Avinash Gandhi, Head of Creator Partnerships at Patreon, sat down with Ruckus’ Sr. Director of Marketing, Kayci Baldwin to discuss how brands and creators alike can leverage partnerships and create meaningful impact.
In this first clip, Avinash discusses how brands can become hyper-focused on working with a specific creator regardless if they’re actually the best person to represent their brands. Avinash’s advice? Both brands and creators need to be more choosey and vet who they work with so that both parties get value from the relationship.
Next, he shares how creators looking to make a big impact need to focus on transcending vitality (and ergo a finicky algorithm) to create an audience with a genuine connection to their work and the community.
Watch the Full Interview
About the Speakers
Avi Gandhi leads the Creator Partnerships team at Patreon. An experienced Go-To-Market leader, Avi has spent the last 15 years leading partnerships, marketing, and content creation teams at the intersection of tech and entertainment – a space now known as the Creator Economy.
Before joining Patreon, Avi launched and managed Wheelhouse DNA, the award-winning digital and audio content division of Jimmy Kimmel and Brent Montgomery’s Wheelhouse. Previously, he was one of the first digital media talent agents at WME, where he was recognized by Forbes as 30 Under 30 and Variety as one of Hollywood’s New Leaders for being one of the first Hollywood agents to represent digital creators, pioneering new D2C content models and helping to launch WME’s podcast and gaming businesses. He started his career while an undergrad at Yale, leading a team of content writers for the venture-backed startup Wikinvest.
Host: Kayci Baldwin has been building and growing communities for impactful brands for nearly a decade. She was a co-founder of Six Things, a brand and digital creative agency dedicated to working with underrepresented founders.
- (00:27): Having worked with creators and influencers for almost a decade, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the industry?
- (03:58): Looking forward, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing creators in the next few years?
- (09:37): What impresses me most about Patreon is the diversity and breadth of creators – from podcasters and visual artists, to musicians and community builders. What do you see as the biggest factor in a creators’ success on Patreon?
- (14:48): As creators continue to develop their audiences, the standards for brand partnerships are changing rapidly – what advice do you have for brands that are looking to establish lasting partnerships with high impact creators?
- (21:31): What advice do you have for aspiring creators looking to build and connect with an audience? Is it ever too early to start a Patreon?
Read the Full Transcript
Kayci Baldwin (00:00):
Amazing. Hi, Avi, great to connect with you. And so excited to dive in and hear a little bit more about your incredible experience at Patreon and beyond. So having worked with creators and influencers for what seems like your entire career, definitely at least a decade, what are some of the biggest changes that you’ve seen in this industry over the last 10 years or so?
Avinash Gandhi (00:27):
Yeah, it’s a great question. And thanks for having me. So I mean, a lot has changed. So I started working with creators back before anyone called it the creator economy. I was one of the first agents in Hollywood at William Morris Endeavor now Endeavor to start like representing these YouTube stars, Instagram stars, back then Vine stars, which should date me pretty effectively. And I think one of the biggest things that’s changed is the overall perception of value. You know, the question that I got the most when I was first started to represent these creators is, well, that’s great. They’ve got big followings, but do they make any money? And, you know, the answer then was not really because no one really understood their power. It took brands and platforms and entertainment companies and media companies a long time, years you know, three to five years to really realize the power and the influence that creators have with their audiences and in culture in general.
Kayci Baldwin (01:48):
I mean, it seems like a lot of brands still haven’t right. You still get a lot of brands really undervaluing the work that’s being done there.
Avinash Gandhi (01:56):
Yeah, I, I, I would say that that is a generational problem. I think that the reality is the majority of these creators digital and native creators their audiences are below the age of 35, maybe 40, right. And leadership at a lot of brands is still 40 to 60 plus. And so when they think about who celebrities are, who is influential, they’re looking through their own lens. And so they, a lot of them don’t know or track or follow these creators because they live in digital-native spheres. And so as the ecosystem in the industry has changed and as kind of the previous generation of leadership has started to retire and age out, and a younger generation of leadership has started to step up. We’re starting to see brands and other companies that partner with these creators media companies and tech platforms, et cetera start to shift their thinking, start to see the value and start to be willing to make the investments that are necessary now, because that value has increased. Right? When, when I started, it was unimaginable that a creator could make even a couple million dollars a year. Now we have creators that are making tens of millions of dollars a year and some even making hundreds of millions of dollars.
Kayci Baldwin (03:28):
A year. Yep. No, that makes sense. I mean, and it’s definitely gone from, if you’re looking at like 2010 where social media and creators or influencers were at the time to now it’s definitely gone from being like the wild, wild west new frontier to something where we have seen what works. And, and there is a lot of like best practices, which just didn’t exist when, when you entered the space. But what about looking forward? What do you see as some of the biggest challenges that are, are facing creators in the years ahead?
Avinash Gandhi (03:58):
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I think that well, I think first of all, like mental health is a big problem. And I think this is true in the creator space and in the general population as well, but looking it’s easy for a creator, who’s building an audience and sort of growing their business because that’s what this is. Right? All of these creators really are entrepreneurs to look at other bigger creators and, and think to themselves, I’ve got to get there. And in doing that, that makes it hard for them to enjoy and value the success they’re having now, because let’s face it, even having a small audience that’s following you and passionate about you is success. That’s a win. Yeah. And so I think kind of this like grass is greener you know, comparative feeling is going to be a challenge for a lot of creators to, to get over and get through.
Avinash Gandhi (05:00):
I think that saturation is going to end up being a problem. The more creators there are, I mean, this is basic economics, right? Supply goes up, demand is the same. And you know, the, the value goes down or the, the amount of followers that any given creator could potentially get goes down. And that’s you see that happen in these like maturity cycles on social platforms where like, now it’s really hard to get a YouTube audience. And so a lot of creators start on TikTok where it’s a little bit easier to get an audience. Eventually TikTok will get oversaturated. It’s supposedly already getting there and it’ll be harder to build a TikTok audience. So then what’s the next platform where you can be an early mover and build an audience. So I think that’s also has historically been and will continue to, to be a challenge.
Kayci Baldwin (05:46):
Yeah, that definitely makes sense. I mean, the more people that are creators, the more people you have even like paying attention to their ratios in terms of followers, following, and being more cautious about the content that they’re consuming or more intentional, I should say which I imagine contributes to it, being harder to build a real fan base as well. So that totally makes sense. What about, I mean, have you thought about how the, like, the metaverse plays into this as we’re just kind of all existing in these digital spaces more and more?
Avinash Gandhi (06:17):
Yeah, I’m, I’m kind of a, a metaverse I wouldn’t say a metaverse skeptic, but I think that it’s a buzzword that’s overused and overhyped, and I think most people actually have a firm grasp on what it actually means. Like, I don’t see the metaverse as, you know, VR or Ready Player One kind of a thing. I think we already have many metaverses right. Fortnite is a metaverse and Roblox is a metaverse. And you could argue that many of the social media platforms are metaverses, heck even Snapchat. You could argue that all of the AR tech that they’ve built enables them to be their own sort of social metaverse where people are communicating with each other through chat that is augmented with AR tech. So I think that it’s going to be something that’s more pervasive in our lives, but not something that the average consumer thinks of as metaverse nobody that plays Roblox thinks of Roblox as a metaverse.
Avinash Gandhi (07:19):
They think of it as a game. Yeah. That they play people think of Snapchat as a chat app. You know, I think that, so I think the concept of metaverse is very much like a Silicon valley tech buzzword that doesn’t necessarily translate to the mass market. But I think that creators are already there. They’re not necessarily think about it as the metaverse, but there’s a whole ecosystem of creators who make a lot of money producing content within Roblox or Fortnite or Eldon Ring or whatever it might be. And there’s a whole ecosystem of creators who, who even are augmenting or, or making their own. On Patreon, We have a lot of creators who make mods for games like Grand Theft Auto, which is its own metaverse. And these creators make a lot of money from people who want to customize or upgrade or enhance their experience of whatever game they’re playing or metaverse they’re in, using that tech.
Avinash Gandhi (08:24):
And so I think it’s going to be more persuasive. I think the definition of creator is going to change as well. I think like we’re thinking about, or a lot of people think about creators as people who write or who take photos or who make videos, but as coding becomes more pervasive in the education system, as it becomes easier because of all these various tools and platforms that are being built. I think that we’ll have more creators who are modifying and changing how people interact with these metaverses if you will.
Kayci Baldwin (09:00):
I love that. Ah, thank you. And, and that really, I mean, that takes me so seamlessly to my next question, because what, one of the things that like, I think is so cool about is just the breadth and diversity of creators that you have on the platform. There’s like podcasters and musicians and visual artists and like community builders, cool authors that I have on my, on my bookshelf at home. And so, yeah, like I think with other, some of like the platforms that you might consider competition, they tend to be a little bit more niche. So when you’re partnering with creators and, and helping them be successful on Patreon, what do you see as one of the biggest factors there?
Avinash Gandhi (09:37):
I think the single biggest factor is how invested the creator is in building a membership. I think that it is not, it is much harder to get people, to put their credit cards down than it is to get them to watch something for free or to read something for free. And so it’s really easy to think, Hey, I’m just going to put some stuff up and ask my fans and they’re going to subscribe. And then to get discouraged if that doesn’t magically happen, right. The creators who are the most successful, regardless of size, we have creators who have a, like 10,000, 20,000 fans who are making 10, $20,000 a month. And that’s because they’re very invested in understanding their audience, building the community, engaging with their fans understanding what they want and then giving it to them. And that takes time. It takes interaction. It takes yeah energy to produce content. It takes effort to think strategically about what’s working and what’s not, it takes sort of willingness to take risks in trying new things that your audience might be suggesting, even though you’ve never done it before.
Kayci Baldwin (10:55):
Yeah. What I’m hearing is humility, which I think is like incredible. I mean, to be able to, I’m a marketer. So I think about like AB testing and just, you know, like, like really being engaged or tapped into the way your audience is responding to you. But I think that, I imagine that that can be something for a lot of artists and creatives that can get in the way, because you’re really attached to what you want to produce, what you want to put out into the world. But yeah, making sure that you’re actually listening to your audience and being willing to, to produce the things that are resonating with them. That definitely makes sense.
Avinash Gandhi (11:27):
Yeah. It’s got to be a two way conversation. It’s got to be something that the creator is invested in and that by the way goes for everything, right. A brand campaign isn’t going to be successful if the creator’s not invested in making it successful. And so I think like in general, the advice for my advice for creators is to only do things that they are really willing to go all in on. And my advice to potential partners with creators is to only partner with creators who are really excited and interested in what you’re doing.
Kayci Baldwin (12:04):
Yeah. Do you think that as these spaces become more crowded and there’s just more and more creators that they’re, that it’s like that the standard of commitment becomes higher because the audiences become a little bit more discriminating, I guess, in the quality that they’re expecting or the consistency that they’re expecting.
Avinash Gandhi (12:27):
I think it’s a really good question. We don’t, we don’t know yet. I think it’s very possible. I mean, look at Netflix’s recent you know earnings performance. The market has gotten dramatically more competitive in the last two years. And as a result you know, yes, Netflix has some of the best original program, but it’s got a lot of filler too. So I think that’s a really interesting point. I don’t think we’re there yet in the creator economy, but it, I think it goes to my point earlier about saturation being a risk down the road and being something that is going to be something that creators need to navigate. I think creators will have to find a way to make a living or build a business with potentially fewer audiences, because time is limited, right? Like that’s the limiting factor across everyone.
Avinash Gandhi (13:29):
Any given consumer can only consume media for a certain amount of hours a day. You know, it’s like Reed Hastings said on a earnings call several years ago that Netflix doesn’t compete with TV. It competes with Fortnite. And and that’s, I think the way that creators have to think about it is like, what if your fan is going to spend time watching or reading or, or consuming something, how do I make it mine? And if they’re going to spend their money on something. Right. Which is what we’re always thinking about at Patreon is, is membership. How do I make sure that that money is coming to me as the creator by offering real value?
Kayci Baldwin (14:19):
Yeah. No, that’s the question. That’s a big one. Okay. So as creators kind of like formal formalize them themselves as businesses, right. I think we’re seeing people really take control of building their own audiences and developing standards for brand partnerships where standards right. Did not exist when you entered the industry, which I think we talked about earlier. What advice you have to the brands that are looking to establish lasting partnerships with really impactful creators?
Avinash Gandhi (14:48):
Yeah. I think brands need to be less choosy and what I mean by and on one hand and more choosy on the other hand. So I guess what, what I mean by that, I think like, you know, I’ve worked on the brand side in the past you know, at in my previous role at Wheelhouse to help build Wheelhouse Labs which is their marketing division and, and works a lot with with creators. And in previous roles before that ran marketing for game companies, et cetera. So one thing I’ve seen a lot with brands and many partners, this also the case in entertainment is sort of fixation on a single creator, right? The, the creative team brainstorms and they decide, oh, this creator, this is the creator we have to partner with. And that is then the path they go down, regardless of whether or not the creator’s actually into it, regardless of whether or not the creator is willing to go all the way to deliver the value that the brand needs.
Avinash Gandhi (15:59):
And I’ve seen time and time again, that when that, when that connection isn’t right it doesn’t work for anyone. The creator feels burned, the brand feels burned there. There’s, there’s a reason that the majority of creators don’t have return business with brands. That’s a problem. Yeah. And so the advice I always give creators is only work with brands and partners of any kind that you’re excited to say you’re working with. And if you’re going to work with someone, go all in and make sure they get their value, because you want them to come back. If you, if you over deliver, they’re going to come back and give you more money. Right. And I think likewise for brands, I think they need to be really thoughtful about who they work with, not just from a creative alignment perspective, but also from like a vetting perspective, from an understanding is the creator actually into me as a brand, into my product, or are they just doing this for the money?
Avinash Gandhi (16:58):
Cause if they’re just doing it for the money, you are not going to get the value that you’re looking for. And that, yeah, that’s going to take a lot longer from a process perspective. You’re going to, there’s going to be creators that you can’t get a meeting with ahead of making an offer a firm offer ahead of negotiating, closing an offer. And that might be okay, you might just need to pass, right? Even if you love this creator, you love their content. You’ve always wanted to work with them as the brand manager or the influencer marketing exec. But it doesn’t matter because if you make that deal and then you meet them and they’re like not excited, they’re just doing it for the money you are screwed.
Kayci Baldwin (17:40):
Yeah. I just had a conversation recently with a podcast marketing agency and they were talking, I mean, about the same thing and just how you can have a podcaster that you are really excited about working with for your brand, but they’ll, you know, record the 15 second clip and they, they don’t care and their audience can tell they don’t care versus the person with a way smaller following. Who’s actually really passionate about the brand and will give you like a, an excited, energetic 30 seconds that will perform way better than anything, like regardless of how that 15 seconds or how many streams it got, you know?
Avinash Gandhi (18:14):
The problem, to be honest. And, and I can say this, I was a talent agent for six years at the beginning of my career, like the problem is the, is representation. It’s the, it’s the system that representation has built over the last several decades. It’s this idea that in order to be in business with a creator, a celebrity, an influencer, you have to make the deal first. You can’t even talk to the creator until you’ve made the deal. A lot of that’s what a lot of represent representatives sort of push and yeah, that is shortsighted and transactional, and it doesn’t end up leading to long term business. Now there are certain talents where they have a reputation for being amazing to work with and for really leaning in. And they’re only going to make those partnerships with brands that they love because they can, but for 80 to 90% of talent, they’re trying to make a living. They’re trying to build their businesses. They’re trying to, you know, pay their mortgages. And so if their agent comes to them and says, Hey, I just made a deal with this brand. They’re offering you this much money. It’s a lot of money. Do you want to do it? Most creators are going to say say yes, if it’s enough money to overcome their, like at best, you know lack of caring and at worse distaste for a brand. And that’s a problem.
Kayci Baldwin (19:48):
Yeah, no, I think that there, I mean, I’m a big podcast listener and I feel like once I’ve listened to one or two ads that feel halfhearted or like misaligned with the values of the person who’s on the podcast, I’m going to skip the rest of your ads that I get on your show. Like, I’m not going to, I’m not going to stick around.
Avinash Gandhi (20:05):
Yeah. Within versus same thing in podcast. Cause podcasts have ad networks, the ad networks sell the media to the brands and then just tell the podcaster, Hey, this is the ad you’re reading. And the podcast just says, okay, for the most part, unless they’re like morally opposed. And so that’s what happens and that’s not really good for anyone and it doesn’t lead to return business.
Kayci Baldwin (20:29):
But yeah, when you are a little bit more discriminating or like intentional about the brands that you partner with, and I think your audience will often recognize that. And like for the ones that I trust I’ll tune in and listen and be like, I know she wouldn’t be recommending this or she didn’t actually like it…
Avinash Gandhi (20:46):
That’s exactly right. It’s better for the creator. It’s better for the brand. Like I firmly believe that, you know, partnerships require like mutual interest. And sometimes that means, most of the time that probably means you should probably have a conversation before you make a deal.
Kayci Baldwin (21:04):
Yeah. I hate to hear that. That is how it is happening.
Avinash Gandhi (21:07):
But that’s the standard. That’s just the, anyone who’s worked with an agency management company podcast network. That’s how it goes. And it’s, it’s a challenge.
Kayci Baldwin (21:18):
Okay. One last quick question for you. Do you have any advice for aspiring creators that are looking to build and connect with a new audience? And is it ever too early to start a Patreon?
Avinash Gandhi (21:31):
I think that creators who are emerging should focus first and foremost on building an audience that cares.
Kayci Baldwin (21:42):
Avinash Gandhi (21:43):
What is, what does that mean? So lots of creators are like, oh, I’m just going to go on TikTok and make videos. And you know, if one of them goes viral, I’ve got an audience. Well, yeah, that’s true. But the majority of that audience doesn’t actually care about you. They are, they found you on their For You page. They smash like, or maybe follow. And now you’re popping up with the, for you page more, but they’re not going to your profile ever. They’re not following you on other socials. They’re not going to click through and buy when you sell them merch. They’re just casual viewers on a platform that if the algorithm changes tomorrow, you’re never going to get viewed by them again. That is not valuable. What’s valuable is return audience who is passionate, who tell their friends about you, who engage with you, leave comments, send you messages share.
Avinash Gandhi (22:35):
And so you can build that on TikTok. You can build that on any platform, but it requires investment, not only in the content, but also in the community building, in interacting with the fans, in bringing the fans together, in building your brand as one where people rally around. And so I think that my advice for most creators is to focus on that and the money can come beyond that. Once you have an audience that it’s die hard, like it’s not hard to make the money, or make money, make money with them. And so I think, you know, I do think it is sometimes too early to start a Patreon. I think that if you are still building an audience like patron is not a discovery platform, we’re a monetization platform. We are great for creators who have a die hard audience and who are ready, and have the bandwidth, and the energy, and the ability to then take that audience and deliver more to them and really start to monetize in a meaningful way. But if you don’t really have an audience that you can move around, that you can convince to give you money, then you’re not going to be successful and say, and I don’t want any creators to launch if they’re not going to be successful. I want every creator that launches to, to have a meaningful impact on their lives through Pateron.
Kayci Baldwin (23:57):
Absolutely. Ah, I love it. That was amazing. Thank you so much for all of your wisdom and insights. I feel like I learned a lot and I am so grateful for your time.
Avinash Gandhi (24:09):
Absolutely. Thank you for having me.