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The Creative Revolution How Whalar's Founders are Disrupting The Status Quo and Building Empires For The Entrepreneurial Voice


The Creative Revolution: How Whalar’s Founders are Disrupting the Status Quo and Building Empires for the Entrepreneurial Voice

Neil Waller and James Street co-founded Whalar eight years ago to help influencers and creators capitalize on their online followings. 

“We were working with creators, getting amazing creative made that we put into our paid advertisements,” Waller recalls. “We were also getting to those communities and their audiences to talk about the brand and products. And so we had a lot of success with that.” 

Leveraging influencer marketing delivered strong results for their e-commerce businesses. But Waller identified pain points around scaling operations and managing workflows. “We ended up creating Whalar as a better way of doing it,” he says. “How can we solve some of the challenges around scale, around workflow?”

Whalar officially launched in March 2016 with a mission to streamline the influencer marketing process for brands and creators alike. “We just started solving one problem at a time. And the rest is kind of history,” Waller says. Today, the Los Angeles-based firm employs over 300 people globally, while serving as a one-stop shop for the creator economy. 

Whalar’s sprawling operations include brand partnerships, a talent management division – overseeing 260 creators-, a technology arm providing software for talent managers, Umi Games – a gaming division that specializes in activations within titles like Fortnite for brands and creators, and even a venture capital division investing in creator-led brands and products.

Whalar’s Mission Unchanged as Creator Economy Booms

While Whalar’s service offerings have expanded dramatically, Waller says the company’s core mission of “liberating the creative voice” remains unchanged since its 2016 founding.

However, Whalar’s vision has necessarily evolved with the exponential growth of the creator economy. Waller says that eight years ago, only 10% of the influencers Whalar worked with considered content creation a full-time career. The rest treated it as a “passionate side hustle” in addition to traditional jobs.  Today’s landscape looks starkly different, with 95% of Whalar’s creator partners now working full-time in the creator industry. Seventy percent have professional representation like managers and agents, while 20% have hired employees to support their operations.

“It’s just been this incredible journey from a passionate side hustle, building communities to a thriving industry of really…media houses and publishers,” Waller says. “And you could even take one step further and say, entrepreneurs building robust businesses.”

Though the creator economy has rapidly professionalized, Waller believes its core tenets remain rooted in skillful storytelling and community-building, just with more viable career paths thanks to new monetization tools. “It’s unchanged,” Waller says of Whalar’s original mission. “It’s still storytellers and community builders. And just more has become possible because of the tools.”

Whalar’s Divisional Structure 

Whalar’s multi-pronged business divisions reflect the rapidly evolving creator economy landscape the company aims to serve, according to Waller.

The brand partnerships unit functions as Whalar’s “traditional advertising agency business,” Waller explains, noting that around 80% of creator revenue still comes from sponsorship deals. However, as influencers have professionalized their operations, Whalar launched complementary divisions to meet changing needs.

The company added a talent management arm in 2019 after creators requested more comprehensive career support beyond just brokering brand deals. “It’s also just about helping them feel connected to someone and get more connected to each other as well,” Waller says of the rationale behind representation services.

As more creators launched their own products, brands, and membership offerings, Whalar established a venture capital division to provide funding and operational guidance. “Our job again is to help creators have bigger, more sustainable careers,” Waller says. “Part of that sustainability is diversification.”

Whalar’s tech division, comprised of around one-third of engineers, develops proprietary software solutions to streamline operations and integrate emerging technologies like generative AI.  “You’ve got to take advantage of the tools, the data, and the technology to make smart decisions and to work in scaled ways,” Waller says.

Additionally, Whalar’s gaming division, Umi Games builds immersive experiences and connects brands to creators within Fortnite.

Finally, The Lighthouse creator campuses coming to Los Angeles and New York will provide physical spaces for the booming creator workforce to convene, learn, and potentially hatch new enterprises. Waller shares; “Our dream at The Lighthouse is that you fast forward five years and some of the most exciting projects in the space were made possible because creators met here or were inspired here,” Waller shares.

The company is actively exploring expansion into new verticals as more multi-hyphenate businesses emerge across sectors like e-commerce, television, live events, and more. “We’ve got other eyes on other divisions in the future as these things become more common for creators to do,” Waller hints.

Whalar employees from The Lighthouse

Creator Economy Trends Brands and Platforms Must Embrace

According to Waller, two major shifts are underway in the creator economy that brands and platforms urgently need to adapt their strategies around.

The first is creators increasingly maintaining robust presences across multiple social platforms rather than being confined to a single platform’s ecosystem.  “There used to be a time where a creator would be very happy being an Instagrammer or a YouTuber or a TikToker,” Waller says. “Now, creators feel the need to be multi-platform because they want to have a level of diversification.” This cross-platform approach provides creators more independence and insulation from any single platform’s changes or demise. However, it could also divert engagement and monetization opportunities away from major platforms.

The second trend is creators are actively building owned channels and databases to directly engage their audiences outside of third-party platforms. “People are wanting to take their audiences off of the platforms to collect data somewhere else so that they have a way to resonate with them,” Waller notes. He argues that platforms should embrace this activity rather than attempting to hinder it, as third-party discovery and distribution still hold immense value.

For brands, Waller foresees more creators launching their own product lines and media ventures — representing both partnership and acquisition opportunities. “It would be interesting for brands to see creators as an innovation lab,” he proposes, suggesting collaborating with creators to co-develop new offerings or products.  Rather than simply paying creators for sponsored content, Waller encourages brands to empower creators as entrepreneurial partners with more stake and creative control. “How do you collaborate more with creators in a way where they have more of a seat at the table and more equity in that equation?” he asks. “That’s your way to protect that they don’t need you one day.”  

Shift from ‘Influencer Marketing’ to ‘Creator Economy’

“What influencer marketing said was this was a marketing tactic, and it was all about leveraging the influence that these people have,” Waller notes. “What the creator economy says is these are more than just influencers and creatives and creators, and influence is a part of what they have.” He argues the “economy” descriptor signifies creators are now entrepreneurs with diversified revenue streams propelling bona fide companies.  “What the economy says is these are business owners, and there is more than one revenue stream here in the business,” he states.

As for how Whalar will adapt, Waller cites the company’s core principle of maintaining “proximity” to creators and evolving services based on earned trust and understanding of their ambitions. “We believe that we need to be close to creators, showing up where they are in the moments that they need, doing the things they need,” he explains. 

Ultimately, Waller reiterates the company’s purpose is squarely centered on empowering creators as the drivers of the economy’s growth. “It’s called the creator economy. It’s not called the creator and brand economy. It’s not called the creator and platform economy,” he shares.

Waller Aims to Erode Lingering ‘Stigma’ Around Creator Careers

“If you had a magic wand, what would you change about the industry?” He recounts being asked this same question years ago. “I’d hope that there was more respect and less need for creators to feel, and even us to fee,l sort of some embarrassment or some second-class citizen nature to being a creator.”

While the shift from “influencer marketing” to “creator economy” branding has helped, Waller still senses creators sometimes face skepticism about their career paths outside of tight-knit industry circles. “Amongst a certain group of peers, there’s absolute pride,” he acknowledges. “But across a cross-section of society, I still feel like people feel some degree of embarrassment to say it’s the industry they work in or what they do.”

Waller cites Whalar’s creation of The Lighthouse campuses as part of an intentional effort to showcase the creator economy as a respectable, aspirational career choice on par with other prestigious vocations. “For people to be able to go, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go to Venice or New York, and I’m going to go work at The Lighthouse as part of my chosen career path.’ That would be the thing that I’d love to change,” he states.

Despite progress, Waller estimates it may take another “3 to 5 years” before the lingering “stigma” around creative vocations dissipates across broader society. “It’s just still a case of its infancy. It’s a slightly generational thing as well,” he explains.

In his final comments, Waller reiterates his bullishness on the expansive opportunities present in the booming creator market. “For anyone on an entrepreneurial journey, I just love the phrase it’s either one day or day one, and it only gets started when you call it day one,” he states. “I’m just like, go for day one.”

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Cecilia Carloni, Interview Manager at Influence Weekly and writer for NetInfluencer. Coming from beautiful Argentina, Ceci has spent years chatting with big names in the influencer world, making friends and learning insider info along the way. When she’s not deep in interviews or writing, she's enjoying life with her two daughters. Ceci’s stories give a peek behind the curtain of influencer life, sharing the real and interesting tales from her many conversations with movers and shakers in the space.

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