'Curators Are The New Creators': How Randi Zuckerberg And Debbie Soon Are Championing The New Creator Economy

Before co-founding the inclusive Web3 artist platform, HUG, entrepreneurs Randi Zuckerberg and Debbie Soon met in the most quintessentially "Web3" manner possible. Debbie was living as an undoxxed anon at the time, using a random pseudonym and a Crypto Coven profile picture (PFP), when she posted in the Meta Angels Discord. She shared in the #wishing-well channel that she wanted to move into Web3 full time. Randi was advising the Meta Angels project at the time, and happened to see Debbie’s post—but not until a full week later.

The pair got on a Zoom call, and the rest was history. “Sometimes the Universe just gives you exactly what you need, and who you need, when you need it,” they said. 

Randi Zuckerberg is an artist, Broadway producer, and well-known entrepreneur and technology executive, due in part to her role in shaping Web2 at Facebook. When the pandemic hit and Randi’s work in the theater got put on pause, she started getting calls from venture capitalists and projects in Web3 asking for her expertise, as they needed someone who understood the convergence of technology and arts from a business perspective. She started helping a few friends, and from there, fell in love with Web3’s solutions to the many outdated ways of doing business. 

Debbie Soon is an entrepreneur born and raised in Singapore who loves building from the ground up, be it in finance, boutique fitness or consumer goods. The result? The launch of three multi-million dollar businesses throughout Soon's career, including Southeast Asia's first boutique indoor cycling studio. With over a decade of knowledge in consumer-driven companies, Soon saw the rise of social media, the power of the millennial generation to shape internet culture and the new opportunities from the creator economy. At her core, she is a passionate community builder that got excited by how non-fungible tokens (NFTs) were creating new subcultures and bringing consumers together on the blockchain. 

Upon joining forces in 2021, the pair launched HUG, a global community that encourages and supports artists to dive into the growing world of NFTs with a platform of discovery tools, education programs, growth opportunities and networking, as well as a direct-to-consumer marketplace. They have been building steadily, most recently raising a $5 million seed round from a group of investors including DIGITAL, OKX Ventures, and L’Oréal’s BOLD corporate venture fund. Their goal is to make art more accessible by providing opportunities for artists and putting the spotlight on those who are deserving but might not have the right connections or opportunities as others. 

Ahead, BFF contributor Carly Long hosts a Q&A with Soon and Zuckerberg, diving deep into their thoughts on curation, fundraising and the new creator economy.

Edited excerpts (attributed to both Soon and Zuckerberg, as you’ll notice they can finish each other’s sentences!)

Their TLDR: All these things happen in your life – and you have no idea how they will ladder up to what you’re doing now – but looking back, it will all make sense. Keep going. (And find your own BFF to do it all by your side – it will only make things more enjoyable!)

Q: You’ve said that HUG isn’t an NFT marketplace; it’s an artist marketplace. What does that mean? How do you differentiate the two?

We wanted to level the playing field for all creators. We’ve both experienced how difficult it can be to be seen, to be heard, or to feel relevant. So we created HUG’s platform in an effort to democratize access to art. We want to change the way that artists get recognized and discovered. We want to give artists the ability to lift each other up, and have a say in the building of their gallery, storefront, or community. Our focus is on empowering creators to own their most dedicated audience, rather than fighting an uphill battle against the algorithm to try and get out in front of just any audience

Artists are always operating in a bear market, because they’ve had to. We see NFTs as just another revenue stream for artists to reach a new audience, and to give a bit more support to making a living off their art. Web3 doesn’t replace the work artists have been doing in Web2; it supplements it. It’s in addition to selling prints and commissions or partnering with brands. So instead of just selling NFTs, the HUG marketplace will sell both digital and physical goods. And because we want to empower artists to be the best creative entrepreneur they can be, we offer educational bootcamps and networking opportunities too. It’s not an elitist gallery with one sole gatekeeper; it’s allowing art to be more accessible to all collectors, and more discoverable for all artists. 

Our recent funding will go to furthering this goal by enhancing the technical build of HUG. We want to create a best-in-class experience for artists and creators to manage their audiences, control their messaging, and offer seamless commerce. Our first integrated storefront to lead this charge will kick off this summer with Amber Vittoria.

Looking back, it will all make sense. Keep going.

Q: How was it fundraising in a bear market? Do you think the difficulties of building and fundraising right now will lead to a better Web3?

We were going up against the trifecta of disaster when we started fundraising for HUG: There were bad actors in the space and FTX had just collapsed, NFTs and blockchain were surpassed by AI (no longer the hottest new technology) and we are two female founders in a male-dominated industry. But in the end, we’re grateful that all of this happened. 

As we persist in the bear market, more scammers and bad actors have seemed to vanish. What’s left are the true builders, investors, and those people that are truly passionate about the space – not just those people that want to look cool or make a quick buck. It might have taken more effort to find checks and partners, but it is better for the industry as a whole in the long run. 

Despite less money coming into the space as a whole, it can be good to build with less distraction. We saw this at the start of Web2. After the gold rush of games and apps, the market retreated a bit and many people started to take time off from the space. But those who stuck around created stronger bonds. So now, where we’re at today in Web3, we’re able to build with less FOMO, and collectors and artists are more easily able to distinguish what projects or companies are legitimate. 

Image source: Twitter

Q: Debbie, you tweeted how you slid into the DMs of one of your investors. And you also shared the story of meeting Randi on Discord. How do you both decide where to tune in? Do artists and creators need to be on every channel or platform?

When we started HUG, every creator was making their own Discord. They were just recreating the wheel, but there wasn’t even enough of a Web3 audience to be truly engaging. This is part of what spurred us to create a central place where artists can come and have all of the tools, the distribution, the marketing, and the community they need on HUG. We didn’t want them to have to waste their time on building a Discord, especially when for a lot of creators, Discord and Twitter aren’t their main platforms. 

It’s important to double down where your audience actually is. If your work is super visual and your audience is all on Instagram, then there’s no need to force them on Twitter too. Pick the one or two channels that are most effective for you, and don’t worry about tuning into the rest. 

Outside of social media platforms, we love subscribing to a weekly newsletter to stay plugged in – and in a much more efficient way than scrolling 4,000 Discords. Newsletters are a quick way to get a recap of all that’s happening, focused on your specific niche. Our newsletter, Creator Royalties, for example, is specifically for artists. It’s less about what PFP projects are dropping, and more about artist education, consisting of long form articles on a range of topics. GM BFF is also a great newsletter for an overview of Web3 from leading women in the space.

Q: We’ve talked about creators quite a bit, but you’ve also been known to say that curators are the new creators. Do you believe there is a curator economy yet?

Over the past ten years, we saw the explosion of the creator economy. It became a new career path that people could explore. Today, Web3 is another impetus that creators can explore and monetize from by sharing content with consumers. The difference is, you didn’t see creators being in direct contact with their consumers in Web2. It was one-sided, where creators were just talking at their fans. Consumers and fans didn’t have much of a say to what a creator should make or what content they should share. There was very little empowerment on the fan side; it didn’t matter whether you were the first follower or one millionth follower of a creator. Additionally, as a result, creators faced the challenge of standing out amongst the noise, pleasing the algorithm and not being able to engage with their audience. Web3 offers the missing piece to the puzzle. 

At HUG, we are especially passionate about a new breed of creators that yes, are curators! Given those challenges, we’ve seen tastemakers rise to the top who curate creators in a certain style or aesthetic. Curators provide a new way to monetize an audience, and a new way for artists to stand out. On our platform, a community of curators decides which artists get on the platform, which artists get commissioned, etc. It comes back to blowing up the traditional gallery model with a sole gatekeeper who gets to decide what art is and what’s shown. We want the curators on HUG to vote together so that all representations are heard, seen and valued equally. It’s a decentralized way of running our platform that gives voice to our curators. 

The best part is, anyone can be a curator. We all curate aspects of our lives already, from who we follow on social media, to what we listen to on Spotify. We’re simply providing an ecosystem that supports the entrepreneurial nature of curators who want to help artists be discovered, because they deserve to be compensated and recognized for the way they distill the noise. Web3 calls for a new type of tastemaker, one that’s embedded in the native ecosystem. Curators are just the next evolution of the creator economy. 

Carly Long is VP of Web3 Strategy at Weld Recruiting and Host of the Women In Web3 podcast. Check out her latest episode with BFF Co-Founder Jaime Schmidt here.

This article and all the information in it does not constitute financial advice. If you don’t want to invest money or time in Web3, you don’t have to. As always: Do your own research.

Editor's note: Randi Zuckerberg is a Founding BFF. The Founding BFFs are comprised of more than 100 female and non-binary leaders across crypto, tech, design, business, and more. Just like our community, some are new to crypto, and others are full-on experts.

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