As the creator economy matures, it’s hitting some bumps. Investors, marketers and influencers share how they’re navigating VC hype, building direct-to-consumer businesses and their shifting relationship with brands.

The creator economy — the industry of influencers, bloggers, videographers and anyone on social media monetising their online fanbases — is now 50 million strong, according to a 2020 report by venture capital firm SignalFire. Social media platforms want them, and brands and marketers want to work with them.

The industry is moving on from the days of paid-ads and product placement. Fuelling the next stage of growth are investors, who say that surging viewership and an increasing supply of creators has led to a gold rush in the creator economy start-up space. Technology news site The Information estimates that VCs have invested $2 billion into 50 creator-focused startups so far this year. Their goal is to help creators make money from their work, turning them into small businesses beyond them acting as a digital billboard.