Social currency startup Roll has raised a $1.7 million seed round to help content creators monetize relationships with their fans.
“From our perspective, the most important thing is that creators have to be in control of this economy,” Bradley Miles, one of Roll’s co-founders, told CoinDesk in an interview.
Roll’s seed round was led by Arthur Hayes, the CEO of BitMEX. Other investors include Gary Vaynerchuk, Techstars Ventures, Hustle Fund and Techstars NYC.
“I am really excited to work with Roll,” Hayes said in a statement. “I believe in their vision that allows influencers and artists to better monetise their contribution to the world economy using digital tokens. It is a worthy vision and a concept that will prove successful.”
Vaynerchuk is a digital media and marketing entrepreneur who has also made a number of early investments in major companies, such as Snap, Twitter and Venmo. In crypto, Vaynerchuk previously invested in Coinbase.
Currency for ‘creators’
Miles described Roll as “a blockchain protocol and platform that creates social money.”
Content creators – the popular term for online personalities on YouTube and other platforms – often need ways to incentivize their fans to take helpful actions. With Roll, creators could create a specific currency that carries their own brand, running on ethereum.
“Social money gives them a simple way to repeatedly generate social activity,” Miles said.
So, for example, a creator with a podcast could create a co-branded currency. A news show, for example, might call the currency it creates on Roll “mics.” With Roll, they would create a supply of “mics,” with a limit enforced by its smart contract, and then start creating a market with their users for earning mics and spending them.
They could give users five mics if they posted about one of their episodes on Twitter. Then later they might let people join a private video chat with the hosts at a cost of 75 mics. They could also be redeemed to, for example, cut the line at a live event, get a special autograph or other unique things that a random person might not care about but a super fan would value a lot.
So the tokens end up having a real value but it’s defined by the creator and the token’s market is likely to revolve around that creator.
The idea is that it gives creators a way to activate their fans in a variety of ways that aren’t controlled by the platform they are sitting on. On YouTube, for example, there’s the familiar refrain to “like and subscribe,” but with a loyalty points system that the creators control, they might be able to move fans onto other platforms as well or help give them an incentive to do things in real life.
“We’re excited about Roll and the potential for social money to alter the dynamics of social media as it exists today, giving much more control to creators,” Phil Toronto, VaynerX’s SVP of investing, told CoinDesk via email.
Roll’s Miles said the company is looking for creators who interact heavily with their fans. They expect to see a lot of early adopters in very interactive online entertainment verticals like beauty vloggers, gaming streamers and fitness personalities.
Previously, another token-based startup aimed at this same space first dramatically slowed its rollout plans before ultimately shutting down in June 2018.
“We’ve seen creators over the last few years become unsatisfied over the level of control they have over the platforms,” Miles said.
By using a blockchain, Roll hopes to build units of value that can exist independently of a creator’s chosen media platform.
Siddharth Kalla, another co-founder of Roll, told CoinDesk:
“Coming from a philosophical perspective what we are most interested in is the creator should be able to own that relationship with the fans irrespective of the platform.”
Describing Roll as a product for the long tail of content creators, the company’s business model is based on this economy growing. Roll will hold a small pool of tokens minted by each creator. Down the road, Roll might work to get its tokens listed on exchanges or create its own. For now, it’s just facilitating their creation.
“In the next decade, we see Roll serving as the social money layer that really wraps around the web.”
Correction (June 20, 14:38 UTC): Gary Vaynerchuk invested personally in Roll. The funding was not made through his VaynerX parent company, as was reported in an earlier version of this piece.
Team photo courtesy of Roll