Cyan Banister realized long ago that Zivity, a subscription-based online community of artistic nude, glamour and pin-up photography that she founded in 2007, was never going to be a highly profitable endeavor. That’s okay with her, too.
In an interview last week, Banister — known for the many angel investments she and husband Scott Banister have made over the years and more newly for her role as a partner at Founders Fund — told us Zivity was “always growing, but never at a crazy rate.”
Indeed, nine years after it was created, it has amassed 3,000 subscribers who pay the site on average $250 a year to access its various photo sets.
Now, Banister and Zivity’s longtime general manager-turned-CEO, Nadya Lev, think they’ve struck on a more lucrative opportunity that can not only shine a light on the creative class but help artists get paid, too. Their new company is called ThankRoll and it’s looking for $1.5 million in seed funding to see how far it can get over the next 18 months.
It could make for an interesting bet. ThankRoll is essentially a service that offers a convenient way for fans of artists, blogs and others to support those products and services through a white-label widget that appears on the artists’ or blogs’ site. Fans just enter their credit card information; they can cancel their pledge any time they like. Laughing Squid is the company’s first customer, and you can see what its particular pledge button looks like here.
“We were inspired by what Kickstarter has done,” explained Banister, who acknowledges that plenty of tipping mechanisms have been tried in the past but says one of ThankRoll’s secret ingredients is to throw in special sweeteners. Someone who pledges a monthly donation to a certain site might receive an invitation to the content creator’s invite-only yearly barbecue, for example. Or a musician might call a fan on the phone or let fans collaborate with him or her in some way.
Further, unlike, say, Patreon, a three-year-old platform that enables fans and sponsors to give ongoing support to artists and creators (and which has raised $47 million in funding so far), ThankRoll is enabling and encouraging artists to receive recurring support on their site, rather than hosting their campaign with ThankRoll.
Whether these incentives are enough to prompt more pledges on a meaningful scale remains to be seen, but Banister says that she and Lev decided to spin the business out of Zivity after launching it on the platform and watching hundreds of its artists begin using it within weeks. They collectively drummed up an extra $55,000 within the first 60 days, in fact.
If you’re interested in giving it a try, ThankRoll is now embeddable for creators using WordPress, Tumblr, Squarespace and other platforms.
Note: There is no minimum pledge. Also, ThankRoll, which already employs five people and is using Stripe for its payment processing, takes a five percent cut from every transaction. The artists cover credit card fees.