Tiffany Kelly’s firsthand experience working in sports and with athletes enabled her to see some of the most common pain points creators have regarding video creation. This inspired her to create Curastory and change how advertisers and creators do influencer marketing.
Who is Tiffany Kelly?
She started as a data scientist and analyst at ESPN, one of the biggest sports media companies. During her stint at ESPN, she spent half her time building algorithms to project who would win the games and which fan bases would be happier. The other half of her time, she would go on TV and explain some of those metrics.
How did you come up with Curastory?
On her first day working for ESPN, Tiffany recalls witnessing the company laying off 500 persons, including many famous talents. The incident becomes widely known in the press. And for the two years she worked for ESPN, she saw a media conglomerate to the creator economy.
Tiffany Kelly shares, “For the first time ever, this huge company that dominated the market was competing with YouTubers and niche media publishers of two to three people for the first time in history. And watching them react was really interesting.”
According to Tiffany, many of ESPN’s decade-old shows were canceled during that time, and air talents either resigned or quit to do their own independent media. These talents were getting more followers and engagement on their own than a media conglomerate.
Tiffany Kelly was in her early 20s when all of these happened and just absorbed everything that was transpiring. She paid attention to the trends taking place.
She stayed with ESPN for two years and assisted another startup after. In the spring of 2019, the first press story about student-athletes being able to monetize their social media channels came out. This was a big deal for Tiffany because 450,000 individuals are now entering the creator economy and gig economy every year.
“And that really cemented the creator economy for me. I was just like, ‘Okay, these new entrants are going to have the same problems YouTubers have been having for years with YouTube and the gripes that they’ve had and how much control the platforms have.’ So I just did a deep dive,” Tiffany recalls.
From there, Tiffany began thinking about the common problems in the industry and the possible solutions out there. She used the information she gathered when she did user interviews for six months. She cites one interview she did with an MLS player, saying:
“It was a soccer player with a really famous podcast, and he was using Anchor FM for his podcast enablement, which was later acquired by Spotify. He was telling me, ‘I use Anchor FM for all my podcast enablement. So, I record, edit, and host my podcast on Anchor [FM]. I’m getting my advertisements from Spotify ad network that I can speak in my own voice and kind of distribute my RSS feeds everywhere.'”
Tiffany Kelly continues, “When you listen to a podcast, the ad is typically in the podcast host’s voice. And so that’s very unique to podcasts. And he was getting that from the Spotify ad network. And he mentioned, ‘If something like this existed for video, I would use it in a heartbeat.’ That was immediately like a signal that I knew that this is what we needed to build.”
After that interview, Tiffany knew what her next goal was: a create a video enablement tool for creators with editing music licensing and one-click distribution to socials, including YouTube shorts, TikTok, and Facebook reels.
“And then we needed an ad network just like Spotify ad network; we needed to have an ads manager. And so, we’re the first platform for videos to treat influencer marketing like a programmatic media buy. So, it’s a media-buying solution where brands and creators don’t have to talk,” Tiffany explains.
Unlike other platforms where creators and brands meet beforehand to discuss what kind of content creators have to make, Curastory enables advertisers to get content that’s already recorded and made to match their voice. In short, Curastory flipped the traditional, manual model of influencer marketing.
Tiffany Kelly adds, “Because who wants to read a magazine with all ads, right? If a piece of content is fully sponsored, audiences are going to skip and keep scrolling. But if it’s an ad in the voice of their favorite creator for a minute or 30 seconds within the video, then it won’t overtake the video, and then they get back to their content.”
What challenges have you faced in building Curastory, and how did you overcome those?
Raising funds as a woman of color was Tiffany’s biggest challenge when she was starting. Presently, she’s able to raise almost $7 million in funding and shares, “I think I’m one of the 10 or 15 black women who have raised this much capital.”
Tiffany Kelly didn’t have a network of wealthy individuals she could learn from or didn’t come to New York with a crazy amount of savings enough to bootstrap. She needed capital to get an engineer, CTO, designer, and sales support person.
She and her team did equity crowdfunding and raised about $250,000, but that was only after all venture capitalists told her no. She says, “It’s just really difficult, especially with our platform being a two-sided marketplace, as there is a lot to build. And it’s a big product, and [securing] the additional funding was really tough, which is why I incorporated in August 2019, and it wasn’t until February 2021 that we launched.”
Curastory didn’t get capital until mid-2020, and Tiffany’s team spent six months building the first viable product needed to launch in the market.
Tiffany adds, “Yeah, I think that was a super huge challenge. We’re bigger now, but funding and fundraising never go away. As a CEO, this is one of your main jobs — you have to make sure that the company doesn’t run out of money. That’s the only thing you do as a CEO. I mean, challenges are going to get more complex the bigger that we get.”
Tiffany feels like it’s hard for people to understand her challenges as a woman and person of color struggling to have funds for her business. In fact, she’s going through the same situation with her lead investor right now, as he’s seen how challenging it is for her to get the last capital even after getting referrals from other investors.
Tiffany Kelly shares, “He is just like, ‘I don’t understand the difficulty,’ and I’m just like, ‘Yeah, welcome to investing in a black woman.’ You’re going to see things that you’ve never seen before that will make you question a lot, and that’s an experience that we’re going to go through together.”
Presently, Curastory has a lot of capital and was able to close their biggest check to date, resulting in fundraising getting a little bit easier.
How does Curastory help athletes and sports organizations tell their stories?
Curastory only services sports and fitness creators. As of this writing, they have about 41,000 creators composed of pro athletes, student-athletes, and non-athlete fitness creators.
For the first time in history, Curastory will get highlights (like game highlights) from student-athletes. Tiffany Kelly adds, “So we’re doing it with the Pac-12, which is all the schools on the West Coat in the states. What’s exciting about that is they’re sending us all of this game footage that has never been allowed to be used by student-athletes. And so they just get to edit these clips, like in their talks, get ready with me, what a game day looks like, or kind of commentary on the game in their own voice, which is so cool.”
Curastory wants to shake things up this year by allowing student-athletes to tell their stories for the first time. This isn’t common, as the press provides its own commentary and content, including game highlights.
Tiffany says, “And so we’re doing really cool experiential events popups throughout the season that we can share more in the press a little bit later. But we’re really excited. The rules are so new with student-athletes that I feel like what we’re going to do this year; people are going to have their head on a swivel.”
What kind of analytics does Curastory provide to its users?
On the creator side, Curastory aggregates views across its social media channels in one place. This means the platform can track what creators are getting on TikTok, YouTube, and Facebook and determine which channels perform best.
Curastory also shows the creator’s total earnings, which includes the revenue they make from YouTube AdSense or TikTok creator funds. It’s just revenues from advertisers and from the creators of the videos made on the platform.
On the advertiser side, Curastory calculates the return on ad spend. Tiffany explains, “Advertisers really care about conversions; it’s why I think Facebook and Google have been so dominant for so long.”
Curastory also allows advertisers to connect their online store to the platform. This way, Curastory can pull out their revenues and calculate whether that revenue was driven by Curastory ad read or campaign.
Tiffany Kelly adds, “We’re also calculating conversions for them, as well. I think our average ROI is about six times right now since 2021, which is pretty amazing because if you ask any brand if they’re getting their dollar back, like for every dollar spent in ads, they’re happy. We’re kind of crushing that out of the water and blowing that out of the water where for every dollar they’re spending, they’re getting an average of six back in revenue.”
How do you ensure that ad reads are authentic and relevant to the creator’s audience?
Traditionally, the creator creates content for the brand, and the brand has all these stipulations. “Brands will say, ‘I want you to show the logo in the entire video, say our brand name 20x in the video, we need you to do this, we need you to do that.’ And so, it’s just over-scripted and really unauthentic and becomes a fully sponsored piece of content, like a walking ad and a billboard.”
Curastory flipped the traditional model of influencer marketing to ensure authenticity. This way, people get to watch a piece of content that isn’t a walking ad but content that the creator owns and creates.
Additionally, Curastory also makes sure that the creator’s audience matches at least 20% of the brand’s target audience. For instance, if an advertiser targets males and females around 25 to 45 years old living in California, Curator will find a creator that has at least a 20% audience that matches the advertiser’s target.
Besides the audience, Curastory also matches advertisers with creators based on their allotted budget. Tiffany adds, “If they [advertisers] say they have a $100,000 lifetime budget but only want nano and micro creators, then we’ll show them the minimum and the maximum amount they’ll spend per video.”
Next, Curastory also takes into consideration content relevancy to ensure content is authentic. For example, if an advertiser wants to market a track workout, they’ll be matched with a creator who’s a pro at hydration packets or vitamins.
How do you see the creator ad rates tool evolving and expanding in the future?
Tiffany Kelly admits not knowing what will happen in the future but is confident that innovation will continue to happen and grow. She’s also looking forward to seeing if creator ad reads will become obsolete, what will be the new frontier, and how Curastory will continue to innovate to adapt to those changes.
How do you see the role of influencer marketing evolving? What kind of trends do you see?
“I think influencers are going to be media companies,” Tiffany says. The shift is slowly happening today as audience viewership on YouTube or reels is increasing rapidly compared to being connected or seeing ads on TV. As a result, influencers will become media companies as they become savvier, allowing them to build multi-million-dollar media businesses from their content.
As these media companies make a lot of noise and put out tons of content, what will be interesting is ensuring that the content is trustworthy. Tiffany sees this as a huge challenge, given that everyone has freedom of speech and influencers are held to a different standard.
Are there any upcoming features or developments for Curastory?
Curastory is currently working on building a media asset storage library. They’ll also launch content insights soon, which aims to address a recurrent issue many creators continue to cite — understanding how the algorithms work.
Tiffany Kelly explains, “When they upload a video, we explain to them that this video is going to perform slightly better on shorts or TikTok because all algorithms perform differently.”
With the content insights feature, Curator can tell the creators upfront where their videos will perform better. This will help tons of creators who are already using Curastory, as well as attract new users and gain more traction.