It is hard to see a day go by without some new innovative technology or online platform being launched. For this reason, it can sometimes be too easy to overlook certain projects and let them fall through the cracks. When I came across STHER, Inc., a new subscription platform founded by Margot Paez, however, I knew there was something special at work and I had to learn more.
Though not launched yet, STHER, Inc. presents itself as a socially conscious and easy-to-use subscription platform which aims to promote work done by women, LGBTQ+, people of colour and other marginalized groups. Intrigued by the thought of a more inclusive Patreon-like platform, I reached out to Paez to learn more about her project.
Interestingly, in speaking to her she revealed that her own inspiration for STHER was precisely the person who had led me to finding out about the website in the first place: Naomi Wu, also known as Sexy Cyborg.
“I was mostly inspired to start STHER because of a couple of things. What happened with Naomi Wu, for example, had me really upset,” Paez tells me, in reference to Wu’s Patreon being taken down due to an issue with Vice. “Because I like to support people who make things, especially women who make things, because I’m a woman and I build things, I learned a lot through the maker movement and I also really appreciated the fact that Naomi was not afraid to be a woman and to be female while being a maker.
“I really support what Naomi is doing, so when all this happened I felt like I needed to help her. I started talking to her over Twitter to try and figure out how I could help and what the issues were that she faced. One of them was that there are a lot of platforms out there but it’s very difficult to get access to a banking system that includes China. I have the skills to do this and that’s how I got to the point where I decided to incorporate a company and form STHER.”
Paez, who is currently doing her PhD in physics and robotics, has a broad professional and academic background, ranging from programming and web development to robotics and computers. But it isn’t only these skills that inform her work, as she has also been a proponent for human rights, with a special focus on minority groups.
“My mother is from Mexico originally and my dad was born in the U.S. so I personally come from a background that has been subjected to discrimination,” she says. “I can relate in a lot of ways as a person who is part of a under represented group to a certain degree.” It is fitting then, that all of Paez’s interests and drives have culminated in STHER, Inc.
STHER, pronounced “Esther”
“STHER is like Patreon in the sense that it is a subscription-based crowdsourcing platform where anyone can earn money through subscriptions for whatever they create or do on the internet,” explains Paez. “Beyond that, it’s also a platform that seeks to promote people who identify as a member of a marginalized group. That’s really important to the mission of STHER, and the driving reason why it’s incorporated as a Benefit Corporation.
“We really wanted to put the people who are on our platform before profit,” she continues. “Last December, for instance, Patreon wanted to add another level of fees onto subscriptions and that really upset the Patreon community. A lot of that is driven by maximizing profit and corporations are largely designed to maximize profit for shareholders. As a benefit corporation, on the other hand, we can avoid that.”
“We’re not looking to be so exclusive,” she adds, noting that anyone is welcome to use the platform. “But I think that by promoting people who identify as minorities, it will attract people who are sympathetic. We’re not going to be a group that will necessarily attract the alt-right or nazi sympathizers because of what we’re promoting.”
More than just saying it promotes marginalized groups, STHER will also eventually roll out certain initiatives and projects which aim to support people in more specific ways. “We’re not quite ready to discuss these yet,” Paez hints. “But we are formulating things that go beyond just saying ‘this is your platform.’”
STHER has just kicked off its BETA testing phase, which will give full access to the users that have signed up.
“We’ll also be working on recruiting more people to give feedback on the platform, which we’re really excited about because this is really where we can start formulating what STHER is and what it can do for people,” says Paez. “Everything I’m doing right now is sort of based off of assumptions and talking to a few people and my own personal ideas of what people might want. But I think once people start using STHER, we can really hone in and really make a platform that’s inclusive and provides what the majority of creators are looking for in a platform like this.”
Even now, Paez has already integrated some handy features into the website, which seek to improve upon what other subscription platforms offer. For one, the fees for using STHER are set at 3%, which is significantly lower than what Patreon asks for (from 5 to 10%). Paez also says she plans to launch a storefront feature which will give users the ability to have subscriptions as well as to sell their products directly from their page.
“The other thing about our service is that Patreon hangs on to people’s money and makes a payout once a month,” she adds. “They say they do this because it makes the fees lowers. but I don’t think it actually does. So what we’re doing is we’re making it possible for creators to have largely full control of the people who subscribe to them on Stripe. People will be able to see who is subscribing to them and anytime somebody makes a payment it goes directly into their account. The only thing that comes into our account is the platform fee.”
STHER welcomes all
In terms of what types of users STHER will host, Paez sees no limitations. BETA users already include PhD students, tech students, sex workers and more, and span various gender identities and orientations. She also believes the platform will be ideal for artists, craftspeople and, importantly, makers.
“I personally am a maker,” she elaborates. “I build things, I build robots, I 3D print, I design things in CAD. I grew up a maker. I used to build computers in high school and when Arduino came out I got into that. I still use Arduinos in my PhD! I personally come out of the maker culture and I really believe in it. Like i said, with STHER I want to attract people from all backgrounds but my heart is obviously with the makers.”
As mentioned, STHER recently entered into its BETA testing stage, which is expected to last about three months. “We really want to take the time to make sure we understand what we’re providing and to make sure it is what people want,” says Paez. “We will aim to reach out to the public more broadly around January.”
To make things even more inclusive, Paez and STHER co-founder Kelimar Diaz, who is from Puerto Rico, will be translating the entire website into Spanish. “A lot of platforms are not targeting the hispanic community and there’s no reason not to,” she explains. “We have the resources and language skills to do that, so we will be starting that soon.”
Overall, is it really heartening to see a project like STHER really take off, and I am personally eager to watch its success through its BETA testing and into its broader launch. In an industry like tech, where the gender discrepancy is wide and discrimination still exist, an inclusive and socially conscious platform like STHER is a definite step in the right direction.