Rosie Nguyen isn't your typical startup founder. Her Instagram grid perfectly depicts the two sides of who she is: In one post, she’s live on CNBC speaking out against Apple’s developer fees. In the next, she poses on a wood floor with the caption, “day 89 without sex: sitting on the floor so I can feel hard wood under me.” And then in the post after that, she’s sharing her front page appearance in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Nguyen is the CMO of Fanhouse, a creator monetization platform that rivals Patreon and OnlyFans, but at the same time that she's building Fanhouse, she's also building her career as a content creator. Online, Nguyen is known as jasminericegirl, whether she's streaming games like Valorant on Twitch or posting raunchy jokes to her 157,000 Twitter followers.
“I am a creator at heart and I always will be, and just because I’m also a founder now doesn’t mean I’m not a creator,” Nguyen said. She sees these two sides of her persona as complementary, rather than at odds with one another, or -- god forbid -- unprofessional. “It’s a positive thing that really goes hand in hand, and I think a good investor will see that.”
As it turns out, Nguyen was right. Fanhouse just secured a $20 million Series A round from Andreessen Horowitz, and the platform is about to surpass $10 million in creator payouts in less than two years. Its creators include The Chainsmokers (who are also pre-seed investors), Andrea Botez, Yoshi Sudarso and more.
It’s not unheard of for a YouTube star or TikTok sensation to be the face of a creator economy startup, but usually when this happens, it’s with extremely established, high-earning names looking for new business opportunities, like MrBeast with Creative Juice, or David Dobrik with Dispo. As a young, emerging creator, Nguyen understands what the "creator middle class" -- people who make some money on social media, but aren't rolling in it -- needs right now to grow their businesses.
“I met Khoi [Le], my co-founder, on Twitter, and we became best friends,” Nguyen told TechCrunch. “I was telling him all these things like, OnlyFans sucks, I hate it, I want to get off of it but I need the money … Or like, Twitch takes 50% of subscriptions, it’s so exhausting.”
A Stanford graduate with an entrepreneurial background, Le told Nguyen that together, they could build her dream monetization platform, so they started experimenting with ideas that would later turn into Fanhouse. The founding trio is rounded out by CTO Amy Shen, who brings engineering experience from Robinhood and Google.
At 10, I was applying for EBT with my family because we didn't have food. At 13, I was sleeping in an office closet because we didn't have a home. At 19, I was working 3 jobs in college to pay our bills.
I'm 24 now, and I'm crying to be selected as a Forbes 30 Under 30 member. pic.twitter.com/Amxc7TnlZ1
— jasminericegirl 🍚 (@jasminericegirl) December 2, 2021
“I was one of those people that never really knew if I had a dream job,” Nguyen said. Growing up in a low-income household, her goal was simply to make enough money to pull her family out of poverty. When she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, she took a job in investment banking for the salary alone. But soon, she found herself staying up late into the night to work on the idea for Fanhouse.
“I realized I do have a dream job, and this is it,” she said. “I wouldn’t say my passion is entrepreneurship, but my passion is helping content creators.”
Unlike OnlyFans, Fanhouse doesn’t allow NSFW content — too many hoops to jump through with credit card companies and fundraising. Nguyen isn't opposed to the idea, but she thinks that there needs to be "a more societal and legal shift" before that could feasibly work for Fanhouse. OnlyFans faced its own debacle last year when it nearly banned NSFW content due to changing guidelines of credit card companies.
Fans can pay a monthly fee to access exclusive content, which includes text, photo, video and audio uploads. Fanhouse also just implemented an integration with Spotify, so for example, if you're one of the top listeners of The Chainsmokers, you can subscribe to them on Fanhouse for free.
But what sets the platform apart is its commitment to protecting creators. This is, of course, related to Nguyen’s own experiences in the public eye.
“On Twitter, I’ll receive unsolicited dick pics, report them and never get a reply from Twitter,” Nguyen said. She also recalls receiving threats from subscribers on OnlyFans. “All these problems that I experience on platforms, I set out to change.”
As Nguyen tweeted from the Fanhouse account last week: “just a reminder that when someone leaks private content from fanhouse, not only will our support team trace down who leaked it to fine and deactivate them, but they'll also DMCA the site. we've taken down entire subreddits and discord servers before. do not mess with our creators.”
Nguyen says that Fanhouse is able to take down leaks and find out who leaked exclusive content because every creator upload is watermarked. Each fan has their own personal watermark, so if they are leaking content, Fanhouse can trace the leak back to their account.
Every account on Fanhouse also has to be connected to a phone number, and if a user gets banned once, then they can’t make another account with that phone number again.
When it comes to payments, Fanhouse takes 10% of creator earnings, which is small compared to OnlyFans’ 20% or Twitch's 50-50 split. But despite being a new app with about 25 team members, Fanhouse has already stood up to Apple over its 30% cut of in-app purchases.
Fanhouse is a start-up I founded to empower creators, and we pay our creators 90% of transactions.
Apple is kicking us off the app store unless we give them 30% of all transactions.
Apple is a trillion-dollar company, and they get there by exploiting the labor of others. (1/)
— jasminericegirl 🍚 (@jasminericegirl) January 26, 2022
Apple's 30% cut is hugely controversial -- Fortnite creator Epic Games took the tech giant to court over it.
"If a subscription was $10, and someone paid an app $10, the creator just gets $6 now," Nguyen explained.
So, Fanhouse developed "coins," an in-app currency that fans can buy on the web, then pay to creators on the app without fees, since the coins are already loaded onto their account. If a fan wants to buy coins in the app, they'll be charged an extra 50% to account for Apple's cut, incentivizing them to just make the purchase on the web. Other platforms like Twitch try to do this by selling in-app currency like "bits," which can be purchased online and doled out on the app.
"It's not the easiest way to get creators paid; now there's just an extra step, but we'd rather take that extra step, because the other alternative is that creator's earnings are directly taken away from them," she said.
Founding a startup is always a risk, and for Nguyen, the risk is personal -- she still wants to fulfill her goal of supporting her family, and that surely would have been easier if she stayed in investment banking. But so far, her decision feels like it was worth it.
"[Growing up], we were always scraping by," she remembers. "But I'd rather be doing Fanhouse and live like that than do banking and be more stable."