Chris Vaccarino is credited by many as the man who built for the creator economy before it became a widely adopted thesis. In 2014, he introduced Fanjoy into the world as a way for content creators to monetize their communities.
The company has since scaled into one of the world’s fastest-growing and most trusted platforms for creators to launch merchandise and more.
We caught up with Chris to learn about the insights he captured in the early days of Fanjoy, and learn how they have been the core pillars on which the company is being built.
A Lightbulb Moment. Before Fanjoy, there was Chris, his brother’s band, and an observation well ahead of its time. Chris would tag along for concerts and tours to help the band interact with its fans and sell t-shirts.
With constant interactions with thousands of screaming fans, Chris could not help but think there was a broader lack of appreciation for “die-hard” fans. He shares, “I was blown away by how much of a superfan they were of my brother’s music and that they would take time out of their day, watch him play music, and then buy some products from them at the venue.”
What seems like a rather obvious observation today, was not so obvious in 2014. At this time Spotify was a six-year-old company, YouTube was nine years old, and social media was starting to embed itself as a social norm. What Chris was fascinated by was not that his brother’s band could garner fans to show out and listen to them play – instead, it was how passionate they were about supporting the band.
“It was like building a community around their music. I wanted to see if I could build a business around that,” Chris shared.
Subscription Box. Eager to prove a business model around community monetization, Chris began to work on Fanjoy. However, the first version of the company was very different from where it stands today.
Chris explained, “We launched as a subscription box for musicians and launched my brother’s band in the first one. We were trying to get more artists to sign up, but no musician wanted to do a subscription.”
The problem was that a lot of musicians are in a cycle that does not lend themselves to subscription boxes. They would write music, put out an album, tour, and then go away for two years and come back. The content was very sporadic for them, so it was difficult to build a personal connection with their fans when they were not performing or releasing new music.
The Pivot. At this point, Chris knew was one of the only people who understood something that most people did not – if you can find the right creator, merchandise would be a big hit within the community. So he began working with YouTubers.
He shared, “We launched the Penatatonix, who built their following on YouTube. I saw that they were more like a creator, where they kept putting out more and more content from their YouTube channel. This is like a different audience and a different kind of community than most musicians.”
This was the moment Chris understood what Fanjoy needed to become and for who. The strategy quickly turned into supporting a select group of YouTubers.
Fanjoy achieved over $1.2M in sales in just the first two years without a single employee. What Chris recognized so early on is that content creators lent themselves perfectly to merchandise because community relationships more closely resemble authentic, interest-based friendships than idol base relationships.
As Chris explains, “the fans who watch you on YouTube, feel a much deeper connection because you bring them so much value as a person on a much more consistent basis. Creators, nowadays, have gotten so much more personal.”
Why Merchandise? The better question based on evidence from today is, “why not a branded consumer product?”
Chris reminds us that the barrier to entry for merchandise is very low. With Fanjoy, you can launch a product within weeks and test the market to see if your fans actually want it. There is always the opportunity to build on top of merchandise.
Comparatively, traditional CPG products take years in production to build. It requires intensive time and capital investment upfront with no guarantee of success.
Chris shares, “We’ve had people with 7-10 million followers that can’t sell ten t-shirts.”
This is a very important point to highlight. The number of followers a creator has can be exceedingly deceptive. When creators launch a branded good, there is the additional pressure of recouping the original investment when the content and creator should never have gotten involved in commerce in the first place.
For example, there are Instagram models with millions of followers, who can not drive any sort of traffic to a website or landing page to sell a product. Instead, creators need to understand the level of intention and engagement from their followers.
The Ideal Creators. Chris highlights that there is a vast difference between content communities and audiences. One lends itself nicely to monetization via commerce. The other does not.
Chris explains, “I don’t really care anymore about follower count. I don’t think anybody should unless it’s more of like a brand awareness play. When you’re trying to convert a creator to sell products and drive revenue, you need clicks and need to be able to drive traffic.”
Here’s how Chris recommends that you think about it. Community is based on a group of people that’s active on all of [a creator’s] social channels. [They are] following them, commenting, engaging with them on Twitter, whereas, an audience could just be that they know who [the creator is] and they watch their videos.
The delineation is important to make because, to this day, it has served as one of the best heuristics for if a creator can actively monetize their following through a physical product.
Creators who have communities have superfans. Those are the individuals most likely to purchase and support the content creation efforts.
Platforms. Chris believes YouTube is still the platform to bet on to identify communities and superfans. Although, he recommends creators should have a presence across multiple platforms, “Youtube is number one.”
TikTok has largely proven to be a great way for content creators to get started but he still recommends all followers be pushed into Instagram and YouTube channels.
Additionally, there is one platform in particular that he believes will have a large breakout moment: Twitter.
Twitter & Newt. Chris has recently grown an obsession with Twitter creators who regularly churn out north of 15k+ likes on each of their posts. He believes it is one of the best direct response platforms for getting someone to click on a link.
Users are currently promoting their own newsletters and websites with a high click rate, so why can’t the same behavior be used by content creators for commerce?
Chris and his team are already moving quickly. Recently, they announced Fanjoy is doing more than helping creators sell merchandise. The company will be working with creators who have strong communities to launch branded CPG products.
What’s Next. In Q4 last year, the company partnered with TikTok creator, MilkTeaPapi, who also has successfully transitioned his audience onto platforms like Twitter. Each of his posts garners over 10k engagements from his “die-hard” fans.
Fanjoy and MilkTeaPapi launched a hot sauce to support his content around cooking. In under a month, the brand has been a raging success. Expect to see more CPG products from the company as they look to execute its mission of empowering creators.