While there are many things that set tech platforms apart from one another, there’s one aspect that we hear about time and time again: policy. Advertising policies, data policies, cookie policies. We’ve all seen the words and clicked an “I agree” button. But the sad fact is, some company policies really only benefit the business, not the individual.
As Patreon’s Head of Policy, Laurent Crenshaw always puts people first. He’s dedicated to protecting individual creators from all the most monstrous parts of the web and making sure that we’re heading in the right direction with this whole internet thing. He’s been fighting the good fight as a policy professional for over a decade now, and in August 2020 he made the move to Patreon so he could be part of the engine that’s powering this new era of the creator economy.
“I was excited about the idea of joining this platform because I’ve been super supportive of the creator economy and using new modes to break down barriers and connect creators with their fans,” Laurent says. “Basically eliminating the things that stop people from easily creating, from spinning up, from taking something that’s an idea into reality.” With the right guidelines in place for creators and patrons, Laurent and his team are making it as simple as possible for people to just go for it.
Laurent started his tech policy journey in the House of Representatives. As a Legislative Director who focused on the House Judiciary Committee , he dealt with issues like intellectual property, telecommunications law, and all the fun legal stuff that basically makes the internet a place where a platform like Patreon can exist. “Back in 2011/12, there were really bad pieces of internet legislation that were trying to negatively impact how platforms operate,” Laurent says. People were telling him not to bother opposing it because it wouldn’t make a difference. “These things were so cooked they were basically done.” Despite the naysayers, he and his team took a stand against these bills and 15,000 websites showed their support by going dark for the day. “After that, everything kind of changed fundamentally,” he says. “I finally felt like people understood the internet.”
While he enjoyed his days drafting legislation Laurent left the House of Representatives to join the private sector. He led policy teams at Yelp and Eaze before joining the Patreon team in 2020. He says one of the best parts of moving from a government job to the tech space is how quickly everything moves. Instead of hemming and hawing over policy changes for two years, Laurent can make real change and watch creators benefit within a matter of days. After only six weeks at Patreon, Laurent implemented his first policy, and things haven’t slowed down since.
Although policy in a nationwide sense and policy in a company sense might seem worlds apart, they’re actually not that different. Between all of Laurent’s jobs, the common piece has been putting rules in place to protect people. Sometimes it’s against trolls and sometimes it’s against harmful bills, but the underlying goal is always the same. At Patreon, these rules protect creators against harassment and make sure nobody steals anyone else’s work. The Policy team is one of the reasons people feel safe coming to share their art and support creators through Patreon. “We want to have a platform that people are excited to come to,” Laurent says.
As technical as a Policy role may seem, it’s not all paperwork and meetings (but yes, it is a lot of paperwork and meetings). Laurent also spends time talking to reporters and collaborating with other teams to discuss future policies and get feedback. In fact, Laurent played a big part in rolling out the recent Creator Policy Engagement Program aimed at getting creators more involved in and aware of the policy-making process.
Of course, leading policy at a tech company is no easy task. It’s (relatively) new territory for everyone and things change quickly; it’s not surprising that companies like Facebook get it wrong more often than not. Having dealt with tech policy for so long, Laurent has the benefit of having witnessed all these media giants rise and fall, and he can think about how Patreon will do things differently. When it comes to making decisions, Laurent says it’s kind of common sense. “I just look at it as like trying to have an objective standard that allows for as many people to safely use the platform as possible.”
He might be looking at the future of Patreon, but there’s a bigger picture for Laurent. He’s constantly asking himself, from a policy standpoint, what is the future of the creator space going to look like?
“What more can and should we be doing in order to support creators, because we’re just at the tip of the iceberg,” he wonders.
That’s one of the things that first excited him about the job. He saw how the creator space was taking off and he knew he wanted to be a part of shaping that future. As soon as he came on board, he was determined to build a world-class policy team that could address all the challenges Patreon had to deal with. Since he started, Laurent says it’s been fascinating to see how these topics have come into the spotlight. “Content policy went from being a little bit of a niche issue that only certain people think about, to front and center of what platforms have to deal with and care about at the highest levels,” he says. It’s a bit of a right place, right time situation for Laurent. He came to Patreon right before the company raised $90 million in funding, and now he gets to use that momentum to help build something that affects millions of people worldwide.
His passion for helping creators doesn’t just stop at online monetization. Laurent is constantly thinking about what else Patreon can do to help creators outside the platform, like working with Congress to secure benefits for creators. He’s thinking about how we can level the playing field for people with “non-traditional” careers and get rid of outdated policies that only give funding to a select few. “If we can make that happen, then suddenly you’ve got creators all across the country who will be able to get new small business loans and further their careers that way. If we are able to help achieve it, then it has potentially huge downstream impact for creators as a whole,” Laurent says.
These goals might seem far-fetched for some but to Laurent, this looks like a very real future for creators — and that’s something to get excited about. The Policy team is still growing, and we’re always looking for more people to work with Laurent every day to implement positive change. You can learn more about our open roles here.