- Power couple Annie Hwang and Jason Cui built Jemi, a Patreon alternative that landed them a coveted spot in Y Combinator's Summer 2020 batch.
- Jemi helps creator entrepreneurs to sell merchandise and experiences, such as autographed pictures, 1-on-1 virtual hang outs, and acting classes.
- So far, they've brought on ex-Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Bumblefoot, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen, and actor Sean Whalen, who is best known for his roles in the horror film 'The People Under the Stairs' and the 1996 thriller 'Twister'.
- Business Insider spoke with Whalen about why he choose Jemi over alternatives like Patreon.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Annie Hwang and Jason Cui met on the first day of college at Harvard, where they later started dating. After graduating in 2018, they worked as product managers and launched their tech careers.
After the coronavirus pandemic struck, the power couple started brainstorming new ways to get audience members to interact with, and pay, content creators that use live streaming platforms like TikTok. In April, they launched the private beta version of Jemi, a Patreon alternative that landed the couple a coveted spot in Y Combinator's Summer 2020 batch.
"We want to build this next generation of creator entrepreneurs," Hwang told Business Insider in an interview.
The country's ongoing shelter-in-place orders means that many actors, comedians, and musicians are unemployed and turning to live streaming, she explained.
Creators "deserve to be monetizing their time and individuality," Hwang added, noting that "not all creators are making money."
Jemi allows creator entrepreneurs to offer merchandise and experiences, such as autographed pictures, 1-on-1 virtual hangouts, and acting classes. The startup takes a cut from each transaction, Cui explained, though he didn't reveal specifics.
When Jemi launched in April, Hwang started reaching out to creators. So far, Jemi has brought on ex-Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Bumblefoot, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen, and actor Sean Whalen, who is best known for his role in the films 'The People Under the Stairs' and 'Twister'.
"We're not going after the typical celebrities," Hwang said. "They see themselves as content creators."
Whalen, who most recently appeared in the 2020 film 'American Pickle' starring Seth Rogen, told Business Insider in an interview that, before he discovered Jemi, he'd been looking for new ways to make money from his TikTok live streams, where many of his 100,000+ followers tune in weekly.
Whalen said that Jemi has been helping him make extra cash, as "there's no production going on" in the film industry.
"I gave Patreon a try," he said, "but my followers weren't into the subscription model."
Die-hard horror fans from the Midwest
Many of his followers, Whalen explained, are die-hard horror fans that come from rural parts of the Midwest.
"They know me as Roach from The People Under the Stairs or from Twister," he said. The actor's name also got a boost from Netflix, which added Twister to the streaming platform at the beginning of June (before removing the film 2 months later).
Whalen, who sells merchandise like autographed photos, DVDs, and Blurays, said he also tried including links to his PayPal and Venmo accounts on his TikTok live streams.
But many of his fans would tell him "I don't have Venmo! I don't have PayPal," the actor said, explaining that the payment platforms aren't as popular among fans in rural areas.
Jemi made the process simple: Followers make one-time purchases by inputting their shipping and credit card information, all in one place.
"Almost everyone has a credit or debit card," the actor said of his fanbase.
Since switching from Venmo and PayPal to Jemi, Whalen says his sales have increased by more than 30%. On his Friday TikTok live streams, his busiest days, he said that he sells about 40-50 items in 2 hours, and that Jemi makes it easier to manage the influx of requests.
There have been some hiccups, Whalen admitted, but he also said that the young entrepreneurs who founded the company "are willing to learn, and there's no ego around that."