Why an Atlanta-based collective of black influencers swapped their collab house for a studio – TechCrunch


From Los Angeles to Silicon Valley, a trend has taken hold among social media influencers and startup founders: moving into a mansion with a dozen employees, working day and night together to make themselves known and get rich , and hope his new roommates do their dishes. But across the country in Atlanta, a fast-growing tech hub, a cohort of black creatives have reinvented that idea. What if a collective of influencers could be truly collaborative, rather than nurturing a depressing Netflix reality show?

A well-known collective of influencers, Collab Crew (formerly known as Collab Crib) have had a hectic few months since TechCrunch met them at VidCon. Founder Keith Dorsey stepped down to focus on his sanity, appointing Robert Dean III (@robiiiworld) to take the helm. Why has the name changed? Sadly, they’re no longer a “crib” — their home in the Atlanta area was sold, so they couldn’t renew their lease.

Now Collab Crew is trying to make the best of the situation. Instead of living together outside Atlanta in Fayetteville, Khamyra Sykes (@queenkhamyra), Chad Epps (@chadio), Kaelyn Kastle (@kaelynkastle), Tracy Billingsley (@traybills) and other collaborators are launching Collab Studio ATL. Minutes from downtown Atlanta, Collab Studio ATL describes itself as “a tech-enabled one-stop-shop for content creators, HBCU students, and young entrepreneurs to achieve their business goals.”

At just sixteen, Sykes has already been honored on the Forbes 30 under 30 list alongside fellow Collab Crew members Theo Wisseh and Kastle. But since she was so young, she didn’t live in the collective house. Now she’s delighted to work in the studio, which is more specifically for business than a house that doubles as a living space.

“My company Putta Crown On It has the ability to have a place to do classes, promotional shoots and more,” Sykes told TechCrunch via email. “I feel like the studio has the potential to be a great place for creators like me to flourish. Productivity in the studio is much better than at home for business and content.

Moving away from the “house of influence” model, Collab Crew can also expand to include more BIPOC creators and entrepreneurs in the Georgian capital.

Currently, the studio is funded in part through partnerships with Monster Energy and Snap’s 523 program, which supports small content companies and creators from underrepresented groups. There is an application process and fee for members to join Collab Studio ATL, but the group hopes these costs will be subsidized by partners in the future – they say the application process is more about assessing the needs of an entrepreneur or a creator and what services they need the space. The price of membership varies depending on the resources an applicant is seeking, whether it’s marketing, help connecting with potential brand partners, or use of studio space.

At launch, members estimate that one-day access to the workspace will cost $25, while studio usage will hover between $150 and $250 per hour. Depending on how often a member wants to book the studio, monthly subscriptions will range from $85 to $250.

Collab Studio ATL says the goal of its application process is not to turn people away, but to make sure new members fit in well with the community. They also plan to build a professional music studio and sound stage. At the launch, core Collab Crew members welcomed partners such as filmmaker Jiron Griffin, creative director Elijah Brown and publicist Brandy Merriweather.

The group says it took inspiration from similar tech incubators in Atlanta, such as the Russel Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, PROPEL Center and Gathering Spot, but Collab Studio will focus more specifically on the entertainment industry.

Picture credits: Robiiiworld (Brandy Merriweather via BStarPR)

The new studio could help energize a cohort of creators who have succeeded despite serious obstacles.

Black influencers and startup founders face systemic barriers to growth. The same way black founders are unfairly overlooked in venture capital, black content creators have had their jobs stolen and are earning fewer brand deals than white creators, studies show.

In a Collab Crew documentary, Kastle even said she dyed half her hair pink because she felt the TikTok algorithm was more likely to pop her videos when it saw brighter colors. . Given that the TikTok algorithm is so obscure, it’s hard to confirm this particular claim, but it makes sense that Kastle would be concerned about how it could be unfairly removed across platforms – as has already happened. product.

For example, amid the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020, posts on TikTok with hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd appeared to get 0 views. TikTok later apologized for what it called a “technical issue”, but black creators continued to express concern over their removal from the platform. A year later, Ziggi Tyler showed in a TikTok video how TikTok’s Creator Market wouldn’t let him say “Black Lives Matter,” but it would let him say “support white supremacy.” Again, TikTok apologized. (The platform alleged that an error occurred because Tyler’s post also included the word “hearing”, which contained the letters “die” – in combination with the word “Black”, this triggered the automated moderation of TikTok content).

We have to work five times harder to get to the bare minimum on any platform,” said Dean, a 31-year-old filmmaker. He and his younger colleagues all experienced the frustration of discovering that their white peers earned more than them for the same work.

“I worked with a friend of mine who happens to be white, and we were talking because we were both part of the same campaign […] and they were clearly paid more than me,” said Epps, 23, with more than 7 million followers on TikTok. “It’s just very sad to me that black creators and the black community are underrepresented and underpaid. But again, it adds fuel to my fire to keep pushing harder and harder.

Picture credits: Queen Khamyra (Brandy Merriweather via BStarPR)

A recent Washington Post report supports claims that black designers were underpaid. It found that Triller, a competitor to TikTok, had specifically recruited black creators as partners but failed to meet commitments to pay them, the creators said. Because Triller withheld payment, some creators said they lost their homes and went into debt — but Triller still plans to go public via IPO in the fall, the report notes. As part of their deals, some creators — including members of Collab Crew — were supposed to get a financial stake in the company. But for the moment, it is not known if this will materialize.

Asked about their reaction to Triller’s damning investigation, Collab Crew emailed a statement to TechCrunch, but declined to disclose if or how its members were affected. Collab Crew said it hopes creators who haven’t received the promised money can be paid.

“Executed collaboration, moral integrity, genuine ethical business practices, and consistent investment in BIPOC creators and companies could eventually close the gap,” their statement read.

The idea of ​​”consistent investments” is central to how Collab Crew wants to run its studio, providing long-term support for its members’ growth. Companies like TikTok, Meta, YouTube and Snapchat have launched programs that give funding and resources to some black creators, and that quick capital helps — but Dean thinks the inequality runs deeper on those platforms.

“Some of these programs are cool, but it’s like, what’s next? Some of these white creators prepared to be fair to the algorithm,” he said. to TechCrunch “It’s hard for black creators to even start YouTube, more so than the average white creator.”

Whether they live in the same house or work together in their new studio, Collab Crew has maintained the same strategy to provide black creators with the opportunities they deserve: collaboration and mutual support.

“We all teach ourselves […] We have strong platforms and we have weak platforms, but with all of us together everyone will be great,” Sykes explained.

“Instead of like other bands, where it’s every man for himself, it’s really more like a team effort,” Dean said.


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