Khoi Le is the co-founder and CEO of Fanhouse, a subscription-based platform for creators to share exclusive content with fans. They raised $20M from Andreesson Horowitz in their Series A and from The Chainsmokers during their pre-seed round. Since 2020, they’ve paid out $10 million to creators on their platform. Unlike OnlyFans, Fanhouse does not allow NSFW content on their platform and only takes a 10% cut compared to their competitor’s 20%. Unlike Patreon, Fanhouse operates more like a social media channel rather than a publication – patrons can message other patrons and are allowed to tip creators. Khoi is a Forbes 30 under 30 honoree and graduated from Stanford University in 2020 with a degree in Immersive Design and Engineering Applications, a self-designed major geared towards XR (extended reality) development.
In today’s issue, Khoi shares about his decision to not have a safety net post-college and on publicly fighting against Apple:
🛠️ Getting into entrepreneurship: I was very lucky to come from a family of entrepreneurs. My great-grandfather ran a tiny tailor shop. My other great-grandfather ran a school. My grandma ran a pharmacy. My dad started two companies during the .com boom. My mom started a nonprofit organization, helping immigrant families in the Bay Area.
🏠 Starting Fanhouse: I met Rosie [Fanhouse’s co-founder and Chief Creator Officer, a creator herself] during COVID through Twitter. Her venmo was in her bio, and people were sending money to help her out with living expenses. We ran an experiment where Rosie made a private Twitter that required her approval to follow. She changed her bio to “Venmo me $5, and I'll approve your follow request.” This was two years before Super Follows came out on Twitter.I logged into her Venmo and would scroll through the list all day, matching handles to follow requests. We made a few thousand dollars in a few weeks, and people would sometimes pay extra. This was enough proof of concept to start building an actual platform for creators.
🎓 Post-college plans: I didn't have a full-time job lined up post-graduation. I interned at Apple my junior summer, and my manager really wanted me back. I met with the recruiter in a tiny phone booth room, and I just said, “Darren, do not write me this offer letter.” He was like, “What?” and I was like, “I don't want to see it. I want to do my own thing after college.” I was pretty excited about a couple ideas I had brewing, and the idea for Fanhouse came a few months before graduating.
🎶 Raising from The Chainsmokers: We were in the middle of raising our pre-seed round when Harry Stebbings, who runs The Twenty Minute VC, introduced us to the Chainsmokers. We spoke with them several times, and that same Friday, we wanted to close out the round. Alex and Drew were in a commercial shoot, so they’re texting us between shots going back and forth about the terms. After the shoot was over, they FaceTime us. Milan, the General Partner of their fund, joins in from Tulum outside of a club. We agreed to bring them into the cap table, then we all toasted together over FaceTime.
⏩ Are you ready to start a company straight out of college? Honestly, I feel like people with 2-3 years of work experience are, in some regards, disadvantaged because of lifestyle inflation. Nothing really prepares you for starting a company except doing it.
☀️ Day in the life: Hiring, recruiting, team building, and product work. I’m frequently interviewing creators to understand their experiences better and talking to fans about what's working and what's not.
📢 On speaking up publicly: [For context, Fanhouse takes 10% of creator earnings. Apple threatened to kick Fanhouse off the App Store unless they let Apple take 30%. Khoi and Rosie fought back. See thread here.]There's a lot of people whom I would call “lawful evil”– they're angry that you're breaking the rules, but they don't stop to question who the rules are benefiting and why we're even fighting the rules. As a founder, you’ll find yourself in many situations where there’s an easy way out. Our investors were like, “Don't poke Apple. They're one of the biggest companies in the world. Why would you risk this?” But we decided to use this moment to do what was right. We had the leverage, so I don't think it was reckless.
🔄 Why is Fanhouse pivoting? [For context, Fanhouse is undergoing a pivot from their current subscription-based exclusive content platform]. Building a community-powered business doesn't start with building a business. It starts with building a community, which smaller creators might not have yet. For us, that meant we needed to create a platform where creators could foster their community first.
💬 Biggest takeaway from starting a company: Go into a conversation to understand and learn, rather than to make your point. For example, if an employee is angry, your initial reaction would be to explain and defend yourself. Instead, you should figure out why. Maybe they’re scared of XYZ happening, and you need to respond to that rather than get defensive.
💫 Best advice: Don’t follow your passion because passions can change. Instead, follow your curiosity. What out there in the world is making you scratch your head? What are you reading articles about? What would you be excited to hear a talk about?
tl;dr 1) Find proof of concept first. For Fanhouse, that was as simple as getting people to Venmo $5 for access to a private Twitter account, 2) Nothing really prepares you to start a company except doing it (i.e. you don’t necessarily that “2 years of professional experience” before building a company, even if it could be useful), and 3) Go into a conversation seeking to understand where the other person is coming from, not to explain or defend yourself.
Check out Fanhouse here: fanhouse.app