A Reckoning Arrives for Creator Economy Startups

Startups catering to creators with link-in-bio products, accounting software and other tools multiplied by the hundreds in recent years. But not enough customers materialized for many companies, forcing them to seek buyers, pivot or shut down.

Illustration by Laurent Hrybyk
Illustration by Laurent Hrybyk
June 13, 2023 6:09 AM PDT

Two years ago, Dmitry Shapiro and Sean Thielen were so optimistic about the booming creator economy that they pivoted their startup to a new product: a simple tool called Koji that lets influencers more easily link to their online tip jars, merch and other services in their social media bios. Sure, there were already dozens of other startups offering a similar type of product, but that didn’t stop the two men from raising $20 million for their company, GoMeta.

Now Shapiro and Thielen want out of the creator economy.

The link-in-bio business—Koji took a cut of transactions that occur through its product—never amounted to the big market the co-founders once thought it could be. That was in part because the target customers for Koji—the masses of creators with smaller followings than superstars like MrBeast and Emma Chamberlain—just aren’t making enough money for the startup and others like it to thrive, especially amid a downturn in advertising. Shapiro and Thielen have begun actively looking for a suitor to acquire Koji so they can focus on a new AI product they’re developing called YouAI.

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