An interview with Chris Vaccarino of Fanjoy on the power of partnering with creators
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Creators today wield enormous power. We all have our favorite creators—those who inspire us when we need extra motivation, who we seek out when we need a good laugh, or who we trust when looking for recommendations for what to buy.
(My favs, in case you were wondering, are Emily Zugay and Ceara O’Sullivan. I cannot even with those two.
Their TikTok comedy is a welcome burst of sunshine in bleak times, and I get as much joy from their 30-60 second videos as I do from an entire episode of SNL or 30 Rock. Sorry, Tina.)
That’s why Fanjoy CEO Chris Vaccarino went all-in on helping creators build their brands with custom merchandise.
Working with top creators like Addison Rae, David Dobrik, Hannah Rylee, and Emily Zugay gives Vaccarino unique insights into building successful partnerships with top influencers, and the kind of content that resonates well with today’s tech-savvy generations.
I had the opportunity to interview Chris and Fanjoy’s VP of Talent, Josh “Caru” Glodoveza, to learn more about why they built this business and the power of partnering with creators in today’s economy. I learned more about the Creator Economy from Chris and Caru in this short interview than I have in a long time, and I’m excited to share their insights with you.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Chris Vaccarino, Fanjoy’s CEO
VP of Talent, Josh “Caru” Glodoveza
Tell me more about yourself and why you started Fanjoy
Chris: When I was growing up, dancing, acting, and entertaining were a huge part of my life. Performing in nursing homes and at recitals was everything to me because I knew I was making someone a little happier.
Later in life, I found myself on the road with my brother, Chad, and his band, A Great Big World. I helped with merchandise sales and tour manager duties across the US. When I talked with fans at the concerts, I realized how powerful my brother’s music was and how much I missed creating these special moments for people.
The fans in each city were so passionate, dedicated, and embraced the band's performance. Talking with the fans and hearing how the band inspired fans was bliss for me.
Fans told stories of how they traveled over 8 hours to get to the show. Some other fans even flew out of state to catch the show, tattooed song lyrics onto their bodies, and talked extensively about the music's overall positive influence on their lives.
I was inspired by the influence people can have on the lives of others, and I wanted to create something just as magical—something that could brighten people’s day more often than just one night at the concert.
Fans are the pulse of each artist, so I figured, why not go out of your way and do a little something extra to put a smile on their face?
This is when Fanjoy was born.
Emily Zugay wearing a Tiddner White Hoodie, available for purchase on Fanjoy.
Caru: I joined Fanjoy because I love showcasing talent, putting creators in the spotlight, and giving influential people visibility to become stars.
I help people shine in the spotlight by giving them the right tools and opportunities that will skyrocket their careers.
Fanjoy struck a chord with me and Chris’s vision and ambition aligned with mine. I’m also in love with fashion, so seeing the process of how Chris enables these creators to design incredible collections and pieces of art is why I chose to be a part of the Fanjoy team.
Why'd you decide to make and promote creator merchandise?
Chris: After working with musicians, our team started working with a few well-known creators who got their start on YouTube, including Pentatonix and Lily Singh. We started making merchandise with these YouTube creators, and fandoms responded positively to our products.
After successful campaigns with these YouTube creators, we ventured into promoting more and more creators and focused solely on selling creator products.
Back in 2017, our team started working with Juanpa Zurita, Jake Paul, and David Dobrik. These partnerships fueled the fire and presented the opportunity to partner with more creators.
By selling creator merch, it allowed us to connect creators with their fans and offer support to creators as they continued to build their brands.
Caru: I wouldn’t say I specifically decided to focus on creator merch. However, my interest in fashion prompted me to make and promote creator clothing, and I see creator merch as the start of something much more significant.
Fanjoy prides itself on creating high-quality products and establishing a sense of belonging amongst the fans and audiences that receive the merchandise.The products are more than merch—they're validations of creator aspirations, echoed through their brand.
How are creators influencing individuals? What effect do they have on purchasing decisions?
Chris: Creators are influential because of their reliability and ability to offer value to the people who consume their content. Fans feel like the creator is just one of their friends, not some untouchable idol like a mainstream celebrity.
This accessibility is wildly beneficial for brands.
When it comes to purchasing decisions, creators give their personal insights on the products they use. If done right, creators will partner with brands they believe in.
Being genuine about something you’re promoting is critical, as fans can see right through creators who are doing it for a cash grab. Fans can tell when a creator is in love with the products they’re hoping their fans will use and when they are getting paid to say something.
Caru: Creators also definitely influence purchasing decisions. As more individuals become influencers and creators and we get more reliable information from creators, we can make more informed judgments on the products we buy, versus endorsements from celebrities with no personal connection to a product.
We also see creators taking risks, following their dreams, and turning their dreams into reality, which gives so many people a sense of hope to do the same. Creators empower people to create their own brands and validate individual desires to achieve their dreams, whether as an artist, painter, or small business. Small businesses on Etsy, for example, prove that there’s a market where individuals can establish a sustainable business born from their talents and passions.
Who are some of the coolest influencers you've worked with? What made them fun to work with?
Chris: It was awesome to work with Addison Rae. We partnered with her right as she was experiencing explosive growth on the internet, and it was pretty insane.
The whole relationship was incredible. We enjoyed everything from the initial outreach to request working with Addison to having our team put together product concepts. We executed a fantastic photoshoot, and it was an outstanding experience and project.
Caru: I think the coolest types of influencers to work with are TikTokers. I’ve loved working with TikTok creators because of their creativity. There are so many limitations and barriers on TikTok, which forces creators to be more creative with their time. TikTok creators make you feel all different kinds of emotions in such a short time, and it’s fun to partner with them.
This often results in high-quality and supremely creative content, which I value and enjoy.
What advice would you give to brands to establish a good working relationship with creators?
Chris: The best advice I can give to any brand looking to establish a great relationship with creators is don’t micromanage the creators.
Creators have garnered an incredible community by being themselves, and they should do that exact thing when working with a brand partner.
They’re masters at creating content, so let them do their thing. The best thing a brand can do is step aside and let the creator work their magic.
Caru: My advice for brands on establishing a good relationship is short and straightforward—watch their content.
How do you think brands can speak to Gen Z?
Chris: Gen Z is a group of people who highly value authenticity. They grew up on the internet, and they inherently understand what's real and what's for show. So give them something real to think about, consume, and be human. Authenticity, being genuine, and providing value need to be at the forefront of everything a brand does if you want to engage Gen Z.
Maybe learn some of their slang, too!
Caru: I recommend that brands talk to people and your audience specifically. There’s no need to hire consultants to learn how to speak to Gen Z.
Having an authentic conversation with your audience is the best way to know what they love about your brand.
Finding superfans is key because they’re the ones that look out for you. Creating polls can also engage an audience to offer their opinions and will give you real feedback on the content and products you create.
Tell me more about creator merch. Why is it so popular? Why does it resonate so much with Gen Z?
Chris: We don’t sell merch—we sell community. Gen Z knows that their choices matter and who they support makes a big statement. Community drives everything—and creator merchandise symbolizes support, community, and identity.
Caru: We’re moving away from celebrities and turning to creators for inspiration. Younger audiences watch YouTube and that’s where they find their role models – similar to the process of watching cartoons on TV as a kid.
Each creator has their unique anecdotes, and they hold power and responsibility in being well-known.
It resonates with Gen Z because creators are relatable. They feel connected to creators, which leads to them supporting creators in ways like buying their products.
This is unrelated to creators and merch but interesting to e-commerce brands: I see you have 18 different payment methods on your website, including many cryptocurrencies. Why’d you decide to go this route?
Chris: We mostly see transactions with traditional payment methods. However, everyone has a preferred way to pay for products online. Offering customers multiple options and the ability to use crypto is a natural evolution of commerce on the internet.
What advice would you give to new creators looking to build a rapidly growing audience? What have you learned from the huge creators you work with, and what do you think a new creator could learn?
Chris: The best advice I could give new creators is to be consistent, be genuine, and be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else. Instead, pave your own path. Find things you’re passionate about and focus on those topics.
And most importantly, focus on data. Use data to look for what is working and what isn’t working. Data is the key to success and will help you decide what to focus on and what to stop focusing on.
Caru: One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my creators is to focus less on views and more on content that connects with the human perspective. As a creator, you get a few moments to shine, so it’s essential to be ready and prepared with solid content. You have to be resilient, patient, and intentional about the content you brainstorm and create.
If you approach it from a robotic point of view, the human touch gets lost. You can have viewership, but if most of your viewers are bots and not actual people, there’s no deeper meaning. Focus on content that connects.
Some of the most valuable advice for brands?
1/ Don’t micromanage creators. Creators are uniquely connected to niche audiences. They know who they are talking to and what their audience loves. The best way to form a working partnership is to hire a creator that vibes with your target audience and let them do what they do best: create content.
2/ It’s not about merch—it’s about community. Today’s consumers care about the financial investments they make. As a result, they are much more likely to support a brand that shares similar values, makes a statement, and fosters real connection. Purchases are as much about community as they are about the physical good, and brands that get this are winning.
3/ We’re moving away from celebrities and turning to creators for inspiration. Celebrities used to have a monopoly on influence. Since the rise of influencers and the doubling of the Creator Economy, power has shifted away from inaccessible stars to smaller creators who feel real. Today’s consumers crave the authenticity that regular creators portray. As such, it’s a wise move for brands to partner with macro, micro, old, and new creators.
Thank you, Chris & Caru. Your insight is invaluable.