Sunroom is an Australian women-focused creator platform that wants to beat Instagram and TikTok at their own game. Now it’s got $3.6 million in seed funding to do it.

 A new social platform geared toward women creators and consumers has launched with a $3.6 million seed round, as the creator economy reaches a tipping point and major social networks face increasing scrutiny.

Led by former senior executives at some of the world’s biggest dating apps — Michelle Battersby from Bumble Australia and former head of design at Hinge, Lucy Mort — the platform is selling itself as a cross between Instagram and OnlyFans, a closed platform that hosts mostly adult content.

“We want to nurture the creators we have and see them succeed before growing the brand too quickly,” Mort said of the company’s post-launch focus. 

Sunroom follows a similar model to closed subscription-driven platforms like Patreon and OnlyFans: it connects creators with their audience through monthly subscriptions, direct messages, video calls, custom photos, and series posts.

However, it claims its point of difference will be the promise of freedom from unreasonable censorship and fair pay for creator’s work; a response to criticism leveled at a host of existing platforms that impose restrictions on content and income. 

Sunroom users will be able to take out a monthly membership ranging from a $US1-$30 tip, ‘cheer’ or react to posts, along with being able to access paid content before taking out a membership, and comment on posts.

A wave of companies for the ‘creator economy’

While the platform has been gearing up to serve the needs of the Australian creator community for the past year, its launch comes as the creator space reaches a tipping point. 

In 2021 there was a record $1.3 billion in VC funding out of the US for companies within the ‘creator economy’, the term for individuals and groups that independently monetize content online. 

That was triple what was spent in 2020. 

At the same time, a raft of new startups is emerging to service creators themselves. 

Examples include Lumanu, a US influencer marketing software startup that helps creators manage brand partnership projects; and Powerspike, an influencer-marketing agency and tech platform that works exclusively with gamers, primarily on Twitch, to connect them with brands and execute campaigns. 

Locally, Sunroom joins a growing group of companies supporting the monetization of online attention, including musician-focused NFT platform Serenade and Born Bred, a talent agency geared towards partnerships on TikTok. 

Its launch also comes amid a growing backlash to the major social platforms, namely Meta, the parent company to Facebook and Instagram, that has faced increasing scrutiny amid an avalanche of leaks that revealed its awareness of the harms of its services to users. 

Sunroom has been quick to point out more than 50% of its backers are women across angel investors and funds including Blackbird, Li Jin (Atelier Ventures), Sarah Downey, and co-founder Michelle Kennedy.

Battersby has also said she believes the company provides solutions that will attract female creators, from mothers who’ve had breastfeeding content removed from Instagram to women creating sex-positive content who have recently been burned by platforms like OnlyFans and Linktree. 

“We just heard so many stories from mostly women and non-binary creators who really had a hard time on platforms like TikTok and Instagram with the sorts of content they were doing,” Battersby told TechCrunch.

“Sometimes it was more body-positive content, sometimes they were doing sexual wellness content and Instagram and TikTok just got to the point where they’re heavily, heavily moderating that content… these creators are shadowbanned, their accounts are taken down without notice, they don’t get the same distribution on algorithms that they typically did,” she said. 

‘Women making money on the internet

At the time of its launch on iOS on Thursday with a cluster of 100 initial creators, the founders said they are laser-focused on a core demographic of women and non-binary people they say they worked closely with to ensure the platforms were designed to empower them to grow and monetize audiences — as well as feel safe and supported — where other platforms had not. 

Beyond taking a 10% to 20% cut of creator revenue, the team is interested in building out personal finance tools, including banking and investment features to help creators leverage the money they earn on the app.

With the closed and tightly protected structure of the app — it was built with a proprietary anti-screenshot software called SunBlock to ensure the content uploaded to the app remains exclusive — Mort said the company is creating a potentially lucrative opportunity within the booming creator economy to capitalize on the failures of established platforms.

“We’re still at a point where women making money on the internet is seen as dirty or even threatening unless someone else is profiteering from them,” she said.

“We wanted to give women a place where they can capitalize on their image or skills safely.”

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