Esports influencer startup secures $425,000 as COVID-19 throws sector “into the mainstream”

Jacqueline Garrett (centre) and the GGWP team. Source: supplied.

Esports branding education and marketplace startup GGWP has raised $350,000 in pre-seed funding, after the COVID-19 pandemic supercharged the already burgeoning gaming influencer industry.

The funding comes from an all-woman lineup of investors, including Eleanor Ventures, Working Theory Capital and Scale Investors.

The raise also comes as GGWP enters the Startmate accelerator program, which has topped up the funding round.

Founded by Jacquiline Garrett, GGWP provides a program of online resources and classes to help gamers build their online brand and start monetising their content.

It’s also focused on helping them recognise and avoid bad actors in the growing industry, and promoting good habits in terms of physical and mental health.

There are knowledge gaps here that Garrett is all too familiar with. When her son was only nine years old, he became Australia’s youngest esports athlete, competing in three world championships as a competitive Pokemon player.

The pre-seed funding will allow Garrett and her team to launch the GGWP Academy Influencer Marketplace, connecting influencers with sponsors and other opportunities.

It has also allowed the founder to bring a more people on board, including a developer, community manager and virtual CFO.

Operating in beta mode, with a marketing budget of about $30 per week, the startup already has some 4,000 gamers on board, with 65% of those based in the US.

By the time the startup completes the Startmate program, the plan is to have the first MVP of everything GGWP will offer, Garrett tells SmartCompany. And the founder is also eyeing off another funding round — likely in the millions this time — before the year is out.

Garrett concedes this latest funding round isn’t a massive one, even by early-stage standards, and she says she was offered more.

“It’s a small round, but we wanted to keep it to that,” she explains.

The pre-seed funding is intended to get GGWP through the Startmate program comfortably, and over any continuing upheaval due to COVID-19, she explains. She is also wary of over-diluting at this early stage.

Garrett says she’s also rather partial to the lean startup life. She loves the hustle, and the challenge of making every little bit of cash stretch as far as possible.

This is something that helps her stay focused, and brings her closer to building a sustainable business, she explains. She wants to be running a tight ship in terms of forecasting and budgeting.

“You see a lot of these companies going down the VC route of raising and raising and raising,” she adds.

“What we’re trying to do is get to the point where we don’t need to raise.”

GGWP may be taking a slow and steady approach to business, but this is a sector that’s in hypergrowth mode.

According to the Esports Ecosystem Report 2021, esports viewership was expected to grow 9% between 2019 and 2023. Meanwhile, global investment in the sector increased from $490 million in 2017 to $4.5 billion in 2018. That’s an uptick of 837%.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this trend even more, Garrett says, and thrown the sector “into the mainstream”.

In 2020, motorsport events went online, for example, which saw esports athletes competing alongside racing drivers.

As people spent more time at home, a new type of esports influencer also started to emerge — people with no experience in this sector, who were charismatic and picked up viewers quickly.

That, in turn, helped the startup secure the funding it did at this time, as investors begin to understand the ecosystem.

“I think it progressed us about three to five years to be honest,” Garrett says.

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