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Lumanu has secured $12 million in funding to simplify the business of the creator economy, which includes people like Twitch livestream celebrities who are gaining big followings and disrupting traditional media.
Thanks to platforms like Twitch and YouTube, creators and influencers have generated an estimated $104.2 billion economy, but they could use more help getting their businesses into good shape. And Tony Tran, CEO of Lumanu, said in an interview with GamesBeat that his company has built a platform so that creators can get things done, from collaboration to working behind the scenes on business matters.
“Our vision long term is we want to be sort of the business companion for creators, no matter where they are on their journey,” Tran said. “They could be just starting out, incorporating their LLC, opening a business bank account, or making seven-digit incomes. Our sweet spot is those who have transitioned from doing this as a hobby to doing this as a full-time job.”
In the past nine months alone, Lumanu has seen significant growth of its network as additional creators come to understand the value of their content and embrace both creativity and entrepreneurship, Tran said. As creators elevate their businesses, this puts a greater emphasis on collaboration with clients, employees, and vendors. That can get complicated.
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Tran said Oakland, California-based Lumanu offers the flexibility required for creators to scale their businesses through stress-free solutions that set them up for success. Through this type of empowerment, Lumanu hopes to drive a creative revolution that not only transforms the way the industry operates, but puts creators in the driver’s seat.
“Our thesis is that the creator economy is a multiplayer game,” Tran said. “It’s not one creator doing things on their own. There’s a lot of collaboration behind the scenes.”
Origin Ventures led the round, with participation from Alumni Venture Group, Gaingels, and 500 Startups. The company also announced Origin Ventures partner Scott Stern will join Lumanu’s board of directors.
Christy Carlson Romano is a social media star, singer, and actress best known for her roles in Even Stevens and voicing the title character in Kim Possible. She said in a statement that her passion of making YouTube videos for fans is also her business and the industry is not always set up in a way that supports creators. She said Lumanu has been invaluable to her by eliminating so many of the pain points on the back end that she — and every creator — commonly face when operating businesses. This type of support benefits all creators and helps build a stronger creator community in which everyone can participate, she said.
CEO Tony Tran started the company with his cofounders Nhan Nguyen and Paul Johnson in 2017. He was sitting with his cofounders at a ramen joint in San Francisco. He and Nguyen were ambitious immigrants who grew up in South Carolina and paved different paths into the tech world. Tran had made his way to being a product manager at Google and then worked at McKinsey & Co. They all brought different skill to the startup.
“What was really exciting for us at the time was how the landscape of entrepreneurs was changing,” he said in an interview with GamesBeat. “Software developers, web developers, and designers are now moving to a world where there are a lot of independent creative entrepreneurs who were making a lot of money, and then building a great community and making great content on YouTube and Twitch.”
Their interest in this new way of shaping careers and participating in a new economy was piqued, and they figured out how to help solve problems for these creators.
“It could be between a model and a photographer; it could be between a YouTuber and an editor,” Tran said. “That really amazing Twitch stream might have a couple of people behind the scenes helping out, and a bunch of creators working with other creators, working with marketers, or brands, managers, and editors. And we’ve really built the platform that I think is the first true multiplayer experience for creators and their collaborators.”
Now Lumanu has more than 40 employees and it has raised $16 million to date. Tran hopes to double the staff. Their clients include Snoop Dogg and Jessica Alba. But many are in a sweet spot, ranging from $80,000 a year in income to $500,000.
“It’s an incredibly hairy world. And it’s one that when you don’t have it organized, and working with you, it is incredibly stressful,” Tran said. “You wonder how to increase your earnings or get credit or pay people.”
It’s not unlike Karat, which recently raised $26 million to advance credit to influencers and creators.
Lumanu recently introduced EarlyPay, a solution that lets creators get paid instantly. EarlyPay enables creators to easily send invoices and instantly receive payments for brand collaborations, instead of waiting the customary 30 to 60 days — or worse, not getting paid due to lack of familiarity or compliance with an invoicing or purchase order process. The platform also enables users to share and protect their brand, a process that can be complex and difficult to unwind if handled incorrectly.
“We’ve heard of horror stories where creators didn’t get paid on time, and barely could make payments to their people,” Tran said.
Scott Stern, a partner at Origin Ventures, said in a statement that the growth of the creator economy has been astounding. He said these self-made solo entrepreneurs are modern-day hustlers that brands use to reach two generations of digital natives. He said Lumanu has created an operating system for creators to collaborate with clients, brand partners, and one another quickly, intuitively, and seamlessly across the entire lifecycle of a project, from the very beginning through final payment.
“As the world evolves, we’re just seeing this sort of democratization of content, with a lot of freelancers and individual creative artists making money whether it’s on social platforms, through sponsorships, or even just doing business transactions,” Tran said. “I think the addressable market is just so much bigger than even the $30 billion YouTube paid over the last three years.”
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