TikTok’s Michael Le Launches Joystick Gaming Platform

Michael Le turned dance videos and millions of followers in an $8 million seed round.

The Los Angeles-based creator has been cultivating its online audience since 2015, but it took TikTok to really break through. His TikToks now have over 10 billion views as fans tune in to see him dance in public, play with his siblings and participate in challenges.

His large following and business endeavors earned him spots in Teen Vogue and Vanity Fair spreads about emerging influencers, and on Forbes’ Top Creators of 2022 list, where he joined the likes of Addison Rae and the D’Amelio sisters. .

But Le — who has 52 million followers on TikTok, plus another 2 million on YouTube and Instagram — told dot.LA that he doesn’t want to be defined by his social media presence.

“I think a maker builds a brand, and that brand is essentially just a business,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know how to grow their business to create more content.”

But there’s no denying that his presence on TikTok has put him in the spotlight. In 2020, Forbes named him the 6th highest paid TikToker. He brought in $1.2 million that year and told Forbes that 60% of his income comes from branded deals. The rest comes from label promos and outside sources. That number rose to $5.5 million in 2021. Le has deals with brands ranging from Prada to Hugo Boss to Disney. Choreographing dances to songs like “Came to Do” has led to collaborations with big names like singer/dancer Jason Derulo and basketball player Crissa Jackson.

Before that, Le was a dance teacher in his hometown of West Palm Beach, Florida and a popular YouTube channel, Just Maiko. That was always his end goal.

In 2015, he started posting videos to Musical.ly before it was bought by TikTok. When he accepted his first brand deal in 2016, he said there was no standard for those kinds of relationships. He said he needed to figure out how to navigate branded deals and sponsorships, relying on his own entrepreneurial mindset to close deals.

“It was honestly new territory, so I felt like nobody really knew what the standard was at the time,” Le said.

Today, Le says brands are taking social media and influencer marketing more seriously. But influencers who grow up fast often struggle to understand the financial component of their career. From navigating taxes to managing money, Le said many new creators don’t anticipate how much work it takes to become a full-time creator. Some struggle with building their own creative team, such as hiring editors and managers, which can help take content to the next level.

“The influencer space is only going to get harder over time,” he said. “I think those who can scale and constantly evolve and adapt to the markets are the ones who will really reap the rewards.”

Building a personal brand in a web3 world

So Le decided to dream bigger: Taking an entrepreneurial approach to the influencer lifestyle, Le launched the Web3 gaming platform Joystick in June with tech entrepreneur Robin DeFay after raising his seed round. The duo is in the process of raising an additional $110 million in Series A funding.

Through the platform, Joystick lends assets such as weapons, land and characters from popular games to users as NFTs. Users can then sell items such as NFT skins made from that country’s resources and sell them for a profit.

Le sees Web3 as the future of content ownership: Joystick allows players to earn all the revenue they generate in exchange for a small monthly fee to the platform, a game model that combines the traditional “pay-to-play” with what Le is call it ‘play to earn’.

“The fact that many people did not understand” [Web3]or to tackle it just gave me a chance to realize there was an untapped potential for benefits and that I could lead the next generation of the internet,” Le said.

Currency on Joystick is called JOY tokens, which can be purchased on the Ethereum network; holders will have access to special assets, reward distribution, limited edition merchandise and educational material in the form of cameos from leading industry influencers.

Le is not the first influencer to delve into Web3. Addison Rae hit hers in January and last year TikTok dropped a collection in collaboration with a number of creators.

Catherine Tucker, co-founder of the MIT Cryptoeconomics Lab, said the idea of ​​decentralized trust attracts influencers because it gives them a space to collaborate with their communities.

Still, Web3 remains a thorny space for creators, she said. Ownership issues are potential drawbacks for creators.

“I think it’s not entirely clear which standard will prevail and also that there is currently very little to guarantee ownership outside of the Web3 universe,” she said. “For example, I can still take a picture of my screen and there’s nothing a content creator can do.”

JR Lanis, the vice chairman of Polsinelli’s Securities & Corporate Finance Practice, said some crypto companies were founded by people who are technologically advanced but lack business acumen.

“Influencers may not be aware of the rules, so they have to be careful about how they exert influence,” Lanis said.

Claiming a lack of knowledge doesn’t absolve you from potential SEC lawsuits over inappropriate security promotions, as many celebrities discovered over the summer when they received warnings from the Truth in Advertising, a watchdog group. The organization found that at least 17 celebrities — including Paris Hilton, Reese Witherspoon, Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Fallon — all had failed to disclose their personal financial interests in the digital assets they shilling.

Lanis said it’s important that influencers understand what they’re promoting and how they’re going about it.

“Once you understand the basic framework of the rules for promoting securities or trying to prevent securities from being promoted, and then focus on the underlying technology of the coin as opposed to the coin as a medium of value, I think influencers could probably be okay,” Lanis said. “It’s just that first learning curve, understanding what you can and can’t say.”

Le’s interest in NFTs was sparked by GaryVee, an entrepreneur and online influencer whose content guides people through the crypto world. With Joystick, Le said he wants to teach people how to navigate Web3 and NFTs. It’s important for his audience to understand the space, even as it continues to evolve, he said.

Le sees Joystick as just one part of his brand, which he hopes can continue to grow. Social media laid the foundation for where he is today. After signing with WME and landing a cameo role in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” earlier this year, he said his platform has allowed him to go beyond just being a social media star. being seen.

“Personally, I think I’m building an empire,” Le said. “I really try to take my time, brick by brick, to make sure every video I make is really good and I’m proud of it.

Every new part — from family-friendly vlogs to acting gigs to Web3 education — helps ensure his longevity as a creator, he said.

“I just don’t really care,” Le said. “Because it’s really just a long game.”

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