🎢 #61 - Sunroom: OnlyFans 2.0
Hi Fam 👋,
A few weeks back, my friend Ali and I wrote a piece on OnlyFans and it was quite a hit. For those who haven’t heard of the crazy story behind the OnlyFans empire, make sure to check it out here.
This week, I am writing about OnlyFans challenger, Sunroom. Founded by a superstar team of top talents from Bumble, Hinge, and Atlassian, Sunroom aims to create joyful, safe, and celebrated sources of income for all women. It has recently raised a pre-seed from top angel investors and tech founders.
Meet the OnlyFans 2.0.
Lucy Mort moved from Australia 🇦🇺 to the Big Apple🗽 in 2015 to pursue her American dream as an early employee at Hinge.
She had to do a bit of everything being the only designer at the time. One of the first major projects she had was to redesign the entire Hinge interface from the swiping interface to the one that Hinge is now famous for. Over time, she helped build out the design team as the Director of Design.
Four and a half years later, Lucy realized she wanted to start something of her own. The urge for entrepreneurship was strong but she didn’t know what problem to solve, where to solve it, or who to work with.
Navigating the idea maze...
First Step: Solo trip in Mexico 🇲🇽
To find her true calling, Lucy decided to take a solo trip to Mexico. She did a ton of journaling and reflecting, trying to brainstorm different problems of the world that bothered her, both on the personal level and on the societal level.
“That was an interesting exercise. I explored a number of different concepts and gave myself some time to find what I really wanted to build.” - Lucy
Second step: Testing ideas 💡
Lucy decided to go back to NYC to experiment with different ideas. One area she was interested in was the social space, the idea of connecting people in communities. At the same time, she had built domain expertise within the dating and relationship space after spending half a decade at Hinge. This combination led to one of the first experiments - community-based dating.
The idea was simple - curate a group of 40 singles and get them to meet up through events. Lucy started hosting singles dinners in her NYC apartments as the MVP. Nevertheless, this idea had to be put on pause due to the pandemic.
The next idea was to explore social sex tech products, specifically camming.
“In the last few years, sex tech ventures have been focused on hardware, education, and media. Social sex tech — camming sites, fan sites, etc — are yet to receive the algorithmic finesse, UX attention, and UI love that pushed our dating apps and social apps to wide adoption. For a space that attracts daily web traffic in the hundreds of millions, this astonishes me.” - Lucy
One opportunity Lucy identified was to build a beautiful modern cam site with a better user experience and a premium feel. Nevertheless, after some more research, Lucy quickly realized that the camming market was so saturated that it would be incredibly difficult to stand out.
Third step: exploring OnlyFans 👙
Amidst all the experiments, OnlyFans’s seemingly overnight success piqued Lucy’s interest. It touches on all three of her interests - sex-positivity, community, and creator economy.
To learn more about the OnlyFans universe, Lucy started playing around with the product both as a fan and as a creator. She got deeper and deeper into the community and started interviewing other creators to learn more about their experiences. In addition, Lucy joined several OnlyFans creator-only telegram groups, where she would learn about the problems of the platform.
“I would ask them all sorts of questions around what do you love or hate about the platform. I learned about the stigmas and all the other problems creators faced around payments and reliability of the payment systems on the platform.” -Lucy
Despite all the problems, Lucy realized OnlyFans has changed many creators’ lives by serving as a powerful vehicle for women to become financially independent and wealthy. This insight got her super excited about the space and Lucy started to think more about how to do an OnlyFans 2.0.
Building the OnlyFans 2.0...
“All unhappy companies are alike, because they fail to escape the essential sameness which is competition” - Peter Thiel
To avoid competing directly with OnlyFans, Lucy chose to focus on creators unserved by OnlyFans or even platforms like Patreon (another alternative for creators to monetize). She interviewed those unserved creators to figure out why they haven’t adopted those platforms.
One insight surfaced - it was a brand problem.
Most creators are concerned about which platforms they associate themselves with due to the impact on their personal brands. OnlyFans is too closely tied to adult entertainment while platforms like Patreon lack the cool factor to appeal to young creators, who don’t want to feel like they are “begging for money”.
As Lucy dove deeper into the problem, it became obvious that it was women, non-binary, and femme-identifying creators who most often were affected by stigmas as they asked for more and showed more in their pursuit of wealth. They are not monetizing beyond brand deals but are looking for ways to have a more reliable and consistent income stream.
Sunroom was born to create safe and celebrated sources of income for this underserved creator community.
Supercharging the team 🚀
To build Sunroom, Lucy knew it was going to be a team sport. She reached out to Michelle, a fellow Australian and the former head of APAC marketing at Bumble. The chemistry was instant. Initially, Michelle was just helping out in the morning on a part-time basis but was eventually sold, and joined full-time after six weeks.
Around the same time, Lucy joined the On Deck fellowship where she would meet Ellie, a former senior engineer at Atlassian. During the fellowship, they worked on a product called OnlySearch, a search engine for OnlyFans profiles with 140K+ monthly active users. Following the fellowship, Ellie kept in touch with Lucy and eventually became the founding CTO of Sunroom.
With this superstar team and a compelling vision, Lucy and her team quickly wrapped up pre-seed funding from top angel investors and tech founders such as Li Jin.
Building a kick-ass product 🔥
Step 1: Follow what works
Fortunately for the team, there was no need to reinvent the wheel in terms of the product structure. In fact, what made OnlyFans successful was that they took the structure of Instagram and added paywalls. Creators and fans were already familiar with the design patterns pioneered by Instagram and Youtube.
Step 2: Work with top creator advisors
To build the product for creators, Lucy and her team brought onboard seven creator advisors, who are prolific full-time creators that have equity in the company. Lucy would create mock-ups and conduct design testing with them.
“We have a Slack channel with our creator advisors. They have been giving us feedback on Testflight since April and that’s mostly how we have been testing and validating the mechanics of the product.” - Lucy
The lesson here is the importance of a rapid feedback loop, which allows the Sunroom team to iterate on the product extremely fast based on the feedback of target users.
Still in stealth mode, Sunroom has already finished all the product features and is ready to launch in the coming weeks. Here is a brief description of the product today according to Lucy:
Ways to make money on Sunroom: 1. Via a monthly membership, that grants members access to their content and an ability to DM the creator. 2. Via tips in DMs or comments. 3. Via micro payments that allow non-Members to preview content before buying memberships. What makes Sunroom different from other creator products? 1. Paid experiences: Creators can set prices for additional experiences delivered via DM's. 2. Micro payments: Sunroom's in-app currency (Beams) makes it super easy for users to tip and pay for content. 3. Discovery: We help creators find new customers, so the burden of promotion doesn't solely fall on their shoulders. 4. Safety: Screenshot blocking, invisible watermarking, and proactive check-ins to ensure Members are being respectful to creators. 5. Women-first: Our creators are women, and our product is designed to support women's needs.
Pre-launch growth strategy..
Setting the tone with founding creators 👥
One of the most important factors that will determine the success of the company is the group of founding creators because they will set the tone for the product experience for all future fans and creators.
This was the case for Instagram. The founding team personally chose the types of people that would be invited to use the platform, including mostly good photographers and influencers, making sure that the photos on Instagram were aesthetic. This early group of Instagram users established the social norm which still remains true today.
Similarly, Lucy and her team have been carefully crafting the founding creators of the platform. The plan is to launch Sunroom with a curated group of ~100 women creators across a range of categories, such as lifestyle, fashion, dating, business, and many more.
This group of creators will also be the main demand generator for the platform. Lucy and her team have been intentionally pitching to creators with a sizable fanbase - anywhere from 20K to 2M followers. The idea is to bring on aspirational creators that can bring their fan base to the Sunroom platform.
So far, the response has been super positive from the creator side. They have pitched to 130 creators so far, and 85 have signed a contract (with a combined fanbase of 11 million) while another 40 have given them a verbal yes. That’s an over 96% conversion rate 🤯.
Build a brand around the core mission..
“Our mission is to remove the stigmas around women asking for more or showing more in their pursuit of wealth. We are trying to oppose the idea that doing ‘hot girl shit’, as we call it, is trivial, desperate, or slutty.
What we are doing is somewhat controversial and we are going to have to change people’s minds, just like what Bumble has done to change people’s minds about gender norms and traditional dating.” -Lucy
That’s it for this week! See you soon 👋