In September 2022, we hosted our annual future of work Worklife Next Summit, a day-long event showcasing the founders, tech, and trends that are reshaping the workplace. Our summit taps into the next era of work life, where entrepreneurs help you break free from cubicles and outmoded processes. If you didn’t make it to our summit, no worries! We’re bringing it to you. In this session, we hear Brand Curator Michelene Wilkerson in conversation with Raedio President Benoni Tagoe about how he succeeds as a creative entrepreneur in a competitive work life.
If you have yet to binge the hilarious HBO comedy Insecure or catch the underrated movie The Lovebirds on Netflix, you’re missing out on one of the great comic creatives working today. Issa Rae is what ilovecreatives founder Puno would call a “slashie:” actor/writer/producer/director.
Who else to tell us what the meaning of a true creative entrepreneur is than the folks at Raedio -- Issa Rae's production company. Award-winning Executive Producer/Director Issa Rae went from a content creator on YouTube to now owning her own production company.
Meet Creative Entrepreneur Benoni Tagoe, President of Raedio
Behind every successful slashie is a team of hyper-talented creators, and Issa Rae brought on creative entrepreneur Benoni Tagoe to serve as president of Raedio.
A multi-hyphenate himself, Tagoe started in finance and real estate, founding The Bizz Plan, a site for financial guidance and entrepreneurship. He then launched his career in entertainment as assistant to the Jonas Brothers, and soon became part of their core team.
So how did he go from a finance background to succeeding in the music industry? We’ll let him tell you all about his amazing journey.
Meet creative entrepreneur Benoni Tagoe, as we discuss:
- Founders vs. content creators
- Funding the next creative entrepreneurs
- Finding success beyond money as a creative entrepreneur
More Than a Label: Creative Entrepreneurship in the Multi-Earner Era
It’d be easy to file Raedio under M for Music Label, but Benoni Tagoe and Issa Rae set out to create so much more. Applying the same concept as multiple streams of income to their production company, Tagoe and Rae explore more avenues than just music.
With musical artists, YouTube content, syncs, podcasts–including Webby Award-winner Looking for LaToya–and sound-tracking, Raedio lives up to its tagline, “Audio Everywhere.”
Tagoe sees these multiple streams of content creation as the next logical step in creative entrepreneurship.
“In terms of the next evolution [in content creation],” Tagoe says, “it's just gonna continue to grow. Because when you see someone doing one thing, you're like, Oh, I can pivot. I can take from that, or I can add onto it. And so it's a thing that's just never really gonna stop.”
More and more creatives are becoming founders, moving into a lead role by taking charge of every aspect of their content.
So what makes a content creator into a founder?
Creator or Founder?
If content creation is for everyone, what makes a creator and what makes a founder? Tagoe argues that these two are quickly becoming one and the same, but he lays out a few key differences:
Ownership as a Creative Entrepreneur
The Great Resignation has created the space and time for creative workers, content creators and celebrities to build the next big thing, allowing them to build brands on top of their creative careers. We see you Kate Hudson (Fabletics), Rihanna (Fenty), and Emma Chamberlain (Chamberlain Coffee).
For Tagoe, a new era of creative entrepreneurs is rising as more influencers opt to make their own brands.
“The lines are being blurred between a creator traditionally and then a founder, where they're almost becoming the same thing. Whereas a lot of times where a founder creates something, maybe you don't even need social media to create that thing. But you create it, you put it out into the world, you build it, and hopefully it's successful. I think the difference is that a lot of the times when we look at creators, we're looking at them through something that's started on social media and then branched out. Maybe it gets bigger on social media or it goes off of social media, whereas with founders, it could be any number of things that social media is not always required.”
Despite the interchangeable qualities of content creator and founder, Tagoe considers ownership as a path for creators to become creative entrepreneurs:
“This conversation around the buzzword of creator economy, I think that the lines are becoming blurred because we're having this generation who is now coming up in social media to where they have an idea or they're known for something, and then they're like, Oh, okay, I can be the center of everything. And then from that I can branch out and create products. Like the lowest hanging fruit has always been, I'm gonna do merch, right? Or if I'm on YouTube, I'm gonna make money. And now you're seeing situations where a lot of creators are just saying, I'm gonna find all the ways to make money, whether it be through brand partnerships, whether it be through IROs, etc.”
Just as Tagoe sees Raedio as an end-to-end solution for audio, more creators are taking control of their IP from start to finish and filling niche markets.
At Worklife, we’re excited to witness the rise of content creators as creative founders. And Tagoe would agree. This trend isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“Creators are looking for ownership now more than ever,” Tagoe says. “Creators are at this place now where they wanna own whatever it is that they put out. And not only do they wanna own it, but they wanna be able to monetize it in the ways that they wanna monetize. And so I think we're entering this interesting intersection of studio network, big company, etc., paying for a creator to do something.”
Self-Promotion as a Creative Entrepreneur
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, content creation was posting memes on Facebook, uploading Vines with your friends, and making vlogs on YouTube.
Now, creators curate their IP and brand between all their social platforms and websites.
“You're your own broadcast network,” Tagoe contends. “You can do everything on Instagram, you can post a photo, you can post a curated video that you edit, you can go live, you can collaborate with others.”
Self-promotion is a necessity in content creation. Getting views and clicks for your content is a big first step. Broadcasting to gain more viewers, followers, and consumers is the next jump to becoming a creative entrepreneur.
Monetization as a Creative Entrepreneur
One end goal of any startup is making money. Sustainable monetization is becoming more feasible for creative entrepreneurs thanks to social media and platforms like Shopify, OnlyFans, and our portfolio companies Pietra and Podia.
These last four companies allow content creators to have both ownership and a direct relationship with their audience. And for Issa Rae, building that direct relationship paid off even though it took a decade.
“Working with Issa for as long as I have, it’s all been about longevity. She started off as a YouTuber, and now she’s been nominated for awards. I’ve known her for 10, 11, 12 years at this point, but it all started in high school. She was honing her skills. And the number one thing for me is longevity…talking directly to your audience and having that built-in fan base, and being able to monetize directly, not through a third party. And so for us, one of the big initiatives for Raedio is to be able to start to forge a better relationship with our audience and then be able to monetize our audience directly.”
Tagoe offers some tips to monetize audiences directly including:
- Gated content for subscribers
- Text message marketing
- Email subscription list
- Merch (or your own line of products)
Funding the Next Creative Entrepreneurs
This is the year where talented and creative people become owners, not just consumers or paid talented. Today, even creators with fewer followers can launch a full-blown line in hours or days.
We started Worklife as a tangible way to support creators with low-code tools and founder-friendly financing (vs. predatory terms from old school Hollywood execs). And while we’ve invested in many of these tools, there’s still a lot of white space for design tools and business products for content creators.
“One of the things that I believe–you hear it all the time with investors–they're always like, we're investing in the people, right? We're investing sometimes like, Oh, I thought the idea was cool, but we're investing in the people. And I think that a company can oftentimes be more valuable if the founder has certain qualities, that the founder's a good spokesperson, if the founder is aspirational.”
Applying this investment strategy to the creator economy, Tagoe sees creative entrepreneurs as the ideal founders VCs want to fund. Why? Because they:
- Have a built-in audience
- Are great at communicating through audio, video, and writing
- Have strong networks of partners, creators to launch and grow
“When you think about creators now, they are coming into the world like, Hey, you know me as the person who posted XYZ video or had this moment that went viral and now I'm branching off and now I have a product or some type of IP that I am now selling to you, but you've already bought into me and now I'm going to give you something from me because you've already bought into me.”
Take Mr. Beast, one of the most successful YouTubers turned business mogul. An inspiration to many, Mr. Beast started a side hustle as a teen selling digital items for video game Counter-Strike. With now over 100 million subs on YouTube, his legacy goes beyond catchy viral videos. In the last few years, he’s launched multiple brands including:
- Snacking brand called Feastables
- MrBeast Burger
- Merch store ShopMrBeast
“I think that everyone is going to be very surprised at what creators like MrBeast can build, because of the mindset that we’ve developed around putting out our product [video content],” says Samir, co-host of Colin&Samir, a popular YouTube channel on the creator economy.
His secret sauce?
- Connecting content with commerce, creating physical and tangible products and experiences that people want
- Studying his audience in depth
- Creating brands that don’t rely on your content (See our piece on celebrity brands).
Tagoe shares that creators have strong personal brands and large, loyal followings, which can double as a built-in consumer base. Their product lines are often an extension of their interests and can be seamlessly integrated into their content, making it feel more authentic than a typical brand partnership.
Creator Funding Opportunities
Instead of relying on large investors, creatives are now able to retain more ownership of their companies through angel investments, crowdfunding platforms, and software that allows you to get cash directly from your community.
Platforms like Paperchain and Cashdrop offer solutions to receive payments and funds from fans without costly overhead or helicopter investors.
“There's this company, Paperchain, that's coming in with an algorithm that can forecast how much money you have coming in. So instead of getting paid in six months, we could pay you on a [specific] day, we could pay you on a week, etc. And once you get in the system and your catalog gets integrated into the system, you could start paying yourself out daily. These are companies that are offering money solutions to creators.”
Cashdrop Founder Ruben Flores-Martinez is filling this need by enabling creators and businesses to create an online store in minutes. You don’t need a whole dev team to build your platform. You can now sell online or in-person without seller fees from a smartphone.
But ultimately, success as a creator comes down to building the right product for your audience.
“Creators have more access to funding, especially if they have an audience. Creators are starting to find more ways to give their fans ownership of what they do. You know, a lot of the narrative and sales pitches that we hear now are, I could have gone and got money from this big company, but instead I'm coming to you guys [the audience] and I'm gonna get the money from you. So you can have ownership instead of the big company. It's kind of like Kickstarter meets venture capitals, but through your fans.”
By inviting your audience to invest in your content, you make them part of your creative process. This ownership by both creator and audience offers more than just a monetary investment: it creates personal investment.
Finding Success Beyond Money for the Creative Entrepreneur
For creative entrepreneurs, success goes beyond money.
For Tagoe, it’s all about finding the sweet spot of building something you love and something that can last for a long time (a.k.a. not a one-off viral piece of content). And during the pandemic, running a side hustle while working full time became the new standard. Why? Because more hobbyists want to become creative entrepreneurs for a number of reasons:
- Creative entrepreneurs control the entire creation process. From the first Instagram story to the latest merch sale, creative entrepreneurs have a big say in what and how it gets launched. The biggest difference is that creative entrepreneurs know their audience, so they build what their audience wants vs. going through rounds of approval if they worked with an existing company.
- Creative entrepreneurs want more a work-life that aligns with their personal goals. Turning something you love into a full-time career can reduce the stress of work-life balance. Many content creators are making a living with their off-time activities, leading more people to pursue creative careers.
- Creative entrepreneurs can manage career longevity. When you write the rules for the work, your audience follows. The Wong Fu Brothers went from YouTubers to now managing a company that makes films, ads, merch, while owning boba shops.
And as more content creators become creative entrepreneurs, they will need to learn how to pivot, move fast, build a killer team, and find a path to profitability in this hypercompetitive market. Tagoe agrees.
“The tipping point is going to be the creators that are running sound, astute businesses, and that the company that's giving them the money to execute feels good about that investment. The platforms are changing their algorithms all the time. The type of content that you put out three weeks ago that was killing it in views and killing it in engagement three weeks later, now, that type of content no longer does anything for you. And so as a creator, you have to be mindful of that, and you have to be able to manage the ebbs and the flows. And when the money starts to dry up, then you're gonna have to really pivot. And do you have the skills to pivot?”
At Worklife, we’ve already written high-conviction checks in the space. If you’re raising, reach out! We make decisions in 24-48 hours.
And if you’ve enjoyed getting to know Benoni Tagoe, meet more of our speakers from Worklife Next Summit: