An Invitation to Patreon, Kickstarter and Maven to Tackle the Global Youth Unemployment Crisis

Creative Startups CEO Alice Loy invites online creator platforms to invest in the world’s young creators

The global youth unemployment crisis has all the kindling it needs to explode into a full-blown catastrophe, seeping its ravages into communities far and wide. Around the world, nearly 1 in 5 youth (ages 15 – 24) are neither in school nor participating in the workforce. Moreover, youth are three times as likely to be unemployed as those over 25 years of age. You may ask yourself: why should youth unemployment rates in Mumbai or Malaysia matter to me?  A plethora of reasons shouts back in response: empathy, love, and concern for the wellbeing of other human beings. Not enough to compel you to care? OK: radicalism taking hold in countries around the world is fueled by young people without purpose, opportunity, or pride in identity; rising global inequality imperils health systems and efforts to fight disease; women’s rights expand alongside their participation in the formal workforce; and political stability is founded on families’ confidence in a prosperous and secure future. 

Given the title of this piece, the next obvious question you ask is: What does youth unemployment in Bhutan or Bosnia have to do with Patreon, Maven, and Kickstarter? And this is where we turn our thinking toward dampening the fire on the horizon while lifting up creators around the world. Over the past decade, Americans have witnessed the success of these private sector companies as an income-generating tool for creators. Patreon, founded in 2013, today states that over 200,000 creators engage with nearly 6 million “subscribers” each month on their platform. In less than ten years, it has driven $2 billion USD into the hands of creative entrepreneurs. Likewise, Kickstarter gained widespread media attention in 2012 when it announced it was on track to funnel more funding to arts projects that year than the USA’s National Endowment for the Arts: $150 million compared to the NEA’s $146 million. Just last month, Maven, a newcomer providing educational resources through “cohort-based courses” by and for creators, announced a $20 million investment led by Andreessen Horowitz, expanding their potential for supporting young artists and creative entrepreneurs. Founders Gagan Biyani, co-founder of Udemy; Wes Kao, co-founder of altMBA; and Shreyans Bhansali, early employee of Venmo and co-founder of Socratic, are poised to revolutionize educational opportunities for potential creators and address the youth unemployment crisis. 

While government-funded efforts and development agencies have been unable to shift the dismal trajectory of youth economic opportunity and as the arts remain consistently underfunded by government and philanthropic funding, these subscription-based, crowd-funding, or membership platforms seem destined to galvanize a new generation of creators able to monetize their talent. We await their expansion into developing economies with bated breath given the intractable challenges faced in building economic opportunities for youth. Patreon is currently focusing expansion efforts in Europe and just recently added services in Spanish, French, Italian, and German. Yet, as a flood of content from the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, and Africa fills the airwaves, we expect, and hope, more crowd-funding and membership/subscription models for these regions gain traction.

The coalescence of several technologies and market trends suggests strong potential for Patreon-like services in developing economies to lift up young creators. New services like Gigz can access or build the same technologies that make Patreon feasible: digital currencies and payment systems, widespread adoption of and access to high-speed internet, and the technological democratization of content production— and consumption. The rise of local creator platforms may do more than lift incomes, they may well enable freedom of expression and of the press, allowing journalists in repressive regimes to reach allies around the world.

Of course, the underlying business models utilized by Patreon and the like are not without faults and flaws. A comprehensive analysis by Brent Knepper points out that it is nearly impossible for American creators to fully make a living on Patreon-based sales alone. Note, however, that his analysis assumes a living wage of $15/hour— reasonable for assessing American creators’ income but irrelevant in developing economies like India where $5/hour is a living wage. While ten years ago it would be nearly impossible for a US-based consumer to discover and purchase the hilarity of an emerging female comedy star in Mumbai, like Prajakta Koli, subscription platforms close the gap between creator and customer. In other words, a female comedy star in India who thrills fans and receives $5.00 per month from 100 North American subscribers can earn her monthly rent! Arbitrage allows for American dollars to become a direct-line defense against poverty while uplifting creators whose talents match or exceed that of the heavily marketed pop stars of the day. 

Along those lines, while Kickstarter, Patreon, and their brethren are not a perfect solution for North American creators looking to earn a respectable living, founders and execs at these platforms do seem more interested in responding to the concerns of creators who voice their economic demands. In 2019, Patreon CEO apologized in a widely publicized blog post for “messing up” and dashed the plan to increase fees in the face of substantial push back from the Patreon community. When is the last time the CEO of Columbia Records apologized to musicians for decimating their livelihoods? Why don’t we hold radio stations accountable for their incessant droll of pop music tuned to the lowest common eardrum? Do you know a lot of poets making a killer living from publication rights they sold to McGraw-Hill? Old-school media megalodons gobble up creative talent and their intellectual property with zero regard to respectable compensation— even for stars like Dave Chapelle! This bodes poorly for the rising rap phenom in Chennai trying to reach a broader audience while paying rent and building confidence in a more prosperous and secure future.

Creative Startups has been at the forefront of the creator economy movement for over a decade. And we believe the best investment in the future of work lies in this new economy, especially when it comes to powering a tidal wave of new jobs for youth. We are not alone: at the 2013 UN Youth Forum, Néstor Osorio—then President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council—specifically cited the technology and innovation of the creative economy being able to open up “amazing new opportunities” for youth. Creative companies often bring to life heritage by marrying traditions with technology. Innovative entrepreneurial ventures offer new approaches to reverse trends in both employment and education among youth.

While many unemployed youth have plenty of digital skills, they often don’t know how to translate these skills into what employers are seeking. Likewise, employers might not have the creativity to recognize how well a youth’s non-traditional skill set might translate to the professional world. Platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter have massive potential to bridge this gap by providing ample support to youth in places where young creators, with the right support in skill translation, can sell their expertise or content to global audiences. Yet, it seems one of the only platforms investing in developing young talent effectively is Maven. The platform is unique in that it provides rising creators and entrepreneurs deep support in building effective online courses— raising the likelihood of the entrepreneur’s long-term financial success on the platform.

Creative Startups was recently selected among thousands of applicants to join Maven’s second cohort  as we build out a new course, Capital for Creators, a three day intensive for creative founders preparing to raise seed financing. The experience has lived up to its promise and in a couple of weeks over a hundred new courses— including ours— will go from being an idea to reality, increasing income for youth in markets around the world. If you’re interested in this course, we invite you to sign up for more information here.

To solve the growing instability and despair among global youth will require more than creator platforms and entrepreneurship initiatives like ours. But from where we stand, Kickstarter, Patreon and the like would reap both financial growth and the rewards of social impact if they considered following the example of Maven. We invite them to step up and join us as we stem the tide of youth unemployment through investing in creative entrepreneurs. 

About us:

Creative Startups is an unmatched leader at providing creative visionaries with the guidance they need to launch and grow their creative companies, from shaping early ideas to scaling globally. Their network of 350+ alumni companies span the globe, raising $298 million USD in venture capital, creating almost 900 jobs, and generating $79 million in new revenues. Their accelerator faculty teach at Stanford, Harvard, ArtCenter, RISD, and their 120+ global mentors are founders, executives, and investors with leading creative companies like Cirque Du Soleil, Disney, Embodied Labs, and Meow Wolf. While most accelerator programs focus solely on technological innovation, Creative Startup’s programming is based on the unique needs of creative entrepreneurs. 

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