We’re reaching out to leaders on the business side of the creator economy to get their insight for creators looking to launch and develop their careers. This week, we spoke to Brendon McNerney, an ex-Vine star and the CEO and founder of Clash, a new short-form video platform with exclusive fan-creator interactions and a form of virtual tipping. McNerney chatted with us about his former life as a creator, what he thinks of social media’s monetization woes, and the future of fan-funded creator careers.
In 2013, McNerney was in his early 20s and said he had the “wonderful beautiful accident” of downloading Vine. He began to post videos with a self-deprecating style of humor, and within a few years, his comedy garnered an audience of over 700,000 followers.
But despite his quick path to cultivating a large audience, McNerney felt his experience as a creator to be often isolating and challenging.
McNerney recalled that his first brand deal was for only $75, and back then, he was excited for even a small paycheck. “It is painful to be a creator if you are not a top creator that is getting the majority of brand deals and ad revenue,” McNerney said.
During McNerney’s time as a creator, YouTube launched its partner program which allowed partner channels to collect 55% of ad revenue from their videos. McNerney said that while this was a promising development in video monetization, it was still hard to break into the partner program unless you had well-connected managers.
McNerney said that barriers like these to making a living inspired him to move on: “I guess I wasn’t just satisfied being a creator. I’ve never aspired to be an entrepreneur but I will say that my journey into entrepreneurship was because I was a creator and I wanted to make creativity sustainable.”
McNerney started to focus on working with creators to make money outside of the apps they had followings on. After news broke that Vine was going away, McNerney said he noticed creators scrambling as they realized they didn’t have other avenues to making money: “People really started to see being a creator as a business.”
As creators ventured into new revenue sources like selling merchandise, writing books, and teaching courses, McNerney also pivoted his business. He got more involved with producing, and ended up working on television shows starring creators featured on Netflix and YouTube Red.
After that, McNerney became a creator consultant, working on 100-plus influencer marketing campaigns for companies like Walmart, AirBnb, and NBC Universal. He even helped to oversee TikTok’s launch in the United States, onboarding high-profile talent onto the then-new app.
“TikTok came to the rescue after Vine died. It took a little while and at least a billion dollars to get people interested in trying this new platform, but it’s picked up a lot of the pieces in terms of virality and growth,” McNerney continued, “But I still think the problems of monetization that we faced on Vine still exist today.”
McNerney said that while major social media platforms have begun to throw some money at creators—through creator funds, tipping features, and so on—he thinks it’s not enough to entice users to stay in-app: “At the end of the day, I don’t think these platforms actually serve our monetization need.”
McNerney continued, “I don’t think that the major platforms are going to win this, because I think it’s going to be too much of a shift in behavior. I think it risks the scrolling-consumption model.”
In recent years, McNerney witnessed a rapid growth in creators getting money from their fans through platforms like Buy Me A Coffee or Patreon, which inspired him to launch a direct fan-to-creator monetization platform.
“I started to see these little sparks,” McNerney said, “How can we cultivate a community where fans want to be and where creators can make money? That was the genesis of Clash.”
In 2020, McNerney co-founded Clash—a short-form video platform with virtual tipping features. Through purchasing a digital currency called “drops,” users can send money to their favorite creators by engaging with videos or through fan mail.
Clash makes its money when users buy drops through a purchasing fee—which McNerney said is about a 20% cut. The rest is paid out to creators through Venmo or PayPal just before the first of every month.
Compared to some other paywall-based platforms, which mainly function to give fans exclusive content, McNerney said that Clash is honed in on exclusive fan-creator interaction and recognition. Creators can see a list of their top fans, and acknowledge them by sending them mail or gifts.
McNerney thinks this kind of audience segmentation is missing from major social media platforms. “If I post a video on TikTok today, I have no idea who my top fans are. I could have someone who is drowned out in a 1,000 comments every week but I am the most important person in their life and I’ll have no way of knowing that.”
McNerney shared that he thinks direct fan-to-creator models will explode in upcoming years, and advises other entrepreneurs to tune into the needs of the middle class of creators.
“Of course the mega-creators are going to draw the headlines, and they’re going to draw an official wave over to your platform.” McNerney continued, “But look at platforms like Discord. Micro-communities are where it’s at. These micro-creators are going to actually move the needle, and they’re going to be popping up everywhere. Build for them.”
For up-and-coming creators, McNerney recommended a strong practice of self-care. “We’re living in an age when everyone wants to be a creator. I think that can be quite overwhelming.” McNerney continued, “Make sure you’re getting a break and don’t burn out.”
“And secondly, just go for it. A lot of creators have a hesitancy to explore outside of the current model. They’re waiting for a brand deal, they’re waiting for an agent. You don’t have to wait,” McNerney said.
“We have so many tools, your fans do want to support you. So lean into that.”
Are you building new ways for creators to monetize? Reach out to [email protected] for a chance to get featured in an upcoming newsletter.