We’re sitting down with leaders on the business side of the creator economy to get their best advice for creators looking to launch and develop their careers. This week, we spoke with Cat Valdes, a former creator known as Catrific, about her decision to quit YouTube four years ago and move on to the corporate world, now as director of creator partnerships at Jellysmack.
Jellysmack is a company which aims to help video creators with audience growth through multi-platform distribution, funding, and data and AI-driven content strategy. Video creators can apply to Jellysmack’s Creator Program, which supports long-form and short-form YouTubers and TikTokers in translating their videos to platforms like Facebook and Snapchat. The company touts high-profile creator clients—including MrBeast, PewDiePie, Bailey Sarian, Nas Daily, and Patrick Starrr.
In an interview with Passionfruit, Valdes explained her rise on YouTube, her eventual decision to quit, how the creator world has changed since its early days, the business skills she gained as a creator, career longevity, and more.
Cat Valdes discovered vlogging as an internet-obsessed 18-year-old in the 2000s living in her parents’ house in Georgia. Valdes told Passionfruit she had many online friends as a teenager, and wanted to vlog to show them a glimpse of her life IRL. Ultimately, Valdes pursued her love of community building online and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a full-time career as a video creator.
Cat’s vlogs mirrored many of the trendy styles of early YouTube—including truth or dare, parody, challenge, and storytime videos. Her career took off after attending well-known YouTube creator meetups, leading her to collaborate with some of the biggest YouTube names at the time: including iJustine, Joey Graceffa, Dan and Phil, Shane Dawson, and Ingrid Nilsen.
“At the time, these were creators that were super popular and once I started being seen in videos with them is when I started to notice like, oh wow, collaborating with other creators is a really great way to boost subscribers,” Valdes said in an interview.
In these early YouTube days, Valdes recalled how education around how to make money as a creator wasn’t as expansive as it is today. Early YouTubers who started doing brand deals faced scrutiny—with many questions from audience members around “selling out”—and had to be very active in the creator community to figure out what constituted a fair business deal.
“It definitely was interesting being some of the first people to ever do brand deals in this way on the internet,” Valdes said. “Brands still don’t know how to price things or be consistent with pricing, but back then, it was so much the wild, wild West that me and my friends would do the same brand deal but one would get paid 5 times more than the other creator—just because they asked.”
Valdes said she enjoyed the business side of things, learning to navigate and negotiate deals. Valdes overall was able to make a living as a full-time creator for over 7 years—working with high-profile brands like Starbucks, Honda, Intel, Coke, McDonalds, eBay, and Apple—and attracting over 1 million followers.
However, in 2016, Valdes said she started to feel doubts about her career path. She said constantly having an audience of people watching her every move and expecting new content grew exhausting, and she no longer had the creative passion to persevere as a creator amidst the pressure.
“I really started to feel a disconnect with how the industry was headed for talent and what aligned with who I was as a person. It wasn’t that the industry was bad or becoming bad, I was growing apart from the direction it was headed—which is way more about celebrity culture,” Valdes shared. “It was very different from the YouTube I started with in 2008, which was community, friendship, making silly videos and hoping people watched them.”
Valdes said she was unmotivated to grow her audience, which she felt she would have had to do to stay relevant as a YouTuber.
“As a creator, you start making content and you experience a level of growth, and then you often start to plateau at some point. Then you kind of have to switch things up or reinvent yourself, or come up with some new interesting shiny thing to do to get that growth up again,” Valdes said. “I was kind of just tired of it. I started to feel the pressures of, I need to be prettier, I had to be shinier in some way. I don’t know how to describe it other than that. And it started to take a toll on me mentally.”
Valdes says she thinks other creators who continued their careers in front of the camera had a love for content creation that just wasn’t in her. She said talking to OG YouTube creators who have stuck around, she realized they truly loved making videos in a way she didn’t.
“I actually preferred the business and the strategy side of things, and I enjoyed the social aspect,” Valdes said. “I just liked the internet, and my friends online, and the community it gave me, but I was actually never that passionate about the content itself.”
Valdes said although she knew she didn’t want to be in the spotlight creating content, she wanted to stay in the creator community, helping those who were passionate about content creation and public-facing life. Although she had some direction—wanting to be behind the camera in the creator world—Valdes said the time after she decided to quit was the “hardest two years of [her] life” as she had no idea what exactly she was going to do next.
“I just knew that as I was approaching my 30s that I had an expiration date for being ‘Catrific’ and I just wanted to be Cat Valdes,” Valdes said. “When you’re a YouTuber, your life is your job and your job is your life…So when I took away that YouTube aspect, it was like oh, what’s left? I don’t understand, half of me is gone now that this whole YouTube thing is gone. And it was really painful and very confusing.”
Working through those tough emotions, Valdes said she started to think hard about the parts of being a YouTuber that she truly enjoyed: working on brand deals, coming up with business strategies, and helping her peers.
“I would look at my friends’ contracts, and I would talk to them about career advice, and that was actually when I felt most fulfilled in doing what I did,” Valdes said. “When I started talking with Jeff Olson at Jellysmack, who is the head of creator partnerships, and he started telling me a little bit about what Jellysmack does, I was like oh, this is perfect for me. I knew it was the right company for me and it was the right role for me.”
Olson told Passionfruit he was surprised to see the YouTube name “Catrific” in an application for Jellysmack, and was curious to see where Valdes saw her career heading. After an initial conversation with Valdes, Olson said her passion for business and unique knowledge as a creator helped her land the job.
“Since she doesn’t come from a traditional corporate background, it was fun to see her think outside the box, question the status quo, and push on issues that others—who may be used to traditional corporate norms, like myself—may not have thought about. She’s fiercely protective of doing what’s best for creators and gives me honest feedback when something we are developing may not work the way we intended so we can make adjustments quickly,” Olson praised.
Olson said Valdes’s perspective as a former creator helps Jellysmack with launching new products, developing deal structures, or even training new employees. He also said her “competitive” nature and desire to “win” makes her an ideal leader on the business side of the creator economy.
“Her true passion is empowering her peers to build their business. Prior to Jellysmack, she was always helping her friends navigate and negotiate contracts, coaching them on their strategy, and bringing people who had similar interests together at events,” Olson said.
Today with Jellysmack, Valdes speaks to creators of all sizes and stages of careers, trying to attract them to Jellysmack’s Creator Program. She says the most common pain points she hears from creators are burnout and career longevity.
“They want to scale, they want to grow, but they’re not quite sure how. And so we’re really good at, you know, helping creators maximize their full potential by helping edit their content, optimizing content, distributing content on multiple platforms, we can do financing, there’s all sorts of things,” Valdes said.
One creator Valdes works with is Charlotte Dobre, a popular lifestyle and comedy YouTuber who is a part of Jellysmack’s Creator Program. Dobre told Passionfruit she appreciates Valdes for knowing “exactly what it means to be a creator,” helping her avoid burnout, and making her feel “welcome and appreciated.”
“This business can be very rewarding, but at the same time, very draining and lonely. Having that kind of first-hand experience means [Valdes] can fully empathize with content creators,” Dobre said. “Having that kind of support makes me feel like I’m not in this alone and I do have people in my corner who want to see me succeed.”
Valdes told Passionfruit she’s glad to be a trusted voice in the creator community.
“There’s a lot of questionable characters sometimes in the influencer space and you can use people and social climb and things like that,” Valdes said. “A lot of creators are very naturally skeptical of letting help come in because what happens psychologically as a creator is: you are the brand, you are the one that made it happen, you know what’s best. And yes, that is true to an extent. And it can take you so far. But in order to scale, in order to reach an audience you don’t know how to reach, that’s when you really need the help of experts on other platforms.”
Dobre said Jellysmack helps translate her YouTube videos, which she personally focuses on creating, to Facebook.
“I didn’t realize how lucrative Facebook could be—the kind of reach I could have going multi-platform. [Valdes] showed me how other creators were able to make passive income from Jellysmack reformatting their YouTube videos and posting them to Facebook, so it made sense to try it myself. Just one year later and my Facebook page has almost double the following of my YouTube channel,” Dobre said.
Valdes said most creators are best on one or two platforms, and Jellysmack helps them focus on the medium they are most passionate about.
“At Jellysmack we have teams of experts that know every single platform in and out and know the algorithms,” Valdes said. “A lot of creators, for better or for worse, are always going head to head with an algorithm. And it can either skyrocket you to the moon or it can bury your posts and no one’s going to see them…We’ve got proprietary tech and data and teams of people who are actively working to combat these issues with algorithms, and it’s just nothing an individual creator can do on their own.”
Now two years into her time at Jellysmack, and four years out from being a full-time creator, Valdes says she loves what she’s doing and feels fulfilled.
“I find that I love actually helping other creators grow and see success, more than myself as a creator. I feel like I really kind of tapped into my strengths and my passions in a way I didn’t as a creator, and I’m meeting a very different need now in this role now at Jellysmack,” Valdes said.
Are you a former creator who’s moved behind the scenes at a creator economy company? Email [email protected] for a chance to be included in an upcoming newsletter.