The product of Patreon

Patreon is aggressively pursuing a new three-year product vision that is, in the words of SVP of Product Wyatt Jenkins, to build “the world’s best membership SaaS product for creators.” With about 90 engineers and product managers, the company sees an opportunity to own a particular niche that’s not well served by other B2B software and is also a growing market.
In this section of the Patreon EC-1, I dive into Patreon’s product strategy, analyzing its history and current approach.

Business software for artists

The early product development of Patreon

Patreon’s transformation into a membership management system

Building relations one human at a time

Building upward and outward

Co-branded vs white-label platform

A creator-first product mindset

Reading time for this article is about 18 minutes. Feature illustration by Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch.

Business software for artists

The six-year-old startup enables independent content creators to finance their pursuits by converting their most dedicated fans to monthly memberships. Those memberships provide special perks to the fans — like exclusive content, access to private discussion groups, first dibs on tickets, etc. — and stable, recurring revenue to the creator. (Patreon makes its money by taking a cut of that revenue.)
Patreon is building business software distinct to the fan-artist relationship. Creators have a base of superfans who want to support them and get special access. Creators are their business — their fans specifically want them and the content they create. This is why creators often get a manager or agent to handle their business when they find success, whereas a small business owner would normally do the opposite (become a manager and delegate product creation and customer interaction).
Creators need business tools for non-business people. As a result, Patreon’s core product includes a CRM, CMS, analytics, and payments platform with a lot of proactive guidance on what to do (like telling creators in a step-by-step manner when to, say, message certain patrons in order to reduce their risk of churning). 
This is what SVP of Product Wyatt Jenkins calls “a lean-forward CRM.” It is simplified for non-technical users to navigate (lacking a lot of the flexibility other businesses want), which results in an ongoing challenge to make it more advanced without making it more complicated.
Patreon acts a bit like a business partner, not just a tech platform. In terms of human interaction, it goes beyond technical support to provide advice on business strategy, both on a creator-by-creator basis and in a scalable way through educational webinars, articles, and events. The business model of earning a commission rather than charging a monthly subscription, like normal SaaS companies do, also fits the particular dynamics of media and entertainment, where it is standard for a creator’s business partners (talent manager, agent, business manager, lawyer) to get paid on commission. 
“We’re not here to help them do art. They don’t need help doing art,” explained Jenkins, “We’re here to be their hard-core business manager friend who is like ‘no no no, you need to do this.’” He added that there’s an emotional element that is distinct in working with artists as well: “We deal with a constituency for whom price creates anxiety…it’s all wrapped up in their self-worth. So it’s part of our job in that onboarding funnel to give them the confidence to say ‘the thing you do is real and valuable…you should be okay charging for that.’”

The early product development of Patreon

For the majority of Patreon’s life, its platform has been — to varying degrees — a social marketplace with creator profiles requesting funding and featuring content, patron profiles showing the creators they support, and discovery features for patrons to find new creators. 
The product of Patreon
An early screenshot of the Patreon platform, here showing CEO Jack Conte’s profile page.
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