This Founder — Whose Company Was Acquired by The Makers of Facetune — Reveals The Tools Brands and Creators Need Right Now to Scale.
From co-founding Popular Pays to becoming the VP of Brand Collaborations of Lightricks, Corbett Drummey is on a mission to empower brands and creators. He sat down with Jessica Abo to talk about the creator economy and what to ask yourself if you want your business to be acquired.
If you are a content creator, you might have used products such as Facetune, Videoleap and Photoleap, which all fall under the Lightricks Suite. Today we are talking with the creator of Popular Pays, which Lightricks acquired in 2022. Corbett Drummey co-founded Popular Pays and was the CEO of Popular Pays before heading over to Lightricks and becoming their VP of Brand Collaborations. He sat down with Jessica Abo to talk about the company, his new role and how brands and creators can evolve with the creator economy.
Jessica Abo: Corbett, tell us about where you were when you came up with the idea for Popular Pays.
I worked at an advertising agency with a friend of mine. We met a third co-founder who was a creator. This was in 2013, and it was pretty apparent that the traditional way of working with brands through agencies just wasn’t really equipped for the speed and scale of social media. So we were working on a platform or a product that could help brands get a more agile approach to marketing and also give creators a way to do what they love for a living. So that’s how Popular Pays was born.
How does it actually work? What do Popular Pays do?
It’s made up of a software platform, a community of creators in the cloud who you can work with, and then an optional service layer. So you can tap experts to help you with your strategy or just execute campaigns to hit your goals. So we’ve done everything from TikToks to TV commercials and everything in between.
Do you need to have a certain amount of followers to be a creator in your ecosystem?
Back in the day, you used to. But more and more we’ve done just content campaigns. If you want to do influencer campaigns, it helps to build an audience. I think about 40% of the work we do is just purely content oriented. And so any creator of all types can sign up, do some type of collaboration with a brand and get paid for doing what they love for a living. But yes, we also do a lot of work across influencer marketing too.
And how did Lightricks find you?
The funniest part about that is it almost didn’t happen. I missed a LinkedIn message where they reached out, but thankfully, Rony [Laufer], the SVP of Business and Corporate Development, sent another message. I saw a notification. I saw it said Lightricks, makers of Facetune. I knew it was legit so we set up a meeting. I’d say it wasn’t until the actual meeting that we realized how complementary we were. And so connecting our creative communities made sense, but the more we looked into it, all the amazing technology they have around creative collaboration tools, they could integrate really well into our platform. So every meeting we had, it got more and more exciting, but yeah, it almost didn’t happen.
How has it been for you to be the CEO of your own company and now be sitting in-house within another company?
The team has really felt that we can do a lot more together not just because of our technological integrations and leveraging the assets like the creator community and the tech that Lightricks has, but we’ve felt the investment from them in our team. So I’d say we feel like we can do more than we’ve ever done. But yes, it’s interesting. Every startup CEO has a board, but you’re not used to having a boss. But thankfully, the team we’re working with, it just feels like we’ve been working together for a long time. It feels very natural. But it was a change for sure.
How does someone know if they are ready to be acquired? What are some things that someone might be asking themselves to make that decision?
In the very beginning, I never thought anyone would buy us when we were very small. Over the years we really [built] momentum with our team, and it just didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do. After talking with Lightricks though, it was just really clear that we could do more together than separately. Sure, it made sense on paper and from all the logical points of view, but also felt right from a gut instinct point of view just because of the natural collaborative nature of our teams in the vision. So we’ve focused a lot on the early stages of our cultures and complementary visions. And I think the fact that those were so aligned has really smoothed things in terms of the transition and continued growth. With anything, you’ll experience road bumps, but this has really paid huge dividends for us. So beyond just the immediate business impact, it feels like we’re all going after the same thing.
Give us a sense of where you’re sitting now, what are some of the things that we all can be looking out for when it comes to the creator economy? Where are we headed in 2023?
I can’t remember another time when there was more change happening. There’s been a surge of AI-powered tools that are really disrupting everything about how brands and creators have collaborated and created content. I think that pace will only keep getting faster and faster. I’d say just as a tip for brands, I know it feels good to have everything meticulously planned out, but focusing on testing and learning, like trying things, seeing if it works. And if it does, double down. If it doesn’t, let it go.
And I would say for creators, it can be scary seeing these tools come out that completely change the creative process, but I really think that it’s going to empower creators and not replace them. And so I think leaning into these technologies is going to be an important thing for this next decade. I would really encourage people to not be scared of them, but rather look to how new creative tools can empower creators and really democratize creativity too.
How do you think creators are going to drive advertising over the next decade?
The last century was really dominated by traditional advertising agencies in an era with really centralized media channels like mass market TV. But over time, just the media landscape keeps fragmenting. There are different channels popping up every couple of years, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap, TikTok, YouTube, you name it. And they’re all inventing new formats every couple of years, like stories, now vertical videos like reels and TikTok. So it’s exhausting for brands. It’s too hard for an agency to have every expertise in-house. But the power of working with creators is that you can easily tap an expert who can speak to a specific audience or create a specific piece of content just really naturally. And so an agency or a brand can tap a creator for their expertise, for their ability to reach a niche audience. Creators tend to pick up new things faster, so I really would encourage brands to lean on creators. Our job is just to help organize that work and make it really scalable.
And what advice do you have for content creators?
It can feel like you just mastered one network and you now have new formats to learn and new tools to play with. But what’s exciting is what’s going to be possible in the coming years will be so radically different. I think also the barrier to content creation will get lower. So you’ll be able to make content more rapidly and just shrink that barrier between your imagination and what you can create. So I’d say keep playing around with new tools. Keep an eye out because the landscape is changing faster than we’ve ever seen it before.
For brands seeking to diversify and deepen the way they collaborate with content creators, what advice do you have for them?
Brands can get really familiar with a certain channel and get caught in like a routine, but the most important element of advertising and marketing is just creating content, sharing it and learning it and doubling down where you’re seeing those results and letting go of things that don’t work. So especially as we’re all getting crunched in a different macroeconomic climate, you have to do more with less, but use creators to test lots of different things and then just follow where you’re seeing results.