Being an online influencer might appear to be an endless scroll of glorious selfies, viewed and liked by millions of adoring, digital hangers-on, who help you garner lucrative endorsement deals from major brands, but it’s actually far more difficult than it appears—especially, the moneymaking part. But that might be about to change thanks to PowerSpike, a Ballston Spa-based tech startup that, as of July 2019, has raised more than $1.3 million from venture capitalists (VCs) to connect video game influencers with brand name advertisers and sponsors. “PowerSpike is essentially the world’s first influencer exchange,” says the company’s CEO Angelo “AJ” Damiano, who grew up and currently resides in Ballston Spa just south of Saratoga Springs. “We take the best parts of programmatic advertising—the way you’d buy an ad on Facebook, for example—and couple that with the influencer market on Twitch.”
For those unfamiliar with online gaming, Twitch is like YouTube but only for video game live-streaming content—mass gaming tournaments, competitions and battles—and it’s huge. In fact, Twitch, which is a subsidiary of Amazon, is the largest video game live-streaming platform on the planet with 15 million daily users and between 2 and 3.2 million monthly broadcasters. YouTube Gaming, YouTube’s own dedicated gaming channel, is actually Twitch’s biggest competitor. And just as on YouTube or Instagram or any other social media platform, there’s a cadre of rising and established video game influencers and content creators scoring brand-name endorsements and making big bucks along the way.
How to go from playing video games at home to being a sponsored digital champion—or, if you’re an advertiser, looking for the right influencer for your product—is where PowerSpike comes in. The company acts as a kind of all-purpose middleman between sponsors, eSports organizations and influencers. “If a brand wants to get one of these famous Twitch content creators to endorse or give a shout-out to their product, there’s a ton of work that goes into actually making that happen,” says Damiano. From reaching out to influencers or their agents to negotiating contracts and measuring the efficacy of specific influencer sponsorships, PowerSpike handles it all. “You tell us what you want, throw that into our platform, and you hit GO, and you’re done,” Damiano says. “There’s no day-to-day legwork or management.”
Damiano’s an old pro when it comes to the world of video game influencers. While still in high school, he was an influencer for the insanely popular, multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft. In 2015, he also worked as a shoutcaster (a video game sportscaster) on Twitch for Electronic Sports League Gaming, one of the world’s largest eSports production companies. His time as an influencer is what originally inspired Damiano to create PowerSpike. “My friends and I wanted to go out and find sponsorships to support this competitive World of Warcraft video game tournament we were creating on Twitch,” says Damiano. “We reached out to 100 different brands and advertisers looking for a sponsorship opportunity. We got two responses, and both of them were rejections.” It was a hard lesson, but one that showed Damiano just how difficult it was for influencers to connect with advertisers, and really, vice versa. “From that experience, my friends and I wanted to create a better solution that could help influencers and creators to make content creation on Twitch their full-time career,” says Damiano.
So in 2015, while a sophomore at Syracuse University, Damiano founded PowerSpike in his dorm room. Developing the company at first was slow-going (especially with homework and finals to complete), but after graduating in 2018, Damiano got a big boost from Saratoga Springs-based video game developer Brian Corrigan, who is the founder and CEO of PUBG MadGlory. “Brian was one of the company’s earliest investors,” says Damiano. “He provided us with space and mentorship that really helped us succeed in the early phases of the business.”
Since then, the tech startup has grown rapidly. In addition to that $1 million-plus in VC funding, PowerSpike has won numerous regional and university business competitions in recent years, including a $10,000 first-place prize in the 2017 New York Business Plan Competition. “The company’s really moving in an exciting direction,” says Damiano, who projects that PowerSpike will grow from its current 8 employees to about 30 by next year. “We’re hiring like crazy right now, and we really want to support content creators and influencers no matter where they’re at and help them succeed.”