Entrepreneurial creators have to do a lot with limited time. They need to, well, create, but then they also need to build their marketing funnels, convert users to their paid products, and manage business operations. Yet, perhaps the most important task they face is keeping their existing fans engaged, because ultimately, that engagement ties directly to the health of their brand long-term.
Social tools are abysmal on platforms like YouTube and Instagram, particularly when it comes to creators owning their own communities and building deeper relationships with them. Other products like Discord have been used to some success, although Discord was built with a different focus in mind and is being hammered in to fix the problem.
Circle believes there is a better way. The New York City-based startup officially launched today for creators (following eight months of product beta testing). The platform is designed from the bottom-up to offer better community building and engagement tools for creators, while also integrating with other software typical in the creator toolkit.
The key DNA for the company is another NYC-based startup called Teachable. Two of Circle’s three founders, Sid Yadav and Andrew Guttormsen, hail from the edtech platform, which helps entrepreneurial teachers setup online storefronts for their classes. Teachable was sold to Hotmart earlier this year for what was reported to be a quarter of a billion dollars. Yadav was VP of Product there, and Guttormsen was VP of Growth and Marketing. Their third co-founder, Rudy Santino, knew Yadav from previous work.
Yadav spun out of Teachable and actually got his start as a contractor for Sahil Lavingia, the founder of Gumroad we were just talking about last week because he launched a new seed fund. He worked part-time as a product and design consultant, allowing him the flexibility to begin spending time thinking about new product ideas.
“I always knew that my next startup was going to be in [the creator] space,” Yadav said. “I just loved what they’re all about, which is about making an income from what they love doing.”
Teachable’s rapid growth in a small slice of the creator space taught Yadav some of the key challenges that creators face, and what a new product needed to solve in order to help them. With his co-founders, he enlisted a group of creators — including Pat Flynn at Smart Passive Income and Anne-Laure Le Cunff, who operates a newsletter called Ness Labs — to actively build communities on Circle to prove out their various design and product decisions.
The growth of the platform and the engagement of potential customers attracted the attention of Notation Capital, a NYC-based pre-seed fund that just announced its third fund late last month. Notation led a $1.5 million seed round into Circle, which also included Lavingia, Ankur Nagpal (the founder and CEO of Teachable), Dave Ambrose and Matthew Ziskie, among others.
There is a growing movement of software designed to help creators start their businesses. Substack of course has gotten the most attention in Silicon Valley, with a platform designed mostly around email newsletter subscriptions. Pico, meanwhile, has focused on building out more of the infrastructure of the creator business through a CRM that integrates with most other platforms. Patreon handles more of the payments and revenue engagement of fans.
Circle may end up touching on those areas, but today, wants to be the destination where you send all your creators in between newsletters or blog posts or Instagrams. It’s a smart part of the creator stack to play in, and with strong early customer enthusiasm and a chunk of funding, seems ready to make a mark in this burgeoning market.