Why an Atlanta-based Black influencer collective swapped their collab house for a studio – TechCrunch

From Los Angeles to Silicon Valley, a trend has been emerging among social media influencers and startup founders alike: move into a mansion with about ten employees, work together day and night to build fame and fortune, and hope that your new roommates do their dishes. But across the country in Atlanta, a fast-growing tech hub, a cohort of Black creators has reimagined that idea. What if an influencer collective could be truly collaborative instead of fodder for a depressing Netflix reality show?

Collab Crew (formerly known as Collab Crib), a well-known influencer collective, has had a turbulent few months since TechCrunch met them at VidCon. Founder Keith Dorsey stepped down to focus on his sanity and appointed Robert Dean III (@robiiiworld) to lead. Why the name change? Unfortunately, they’re no longer a “crib” — their home in the Atlanta area was sold, so they couldn’t renew their lease.

Now Collab Crew is trying to make the best of the situation. Instead of living together outside of Atlanta in Fayetteville, Khamyra Sykes (@queenkhamyra), Chad Epps (@chadio), Kaelyn Kastle (@kaelynkastle), Tracy Billingsley (@traybills) and other collaborators form collab Studio ATL. Collab Studio ATL, just minutes from downtown Atlanta, describes itself as “a technology-enabled one-stop shop for content creators, HBCU students and young entrepreneurs to meet their business goals.”

At just sixteen, Sykes was already recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list alongside fellow Collab Crew members Theo Wisseh and Kastle. But because she is so young, she did not live in the collective house. Now she’s looking forward to working at the studio, which is more dedicated to business than a house that doubles as living space.

“My company, Putta Crown On It, has the ability to have a location for classes, promotional shoots, and more,” Sykes told TechCrunch via email. “I feel like the studio has the potential to be a great place for creators like me to thrive. Productivity in the studio is much better than in house for business and content.”

Moving away from the “influencer house” model, Collab Crew can also expand to include more BIPOC inventors and entrepreneurs in the Georgia capital.

Currently, the studio is partially funded through partnerships with Monster Energy and Snap’s 523 program, which supports small content companies and developers from underrepresented groups. There is an application process and fee for members to join Collab Studio ATL, but the group hopes these costs will be subsidized by partners in the future – they say the application process is more about an entrepreneur’s or creator’s needs and which ones To evaluate services they require from the place. The price of membership depends on what resources an applicant is looking for, whether it’s marketing, help connecting with potential brand partners, or use of studio space.

At launch, members estimate that one-day access to the workspace will cost $25, while hourly use of the studio will range from $150 to $250. Depending on how often a member wants to book the studio, monthly memberships range from $85 to $250.

According to Collab Studio ATL, the goal of the application process is not to turn people away, but to ensure that new members are a good fit into the community. They also plan to build a professional music studio and sound stage. At launch, the core members of the Collab Crew have welcomed partners such as filmmaker Jiron Griffin, creative director Elijah Brown and publicist Brandy Merriweather.

The group says it drew inspiration from similar community-focused Atlanta tech incubators like the Russel Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, the PROPEL Center and the Gathering Spot, but Collab Studio will have a more specific focus on the entertainment industry.

Photo credit: Robiiiworld (Brandy Merriweather via BStarPR)

The new studio could help bolster a cohort of creators who have thrived despite facing serious hurdles.

Black influencers and startup founders alike face systemic barriers to their growth. Just as Black founders are unfairly overlooked when it comes to venture capital, Black content creators have had their work stolen and earn fewer brand deals than white creators, studies have shown.

In a documentary about the Collab Crew, Kastle even said she dyed half her hair pink because she thinks the TikTok algorithm is more likely to make her videos pop when it sees lighter colors. Because the TikTok algorithm is so obfuscated, it’s difficult to confirm this particular claim, but it makes sense why Kastle would worry about how it could be unfairly suppressed on platforms – as has happened before.

For example, during the summer 2020 racial justice protests, posts on TikTok with hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd appeared to have 0 views. TikTok later apologized for what it called a “technical error,” but black creators have continued to raise concerns that they are being oppressed on the platform. A year later, Ziggi Tyler revealed in a TikTok video that the TikTok creator marketplace didn’t let him say “Black Lives Matter,” but it did let him say “Supporting White Supremacy.” Once again, TikTok apologized. (The platform claimed an error occurred because Tyler’s post also included the word “Audience” which contained the letters “die” – combined with the word “Black” this triggered TikTok’s automatic content moderation).

We have to work five times as hard to get what we need on each platform,” said Dean, a 31-year-old filmmaker. He and his younger colleagues were all frustrated to find out that their white colleagues were making more than they were doing the same job.

“I was working with a friend of mine who happens to be white and we were talking because we were both part of the same campaign […] and they were clearly paid more than I was,” said Epps, a 23-year-old with over 7 million TikTok followers. “It’s just very sad to me that black creators and the black community are underrepresented and underpaid. But on the other hand it adds fuel to my fire to keep pushing harder and harder.”


Photo credit: Queen Khamyra (Brandy Merriweather via BStarPR)

A recent report in the Washington Post supports claims that black creators are underpaid. It turns out that Triller, a TikTok competitor, had specifically recruited black creators as partners but failed to meet its payment obligations, the creators said. Because Triller withheld payment, some creators said they lost their homes and got into debt — yet Triller still plans to go public in the fall via the IPO, the report said. As part of their deals, some developers – including members of the Collab Crew – should contribute financially to the company. But whether that will happen is currently unclear.

When asked about their reaction to the damning Trill investigation, the Collab Crew emailed TechCrunch, but declined to disclose if or how their members were affected. Collab Crew has said they hope creators who haven’t received the promised money can be paid.

“Executed collaboration, moral integrity, true ethical business practices, and consistent investment in BIPOC creators and companies could eventually narrow the gap,” their statement said.

The idea of ​​“consistent investment” is key to the way Collab Crew aims to run its studio and provide long-term growth support for its members. Companies like TikTok, Meta, YouTube and Snapchat have launched programs that provide funding and resources to select Black creators, and that quick capital is useful — but Dean believes the inequality on these platforms runs deeper.

“Some of these programs are cool, but what comes after? Some of these white creators were tuned into just being right for the algorithm,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s harder for black creators to even launch YouTube than for the average white creator.”

Whether they live in the same house or work together in their new studio, Collab Crew has maintained the same strategy to give Black creators the opportunities they deserve: collaboration and mutual support.

“We all teach each other […] We have strong platforms and we have weak platforms, but with all of us together, everyone will be great,” explained Sykes.

“It’s really more of a team effort than other groups where everyone is on their own,” said Dean. Why an Atlanta-based Black influencer collective swapped their collab house for a studio – TechCrunch

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