Interview: The Creator Economy Meets Next-Generation Technology
Once dominated by entertainment and gaming companies, the creator economy, which enables skilled individuals to earn revenue from their creations online, is in the middle of a technological revolution.
bemyfriends is at the center of this shift, offering brands and creators a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution they can use to move fans off social networks and onto their own, unique platform. From there, the possibilities are endless. Creators can use bemyfriends’ bespoke platform builder, b.stage, to manage their fanbase, share videos, sell products and content, and much more.
bemyfriends’ co-CEO, Steve Seo, is an expert in the worlds of fandom and entertainment technology. Read on to see what Steve had to say about the evolution of the creator economy and the importance of data ownership.
Q: Why has the creator economy been growing so quickly?
The Web 2.0 era is often described as a revolution of knowledge. It was an era in which people shared information with the public, who would then take that information in and exchange it based on its value. Now, easy-to-carry mobile devices have become the norm, and we’ve seen the rapid development of social media and platforms that bring content and people together.
As a result, I think we’ve reached an era that will be defined by creators — one in which all kinds of people create and consume content. I believe this market has grown bigger because it provides people with valuable information, and it features an environment that supports various business models.
Q: What stands out to you most about the current state of the creator economy?
Although it is a different market, if you think about e-commerce, at first there were many open platforms — such as Amazon and, here in Korea, Auction and Interpark — and the e-commerce market was booming. Now, even the e-commerce industry has shifted off platforms, and more companies have their own brands and run their own e-commerce. [Korean fashion app] Zigzag is a good example. In other words, the big trend in the e-commerce market is that decentralized platforms continue to emerge.
Nowadays, Shopify, a solution that helps businesses build online stores, is being described as Amazon's biggest competitor. Solutions that help make e-commerce function are becoming big competitors in the e-commerce market.
A similar trend is taking place in the creator economy with Patreon and other domestic Korean fandom services. More services and more open platforms have emerged from places like social media and YouTube, creating an environment in which business models enable the value of content to be fully and conveniently exchanged. I think this creator economy will continue to grow.
Q: bemyfriends was established in January of last year but has already received 32.4 billion won worth of investment. What do you think makes this company so competitive?
It seems our investors recognized our experience, our ability, and how much our team can grow. We have experience creating a whole new market with Weverse, so our team’s skills have been verified. Although we are a Korean company, we’ve proven that we can be relied upon to provide global services. Above all, it seems that NFTs (non-fungible tokens), Web 3.0 and DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations), which have all been in the spotlight since the end of last year, are regarded as technologies that fit very well with current trends.
Q: Who are your primary customers and what problems are they looking to solve?
Users who want to strengthen their fandom and creators in various fields are all potential customers. A report published by CB Insights, a market intelligence firm, explains the creator economy industry by dividing it into several categories. b.stage has the advantage of combining technologies that have been divided across those categories into one.
In addition, the data provided by existing platforms is in its processed form, so creators are limited in terms of how they can use it. b.stage, on the other hand, enables direct data ownership. For example, even if I had 10 million YouTube subscribers, I would not have 10 million customers. If I wanted to leverage my customers, there would be no way to do so with YouTube because YouTube owns that customer data. There are many people in the market who have been asking for that kind of data ownership.
Q: Is it possible that other companies will introduce similar solutions to b.stage in the future?
If you look at Netflix, for example, its e-commerce service was created using Shopify. It is not that Netflix used Shopify because it did not have the ability to develop e-commerce. Rather, companies tend to make decisions with consideration for the direction that their platform is heading. They do not add functions recklessly just because they could be lucrative. OTT (over-the-top) companies are optimized for viewing and consuming videos, so they will approach other services, such as communities and e-commerce, with a slightly different problem. In that sense, I think our technology can complement current mainstream platforms and compete with them at the same time.
Q: As competition continues to heat up in the creator economy, what will be the future of large platforms such as YouTube and Instagram?
Having just launched our service, we can’t speak to the future of companies like YouTube. However, even they would likely acknowledge that they are experiencing a lot of change.
Originally, YouTube was a platform that provided traffic-oriented advertising revenue. Now, the company is trying to combine external business models in various ways. Creators are also challenging themselves by adding membership services and expanding the scope of their content beyond text and images.
I think the current mainstream platforms will continue to exist, and at the same time, new, large platforms like TikTok will continue to emerge. These large platforms will still serve as a very important means of informing people and securing new customers. However, no matter how large these platforms become, there will be limitations in terms of giving creators ownership and making the platforms themselves slightly more open.
Q: Is there a technology that you are particularly interested in?
I think that for existing players, simply adding new functions won’t be enough. Rather, there are many very interesting projects in Web 3.0, which was launched with the arrival of NFTs. We are seeing companies attempt to combine ownership of brands or products with a new business model. For example, NFTs can be used as tickets for offline events or for membership benefits.
I often think about how these innovations will affect existing platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. In fact, with Weverse, we saw a lot of interest from fans in the ability to authenticate and trade digital items.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges the creator economy is facing?
The answer comes down to diversity. Users cannot adjust the functions of existing mainstream platforms as they want, and as a result they are becoming too used to simply following and accepting whichever direction the platform takes them.
Take YouTube content, for example. When a certain type of content is popular, many creators will create the same thing. This is because if they do that, they can generate traffic and, by extension, advertising revenue.
Moreover, creators can lose time and money when they do not communicate as desired. Videos can require a lot of resources. However, creators’ means for communicating with fans can be text or image-based and can involve participation in the form of things like surveys and votes. I think new business opportunities open up when creators are given more freedom and are not limited to a specific format. I hope many more companies will join this industry and make it more diverse.
bemyfriends is an infrastructure company that is in some ways modeled after the white label format that is common in the cloud industry. Using the white label infrastructure, even if a company builds a service using another company's technologies, that service can be disclosed as a service the company developed by itself. It is a type of outsourced infrastructure technology that is popular with companies that want to build a business quickly and need innovative technology, but do not have the necessary technical manpower at hand. For example, technologies that help build online banks are called banking-as-a-service (BaaS) solutions, and innovations capable of quickly developing cryptocurrency-related technologies are called crypto-as-a-service (CaaS) solutions.
As the creator economy grows, more and more companies are relying on stable and advanced infrastructure designed specifically for the creator market. It is not surprising when you consider the market’s characteristics. There is a lot of video-oriented content, and traffic can increase rapidly at certain times. With this in mind, in the future, existing infrastructure companies will also release services to target creators, and there is a high possibility that more companies similar to bemyfriends will appear. Companies of this kind are gaining competitiveness not only by advancing their technologies but by adding support in areas relating to the law, marketing, and production.