Google’s skunkworks lab Area 120 has been quietly testing an events-centric crowdfunding service for YouTubers, Variety has learned. Called Fundo, the service allows creators to invite their fans to virtual meet and greet sessions and other paid online events.
A Google spokesperson confirmed the testing in a statement provided to Variety: “One of the many projects that we’re working on within Area 120 is Fundo, an audience engagement and monetization platform for YouTube creators. Like other projects within Area 120, it’s a very early experiment so there aren’t many details to share right now.”
Google launched Area 120 in 2016 as a kind of internal startup incubator. The unit has been testing a number of different apps and services, ranging from apps that help kids with reading to customer service tools for small businesses. Some of Area 120’s apps are available to the public on Google Play and the App Store.
Fundo, on the other hand, has been flying pretty much under the radar, and its existence has not been previously reported. The Fundo website keeps mum on key details, simply calling it “an experimental project within Area 120, currently in beta,” while also inviting creators interested in learning more to get in touch with the team.
The basic idea behind Fundo is to give creators a chance to sell special online events to some of their biggest fans. For instance, YouTuber Jessi Vee used Fundo to facilitate a virtual meet-and-greet session, consisting of a live video chat with small groups of her fans, last month.
Mexican YouTube star Key Riqué began selling personalized shoutouts to her fans for 80 Mexican peso per video (about $4) in January. Roblox YouTuber KreekCraft has done multiple meet & greets, charging fans $10 per ticket, and showing off how that experience looks in the video below:
Hey guys! Want to MEET ME? I'll be doing another LIVE and ONLINE Meet & Greet with YouTube NEXT Friday!
The date is Friday, June 21st at 6 PM EST!
— KreekCraft (@KreekCraft) June 15, 2019
And this week, lifestyle YouTuber Hannah Forcier did a “photo booth” session, allowing fans to have short one-on-one video chats with Forcier, during which they could pose to take 3 photos together. Forcier charged fans $40 each to participate in the photo booth, but handed out discounts to some of her Twitter followers.
Fundo appeals to fans to participate in these events to support their favorite creators. “Creators spend a lot of their time making your favorite videos, and to continue to do that they rely on support from viewers like you,” reads a FAQ document available to potential participants. “The earnings from Fundo events go directly to support their channels and creativity, so they can continue to make you feel all the feels.”
In addition to video chat functionality and payments services, Fundo has also implemented a queue system designed to assure that these virtual meetings stay exclusive without frustrating fans. “Events on Fundo can be very popular,” the service’s FAQ states. “Please try to be patient. The creator will get to everyone.”
It is unclear how many creators Area 120 has tested Fundo with, and whether Google plans to make it more widely available in the future. The company did file for a Fundo trademark earlier this month, suggesting it may actually want to use the branding going forward. However, Google has been integrating a number of crowdfunding features directly into YouTube, including paid channel memberships, virtual gifting via so-called super chats and more.
Many creators nonetheless rely on outside services for their membership and crowdfunding campaigns. For example, Patreon announced in January that it had surpassed 3 million patrons, who were supporting over 100,000 creators with recurring payments.