How Pontus Karlsson is merging the creator economy and eCommerce into one
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Meet Pontus Karlsson, the founder of Off-Script.
I’ve known Pontus for a while now and have loved watching his journey unfold, going from a kid in Sweden with no startup connections, to working in management consulting, to launching and building a business of his own.
Pontus is one of the few people you will meet who has insatiable passion and optimism. He’s progressive and forward-thinking, always thinking about ways to improve and make life better. At the same time, he’s creative and artistic in nature. What he’s building right now will play a pivotable role at the intersection of creators and brands.
So, here’s our conversation with him where we cover topics like:
Growing up in a small Swedish town…
Breaking into tech without connections…
What we mean when we say we don’t like influencers but love creators…
What it was like joining the Launch House residency in Los Angeles last year…
And his predictions for the creator economy…
Let’s dive in!
Tell us about your background. Where were you raised, and what were you raised on?
I was born and raised in the smallest of places, Rinkaby, Kristianstad, Sweden. I grew up as a creative kid, and when I was old enough to get my own computer I was spending hours and hours with Photoshop, and different music production software. I’ve always been drawn to better understand how things actually work.
I was raised on love, music, and family. I come from a family with a bunch of cousins and lots of birthday celebrations.
I never knew what I wanted to be when I was growing up, but I knew that I wanted to create something new in this world. When I started university in Sweden, I had no real connections in the business world, but I was very intrigued by the technology and startup landscape in Sweden. There was something about just hacking your way forward that attracted me.
After spending a semester in Milano, studying fashion, and tech companies, I decided to drop off my program, and run it short. I wrote my thesis and moved to Stockholm to try and break into the world of startups and tech. I’m super grateful to be in a position where I get to do with what I’ve always dreamt of doing.
You’re the founder of Off-Script. What is it, how does it work, and why are you so bullish on creators?
Off Script is an e-commerce platform that enables creators to start and customizable their own multi-brand storefronts where they can sell their favorite brands and products all from one checkout. We’re an e-comm enabler like Amazon Storefront meets the DTC brands meets Shopify if you like.
Right now it is difficult to start your own e-commerce store to sell brands and products that you like. With Off Script, you can do that in minutes.
We expect the media landscape to be continuously disjointed, as most businesses and creators are active across multiple social channels. Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, Youtube, Snapchat, you name it. When creators use Off Script, they practically become retailers. This gives them retail features in the social channels.
Creators will have multiple social channels, all in one shop. Our work is to ensure that this shop is powered by Off Script.
Practically speaking, creators who use Off Script can connect their shop to Instagram and unlock the full functionality of Instagram Shop and Facebook Shop. Their followers can now shop directly via Instagram, and checkout directly in the creator's store.
I’m very excited about Off Script because we’re building an operating system for virtual retail to help a new generation of online retailers flourish. We enable any creator to build their own e-commerce business without the annoying stuff.
Over the years, we've seen a shift in people identifying less with the term “influencer” and more with “creators.” What's the difference and why should we care?
I think this shift is an example of cause-and-effect. Influence is a potential outcome of creating content. Creating content, however, is not the result of influence.
My hot take is that we are often talking about the same things. Both terms are too broad and don’t carry enough distinction. We have associated the word influencer with values that we as a society don’t celebrate anymore. People pushing campaign codes for tummy teas, and mobile phone cases, with the ambition to monetize their audience is becoming more and more a thing of the past. In general, though, here are some differences.
Influencers may have built a following and audience, but creators are building communities. Today we see creators starting their own brands, media companies, and even venture arms.
Expanding on that thought, you often preach that 'people trust people, not brands'; what do you mean by that?
If there is one thing that remains true throughout history, it is how we relate to icons and stories of people. Look back on the most exciting brands in history: Ralph Lauren or Coco Chanel. These brands were built on leveraging an individual's story and individuality. The same concept applies today; only technology enables those same visionaries to more easily reach an entire world, without the need for large overhead.
This is further accelerated now with technology making it easier and easier to build your own audience and removing the need for institutions, agencies, and large overheads.
This is already happening at a large scale with DTC, where you see the Kardashians/Jenners absolutely killing each new product vertical they’re entering. One of the latest examples are Spanx vs SKIMS.
Spanx was founded in 1998 and today they're worth $1.2 billion.
SKIMS was founded in 2018 and today they're worth $3.2 billion.
The power of creators is real, whether on a small or large scale.
What's it been like building Off-Script to date. You've pivoted the product some, are working on a new set of features, hiring new team members while fundraising, etc.
It’s been so fun. It is without a doubt the most intense learning experience one can have. I came into this entire thing without real experience from retail, or for that matter, the venture landscape. Now after two years, that is completely different.
We started Off Script just before covid. By then, e-commerce was super cold from a venture landscape perspective. As it became clear that e-commerce would grow rapidly from covid, it also became clear that new shopping behaviours would arise.
We’ve always wanted to build an e-commerce platform that democratizes retail. But, in the beginning, we came at it more from a more advanced influencer marketing direction. Brands to sell via creators storefronts. We’ve learnt a lot throughout this period that has led us to where we are now, where we are much more focused on helping creators run their own e-commerce businesses. That means that we’ve transitioned from a more centralized play to a decentralized e-commerce enablement play. Come for the tool, stay for the network approach.
We are putting together a strong team with experience from top-tier consulting firms, and creator economy platforms and are now actively fundraising.
It's a lot of work, how are you staying on top of all of this? Any tips for other founders to consider?
And what was it like being a first-time founder at the infamous Launch House in LA?
Launch House was such an exciting experience! First of all, we stayed in Paris Hilton’s old mansion. Like what? That was really fun. But most importantly the community was chef’s kiss. A founder’s journey can be somewhat lonely. You’re constantly selling to different partners, recruits, investors, and are always in a problem-solving mindset. Being in a safe space and being able to share the personal journey of being a founder, was life-changing.
Overall, I’m super positive about what you get from being part of their community. and join one of their cohorts. I am confident that Brett and Jacob and the team will go out and completely crush it with this new backing from A16Z, and it feels really cool to have been part of their infancy.
Tell us about the feature you built into Instagram Shop.
Using Off Script, creators set up their own shop inside of Instagram, tag products, and sell multiple products directly in their own checkout.
This also means that they no longer need to use a bunch of different affiliate links in some “link in bio” setting, but can rather set up their shop directly within Instagram (or Facebook).
From our end, it also means that we are not necessarily competing for the link, but rather for the Shop-tab for the creators.
What are your predictions in the creator economy that you see over the next year, five years, and beyond? AND where does Off-Script fit into all this?
- The next chapter of creators will be built upon ownership and community. Tokenization may also play an important role in this as well.
- Creators will start and run the most exciting “agencies”, built more as communities, rather than top-down classic management business models.
- Consumer companies and funds will do what they can to attract creators as investors. (if you’re a creator and reading this - start investing to get equity!)
- Creators will demand increased ownership of consumer data, and transparency.
- YouTube productions will be competitive with Netflix productions.
- Traditional mega-celebrities will become “creators” and go “DTC” with YouTube, Tiktok, and so on.
- Off Script is building for how this all will impact the retail landscape, and to truly empower these creators in the ongoing power shift from institutions to individuals.