She is the investor guru for online creators

Cody Ko, a YouTube star with 5.7 million subscribers, found himself in deep trouble in May. Two different start-ups wanted to give him ...


Cody Ko, a YouTube star with 5.7 million subscribers, found himself in deep trouble in May. Two different start-ups wanted to give him shares, and he was concerned that these were potentially competitive offers.

So Mr. Ko called someone he trusted for advice: Li Jin.

Ms. Jin, a venture capitalist, suggested that Mr. Ko, 30, be honest and frank with the founders of the two start-ups about the potential conflict of interest. He agreed and ended up pursuing only one of the agreements.

“I would never hesitate to contact her if I needed anything,” he said of Ms. Jin.

If there is an It Girl in venture capital these days, Ms. Jin, 31, would fill the bill. It sits at the intersection of startup investing and the rapidly growing ecosystem of hot online creators. And while she was starting her own venture capital firm, Ventures Workshop, last year and raised relatively little $ 13 million for a fund, Ms. Jin was among the first Silicon Valley investors to take influencers seriously and has written about and supported the creators for years.

A Harvard graduate who took inspiration from the ideas of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Ms. Jin is also aggressively pro-worker. She made it clear in podcasts and her newsletter Substack that creators should get the same rights as other workers. Among the ideas she defended is a “universal creative income”, Which would guarantee creators a basic amount to live on.

Now also big Venture capitalists flock to influencer startups, and like Facebook, YouTube and others present $ 1 billion in funds for creators, Ms. Jin’s track record has made her a go-to business guru for many digital stars trying to navigate a rapidly changing landscape.

Hank Green, 41, one of the top creators on YouTube and TikTok, said he often exchanged ideas with her over the phone. Markian Benhamou, 23, YouTuber with over 1.4 million subscribers, credited him with understanding what creators go through. Marina Mogilko, 31, YouTube creator in Los Altos, Calif., Said Ms. Jin “started the whole creator economy movement in Silicon Valley.”

“She was talking about the creator economy years and years before anyone else,” said Jack Conte, co-founder and CEO of Patreon, a crowdfunding site for content creators. “She really sees the future before anyone else.”

Ms. Jin, who has invested in Substack and Patreon, said that although her fund was small, she planned to put all the money into companies transforming work online. “Everything I invest in is a creator-driven business,” she said. “I think the impact I have is out of proportion to the dollar amounts.”

Her credibility has been enhanced as she also operates as a designer. Ms. Jin posts frequently on her Substack newsletter, runs an online course teaching creators how to invest in start-ups, and has created Stack of side stirring, a free resource to help influencers find and assess which platforms to leverage.

Ms. Jin, who was born in Beijing, immigrated at age 6 with her family to the United States, where her father earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Pittsburgh. Their first few years in the countryside were tough, she said, until her father left school and found a job. Her family eventually moved to Upper St. Clair, a town of about 20,000 people outside of Pittsburgh, where Ms. Jin attended public school and enjoyed painting and writing.

At Harvard, she studied English and continued her creative pursuits. But at the request of her family, who she said “wanted financial security for me,” Ms. Jin changed her focus to statistics and completed internships in banking and corporate marketing. After briefly working for Capital One after college, she moved to Silicon Valley at the age of 23 to work at Shopkick, a shopping rewards app, as a product manager.

In 2016, Ms. Jin landed in Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. At the time, the company was heavily focused on investing in markets like Airbnb and Rappi, Instacart from Latin America.

Ms. Jin became fascinated with how different markets work and wrote prolifically about them for the Andreessen Horowitz blog. She also began to think about how different market systems could evolve to help people start businesses on the Internet.

This led Ms. Jin to champion the influencer industry. Watching creators struggle to make a living online felt personal to her, she said, as she also saw great potential in working online and creators as a business.

His claim was significant, the influencers said. “She was in this great historic business and saying these things was like, ahh, finally someone said it,” said Mr. Green, the YouTube star.

When the Coronavirus pandemic hit last year and the world was increasingly pushed online, Ms. Jin recognized an opportunity.

“I felt like Covid would be such an accelerator for working online and people wanting to be entrepreneurs,” she said. “I realized that I had the opportunity to create a whole new fund dedicated to this thesis that would be at the forefront of the changing nature of work and work on the Internet.”

In May 2020, she left Andreessen Horowitz and founded Atelier Ventures. She has since invested in creator-related start-ups such as PearPop, which allows influencers to profit from their social interactions, and Stir, which helps creators manage their finances. She is one of the few investors that big influencers know by name.

“If you talk to someone who works in the designer economy, they all say, ‘Oh, you have to talk to Li Jin,’” said a designer named Jasmine Rice, 23, a former influencer. from OnlyFans who launched a platform called Fanhouse, which Ms. Jin invested in last year.

Ms. Jin also publicly criticized the funds YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat provide influencers to create content for their platforms. She implored the tech industry to “stop celebrating“funds, calling them”bread and circuses”, And argued that creators needed to appropriate the platforms that made them money.

“Without ownership, creators ultimately enrich and empower * someone else * – platform owners – with their work,” Ms. Jin said. tweeted in June.

Ms Jin said platforms need to be careful not to “recreate a ton of economic disparities that exist in the wider economy rather than genuinely empowering a new generation of online entrepreneurs.” She named a podcast she co-hosts “Means of Creation,” a play about Marx’s means of production.

Her views have made her a subject of fascination in the tech industry and in leftist political spaces. The responses to his social media posts are full of memes insinuating that she is a socialist. Ms. Jin said she was mostly amused by the hubbub.

“I am very careful not to use that word, the S word,” she said of socialism. “It’s unnecessarily polarizing in the United States”

Ms. Jin said she has also become adept at crypto networks, as they are decentralized and “aim to cede control and ownership to their users.” It has started investing in crypto-related platforms, recently supporting Mirror, a decentralized publishing platform, and Yield Guild Games, which is building a gaming guild for the “metaverse”To help people in developing countries earn money by playing video games. She has also partnered with designers to create and sell works of art like TVN, or non-fungible tokens.

“There has been a shuddering awareness throughout my life,” she said, “that the world is unjust and we must push it in the direction of justice and fairness.”

Since setting up Atelier Ventures, Ms. Jin has moved away from Silicon Valley and managed her fund from her childhood bedroom in Pittsburgh. This summer, she was nomadic, traveling the world surrounded by a changing cast of internet stars, artists, Gen Z tech founders and crypto pioneers.

In July, she co-hosted a New York rooftop happy hour attended by a prominent internet culture scholar and techies, including the founders of the NFT OpenSea platform, the product managers of TikTok. and Twitter and other investors. From New York, she flew to Paris for a crypto conference and hosted a “designer fair” at a cafe on the Left Bank.

She then flew to Greece at the invitation of Daniel Ek, the managing director of Spotify, and then attended a beach dinner with Emma Watson, Nicky Hilton and others, hosted by the Foundation of Shining Minds.

Last month, she returned home to Pittsburgh to regroup and reflect.

“It’s so unlikely that I’m here,” Ms. Jin said, “that I was born in Beijing speaking Chinese as my first and only language and something happened to me in the United States and now I have the tools to be able to have a voice and influence.



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