Business

The 5 most influential creators of 2022

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What does it mean to be a big-shot creator on the internet today? Follower count is an easy metric, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of what makes a creator beloved and successful beyond just having vanity statistics. A notable creator needs an audience, but becoming a well-known and enduring one is about more than cynically learning the latest TikTok dance or reacting to the latest clickbait scandal in an effort to juice a view count or gain followers. Rather, the creators worth celebrating are those with engaging, authentic content that has made an impact on the medium and other creators, and used their platform as a starting point for a venture with a wider scope than their content. If the six creators on this list (Rhett & Link are a dual entry) have one thing in common, it’s that their interest in the creator economy goes beyond simply building a following or churning out content to please the algorithm. They’ve all taken the connection they’ve formed with their fans and turned it into something more—whether that’s an investment fund for emerging talent, a coffee brand, a makeup brand, or a restaurant and packaged goods empire.

Emma Chamberlain

Because the YouTube platform penalizes long gaps between uploading videos, taking an extended break from a successful channel can be a difficult decision for a creator. This choice is made even more difficult when, like Emma Chamberlain, you have been called “the most important YouTuber today” and credited by The New York Times as having “invented the way people talk on YouTube now.” But that’s what Chamberlain did for six months this year after amassing a YouTube following of more than 11 million people since she began posting videos in 2017 when she was a high school sophomore. “I needed to step back and rethink what my strategy and formula needs to be,” Chamberlain said on an episode of Fast Company‘s Creative Control podcast in April. She also shifted her focus to her two-year-old coffee brand, Chamberlain Coffee, which was born out of a passion to make good coffee more widely accessible. And then there’s her podcast, Anything Goes, which she said offers an outlet for long-form content that might not be the best fit for YouTube. Chamberlain has taken to podcasting, she says, because “I don’t have to be physically on camera,” which allows her to share more openly. “It’s the most intimate thing that I do, yet I feel the safest and most connected while doing it.”

Jimmy Donaldson (aka MrBeast)

To hear Jimmy Donaldson tell it—as he did to Joe Rogan in March—as an adolescent, he was hard-pressed to talk about anything other than YouTube. “I just obsessed about YouTube for years,” he said, noting that the first bit of money he made from the platform—which averaged about $1 a day in his early teens—was reinvested into improving his video quality with a microphone and a laptop . After 12 years and more than 200 million subscribers across his main MrBeast channel and its offshoots, that ethos remains, albeit in a supersize fashion. Where other creators might see YouTube as an ad-driven ATM, Donaldson approaches it analytically: He estimates that he’s spent more than 40,000 hours studying what makes a good YouTube video, from thumbnails to retention rate—and reinvests revenue (estimated to be $54 million last year) back into his main channel’s content. Whether that’s buying a house that he tips to a delivery driver or paying roughly $3.5 million to re-create competitions from Squid Game and give $456,000 to the winner (the 25-minute video has been viewed 292.8 million times), the ambition of his videos and prizes has grown with his budget. That trend is likely to continue as its other businesses boom. With the help of his management company, Night (see Reed Duchscher on our Suits list and Em Herrera on our Investors list), Donaldson founded online restaurant MrBeast Burger—whose first physical location, in New Jersey’s American Dream Mall, broke the world record for number of burgers sold in a day by a single location—as well as Feastables, a line of snacks that includes five chocolate bars and plant-based, gluten-free cookies that reportedly generated $10 million in sales in its first three months. “I lose on average $1 million to $1.5 million a video now between the brand deals and ad revenue, but it’s fine because I have the other businesses that just make money,” he told podcasters Cody Ko and Noel Miller in early October. “It’s a whole new wave of revenue where we can get pretty crazy.”

Michael Lec

By the time Musical.ly merged into TikTok in 2018, Michael Le had become “my own one-man team,” handling videography and editing for the dance videos he posted on his 600,000-follower account @justmaiko. With the new app came a new algorithm that replaced Musical.ly’s hand-curated feed, and he gained a million followers in a week—and then regularly kept adding 1 million followers about every seven days. “I saw a career out of it, for sure,” Le says. “I’ve always had the mindset of wanting to be a business owner—I don’t want to do a 9-to-5, and I wanted to go against the grain.” Le now has 52 million TikTok followers, 2.3 million Instagram followers, and several YouTube channels, including one about gaming and another about Web3—two areas of interest that he’s bringing together with Joystick, his play-to-earn gaming and esports platform, which he announced in May. He and his cofounder raised $8 million in seed funding to build what Le calls “a university for Web3 and gaming.” For a monthly fee, users will have access to the company’s lessons and gaming assets, enabling them to learn how to become esports players and build a streaming audience while keeping their earnings. As with Musical.ly and TIkTok, it’s all about being nimble. “The people who take advantage and know how to move in the space,” Le says, “will reap the most benefits.”

Rhett McLaughlin and Charles “Link” Neal (aka Rhett & Link)

Rhett McLaughlin and Charles “Link” Neal are something of the elder statesmen of YouTube creators. It’s a status they’ve earned by growing their eponymous YouTube channel, started in 2006, and their flagship show, Good Mythical Morning, into entertainment studio Mythical, which has amassed 76 million subscribers and 27 million lifetime views across all of its channels. Mythical encompasses GMM‘s two spin-offs, a stable of podcasts, an e-commerce site, a premium subscription not-so-secret society, and channels operated by Smosh, another YouTube comedy pioneer that the company acquired in 2019. Having established an audience with a focus on sustainable growth, Rhett & Link now want to help up-and-coming creators do the same thing with the Mythical Creator Accelerator, a $5 million fund launched last summer, through which the duo invest in growing channels while also sharing their expertise . So far, they’ve invested in commentary YouTuber Jarvis Johnson (1.88 million subscribers) and Daniel Thrasher (3.15 million subscribers), who uses his skills and experience as a pianist to make comedy videos. “We essentially take everything we’ve learned and develop a relationship with them,” Neal says. A big part of that relationship, McLaughlin adds, is helping other creators leverage their fan bases into a business without burning out. “That connection with fans can create such an opportunity it feels almost insatiable,” he says. “It can really drive you into the ground, or it can drive you through the stratosphere if you know how to navigate it. To make this a win-win, we want to protect these creators from the pitfalls and help them capitalize on the opportunity in front of them.”

Patrick Simondac (aka Patrick Starrr)

Patrick Simondac’s first YouTube video under his nom de vlog Patrick Starrr—“My Morning Makeup Routine”—was as much the result of encouraging coworkers as it was the managers at his retail job who would tell him to take his makeup off at work. Starrr was a character who he says “had no limits and didn’t try to conform or comply with any system.” In the ensuing nine years, Starrr’s YouTube and Instagram popularity (he has 8.6 million followers, evenly split between the two) has garnered him collaborations with makeup companies like Mac Cosmetics, clothing brands like Fashion to Figure, and a guest-judge spot on Drag Race Philippines. That he’s done it all while not perpetuating many of the ideals on which the beauty business was founded is something Simondac considered when launching his brand One/Size in 2020. Simondac says he designed the line for anyone who loves makeup but might not have “pretty privilege,” adding, “Me not having good skin, not even having hair, not having the lightest skin all inspired me to champion the unseen and the unheard.” Since debuting in Sephora’s US and North American stores two years ago, One/Size has expanded to Sephora’s outposts in Kohl’s stores and Southeast Asia, and is launching in Sephora UK on October 17, 2022. As he makes the transition from influencer to entrepreneur, Simondac says he’s grown his personal team and One/Size with an eye toward “acknowledging growth, perspective, and weakness,” in an effort to “stop, look, and listen to understand how a business works.”

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