The way influencers and creators currently get paid is “very transactional,” according to Nick Benson, founder of manufacturing and logistics company Atelier.
“Exploitative is the wrong word,” he said. “But it’s not a great financial structure for the creators themselves.”
Benson’s company is on a mission to become part of a new network for the creator economy, taking the nascent space beyond short-term brand partnerships and sponsored content and toward a new monetisation structure.
Examples of this trend are already emerging. Some influencers are choosing to create their own fashion brands to better control how they monetise their massive audiences. Platforms like Atelier are attempting to expand the possibilities in this space.
Benson says he believes that, as the influencer landscape has grown from its infancy in tandem with social media, monetisation strategies have overwhelmingly rewarded the companies influencers partner with.
By offering access to their audiences, these companies can continue to earn and benefit from the creator relationship, but the benefit to the creator is limited to a one-off or short-term payment.
“Ultimately, creators suffer,” Benson said.
‘Uber for manufacturing’
Atelier is a private manufacturing network that produces bespoke products for brands, influencers and creators.
While it keeps its client list under wraps, products across beauty, health and wellness created by the company are sold at retail giants including Sephora, Selfridges and Net-a-Porter, among others.
Benson founded the business off the back of a previous tech design firm, which helped companies build apps and other platforms for their business.
Through this, and a skincare company he was also developing on the side, Benson discovered traditional supply chains weren’t serving the needs of modern manufacturers. Atelier runs on the principle of ‘cloud manufacturing’, which he describes as “effectively the organisation of manufacturing resources into a network and then allowing people to access that network as a service.”
It’s essentially the same organising principle of sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb, but applied to products.
Since its founding in 2017, the company has experienced significant growth after initially finding it challenging to convince VC firms in Australia the concept was worth investing in.
“Tech investors didn’t really understand manufacturing,” Benson said.
The company now serves a mix of regular brands and creators. “We’d probably be around 20% to 30% creators, but increasing dramatically,” he said.
“We definitely see the power of ‘the creator’ as being central to Atelier’s trajectory moving forward.”
When Atelier brings creators and influencers onboard, they workshop how to best translate that person’s brand and values into a product that would resonate with their audience – whether that’s a skincare product, health and wellness product, or manufacturing “nail decals for some of the coolest nail artists.”
Benson says the company’s model can “literally support anyone’s vision.” “If it’s possible to be made, then we’ll be able to make it within that network,” Benson said, with the result being a “really beautiful, diverse mix of products.”
He said as venture capital investment in the creator economy grows, with firms like Andreessen Horowitz increasingly backing NFT and crypto ventures, he thinks the knock-on effect will benefit Atelier.
Value creation vs value capture
Benson said another facet of the value his company provides also comes back to the value creators and influencers can win from their audiences.
He described it as the difference between value creation and value capture. “Whatever amount of that value that they can capture is how successful they will be,” he said.
On one end of this spectrum are companies like Wikipedia that “create a tremendous amount of value and capture almost none of it,” compared with a social media giant like Facebook which is set up to create a “tremendous amount of value” from making money from its users.
He said that, up until now, creators have been on the Wikipedia end of this spectrum. “Obviously [they’re] getting paid, but by no means really capturing the value they create by having these super engaged communities,” he said.
A challenge to the traditional beauty industry
Benson said he thinks the future of consumer goods will follow the trajectory of the creator economy. The marketing teams at global beauty conglomerates should be worried, he said.
“Your Unilevers, your Procter and Gambles, L’Oreals – the big gorillas in the room of the beauty industry have such a filtered engagement with their community that they’re really struggling to connect to that community in order to create relevant products,” he said.
In contrast, Benson said, creator and influencer-led companies like US-based direct-to-consumer beauty company Glossier.are creating products that solve a need and that directly speak to their audience.
“I think, ultimately, we’re going to end up with products as a direct result of the creator economy that are solving more problems that are more valuable to people,” he said.