TikTok funds top creators to fend off rivals as Trump administration threatens ban

TikTok's office in Culver City.

TikTok on Monday pushed back against rivals eager to poach its U.S. video creators (and to lure their audiences), by financing a handful of influencers with large followings on its platform.

Nineteen creators, including six based in Los Angeles, will be the first to receive money from TikTok’s $200-million U.S. creator fund, the company announced. TikTok said money will be given to the selected talents in regular payments over the coming year and declined to disclose financial details. At least one creator will receive a six-figure amount, according to a person with knowledge of that agreement.

“TikTok would not be the vibrant community that it is today without creators like these,” said Vanessa Pappas, general manager of TikTok U.S., in a statement. “From redefining a category to venturing into uncharted waters, these creators are a huge part of TikTok and we’re grateful for their ingenuity and creative spirit.”

The push comes as TikTok, owned by China-based tech firm ByteDance, is scrambling to continue operating in the U.S. On Thursday, President Trump issued an executive order that would bar ByteDance from doing business transactions with American companies starting on Sept. 20, citing concerns that TikTok could give user data to the Chinese government. Trump said he is open to Microsoft buying TikTok’s U.S. operations before then, provided that some of the proceeds go to the U.S. treasury.


TikTok maintains that it has not given and will not give U.S. user data to the Chinese government. The company says it is exploring all of its options, including a lawsuit.

President Trump has signed an executive order that will ban the viral video app TikTok in the U.S. in 45 days. A separate order bans WeChat, the popular communications app owned by Tencent.

Aug. 6, 2020

Meanwhile, multiple rivals are lined up to capitalize on TikTok’s predicament, including by poaching some of the app’s star creators. For example, Instagram is offering money for creators to post content on its new short-form video feature, Reels, and several creators have defected from TikTok to L.A.-based music video app Triller, joining as investors. A former Vine creator has launched his own short-form video app, Clash.

Establishing a creator fund is “certainly not a new playbook,” said Eunice Shin, a partner at consultancy Prophet. Companies including YouTube and Instagram have given digital creators money to work on original content for their platforms. TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer has called Reels a “copycat product,” but many industry observers consider it to be TikTok’s biggest threat.

“For TikTok to be competitive, they had to do it with money,” Shin said.

Michael Le, a 20-year-old TikTok creator who posts dance videos, said he was worried when he heard about Trump’s plans to file an executive order. Last month, he encouraged his fans to follow him on Instagram and YouTube. He called getting money from the creator fund “really dope and cool.”

“Just hearing that, it was kind of giving me reassurance about them being really serious about staying,” Le said of TikTok, where he has more than 36 million followers.

The company is under immense pressure as it wages a political and potential legal battle against the Trump administration, while also assuring its stakeholders — namely creators and loyal fans — that it will be around for the long run. TikTok executives said they plan to be in the U.S. for the long haul and point to the creator fund as an example of their commitment. The company has said the U.S. fund will grow to more than $1 billion in the next three years. In that same period it plans to expand its roughly 1,500-person U.S. workforce by 10,000.

Since debuting in the U.S. two years ago, TikTok has spurred a lucrative creative economy, particularly in Southern California, with nearly a dozen influencer houses launched in the L.A. area and more than 65 career TikTok creators based here, the company said.

“I do really believe that it’s going to make a strong case for TikTok being an app that should not be banned,” said photographer Alex Stemplewski, who has 9.6 million followers on TikTok. “They’re providing jobs for people who work at TikTok and also helping creators like me make a living, all while creating, you know, enjoyable content that I think just about anyone would enjoy.”


L.A.’s TikTok creators earn thousands of dollars a month. Trump’s threat of a potential ban has them concerned.

Aug. 4, 2020

The 19 creators selected by TikTok hail from a variety of backgrounds, from a cosplay creator in Las Vegas, a chef in Seattle and a Manhattan beatboxer to a plastic surgeon in the Detroit area. The six L.A.-based creators on the list include Le (justmaiko), photographer Stemplewski (alex.stemp, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area but makes most of his content in L.A.), Brittany Tomlinson (known as brittany_broski for her funny reaction video to tasting kombucha), Justice Mojica (known as lgndfrvr, he posts humorous videos with his girlfriend and kids), vlogger David Dobrik (daviddobrik) and Isabella Avila (onlyjayus; she posts videos with lighthearted commentary on science and psychology).

Michael Le, TikTok video creator.
(Matthew Gonzalez)

“Each of these creators has shown what it means to be your authentic self, bring joy and inspiration to people, and creatively connect with an audience,” Pappas said.

Other interested creators can apply starting in mid-August. To qualify, TikTok said, creators must be at least 18 years old, have at least 10,000 followers and have at least 10,000 views on their videos in the last 30 days. Selected applicants also must be in good standing with the company and follow community guidelines, the company said. TikTok says the fund will benefit hundreds of thousands of creators.

“It shows that TikTok values their creators and understands that their content is what makes the platform successful,” said Stephanie Smith, an agent at UTA IQ, the research, analytics and digital strategy division of United Talent Agency. “That acknowledgment is critical and will help build long-term loyalty with creators.”

Top TikTok creators can earn money from brand deals, promotions and audience donations through live streaming. Le says that he can make anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 a month through brand deals and promotions through his TikTok videos.

“TikTok is the only app that I have been able to get the amount of views and the amount of reach that is basically untouchable [compared to] any other platform,” Le said.

TikTok creator Justice Mojica.
(Justice Mojica)

Justice Mojica, 31, said the creator fund money will help him continue to pursue his passion for posting comedic, family-friendly videos on the platform.

Mojica, who has 5.4 million followers on TikTok, said he is not concerned by Trump’s executive order targeting TikTok’s parent company ByteDance.

“The app is so big and people love it,” the Van Nuys resident said. “The app is going to stay for sure.”

But some TikTok creators have been motivated to increase their followings on other platforms like Instagram, due to fears that the app could one day disappear in the U.S., industry observers said. Instagram already has more than 1 billion monthly active users and multiple video tools for digital creators to use. The company also offers partnerships whereby it helps creators pay for production costs.

Triller, an L.A.-based video app, has received a big boost from security concerns and political churn around the blockbuster app TikTok.

Aug. 9, 2020

More competition will make the marketplace even better, industry observers said.

“The added competition is pushing the platforms to innovate on their products and content offerings, constantly adapt to changes in the market, and deliver incredible value to the creators that make the platforms successful,” said UTA IQ’s Smith. “That ongoing evolution can only benefit influencers in the long run.”