Closing The Gap

This 31-year-old quit her $150,000-a-year tech job to start an equal pay app: Here's how she got started

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Christen Nino De Guzman, founder of Clara for Creators
Photo: Christen Nino De Guzman

I've always enjoyed working with content creators. At 31, I've helped launch creator programs at some of the biggest tech companies, including Instagram and Pinterest.

But it was frustrating to see the pay inequality that content creators constantly faced. So earlier this year, I decided to quit my $150,000-per-year job at TikTok to start a "Glassdoor-like" app called Clara for Creators.

Since launching, it has helped more than 7,000 influencers and content creators share and compare pay rates and review their experiences working with brands.

The pay gap in influencer marketing

Nowadays, there are very few barriers to becoming a content creator. With the popularity of TikTok, for example, you don't need to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in equipment; anyone can try to build an audience and monetize their platform with videos they shoot on a smartphone.

As a result, more and more creators have entered the business. The problem? They have little knowledge about how much money they could — or should — be making.

Christen Nino De Guzman and TikTokers Fabian Flores and Leo Gonzalez.
Photo: Christen Nino De Guzman

Content creator deals are tricky. How much you're paid depends on the type of content you're offering a brand and on what platform — an Instagram post versus a YouTube video, for example. Other factors include the size of your following, engagement metrics and success rates with previous partnerships.

To make matters even more complicated, brands often ask an influencer for their rate instead of offering everyone a base pay with room to negotiate.

Many creators end up selling themselves short, especially women and people of color. I once saw a man get paid 10 times what a woman creator was paid for the same campaign — just because he asked for more. I've also seen Latinx creators with triple the following of white creators be paid half as much.

How I started my mission-based business

I knew a major problem that creators faced was that they couldn't Google how much money they could charge for marketing a product or service on their platform. That lightbulb moment — and how much I cared about the creators I worked with — inspired me to build Clara.

I wanted creators to be able to share reviews of brands they had worked with, along with how much they were paid for different types of content based on their number of followers.

In March 2021, I sent a bunch of cold messages to potential investors on LinkedIn. In July, after weeks of non-stop outreach that turned into more than 10 pitch meetings, I received a small investment from an individual investor. I used that money to contract a team of developers, who I worked alongside to build and test the app.

The Clara for Creators homepage in March 2022.
Photo: Christen Nino De Guzman

Clara finally launched for iOS in January this year. Within a month, without spending any money on advertisements, more than 7,000 creators signed up to share their rates on Clara, including top TikTok creators like Devon Rodriguez and Nancy Bullard, who each have 24.4 million and 2.9 million social media followers, respectively.

On January 14, I quit my job at TikTok as a creator program manager to work on Clara full-time. While I am taking a massive pay cut by leaving my 9-to-5, I'm living off money I make as a content creator and my savings.

Right now, I'm focused on raising capital to grow the platform. I'm also spreading the word about equal pay and how important resources like Clara are. l post career advice and other resources on my TikTok account, where I currently have 348,000 followers.

Get paid fairly: Know your rights and do your research

There are many things you can do to work towards greater pay equity for yourself and others in your industry.

When discussing pay with your coworkers, it's important to know your rights. Some corporations may try to scare you from it by saying that salary talk is against company policy. But under the National Labor Relations Act, many employees have the right to talk about their wages with their coworkers.

I've had six full-time jobs, and fear used to keep me from talking about money. But the first time I openly discussed my salary with a colleague, I found out I was being underpaid. I then used that knowledge to look for new roles where I'd be paid more fairly.

These conversations don't have to be awkward, especially if you've established a safe and comfortable relationship. Rather than flat-out asking "How much are you making?," approach the discussion in a "let's help each other" way. You might be surprised by the number of people who are willing to talk about it.

Keep in mind that while you have the right to communicate about your wages, your employer may have lawful policies against using their equipment — like work laptops — to have the discussion. Protect yourself by understanding your company's policy before sending a rallying Slack message.

And always do your research before accepting a contract. Sites like Glassdoor, Levels and Clara offer this data for free.

You can also search sites like TikTok and YouTube to get deep insights about pay. There are many creators who, like me, are open about what they've been paid at previous companies — down to stock offerings and sign-on bonuses, and who share information about company cultures overall. 

I also created a spreadsheet for people to share their titles and salaries alongside important demographic information I've seen left out on other databases, like gender, age and diverse identity fields. So far, it has over 62,000 entries.

When asked for your desired salary or rate, say: "Based on my experience, skills and industry standard, I'd like to be paid [X]." If you're a creator, mention the size of your audience or engagement metrics that have wowed past customers.

And remember, start high. The worst thing they can say is "no."

Christen Nino De Guzman is the founder of Clara for Creators, a community that empowers creators through transparency, brand reviews and discoverability. She is a Latina creator, speaker and mentor in the tech space, where she has experience working with content creators at social networking companies such as Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest.

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