As internet creators and influencers grow their followings, it’s not always intuitive what the best way to monetize might be. For some creators, they might find a path to monetization through subscriber-only content and branded posts, but for those with a great idea and an entrepreneurial streak, they might leverage their appeal to launch a product.
Cobalt helps creators turn their ideas into something they can sell, whether it’s a custom product that doesn’t exist yet or a specialty blend of perfume. Creators can use Cobalt’s marketplace to connect with over 250 vetted experts in fields like design, sourcing, manufacturing, engineering and business. For those who want to design a custom product, like a tech-free children’s entertainment system, it costs $1,000 to get the product designed through Cobalt. For creators seeking private label products, it costs $100 to hire a Cobalt expert to do sourcing for you. So far, in beta, founder and CEO Elle Shelley Black says that about 80% of 200 products in production are custom. Over 7,000 more prospective entrepreneurs have signed up for Cobalt’s waitlist, which will end today as the product comes out of private beta for public availability.
These products go beyond an influencer moneygrab — Cobalt is deliberately not developing apparel products, since Black is concerned about the environmental impact of fast fashion. One example of a custom product is a mask for horses to protect them from wildfire smoke — the creator is an avid horseback rider concerned about her animals’ health due to California wildfires. Black also pointed to Jenna Smith, who sells hydroponic small-batch produce through her startup Growcery, which she developed via Cobalt.
Creators pay an additional 10% platform fee on transactions, while experts pay a 5% service fee to use Cobalt. For the experts, this is significantly smaller than that of platforms like Fiverr, which take 20% of payments. Once a creator develops their product and begins to sell it, Cobalt doesn’t take a cut from their sales.
“Those price points feel really affordable to me,” Black told TechCrunch. “Through Cobalt, it’s free to create an account, and creators can talk directly to sourcing agents and experts for free. And so even that discovery of DMing or messaging people in the platform is really valuable.”
In theory, once a creator makes connections via Cobalt, it could be possible for them to forego the platform fees and collaborate outside of Cobalt. But Black thinks that the convenience of the product will keep creators around after their first product launch.
“We’ve made the payment and invoicing so easy,” Black said. “You can’t do it through Venmo — how do you pay your vendors $10,000 overseas?”
More and more startups like Pietra are cropping up to turn TikTok stars into business moguls, but Cobalt differentiates itself by investing in Latin American manufacturers, which Cobalt vets to make sure they follow ethical practices. As a Latinx founder herself, Black made sure to build her company by working with other underrepresented people in tech — she said that 85% of Cobalt’s investors come from underrepresented backgrounds. In Cobalt’s $2.8 million seed round, a strategic partner is A&H Haiat y Amezcua, a fund from Mexico City that helped IKEA scale in Latin and Central America.
“One of the things we’re looking at is how do we reduce the cost in supply chain, how do we reduce the friction, how do we insist on using sustainable materials, and how do we find and connect as many ethical manufacturers to the platform as possible,” Black told TechCrunch. “We’ve really started focusing on Latin America, and within that, Mexico specifically. It’s more efficient for a lot of reasons. Number one, they’re already on the same continent. That’s where we’re really going to start, and really look at humane working conditions before we allow manufacturers to come into the platform.”
With the funding, Cobalt hopes to get the product to market and continue building out creator tools. Today, Cobalt launches out of beta and is available to the public.