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The Next Evolution Of Influencer Marketing Could Include A Seat At The (Cap) Table – Forbes

Could the next phase of influencer equity be offering influencers actual equity in the brands they work with? Influencers have long played the role of brand ambassadors, partners, event attendees, spokespeople and more. But lately they’ve been taking on a new title when it comes to their work with emerging brands: investor. With a renewed focus on creator credibility, influencer pay equity, long term partnerships and increased access to opportunity, this might just be the next stage in the evolution of the brand + influencer relationship.
Influencers have provided all kinds of value to brands, helping them to speak directly to consumers, to reach a wider audience, and to increase sales and revenue. But aside from celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and a few TikTok star investors (to the dismay of many traditional VCs), influencers haven’t historically been considered for investment opportunities.
Generally, the influencer to brand relationship looks something like this: brands pay influencers, influencers deliver content, brand approves content, influencer and brand post content, agreement is completed. Then a brand goes on to grow, gain users, increase downloads, and potentially get acquired, partially thanks to what that influencer content delivered.
There’s also an investing gap. Of the 14 Million accredited investors in the US (influencers and private individuals) 300,000 are angel investors. Only 22% of these investors are women.
Stephanie Cartin created both SocialFly, a digital marketing agency, and Entreprenista, a community for women founders. For over a decade, she has been seeing the impact influencers have had on helping brands explode – from the influencer side, the brand side, and the founder side. To her, all these issues could be solved by democratizing the act of investing.
Founded by Cartin and three other women, Pearl Influential Capital wants to encourage more women (influencers and regular ol’ folks alike) to see themselves as potential investors. They want to help influencers play a bigger role in growing emerging brands while enlisting them to normalize what investing looks like among their followers.
This model allows accredited investors to contribute as little as $5,000 to an SPV (special purpose vehicle,) a fund which pools their investments to create one LLC that will become a singular investment in a business. The founders’ hope is that by lowering the point of entry and offering transparency, education and a clear window into the process, they’ll inspire a new class of investors.
I spoke to two of the four founders, Stephanie Cartin and Alyssa Arnold, about this model and why they think it’s important for women to diversify their portfolio beyond just the stock market.
The Pearl Capital Founding Team
Amy Shoenthal: Tell me about each of your backgrounds and how you came together to create Pearl Influential Capital.
Alyssa Arnold: I’m an engineer, so my background is very different from an influencer’s, but I really wanted to invest in something different than the stock market. I worked in VC for a little bit, and then realized I really wanted to become an angel investor. So I started seeking out different ways to invest in companies. I was surprised that there seemed to be very little out there.
Steph (Cartin) and I started talking about how difficult it was to find investment opportunities. It turns out, 55% of angel investors are previous founders. We thought it should be much easier, so we wanted to find a way to help women feel empowered to invest and diversify their portfolio outside of just the stock market or real estate or some of the other, more traditional routes.
Then we started looking at the intersection of influencers and the effects they have on brands. It was fascinating that they’re not really able to invest in the brands early, if at all. We bridged all of those problems by creating Pearl Influential Capital.
Stephanie Cartin: We know how hard it is to get women-founded companies funded. There’s lots of gatekeeping, and unless you’re already in that world, it’s extremely difficult.
I run an agency called SocialFly where we activate influencer campaigns on behalf of our clients. These influencers are getting $500 here, $5,000 there, sometimes they’re even paid in products. But those influencer campaigns can often go on to explode these brands. Then, when the business sells or goes public, the influencer who was partly responsible for that success does not have much to show.
That’s why we started thinking, what if there was a way to bring these influencers together with founders who are raising capital? It would give them the incentive to keep posting and sharing about the brand because they’re financially invested in it, which makes it even more authentic.
We want to reach the many women who are accredited investors but just haven’t had access to the deals or the education to get started. We can help founders who have struggled to raise capital. Plus, with our model, the marketing and influencer activation is partially built-in.
Courtney Spritzer, our third co-founder, is my business partner in SocialFly and Entreprenista. Our fourth co-founder, Ingrid Zapata Read, created a community called Working Momkind. When Ingrid posts about one of our brands, users go up, app downloads go up, and we realized she should really be able to have equity in the business.
Arnold: Plus, when you begin to fundraise, having 20 influencers on your cap table is extremely powerful. We focus on the power of the group, not the individual. The minimum investment is $5,000. It’s meaningful money but small compared to VCs.
Shoenthal: Do you set specific criteria for influencers? How do you define an influencer?
Arnold: We’re trying to meet influencers where they’re at, but we’re also extremely excited about anyone who’s going to want to advocate for brands. The one requirement we have is that they are an accredited investor. We need that for our SEC filings. But you can be influential even if you’re not on Instagram, even if you’re just a person telling your best friend about it.
Shoenthal: How does an SPV differ from traditional VC or angel investing?
Arnold: From the company’s perspective, our SPV is the same line item as a fund. We collect everyone’s money into a specific LLC, and then that LLC invests in the business directly.
If I was coming in as an angel investor, I would just invest directly into the company and then I’d have my own seat at the cap table. This SPV is a collection of money that is reported as one line item. So you don’t have all 20 people who invested in the SPV sitting at the cap table.
Influencers are one step ahead of the regular consumer in seeing which brands are about to explode. They can see what’s going to grow to 10x their revenue. We want to make that work in their favor. Influencers are also normalizing investing with this model. It’s the access to wealth but it’s also the education and normalizing of these types of investments. They build trust and authenticity.
Shoenthal: Any interesting investments coming up? Are there any influential investor names you can share?
Arnold: We closed Bonjour Fête in June with 21 investors at $215,000. Markid closed in July, and Nomadica and Esker Beauty will open in mid-September. We also just announced an investment opportunity for reproductive health company, Stix, which is now open.
Cartin: In terms of investor names, we are thrilled to have Jennifer Love Hewitt invest alongside us in Bonjour Fête and Shenae Grimes Beech invest in both Bonjour Fête and Markid. This validates our thesis that bringing together a community of influential investors and giving them an opportunity to invest alongside one another in brands they are excited about and believe in will make this successful.
Shoenthal: How do you make money?
Arnold: We have no management fees. We don’t make any money unless the deal exits. But we’ll get a 20% carry on a waterfall during the exit.
Cartin: There’s a level of trust here. We really believe in the brands we’re investing in. For us, it has to be a ‘hell yea’ or it’s a no.

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