Patreon’s future and potential exits

Patreon EC-1 Part 7: The membership company has several routes forward as it strives for scale

Through the Extra Crunch EC-1 on Patreon, I dove into Patreon’s founding story, product roadmap, business model and metrics, underlying thesis, and competitive threats. The six-year-old company last valued around $450 million (and, based on the points I made in the business model article, likely to soon hit $1 billion) is the leading platform for artists to run membership businesses for their superfans.

As a conclusion to my report, I have three core takeaways and some predictions on the possibility of an IPO or acquisition in the company’s future.

The future is bright for creators

First, the future is promising for independent content creators who are building engaged, passionate fanbases.

There is a surge of interest from the biggest social media platforms in creating more features to help them directly monetize their fans — with each trying to one-up the others. There are also a growing number of independent solutions for creators to use as well (Patreon and Memberful, Substack, Pico, etc.).

We live in an economy where a soaring number of people are self-employed, and the rise of more monetization tools for creators to earn a stable income will open the door to more people turning their creative talents into a part-time or full-time business pursuit.

Membership is a niche market and it’s unclear how big the opportunity is

Patreon’s play is to own a niche category of SMB who it recognizes has particular needs and provide them with the comprehensive suite of tools and services they need to manage their businesses. A large portion of creators’ incomes will need to go to Patreon for it to someday earn billions of dollars in annual revenue.

The market for content creators to build membership businesses appears to be growing, however, membership will be only one piece of the fan-to-creator monetization wave. The number of creators who are a fit for the membership business model and could generate $1,000-500,000 per month through Patreon (its target customer profile) is likely measured in the tens of thousands or low hundreds of thousands right now, rather than in the millions.

Building off the revenue math from my business model article, Patreon will generate about $35 million this year from the creators who fit its target customer profile (likely 5,000-6,000 given the current estimate of 4,300 provided by Graphtreon. If you believe this market is expanding at a fast clip, capturing 10% of the revenue from 20,000 such creators could bring in $140 million (Patreon currently takes a 5% platform fee plus 5% payment fee). And that’s without factoring in the potential success of Patreon launching new features for an additional commission, which is a high priority. If Patreon can increase its average commission from 10% to 15%, it would need around 47,500 creators in the $1,000-$500,000/month range (9.5x its current number) to reach $500 million in revenue from them.