Fueling the Creator Economy through a financial service suite

Embedded Partners
Sima Gandhi talks about fueling the creator economy

Welcome to the SMB Tech Innovators podcast, powered by Gusto. We explore the intersection of financial services and vertical SaaS strategy and discuss how software combats the rising complexity of running a business. We aim to share stories, advice, and best practices from the leaders and investors behind today’s cutting-edge platforms. 

There was a time not long ago when digital content creation was only considered a hobby. Now, content creation can supplement income or even be a full-fledged career.

Today, Sima discusses what defines a creator, why they should treat themselves like a business, and how Creative Juice was built to handle every financial inquiry a creator could have.

Embedded finance topics include:

  • Sima’s diverse background and joining Plaid early on
  • What is a creator?
  • Could Creative Juice have existed a decade ago?
  • How traditional financial institutions view the market of creators
  • The risk for Creative Juice and its creators
  • Advice for founders in the creative economy
  • How to determine the next best project to take on with so many options

Learn more about Creative Juice at https://www.getjuice.com/

(The following was transcribed and edited for clarity) 

Following your beliefs can make the difference

In your words, tell us about your journey and how that led you to Creative Juice today

During my journey, I have found great inspiration in creators who passionately pursue their dreams. This has shaped my career, which revolves around following your passion. 

After graduating from college, I sought guidance from accomplished individuals in various fields. I asked them how they forged their paths to success; their response surprised me. They advised me to follow my beliefs. 

Although it seemed vague at the time, reflecting now, my enthusiasm for tackling challenging problems and creating value has been a consistent driving force in my career.

A newfound passion leads to making a significant impact in a new space

You joined Plaid in its beginning stages when not many companies knew about it, how did your paths cross?

After moving to New York to join American Express’ startup group, I realized that my entrepreneurial spirit thrived in a faster-paced, more agile setting. I yearned for the chance to build something and bet on myself, which led me to consider joining a startup—a concept that felt unfamiliar at the time.

Working with financial products resonated strongly with me when contemplating what I wanted to dedicate my time and energy to. This realization occurred in fintech companies’ early stages. I desired to delve deeper into the infrastructure and technical aspects rather than pursue lending. 

My role at Plaid, a new banking-as-a-service platform at the time, involved navigating partnerships with financial services companies, shaping policy, and spearheading the strategy to facilitate data access. I believed I could make a significant impact in this position, and it aligned perfectly with my desire to move the needle and contribute to the growth of something meaningful.

Creating an opportunity from a need in the creator economy

Tell us about the path that led you to co-found and become CEO of Creative Juice by venturing into this frontiers

I crossed paths with my now co-founder Ezra Cooperstein, who had extensive experience in the creator space. We discussed the intersection of creators and financial services, and realized creators are businesses, and they make substantial incomes. My aha moment was when I noticed my kid was not watching cartoons anymore, he was watching YouTube videos. 

It became clear that creators need help accessing quality financial services and should be recognized as businesses by traditional banks. We set out to develop a user-friendly online business bank account specifically designed for creators that recognizes them as businesses and provides all the necessary tools to manage them in one place, eliminating the need for additional accounting tools like QuickBooks and offering a better user experience.

Additionally, we aimed to assist in accessing funding for growth. Recognizing the value of their video catalogs on platforms like YouTube, we started underwriting creators and offering them funds to fuel their growth. We’ve witnessed creators receiving funding and then hiring editors, leading to a doubling of their revenue within just four months.

We’re only at the beginning of our journey, and we anticipate the flourishing of this economy of creators over the next decade.

Demystifying the creator community, a 50 million people market

How would you define what a creator is? 

My personal take on a creator is somebody that produces content, whether for entertainment purposes or content that showcases their products or services. Essentially, anyone who creates and shares content on mobile apps like LinkedIn, Instagram, Amazon, or YouTube falls into the creator category.

Looking ahead, the definition of a creator and that of a digital business or digital entrepreneur will merge over the next five years. In the past, starting a business required finding a physical retail location, paying rent, stocking inventory, and managing various logistical aspects. Now, you can create a company with zero upfront costs by setting up an e-commerce shop where customers can checkout from their couch. Despite this shift, I still consider these individuals creators because they utilize content to attract customers, just like one might have posted flyers in coffee shops in the past. 

The ability to leverage content to connect with audiences and drive new revenue streams has transformed how we approach business. Creativity and digital platforms have opened up new opportunities for individuals to pursue their passions and turn them into thriving ventures.

Unleashing the power of user-generated content and monetization opportunities

Timing is an important factor for innovation, how does the present moment favor Creative Juice’s existence? 

The emergence of YouTube as a dominant platform has occurred primarily in the last five years. As a result, underwriting creators and leveraging YouTube data for growth is still in the early stages. Even though we are entering a period of economic uncertainty, these platforms continue to experience substantial growth, and user-generated content remains a powerful force. 

Younger generations, particularly children, engage with user-generated content in a unique way. Gen Zers, in particular, consume content through platforms like TikTok, where they find news, fashion recommendations, and more. Instagram and TikTok have evolved into platforms resembling online directories, offering inspiration and influencing purchasing decisions.

The perception of digital creators, traditional banks vs. Creative Juice

When you think about traditional banks, how do they see creators today and how is it different from Creative Juice’s perspective? 

Opening a business bank account can be a cumbersome process, often requiring in-person visits to prove the legitimacy of the business and mitigate the risk of fraud. Traditional banks may struggle to recognize content creators on platforms like YouTube as legitimate businesses, perceiving their work as a hobby rather than a viable source of income. High fees and minimum balance requirements also deter creators from accessing essential banking services

Creative Juice aims to simplify this experience by reducing barriers to entry and acknowledging the blurred line between full-time and side businesses, giving creators a better customer experience. By understanding the unique needs of creators, the platform enables entrepreneurs to leverage tax deductions and other business-oriented benefits, encouraging growth and empowering them to focus on their creative pursuits without undue stress about the financial aspects.

 Simplifying banking and financial services to empower content creators

How are you expanding your platform’s horizons and diversifying financial services

Creative Juice aims to be a comprehensive solution for running a business seamlessly. Capital plays a vital role, and the platform provides an easy way to set up a business bank account with a debit card or credit card, securing your funds. Invoicing becomes hassle-free, allowing our users to generate and receive payments effortlessly and in real-time.

Creative Juice also offers accessible funding options to address cash flow challenges, helping creators avoid the common pitfall of financial instability. The platform goes beyond traditional banking by simplifying complex regulations, assisting with tasks like sending payments to contractors, and handling tax forms like 1099s. By consolidating all aspects of a business workflow related to finances through embedded fintech, Creative Juice empowers creators to manage money efficiently and offers a more comprehensive banking experience.

Overcoming investor perceptions in an emerging market

What are your reflections on raising capital for a creator economy startup and what is essential advice for entrepreneurs in emerging markets working with venture capital investors?

The size of the creator economy remains uncertain due to its multifaceted nature and the diverse avenues through which creators can generate income. Platform revenue is commonly used as a metric but fails to encompass the entire scope. It is more advantageous to examine the broader market and use cases of digital entrepreneurship. As for investor understanding, it varies. Some investors grasp the concept and potential, while others may need help to relate or see the value and profitability

As a founder, I don’t take it personally and instead focus on finding like-minded individuals who believe in my vision. Surround yourself with supportive people willing to learn, adapt, and grow alongside you. Look for investors who understand SMB focus, online entrepreneurship, and the utilization of unique data sources, and work relentlessly towards your goals.

Navigating the product roadmap, decisions and prioritization in a sea of possibilities

How do you prioritize and select new features when embedding into your platform?

Several factors come into play when determining the appropriate features to develop and prioritize to include into a product or service ecosystem

  • Engage with customers: Comprehending their needs is crucial. However, rather than solely relying on individual feedback, avoid creating a product that attempts to please everyone.
  • Stay informed: Think about what resonates with users and adds value to their experience. Intuition and gut feelings play an essential role in this process along with solid data. 
  • Analyze aligns with your product suite: From a growth perspective, one must strategically order feature releases, prioritize those that align with the product suite, and contribute the most value to customers or creators.
  • Incorporate marketing as a tool: This helps test and understand user engagement to analyze metrics like click-through rates, sign-ups, and user inquiries and gain insights into what appeals to users and effectively communicate the value proposition.

Ultimately, the product roadmap should focus on developing features that serve as effective painkillers, solving real problems, and improving users’ lives. The goal is to introduce changes incrementally, encouraging users to adopt new behaviors without overwhelming them.

Brian Busch Brian is currently Head of Marketing at Gusto Embedded; the only payroll API with 10 years of experience and actionable data behind it. Before joining Gusto, Brian held leadership positions at Cloud Elements, Kapost, and Captricity. He holds a BS in finance and a BA in philosophy from Boston College and an MBA from the Cal Berkeley Haas School of Business.
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