Tony Tran grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. His family emigrated to the US from Vietnam in 1994 and settled in a small South Carolina town. Whereas his two brothers dropped out of community college and started their own businesses in their early twenties, Tony followed a more standard path. He got a computer science degree from MIT, moved to San Francisco, and worked at Google and McKinsey.
In 2013, he started working at a marketing automation startup Outpace, where he was first introduced to influencer marketing. As he looked at market trends, Tony was fascinated at how content produced by regular people was influencing consumer behavior and buyer decisions.
“You know people buy, travel, do things because of content made by influencers and creators. Things like this couldn’t have been possible 20 years ago, even 10 years ago.”
The growth of the influencer marketing space has in large part been due to the democratization of creator technology and knowledge.
“Think about how inexpensive hardware is now. Everyone has an amazing camera on their phones. You think about how you do not need expensive Adobe. You can edit things on Canva. You can use inexpensive tools to make amazing content. Your iMac comes with amazing video editing software and you do not need to take expensive college classes. You can learn everything on YouTube. It makes me want to help creators succeed and do what they love. That’s why I dove head first into this space.”
The idea of building a creator software came to him in late 2016 while he was still working at Outpace. It was not until he quit his job in 2017 that Lumanu officially launched with two other co-founders – Nhan Nguyen and Paul Johnson. The company’s primary goal is to make collaboration easy and fun.
“We want to create a world where creators can truly do what they love, working from wherever they want, with whomever they want and make a living doing it. In order to make that happen, our goal as a company is we want to make collaboration in this creator influencer economy very easy, very fun and very collaborative. We want to build the best collaborative platform that is also easy and fun to use.”
Tony sees Lumanu as different from competing products in the marketplace.
“I would say we are closer to a Square-Google Docs hybrid than we are to any influencer marketing software. Five, ten years ago, a lot of these companies were building software for marketers. Creators were sort of an afterthought. They were not really treated as independent contractors, freelancers, entrepreneurs. If you give creators opportunity to take ownership of their work, project manage themselves and to contribute in a way that is bigger than just posting content online, everyone wins. The content is better. The results are better. That’s our goal.”
Tony Tran: Raising $12 Million Series A Funding
Initially, Lumanu went through an accelerator program and secured investment early on from Macy’s chief growth officer and from 500 Startups. Whereas the company was revenue generating for several years thereafter, Tony says they needed much larger funding to accomplish their ambitious goals.
“The creator space is incredibly fragmented. Our target market is not just social media creators on Instagram and Facebook. It’s everyone from the people that are just starting out their journey, to the OGs. We have Snoop Dogg and Jessica Alba on our platform on the higher end and independent photographers making $30,000 a year on the lower end. To build an amazing platform for them and the people they work with, it takes a lot of money, a lot of talent, a lot of engineers.”
He considers Lumanu fortunate to have gotten Origin Ventures as the lead investor in the series A round.
“They were the very first investors in GrubHub and Cameo. They definitely know consumer networks and consumer psychology really well. They were on food delivery service way before COVID. They were celebrities interacting with fans before everyone else was.”
The company also attracted several fintech angel investors as well.
“One of the really big things we’re doing is enabling creators to not live their best selves but to work stress free. And part of that is being financially healthy. We have gotten really good interest from fintech investors.”
And it’s not just traditional VCs who wanted in, Tony says. Some high net worth creators who use Lumanu’s software have invested in the company too.
“Like Christy Romano who voices Kim Possible is an investor. She now does amazing video content for many companies and she’s using our software. She runs a whole production company now. Ninja Natalie who was on American Ninja Warrior now producer on MTV’s The Challenge is an investor. Blake Michael, a former Disney child actor is an investor.”
Tony believes the company’s strategy of avoiding getting sucked into influencer marketing agency work and instead focusing on building a platform allowed Lumanu to create a product that investors believe in.
“Very early on, we made a decision that we are not an agency. It allowed us to build best-in-class software. We want to build software that’s used by millions of people across the globe. And it’s really hard to do that while also trying to run an agency.”
As a CEO, he considers building a great team his most challenging responsibility.
“You need great people to make great things happen. And you need a lot of them. You are constantly struggling with the need to hire fast against the need to hire the right people. That is, not only great performers but a great culture fit. And you want to make sure people are set up for success every step of the way. It is something extremely difficult for all CEOs.”
Tony expects Lumanu to have a series B round early in 2022. He intends that the company be a billion-dollar enterprise in the next four years.
“I think we have a very solid path to get there. We recently just hired an amazing VP of engineering who sold multiple companies including to Intuit, knows the fintech space, knows the creator space, was an early engineer at MySpace. For us, deploying this money very quickly, building out a network of creators, working with other creators, managers, agents and marketers – we call that the Lumanu network. Then launching our premium product called Lumanu Plus. It is actually already being used by a lot of brands including big brands such as Walmart and Etsy.”