The following interview with TipSnaps was conducted over email and edited for flow and clarity.
Wealth Noir had the opportunity to talk with Lyonel Douge and Dr. Vic Boddie about their company TipSnaps. These men have one goal in mind—help their people make money from their content creations. Black and Brown people are constantly creating trends, styles, lingo etc. Essentially, they define the culture but are often ignored and rarely ever credited for it. Many of you may be familiar with the story of Jimmy Fallon having to right a wrong and bring on the TikTok dancers responsible for all the viral dance moves we see, after he gave a white TikTok performer a platform to showcase moves that were created by young Black creatives. Examples like this are why both men are passionate about supporting Black and Brown creatives and making sure that they not only get the credit they deserve but the money, too!
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): This is a very special interview for me for many reasons, mainly because we’ve known each other forever. Please share with the Wealth Noir community who you both are and your professional backgrounds.
Lyonel Douge, CEO and Dr. Vic Boddie, COO of TipSnaps: Thanks, Asha! You all are doing amazing work at Wealth Noir and we’re very excited to discuss TipSnaps with you. Background I’m Lyonel Dougé, CEO/Founder of TipSnaps. I’m a Computer Engineer by training and I’ve worked at several Fortune 500 companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, Sony, ESPN and Viacom. Dr. Vic Boddie joined us as Co-Founder/COO in 2020, and he brings a wealth of knowledge and experiences from a leadership and policy standpoint, working for years in a major government agency. So we both have a lot of previous experience that positions us well to build tech and lead dynamic and successful products and teams.
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): I love that you both made the conscious choice to combine your skill sets to make this company thrive. Ok, so let’s talk about TipSnaps. What is TipSnaps, what inspired you to create it, and how did it move from being an idea to an actual product?
Lyonel Douge, CEO of TipSnaps: TipSnaps started back in 2016. I was working full time at Johnson & Johnson at the time building sites like johnsonsbaby.com or neutrogena.com. During lunch and bathroom breaks, I did what most people do — scrolled through Instagram. It was then I noticed something incredible: everyday people like hair and beauty experts, bartenders, fitness trainers, grew from zero to 100k followers on Instagram in 6-12 months time thanks to how deeply fans loved and supported their favorite creators. Sometime in 2016, it hit me. “People are going to pay for social media very soon”. Back in 2016, I KNEW that social media HAD to move in this direction. Premium content / exclusive content. ANYONE with creativity and an audience will and SHOULD be able to monetize their content and fanbase. Anywhere in the world. I realized how huge of an opportunity this was. I realized I could personally build a solid v1 of a platform myself. So I decided to dedicate nights and weekends to it.
Trouble securing capital was an understatement. I was screaming this at the top of my lungs to investors in 2018 that I bootstrapped to 100k users and $600k revenue. I got in front of First Round and Quake Capital and a few others in 2018, they were intrigued by the traction. But after my pitch, I was told “Influencer marketing is dead.” Also, generally, I don’t think they believed I accomplished what I was saying. I honestly think a few investors thought I was lying. Coming from a Blue collar background, first person in all extended family with an engineering degree working for big companies. I didn’t have a network of people who could help me figure out how to raise capital with silicon valley investors. I had no one to do a “friends and family” round. I was the person in my family people looked to for money, not the other way around. Even at JNJ, most folks are locked into their career path, not entrepreneurship. So this was a completely NEW endeavor. Luckily, there are way more resources online now than ever before. So, I read and read and read until I felt confident enough.
I understood software and what communities NEEDED. This is how we grew so fast. However, it’s undeniable that in today’s world, you can be first to market but to truly scale, you need capital and access to industry insiders. In whatever sector. It’s very rare for an outsider to just make huge disruptive waves without access to capital or connections, both of which I tried hard to secure. But my skin tone didn’t help me. People were intrigued by the numbers but “never convinced.”
I built TipSnaps nights and weekends while holding my full time job at Johnson & Johnson as Product Manager. We launched in March of 2017. I built the platform myself, I put a lot of effort into ensuring payment processing and KYC (know your customer), age verification, and compliance features were readily in place. For user acquisition, I literally started DM’ing people on Instagram who had a lot of followers. (LOL) Telling them, “Hey you could charge your fans for content. Create a page and just add the link in your bio.” Convincing one creator at a time. By April 2017, I had convinced one big creator with 1M followers to join TipSnaps. Once she started promoting her TipSnaps page, this led to a rapid network effect. It went viral in certain communities of content creators, specifically bartenders and fitness trainers. TipSnaps grew so rapidly bootstrapped because I recognized a gap/need for the internet that people were looking for but didn’t know they needed. This seemed obvious to me, but, looking back, I realize this hockey stick growth is specifically what VCs and investors want to invest in. However, they don’t typically trust a black man to execute it.
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): How has being a black founder and the son of immigrants helped fuel your passion for entrepreneurship?
Lyonel Douge, CEO of TipSnaps: My family immigrated from Haiti in the 60s/70s. My parents moved to California in the 80s and they bought a home in the only place they could afford, San Bernardino, California (by some rankings the 3rd most dangerous city in the entire country). I’m not proud of this, I say this to illustrate I was raised around people who generally saw success to mean graduating high school and not ending up dead or in jail. My dad worked as a mechanic but also opened his own used car sales business. It was never financially successful due to the grind of opening a small business, but also many of the same roadblocks I’m going through now with TipSnaps, just at a different level. He raised us on a salary of $25-30k/year and refused welfare but we never felt poor.
My parents, as many immigrant parents, instilled the value of education and hard work. I went the path of many like me, first generation Americans. I studied hard, got good grades / SAT scores and got an academic scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh. Moving from California to Pittsburgh was an experience all its own, but it opened my mind and prepared me for the next steps. After graduating from Pitt with a degree in Computer Engineering, I did the natural next step, got a job. I worked for a couple smaller media companies, which ultimately led to a move to NYC in 2008, and felt like I hit the pinnacle when I landed a job with Sony Music at 23 as a software engineer. The same went on for several years, working for other Fortune 500 companies such as Viacom, ESPN, the NFL, and, most recently, Johnson & Johnson. What I realized along the way was that I had innovative ideas and concepts that I pitched to leadership but was never taken seriously. I couldn’t really actually accomplish anything innovative due to the bureaucratic nature of the huge organizations. I’ve always been treated as the token black guy who seems smart enough to be there but not smart enough to lead and be let into the inner sanctum.
There’s a quote from Shervin Pishevar (founder of Virgin Hyperloop and tech investor), “When you are denied access, build your own institution.” These types of messages have always resonated with me. So I’ve built this passion for entrepreneurship over many years due to seeing innovation happen around me but never being part of it. Having the conviction and ability to execute myself.
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): I know a few talented people who are interested in creating content with the hopes of monetizing their creations. How do you explain to a potential user why TipSnaps is the right platform for them? What separates you from the competition?
Lyonel Douge, CEO and Dr. Vic Boddie, COO of TipSnaps: At TipSnaps, we firmly believe that everyone is a Creator and therefore, everyone should have the ability to monetize any content. More importantly, there are so many talented individuals currently using platforms like YouTube, IG, Facebook, and TikTok to share their creative content but making no money; even the ones with massive followings and watch hours are only getting sprinkled the crumbs of the Ad-revenue that’s being generated from their great content. What we’ve seen at TipSnaps is that when a Creator uses their IG, TikTok, and other platforms as tools to drive their fan bases to their TipSnaps accounts, they typically can successfully make money. For example, if a Creator has a following of 100K on Instagram, and they leverage that following well, at bare minimum 1% of that following will subscribe to that creator’s TipSnaps page at $10 per month, that creator has the potential to make $10K per month. We’ve seen it happen, and so we’re excited for this opportunity that creators have to make money, and even more so excited for Black and Brown creators because they drive so much content on social media, but aren’t currently being compensated at all for that. This needs to change, they need to be making money right now and TipSnaps is the home for those creators!
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): You two make an excellent point. Black and Brown creators are creating incredible content and yet are not getting the big sponsorship deals like their white counterparts. We are the culture drivers and yet are constantly left behind. I want to talk more about the logistics behind building an app. I’m sure many of our readers are or have considered building a platform or an app, but this is no easy feat. What are some things that you did to help you get TipSnaps to the place it is now?
Lyonel Douge, CEO and Dr. Vic Boddie, COO of TipSnaps: Well to start off, and this isn’t being braggadocios, we are experts. We have computer science / software engineering backgrounds and also have worked for several fortune 500 companies building websites and software for over a decade, companies like Sony Music, Viacom and Johnson & Johnson. You can absolutely build an app without having to do the same level of schooling and experience, however Tipsnaps really is more than an app. It’s a tech ecosystem combining social media, fintech (automated payouts and fraud management), compliance AI and moderation.
We took our experience working in big tech and applied it to TipSnaps. We worked really hard to ensure the platform was scalable globally. Based on all of the functionalities, integration, and AI capabilities, the average company would need to invest $3-$5M just to build an equivalent platform. We worked tirelessly for over four years to get to where we are today.
What I would say to entrepreneurs and young people with ambition in tech is to take some high level software engineering courses. Codeacadamy and Coursera offer a lot of great free resources.
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): As Black men in this tech and data driven industry, what are some of the challenges or obstacles you faced, such as getting angel investors and venture capitalists to literally and figuratively buy into TipSnaps?
Lyonel Douge, CEO and Dr. Vic Boddie, COO of TipSnaps: There are definitely many obstacles for Black Founders in tech from a funding perspective, that’s well documented. But what we’ve discovered that’s even more troubling is that the systemic issues of inequities in funding for Black Founders is much deeper and pervasive than we could’ve imagined. We typically have to show much more robust data and metrics to support our products / thesis than our white counterparts. Often with no product and no platform at all, our white counterparts get better funding terms than we do. We also typically do not have the same (or as impactful) institutional networks that our counterparts do, thus it’s even more of a struggle to not only get meetings with investors, but it’s even more difficult to convince them that we’re actually capable of growing a phenomenal business. There is just much less benefit of the doubt, and we have little margin for error. Definitely tough sledding for Black investors, but compared to what our ancestors went through, it’s a drop in the bucket and a challenge we’re willing to face head on.
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): While your initial clients are Black and Brown creators, you make it very clear that TipSnaps is a home where Everyone is a creator. Can you explain why that is? What do you mean you say ‘Everyone’ and why is that your tagline?
Lyonel Douge, CEO and Dr. Vic Boddie, COO of TipSnaps: We feel that by explicitly saying we want to be the home for Black and Brown creators, it means that we’re making it clear that we’re a platform that’s striving to make the creator economy more inclusive and diverse. What we see now is other platforms acting like they’re supportive of all creators but their internal algorithms tell a different story. They don’t highlight creators of color, shut out creativity, and they will not highlight creators that don’t fit the ‘description’ of what they want their platform to represent. We DO NOT do this at TipSnaps. We want to create a safe and equitable space for all creators that are creating amazing content and driving culture, regardless of your race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, etc. We want you to feel welcomed and that you have a home. It’s very important to us, and we work very hard to build our brand and platform that looks like the diversity of our world and gives ANY and everyone the opportunity to make money and change their lives.
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): Thank you for sharing that and for being so intentional about your inclusivity. How do you stay ahead of the competition and also stay up to date with the latest in this creator economy industry?
Lyonel Douge, CEO and Dr. Vic Boddie, COO of TipSnaps: As we stated above, as Black founders we can’t afford to get behind. We can’t afford to miss a beat. Therefore, we’re always in innovation mode, even as we’re driving users to our platform and educating them on the best methods to make money. But the one valuable position that we have over our competitors in this space is the fact that we know the community. Silicon valley led start-ups in the creator economy have a very ‘sophisticated’ and theoretical view of this economy. However, they’re not at the ground level like us, talking to creators in the streets, across multiple niches – engaging them directly to understand their needs and what will make their lives better. This is what we do better than anyone else, connect with the people. This is easy for us because we are them, we’re from the same communities and as Black Founders we speak their language. We wouldn’t have 440K registered users, and paid out over $2.2M to creators, if our message around equity and entrepreneurship wasn’t resonating with Creators in our community.
Asha Atkins of Wealth Noir (WN): Beyond creating a home for creators, what do you hope TipSnaps will do for Black and Brown creators?
Lyonel Douge, CEO and Dr. Vic Boddie, COO of TipSnaps: Make them some money, plain and simple! Black and Brown people are literally the primary drivers of all social media. From a cultural standpoint, we drive so much creativity and produce massive amounts of content and up to this point, Facebook, YouTube, IG and TikTok are making ALL of the money from this. And what’s even more upsetting is the fact that none of these platforms are owned by Black and Brown people, nor are we represented on any of their boards of directors. So all of the wealth that’s generated from OUR creativity is going right back to folks who don’t look like us or care about us. And our argument is that if they did care, they would make an effort to change this dynamic but they’re not. They’d prefer to throw us crumbs in the hopes of pacifying our voices, keeping us quiet so we’ll forget that we’re being exploited. But that time is over. Platforms like TipSnaps are here to support these creators. The time of them exploiting our creativity has come to an end, and TipSnaps will lead heavily in this space!
Thank you both again for spending time with us and sharing your immense passion to help shape and change the culture for Black and Brown creators. You both have taken such an incredible product and are working to change the game for Black and Brown creators, which is inspiring and commendable. If you’re a content creator and want to join the creator revolution then check out TipSnaps at tipsnaps.com! And don’t forget to follow them on Twitter and Instagram @tipsnaps.