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Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

Creator merch can be an excellent way for creators to diversify their income. In today’s interview, Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, shares Fanjoy’s process of selecting creators and developing and marketing creator merch.

Who is Chris Vaccarino?

Chris Vaccarino is a Florida native who attended the University of Florida, where many of his friends were studying and working in tech, which interested him as well. So in 2013, he moved to San Francisco to pursue a career in tech. 

Soon after, his brother’s band, A Great Big World, had a hit song, “Say Something,” with Christina Aguilera. 

Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

“So at that time, my brother was like, “Hey, we’re going on tour. Do you want to come on tour with us?” and I was like, “yes, I do.” So I went on tour with my brother’s band and started selling merchandise on the road.”

This experience led Chris to see the impact that music and content have on fans. While on tour with his brother, many fans told Chris how much the music changed their lives.

The Start of Fanjoy

“So, you know, at the time, I was like, I want to build my own company, so there were some subscription companies out there… so I was like, cool, I”m going to start figuring out what this kind of company looks like… [and] kind of explore different ideas.”

At first, Chris offered a subscription box care package centered around musicians sent out every three months. 

This early model had some success but was faced with many rejections along the way. 

Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

However, Chris shares that things changed when “[I] randomly met Hilary Duff’s manager in 2014/2015, and he was like, “Hey, I don’t want to do a subscription box, but Hilary hasn’t had an album in eight years so do you want to do an album box around her [upcoming] album?”

Chris Vaccarino leaped on the idea, and they sold several thousand units. Other musicians came along, and he began receiving requests for custom t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and more. 

“So we started really focusing on like merchandise and apparel, [at the] beginning of 2017 … and that’s kind of when it took off… In 2016, we did a million dollars in sales, and in 2017 [we did] about 30 million in sales.”

Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

Fanjoy Today

Today, Fanjoy is “like the Urban Outfitters of the creator world.”

Chris Vaccarino shares, “we have about 70 plus creators on Fanjoy where you’re actually able to shop. [You can go on] one website and shop multiple creators where it’s almost more of like a discovery platform as well.”

In addition to this, Fanjoy manages about 35 other websites for creators and works to help creators build and leverage their brands. 

“We’re not just a service provider or partner on the backend, so a lot of new talent when they pop up…. Come to Fanjoy because we… can get their products launched very quickly, but then we also have like our own database and our own social profiles to also like highlight their products and them as creators.”

Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

What Kind of Creators Does Fanjoy Work With?

Chris Vaccarino shares that Fanjoy doesn’t look for creators in specific niches. Instead, they look for creators with a large fan base. 

“So we want to make sure there’s, you know, some selling power on that front, but the type of creator varies.”

However, Fanjoy doesn’t require a specific number of followers from creators. Chris notes that they look closer at the engagement and loyalty of a creator’s audience. For example, a creator with a hundred thousand followers who can send ten thousand plus people to Fanjoy’s website is better than someone with a million followers who sends much fewer. 

Long-term potential is far more critical to their marketing strategy. 

Fanjoy will reach out to specific influencers that they are especially interested in collaborating with but also has influencers reach out to them that they work with.

Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

Fanjoy’s Product Lines

Chris Vaccarino notes that Fanjoy is open to making a variety of merchandise for creators. Many creators love making t-shirts and hoodies, so this is a common merch staple. Fanjoy always works with the creators to see what they are interested in creating and what their audience will respond well to.

“[We] kind of give our kind of expertise and guidance there along with kind of like what the marketing strategy looks like, [such as what] the photoshoot should look like or the video shoot and what kind of content we should be creating.”

Chris shares that he trusts the creators he works with to know what kind of content would work best with their audience. 

Besides content development which is a collaborative effort between the creator and Fanjoy, Fanjoy handles the customer service, shipping, and production. They also facilitate the marketing and product photoshoots and paid advertising. 

Product development with a creator can take anywhere from a few days for a high-priority, time-sensitive project or, more typically, about six weeks. 

Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

Chris shares that the best-selling merchandise is hoodies and sweaters across the board, but many other products do sell well. 

TikTok vs. Instagram Creator Merch Marketing

With Instagram, you can link your product directly through your Instagram story, making sales easier. 

TikTok does not have this feature, but Chris suspects that they will soon.

Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

“You know, every creator is kind of different, but TikTok is becoming a beast when it comes to promotion for sure.”

He also notes that creators who are “native” to Instagram typically sell much more on Instagram than creators who are more popular or started on other platforms. 

Fanjoy and Addison Rae

Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

Recently, Fanjoy took about six months to develop products with Addison Rae

Chris says that Addison was “very collaborative. She was very like in tune with like what she wanted the merchandise to look like, feel like, [and] the garment quality. So for us, it’s nice when a creator like, cares about the products that they put out into the world.”

He notes that it was fantastic to work with Addison, and she went from 40 million to 87 million followers in short succession during their launch, which was exciting. 

Chris Vaccarino, CEO and Founder of Fanjoy, on Making and Marketing Creator Merch

Future Plans

When asked about the future of merch, Chris shares, “I think it will always be around. I don’t think merchandise will ever… not be a thing. I think it’ll evolve for sure.”

For example, a food content creator selling t-shirts currently may decide in the future to create merchandise that is more specific to their brand. 

In terms of Fanjoy’s future, Chris recently brought on a VP of talent management to help Fanjoy funnel and bring brand deals and sponsorships to creators. They also build a CPG venture studio to help develop creator brands. 

Chris notes, “We’re a bootstrap company, [so] we don’t have billions of dollars of funding to just, you know, take guesses on things, so we’re very strategic when it comes to like where we go next.”

In conclusion, Chris shares, “Ultimately, Fanjoy as a brand, I think has a lot of potential and room to grow, and maybe there’s physical retail stores in the near future, but yeah, I don’t know… We kind of see what the market kind of tells us is needed and kind of go from there.”

Amy DeYoung is a freelance blog post writer covering influencer marketing and business topics. As the daughter of two business owners, she's been fascinated by all things business from a young age, which led her to graduate from college with a bachelor's degree in business. When she's not typing away, she spends her time reading nonfiction books and mystery novels, baking scrumptious desserts, and playing with her dog.

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