In Asia, micro and in-app payments have become an important feature in many social content platforms, including WeChat. The tipping function on Tencent’s superapp has given more agency to the individuals consuming mobile content and is widely popular among WeChat users, creating a culture of monetary appreciation for creators.
Follow Crunchbase News on Twitter
One startup, Portal, is looking to bring the user-centric micro tipping phenomenon to the United States. CEO and Cofounder Jonathan Swerdlin told Crunchbase News that the mobile tipping phenomenon in Asia inspired Portal.
“[Payments] are now just as easy in the West as they are [in Asia]. It’s just that a lot of companies have become so addicted to the ad model that they are not exploring these other models,” Swerdlin expressed.
To that end, Swerdlin and his team have created a mobile video app that functions as a peer-to-peer payment-enabled content platform. The company, which is launching out of beta today, has raised an additional $2.55 million in seed funding, bringing its total funds raised to $4.2 million. The company’s investors include Mark Cuban, Day One Ventures, the founder of Thinx Miki Agrawal, and others.
With the Portal iOS app, creators can upload content, which shows up in a chronological feed. They can monetize their videos through paywalls on specific content and through the tipping model that allows users to instantly give anywhere from 10 cents to $100 with purchased coins. Soon, Portal will be launching an option for subscriptions ranging from 99 cents to $24.99 a month.
In eliminating the ad model, Swerdlin and his team hope to give content creators an open opportunity to create with the support of their followers rather than relying on advertisers that the creators may not support, or that may not support their content.
Portal is similar to other monetization platforms like Patreon, which was founded in 2013. Investors have funneled $105.9 million into the creator-focused startup, and it was last valued at just under $450 million.
However, Swerdlin said that while Patreon focuses on crowdfunding, Portal is moving that idea a step further.
“Patreon has done an amazing job. And what they’ve done is they’ve proven that audiences will absolutely unequivocally pay content creators. What we’re doing is we’re taking those tools for those payments, and we’re baking that directly into the experience, rather than making it a crowdfunding tool that you have to go outside to use,” he told Crunchbase News. He also noted that Twitch has implemented tipping and subscriptions for gaming, but that Portal is bringing that model to uploaded content for a more mainstream western audience.
Portal’s beta users have included well-known content creators like The Young Turks and transgender activist Corey Rae.
Crunchbase News asked Swerdlin how he believed the earnings potential would change as less popular users come onto the platform. “The earning potential is limitless. And the ability to earn is important for everyone. It’s going to depend on the not necessarily a size of your audience, but that the value and depth that you’re bringing to your audience,” Swerdlin said.
In sticking with the ad-free model, Swerdlin says that he expects Portal to grow organically, with the team relying on word of mouth for its future growth. Without a huge amount of traction, battling a tech behemoth that is both deep-pocketed and culturally ubiquitous will undoubtedly prove to be a challenge.
“Our focus is on making sure that this is a product that solves content creators’ and publishers’ biggest problems and gives people a platform that they can trust, where they’re getting the very best content that’s made. If we do that correctly, then word of mouth will be our greatest marketing engine.”
Illustration Credit: Li Anne Dias