Cody Ko, a YouTube star with 5.7 million subscribers, found himself struggling in May. Two different startups wanted to offer him stock, and he was concerned that they were not. are competitive transactions.
So Mr. Ko called someone he trusted for advice: Li Jin.
Ms. Jin, a venture capitalist, suggests that Mr. Ko, 30, be honest and tell the founders of both startups in advance about potential conflicts of interest. He agreed and ended up pursuing only one of the deals.
“I would never hesitate to contact her if I needed something,” he said of Jin.
If there was something like It Girl in the venture capital scene today, Ms. Jin, 31, would fill out the bill. She’s at the intersection of startup investing and a rapidly growing ecosystem of online creators, both of which are hot. And while she founded her own venture, Atelier Ventures, just last year and raised a relatively small $13 million for a fund, Ms. Jin was one of the first investors in the Valley. Silicon Valley values influencers and has written about and supported creators for years.
A Harvard graduate who was inspired by the ideas of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Ms. Jin is also an active worker advocate. She made it clear in her podcast and Substack newsletter that creators should have the same rights as other workers. Among the ideas she has advocated is “global creative income,” which would guarantee creators a basic money to live on.
Now, as major venture capital firms flock to influencer startups, and as Facebook, YouTube and others introduce a $1 billion creator fund, Ms. has made her the business expert for many digital stars trying to navigate the rapidly changing landscape.
Hank Green, 41, a top creator on YouTube and TikTok, said he often exchanges ideas with her over the phone. Markian Benhamou, 23, a YouTuber with more than 1.4 million subscribers, thinks she understands what creators go through. Marina Mogilko, 31, a YouTube creator in Los Altos, California, said Jin “started the entire creative economy movement in Silicon Valley.”
“She has been talking about the creative economy for years and years,” said Jack Conte, co-founder and CEO of Patreon, a crowdfunding site for content creators. before anyone else does. “She really saw the future before anyone else did.”
Ms. Jin, who has invested in Substack and Patreon, said that although her fund is small, she plans to put all her money into online job conversion companies. “Everything I invest in is a creator-focused company,” she said. “I think my impact is too great for the dollar amount.”
Her credibility has been enhanced as she is also active as a creator. Ms. Jin regularly posts on her Substack newsletter, leads an online course that teaches creators how to invest in startups, and has created the Side Hustle Stack, a free resource to help aspiring entrepreneurs. Influential find and evaluate platforms to leverage.
Ms. Jin, born in Beijing, immigrated to the US with her family at the age of 6, where her father studied for a doctorate in economics at the University of Pittsburgh. Their early years in the country were fragile, she said, until her father left school and went to work. 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 enjoys painting and writing.
At Harvard, she studied English and continued her creative pursuits. But at the urging of her family, who she said “wanted to secure me financially,” Ms. Jin majored in statistics and did an internship in banking and corporate marketing. After briefly working for Capital One after graduating from 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, Jin joined the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in Silicon Valley. At the time, the company was investing heavily in markets like Airbnb and Rappi, the Latin American Instacart.
Ms. Jin became interested in how different markets work and has written extensively about them for the Andreessen Horowitz blog. She also started thinking about how different marketplace systems could evolve to help people build businesses on the internet.
That has made Ms. Jin a champion in the influencer industry. She said that as she watched creators struggle to make a living online, she also saw great potential in online work and creators as a business.
Influencers say her affirmation means a lot. “The fact that she works at a big company and says these things feels like, ahh, someone is finally saying it,” said YouTube star Mr Green.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit last year and the world was increasingly pushed online, Ms. Jin recognized an opportunity.
“I feel like Covid will be a tool to promote online jobs and people who want to be entrepreneurs,” she said. “I realized I had the opportunity to start an entirely new fund for this thesis and that fund would be at the forefront of advancing the nature of internet work and labor.”
In May 2020, she left Andreessen Horowitz and started Atelier Ventures. Since then, she has invested in creator-related startups like PearPop, which allows influencers to profit from their social interactions, and Stir, which helps creators manage their wealth. their main. She’s one of the few investors whose big influencers know by name.
“If you talk to anyone who works in the creative economy, they say, ‘Oh, you have to talk to Li Jin,’ a creator accompanied by Jasmine Rice, 23, a former photographer. influence of OnlyFans, who started a platform called Fanhouse that Ms. Jin invested in last year.
Ms. Jin has also publicly criticized the funds that YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat provide influencers to make content for their platforms. She begged the tech industry.”stop celebrating“Funds, call them”bread and circus“And argue that creators need ownership of the platforms that already monetize them.
“Without ownership, creators are ultimately enriching and empowering *others* – platform owners – with their work,” said Ms. Jin tweeted in June.
Ms. Jin said platforms must be careful not to “create tons of economic disparities that exist in the broader economy than to actually empower a new generation of online entrepreneurs”. She has named a podcast she co-hosts “Creative Media,” a play about Marx’s production medium.
Her views have made her an attractive object in the tech industry and in left-wing political spaces. The replies to her social media posts are rife memes hinted that she was a socialist. Ms. Jin said she mainly enjoys the commotion.
“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 a believer in crypto networks because they are decentralized and “aim to transfer control and ownership to their users.” She has started investing in crypto-related platforms, recently backing Mirror, a decentralized publishing platform, and Yield Guild Games, which is building a gaming guild for the “metaverse” to help people in developing countries make money by playing video games. She has also partnered with creators to mint and sell artworks as NFTs or non-soldable tokens.
“My whole life I have had a burning realization,” she says, “the world is not fair and we need to push it in a fair and equitable direction.”
Since founding Atelier Ventures, Jin has moved out of Silicon Valley and pulled her funds out of her childhood bedroom in Pittsburgh. This summer, she’s a nomad, traveling the world surrounded by a changing cast of internet stars, artists, Gen Z tech founders and money pioneers. electronic.
In July, she co-hosted a crowded happy hour on New York City’s rooftops attended by internet and tech-savvy people, including the founders of the NFT platform. OpenSea, product makers from TikTok and Twitter, and other investors. From New York, she flew to Paris to attend a crypto conference and held a “creator salon” at a cafe on the Left Bank.
She then flew to Greece at the invitation of Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, and later attended a beach dinner with Emma Watson, Nicky Hilton and others, hosted by Brilliant Minds Foundation.
Last month, she went home to Pittsburgh to regroup and think.
“It is unbelievable that I am here again,” said Ms. Jin, “that I was born in Beijing, spoke Chinese as my first and only language, and something happened that brought me to America. and now I have the tools to be able to have a voice and influence. “