As an independent music artist, I’ve been trying to source investors. What they’re investing in isn’t a tech startup or a new clothing company, it’s me. 

These sorts of venture deals — investments in people, as opposed to companies — have started to seem a little less bizarre. Companies like Spotter and Jellysmack underwrite YouTubers’ back catalog in exchange for upfront cash, while Creative Juice will fund a creator in exchange for a cut of revenue over a set term. Mythical, the entertainment studio owned by YouTube stars Rhett and Link, launched a $5 million venture capital fund for creators in 2021.

Also in 2021, Slow Ventures made a deal with Marina Mogilko, a language learning YouTuber and co-founder of the platform LinguaTrip. In exchange for $1.7 million in capital, she will give the venture firm 5% of her earnings for 30 years — plus, they keep that 5% stake in any IP she develops within those three decades. As she explained to VICE, “If I wrote a book in 2030, and it’s still selling in 100 years or whatever, they’re still getting 5% of that revenue.”

“Honestly, with any seed-stage investment, it’s risky,” Lightcap told TechCrunch. But investing in human beings as opposed to companies creates extra barriers, legal concerns and moral considerations. “A portion of our creators may wake up in five years and be like, ‘No, I want to go to law school.’”

“The way we keep the cost of capital low is to be deeply aligned with the creator over the long term,” Lightcap said. “We want to be able to say that in year seven or whatever, if they launch a really interesting company and it takes off and that’s where the value is, we need to be able to participate in that upside to keep the cost of capital inexpensive.”

Investors are looking for creators whose brain is a 50/50 creative-business split. “We want to back creators that have multiple ideas and want to be a little more risk-on, and to have more at bats, versus, say, just making a couple of hires and generally investing in content,” Lightcap told TechCrunch.

From a venture standpoint, creator businesses might even be more appealing than an early-stage startup, since creator businesses will almost always be profitable by the time they’re big enough to catch a firm’s eye. Creators generally work toward profitability from day one, whereas it’s normal for even a late-stage startup to be losing money.

 Is it ethical to treat a human being like a company and make a deal encompassing all of their potential IP? And is it beneficial for venture funds to underwrite people anyway? If a startup founder is caught doing something awful, they can usually leave and the business may eventually recover. But people are different.

Amid allegations of a sexual assault that occurred on his filming set, YouTube star David Dobrik stepped down from Dispo, the photo app that he co-founded. Three venture firms that invested in Dispo — Spark Capital, Seven Seven Six and Unshackled Ventures — severed ties with the app, some promising to donate any possible profits from their investment to organizations helping survivors of sexual assault.

Then again, even “canceled” creators can still maintain an audience. Despite an additional controversy about a near-fatal accident on Dobrik’s set, the 27-year-old remains on the map. He runs a pizza shop in Los Angeles, and he’s one of the top creators on Snapchat.

Earlier this week, The Information posted a list of 50 most promising startups in 2023. Take a look at the full list here

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