‘We definitely see the potential for Flaze to be a global company’

Having forged a friendship in their school days, Jersey-based digital entrepreneurs Benedict Lewis and Callum Cunningham are looking to take on the world with innovative YouTube subscription service Flaze. They spoke to Ian Heath

Callum Cunningham and Benedict Lewis at F3..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30366142)
Callum Cunningham and Benedict Lewis at F3..Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30366142)

FACTION Digital, a Jersey-based venture capital firm, recently decided to give its backing to Flaze – a video-membership platform that helps online content creators to monetise their work.

A major advantage of the system is that it gives creators full control over their output, as they do not have to rely on advertisers or platform providers, such as YouTube, for their income.

The ground-breaking platform, which already has 10,000 users, was the brainchild of former Hautlieu students Benedict Lewis and Callum Cunningham, who are both 22 years old.

Lockdown trends

Mr Lewis said that they came up with the idea as certain trends emerged during the coronavirus lockdown.

‘Last year when everyone had gone into lockdown for the first time, traditional businesses were really suffering because there was no traffic to bricks and mortar,’ he said. ‘YouTube and Netflix had just had to cut the quality of their video in order to support the increased demand of users. That was really the first thing that made us think that online digital media consumption was going to be one of the things that was going to be most hit, with people being in lockdown and needing to be entertained.

‘We knew we wanted to do something in that space and you can’t really compete with Google or YouTube on earnings, so we wanted to go down the direct monetisaton of having users subscribed.

‘That was really how we started started doing it. From there we did a closed private beta where we worked on it for a couple months and tested it. After that we launched it to the public.’

Flaze allows users to build a tailored subscription package of their favourite influencers, without being subject to any advertisements.

The backing of Faction Digital, which was set up last year by founders of some of the Island’s best e-commerce businesses such as Play.com, Feelunique and MyMemory, was a boost to the duo’s ambitions to attract potentially hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

Niche opportunity

Mr Lewis said that as well as spotting a business niche, the pair had created a system which was fairer for content creators, who would be less beholden to advertisers and digital platforms.

‘We’ve grown up watching YouTubers get famous and big, while seeing how they’re monetising their content in the existing market,’ he said.

‘We thought that they’re getting mistreated, in a way, because most of their revenue from ads is going directly to the platform and they’re not free to use their content exactly how they want.

‘They’re at the mercy of being demonetised whenever the platform decides – we just wanted to bring that control back.’

He explained that an issue Flaze would resolve was platforms like Youtube using bots to monitor content, which could result in content providers having their income cut off unfairly.

‘The main problem is they decide what isn’t allowed on that platform, and that’s mainly on an automated process using bots,’ he said.

‘It’s rare to actually get a human look at your case and see whether the decision that was created by the bot was bad or correct in that circumstance. The way we wanted to change things was to offer a much more human aspect, to be able to actually get in touch with a real person if you have an issue and you’re not just at the mercy of a platform saying, “Look your channel is demonetised because we didn’t like what you said in this video”.’

Entrepreneurial friendship

Mr Cunningham explained that the business partnership was born out of a friendship at school, which developed into entrepreneurship.

‘We’ve been friends since Year 7 or 8. Ben actually moved to China for a couple of years. He ended up coming back to the Island and we met again at Hautlieu,’ he said.

‘We started looking at what we can do for creators in general and we decided at first that we wanted to create merchandise for them – we were already thinking in the online creator space.

‘After watching a lot of videos about how people were struggling with the amount of monetisation, we then moved into thinking that we can provide a solution on the video side of things for them instead of merchandise.’

Global ambition

Looking to the future, Mr Lewis said that the limit-free online market offered a real opportunity for Flaze to grow.

‘We definitely see the potential for Flaze to be a global company. That’s the great thing about it being all digital and online – there’s no limit to the countries we can serve,’ he said.

‘I think at the moment we support creators from 22 countries and you can sign up as a subscriber from any country in the world. On that side, I could see us having tens to hundreds of thousands of creators over the next few years.

‘We’re definitely really excited about where it can go.’

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