Content warning: This piece describes examples of digital abuse, sexual violence, relationship violence, and institutional reporting, which can be disturbing and/or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.
Rosie Nguyen went viral the way that we all aspire to go viral—on Twitter. She downloaded the app in 2018, and by the end of 2019, Nguyen, known as @jasminericegirl, had begun to blow up. In March 2020, as the world shut down and Nguyen was months away from her Wharton graduation, she had amassed a following of tens of thousands. However, Nguyen wasn't just forced into online classes with the pandemic. She lost her source of income—her on–campus job.
Nguyen started as an undergraduate at Wharton in 2016 with a full–ride scholarship. Back at home, her mom was the only person in her family of four who was employed, but after an accident during Nguyen’s freshman year, she became disabled and was unable to work. Nguyen’s college years very quickly revolved around finding any way possible to provide for her family. Using her work–study job at a college house to provide for herself, Nguyen sent her room and board stipend home. Her time at Penn was a constant struggle for money. Nguyen reflects, “Maybe I ate, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I went to class, maybe I didn’t. It was very stressful.”
As the only source of income for her family, when Nguyen lost her on–campus work-study job to the pandemic, she began looking for other ways to safely take care of them. “I probably had thirty–thousand something followers on Twitter,” Nguyen says, “I want to do something with this platform to provide for myself.” After researching different monetization platforms, Nguyen settled on OnlyFans, a subscription service where Nguyen’s followers could fund her as they connected with her.
However, Nguyen quickly realized that it was not the platform for her. “OnlyFans is very much synonymous with sex work and adult content,” she explains, and while she emphasizes that there's nothing wrong with creating adult content, doing so was not her goal. “I felt like every day I was pressured to do adult content because it was OnlyFans,” she says. And refusing had dire consequences. Most days, Nguyen received death threats and rape threats from people who had subscribed to her page and were not getting the adult content they thought they were paying for.
Nguyen couldn’t even use her real name, Rosie, instead opting to go by Jasmine, for fear of being stalked by an angry follower. “I would have nightmares about people killing me,” she says.
“I just really wanted a platform where it wasn’t about your body,” says Nguyen. She wanted a space that “was about the content you create, about your personality as a creator and about fans that genuinely wanted to support you for who you are.” Through this, Nguyen decided that she needed to create a platform that protected creators.
After meeting her co–founders, Jerry Meng and Khoi Le, on Twitter and telling them about her issues with OnlyFans, they started Fanhouse. OnlyFans and Fanhouse are designed pretty similarly, except on Fanhouse, the content is all safe for work. Rather than an emphasis on creators' bodies, Fanhouse was more about getting a behind–the–scenes perspective on a creator’s life.
To figure out if the idea was even worth pursuing, the founders experimented with the idea of offering a subscription–based glimpse into influencers' lives by giving fans paid access to Nguyen’s private Twitter and Instagram accounts. Then, she transitioned her subscription plan onto Fanhouse, which now has a few thousand creators using the service. Even though Nguyen is busy with running the business end of the platform, she's still an active creator on the platform to this day.
Compared to most other platforms that have higher take rate of at least 20%, Fanhouse’s creator payout structure is 90–10. The app takes 10% of all transactions—and creators get the rest. “As a creator, I know that that’s a lot of money that people need, and if a platform can take less, it should,” Nguyen says. “That’s one of our foundational beliefs as a creator platform.”
Nguyen’s identity as a creator contributes every day to how the platform operates. “Everything that I experienced as a creator I know is not limited to myself,” she says. “I know I am not the only woman online who is receiving unsolicited dick pics. I know I’m not the only woman online that’s receiving harassment.” Because of her creator background, Nguyen knew that in addition to creator profitability, safety also had to be a priority for the platform, causing her to ask herself: “How do we prevent stalkers? How do we prevent people that harass?”
One of the many protections that Fanhouse implemented was watermarking: Before a creator posts or sends a photo, they can choose to put a unique traceable watermark on it. That way, if a follower screenshots and leaks a post, the app will be able to trace the source of the leak and shut it down.
Nguyen constantly brings things to the table to improve Fanhouse for creators. Anything that she or her friends experience—on their platform or anywhere else—contributes to the changes that are implemented at Fanhouse.
Looking to the future, Nguyen wants to stick with the founding principles of the platform, even as it becomes more successful. “The second that platforms make money, they neglect the people that built them up,” she states. “So, I hope Fanhouse continues to succeed, and that we continue to serve creators and do right by creators, and for as long as I’m a part of Fanhouse, I know that we will.”