All social media platforms rely on user generated content, be it photos, videos, tweets, Vines, etc. All of these things are what power social media networks, so the question Sebastian Sobczak wondered, “Why aren’t people being paid for the content they are creating?” Enter Tsu.
The social media platform got a name for itself because it allows its user to sell content through its platform be it digital or physical goods. That in a way separates it from other sites that essentially ask one to create content to keep people on the site without ever offering compensation. Last week we chatted about Sebastian Sobczak, one of the site’s founders, about its origins, what separates it from other social media platforms, and their plans for the future.
What was the inspiration for Tsu?
I grew up in the venture capital arena up in Palo Alto. What was interesting was that we started seeing platforms arrive that essentially distributed intellectual property in terms of video. I remember seeing YouTube and Linkedin of course Myspace and Friendster. What’s really interesting is that the real world doesn’t work like the internet, or maybe the internet doesn’t work like the real world and maybe it should. If I put your face on a coffee mug and sold a million dollars of that coffee mug on Canal St. or Soho, I would have to give you a check for the commercial use of your face, your image, your likeness. But I could take a Photoshop of your face and put it on any of these platforms and make millions of dollars for these platforms and essentially not owe anybody anything. The platform owns everything 100%.
If you can create a platform that essentially gives value to those that are creating the most relevant content on social media you compensate people for that. For community building and moderation, you can essentially focus on another business model that doesn’t separate the classic creator or the people who are doing the work and the value increases. That’s essentially what Tsu does. We want to give away 90% of revenue revenue that are largely driven by advertisements back to those that are producing all of the work.
For a lot of people social media platforms are very cultural. I was wondering how you get people who aren’t interested in the platform to understand that this is a new idea?
We announced ourselves on Twitter a year ago yesterday and we have over four million invite-only subscribers. That’s like a world record number. Facebook had a million users in 10 months. We’re at four million over that time frame. The way that we’re constructed, it behoves users to essentially educate their friends and co-workers or the content consumer that they are creating content for, I’m giving value to those people, to those assets, they’re educating their own population with the value proposition that they feel is most valuable. So it’s not necessarily educating them. We’ve simply stated in our FAQs how this works. There are 28,000 YouTube videos about why it’s important, that’s not even produced by us.
That creates this virality. It’s completely organic. You have a community of people that are into ownership. And if you think about it, if you let somebody else, like if I drove your car and made money off of driving people around the city and gave it back to you, and kept the money and I could use your car any time I wanted, I could have really owned your car. So there’s this whole ownership issue. If you’re giving away your beautiful photography, whether you’re an Instagrammer or a model — taking a picture of themselves at the beach, the club, whoever — brands pay top dollar for that beautiful face to be associated with them and they’re giving that away for free to a $35 million platform.
Others understand what ownership is, just like I described, and they want a better philosophy. They see a business model that is more sustainable. We focus on repositioning your funds that are owed to you; we essentially give you the ability to give to charity, do peer-to-peer payments like PayPal does and take a transaction fee. We allow you to buy things, so we are a merchant service provider. If people understand that that’s where we focus and that’s how we make money, by being a processor, rather than a separator of content creator and they content they create, people understand that’s a more sustainable and more efficient model that makes more sense to them. So they want to try it, and it just happens to go viral.
If you look at our platform, it’s really owned by the user. The user is making all the content, they’re making all the economics, and they’re responsible for bringing people in, engaging with them, maintaining a wholesome community, moderating content, curating and creating content. It’s really a self-sustaining entity and I think people are very curious to see how that works. So you’re seeing a lot of interest just in the purely self-regulating and self-growing nature in what we’re doing.
In the last year or so have there been any difficulties that you have come across that you were able to nail through?
This is the crazy space if you think about it. No other start-up, not even Instagram, is a faster-growing platform before us. We had 1 million users, you’re talking about numbers where a start-up hopes to have tens of thousands of users by the end of year one. Everyone kind of grows in this organic way. It’s very controlled, you can layer features, you can have a lot of support that’s layered in and all that stuff. But you really were immediately thrust into the limelight as a Facebook user. With messenger and Instagram, that’s on two and a half billion people’s devices. We do something very similar, we give people the ability to communicate with a cohort, but we give them the value for it. So it’s 180 degrees. We’re brought into this prime time limelight since day one; we immediately had to scale from twelve employees to 45 in a matter of months—imagine the difficulty. It’s like you’re the son of a father who is 7’9” and you’re going through your growth spurt.
The year is wrapping up, what are you looking into in terms of 2016? What are some aspirations heading into the new year?
It’s really about matching content to users. If we’re not doing that, we’re not optimizing the content creators, the network creators, the people that are building the community. What’s crazy is the mind share. We have eight million back links to our sight — That’s legendary for the nascency of our platform. So if we can make it so that you can go on too and discover the stuff that you want to pursue, and we’re giving you more and more interesting stuff generated by this new user, it’s better for you, it’s better for the content creator, it’s better for the community builder, it’s better for people creating the adoption, so everything is going towards that.