.

“Traditional banks care a lot about FICO [credit scores],” he said. “A lot of YouTubers, when they’re blowing up, they don’t have time to think: Let me make sure my FICO is awesome as well.”

At the same time, he argued that creators have become suspicious of potentially scammy financial offers, to the point that if you were to attend a pre-COVID VidCon and tried to give out $3,000, “The good creators will not take it, even if you tell them there are no strings behind it.”

Karat team

Karat co-founders Will Kim and Eric Wei

With the Karat Black Card, the startup is giving creators a credit card that they can use for their business-related expenses. When creators are approved, they receive a $250 bonus that can be applied to any future purchases of electronics or equipment. The card also comes with custom designs, 2% to 5% cash back on purchases and it even offers advances on sponsorship payments.

Underlying it, Wei said Karat has developed an underwriting model that works for creators. Instead of looking at credit scores, Karat focuses on the size of a creator’s following, their current revenue and whether or not they’re “business savvy.”

“It’s not just the number of followers you have, but what platforms,” Wei added. “I would rather have 100,000 subscribers on YouTube than 1 million on TikTok, because on TikTok, it’s all algorithmically driven.”

Karat has already provided the card to an initial group of creators, including TheRussianBadger, TierZoo and Nas Daily. Wei said the model is working so far, with no defaults.

For now, the card is aimed at professional, full-time creators who have at least 100,000 followers. Wei estimated that that’s a potential customer base of 1 million creators. Eventually, he wants to provide those creators with more than a black card.

“We’re building a vertical financial and biz ops experience,” he said. “People in earlier stages, we do want to get to them eventually, but only after we feel like we’ve developed enough of an underwriting model.”

#coatue, #crv, #funding, #fundings-exits, #karat, #kevin-lin, #media, #recent-funding, #signalfire, #startups, #y-combinator