This story was initially published in The Creators — a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it sent to your inbox.
First came the creators. Then came the merchandise. Many prominent social media personalities profit from their platforms, and one way they do this is selling products associated with their brands. For example, YouTuber MrBeast (103 million subscribers) released a line of chocolate bars. TikTok star Charli D’Amelio (145.4M) sells enough unique clothing that someone could wear a different outfit every day for two months. Even Jonathan Graziano (4.5M)—owner of Noodle, TikTok’s favorite pug who refuses to stand up most mornings—released Noodle-inspired merchandise including t-shirts, pillows, and a children’s book called Noodle and the No Bones Day.
Many startups have tapped into this new market to streamline the merchandise supply chain, leaving the creators to do what they do best—make content. This week the Observer’s Rachyl Jones spoke with Ronak Trivedi, co-founder and CEO of Pietra, one of the companies powering this sector of the creator economy.
What Pietra does
“Pietra gives access to the back-end, unsexy infrastructure needed to run a brand,” said Trivedi, like finding the right manufacturers, storage warehouses and shipping services. “So the social-savvy entrepreneur never has to worry about it.”
Trivedi, a 33-year-old Toronto native, came up with the idea while working as a product manager for Uber Pool, a subsection of Uber that allows people to share rides at a lower cost. He saw how the next generation of food brands live on apps like Uber Eats and became inspired by the idea of virtual kitchens, or restaurants that are hyper-optimized for delivery. At the same time, his friends were trying to start their own product lines, and he saw how little support was available to them. He combined this interest in supply chains with the resource gap he noticed to build Pietra.
Creators can get their products to market in one to two months with Pietra and do it spending hundreds, rather than thousands, of dollars, he said. Creators pay the $39 monthly subscription to Pietra, which works with over 750 factories to produce products that can include cat eye sunglasses, blush makeup, and swimwear made from recycled materials. They can also pay for warehouse storage services and the $1 pick-and-pack fee per item along with shipping. The experience is customizable, so a creator can opt out of any segment and take on that responsibility themselves. The company currently has 20 full time employees.
A new era of merch
In 2019, Pietra began working with 25 creators. Now, more than 50,000 creators use some aspect of Pietra’s offerings, selling tens of millions worth of branded products, he said. Trivedi said he expects that number to double by the end of the year.
Niche products allow creators to build deeper relationships with their audiences. Charly Jordan (8.1M) took her travel experiences seeing what people around the world smoked and developed them into a business where she sells smokable blunts filled with rose petals—for mental health.
Launching a consumer product brand through one of these services isn’t just for celebrities either. Isabella Grandic, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, launched a card game called “Boob Blurb” that seeks to normalize talking about women’s bodies and health. She sells the game on Pietra’s e-commerce marketplace which functions like the homemade products online retailer Etsy.
This interview was originally published in The Creators, a newsletter about the people powering the creator economy. Get it in your inbox before it’s online.