A social media network that aims to give content creators more financial control just landed a $50 million investment.
Mighty Networks, founded by Gina Bianchini in 2017, has already attracted 10,000 paying content creators and brands to its platform, including the popular TED conferences, Singularity University founder founder Peter Diamandis, and YouTube star Adriene Mishler, who runs Yoga With Adriene.
Other creators and brands that have gravitated to Mighty Networks include Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project to comedian Lynn Harris of Gold Comedy.
The ad-free platform promises to give creators complete control over their audiences, allowing them to make money by selling membership subscriptions and online courses to their small community of consumers.
The fundraising comes at a time when competing platforms, like Facebook and YouTube, have been slammed for creating ecosystems that rely on content from others even as they siphon the vast majority of revenues earned from that content for themselves, via ads.
“We can’t build a thriving creator movement on an exhausting, unfair dynamic where content creators rent audiences from big tech platforms, are required to produce a never-ending stream of content, and get paid pennies for it, if they get paid at all,” Bianchini said in announcing the latest round, led by Owl Ventures.
Bianchini believes that “content creators don’t need massive social media followings to succeed.” She said a content creator could survive on her platform with as few as 30 membership customers behind a paywall.
While having TED as a supporter is great, she told Media Ink the aim for the Palo Alto-based company is to provide a path to profit for smaller virtual players and create a “middle class of content creators.”
One recent arrival is Margit Detweiler, who founded TueNight.com as a Facebook community four years ago for millennial women. It grew to 4,000 members who joined for free. Last Tuesday, Detweiler jumped to Mighty Networks and in the first week attracted 200 paying members who subscribe at $199 a year, or $99 a year for select online programs.
Every Tuesday night, Detweiler features a live, members-only zoom event in addition to courses ranging from how manage your digital photos to documents needed to plan for death of yourself or loved ones.
“I want it to be a sustainable model and I think I can do that with 800 members,” she told Media Ink. She plans to shut down her TueNight Facebook group on May 7.
“It’s not bad,” said the one-time editorial director of Realsimple.com and earlier an editor at the Philadelphia City Paper, who said she pulled in five figures in revenue in her first week as a paid site. “It’s like going from nothing to something.”
She added, “you don’t have the privacy issues or pop up advertising that you would contend with on Facebook.”
Currently, Mighty Networks offers a four-tiered system of services to content providers, starting with a a free site where creators can pay a 5-percent fee per subscriber. Its most popular plan is called Business Pro, which gives creators two free months if they sign up for an annual membership. It costs $98 a month and kicks back 2 percent of revenue from each subscriber.
Bianchini likened the company’s business model to Shopify, which provides a base for retailers in the e-commerce field. “The content creator controls their audience,” she said.
Bianchini said COVID-19 actually helped grow businesses that rely directly on consumers for revenue rather than advertisers. “The trend was already accelerating,” she said, “but what might have taken place over three to five years happened in one year.”
The $50 million series B funding, which also included investments from Ziff Capital Partners and LionTree Partners, brings the company’s total raise to $67 million.
Mighty Networks is estimated to bring in annual revenue of around $10 million from its 10,000 paying customers. Bianchini declined to comment but conceded the company is still in investment mode. “We figured it was a good time to raise money to help small content creators bootstrap their own business,” she said.
Bianchini learned some of the perils of ad-supported social media as a co-founder of Ning in 2005 with Netscape founder Marc Andreessen. She left in 2010 and after some jarring cutbacks a year later, it was sold to the ill-fated Glam Media/Mode Media. In 2016, Glam/Mode Media shut down the entire company sold off its assorted business in parts in a liquidation sale.
Bianchini doesn’t dwell on her experiences with Ning but says the experience is “one reason” why Mighty Networks has eschewed the ad supported market. Asked if she would ever pursue ads with Mighty, she says simply “no.”