Andreessen Horowitz Invests in Civitai, a Leading Generative AI Content Marketplace with Millions of Users
Civitai, a leading generative AI content marketplace, has recently received a significant investment from Andreessen Horowitz. With millions of users and a thriving community, Civitai provides a platform for individuals to share their AI image models and creations. The startup was founded by CEO Justin Maier, who recognized the need for a centralized space where people could discover and replicate unique AI-generated content.
What started as a community project quickly grew into a company, attracting millions of registered users and becoming the go-to platform for AI enthusiasts. This investment from Andreessen Horowitz will further propel Civitai’s mission to democratize the power of AI and revolutionize the way businesses engage with customers through AI-generated content. Stay with us in this blog post for more information.
The AI image generator Stable Diffusion has garnered a substantial fan base, and for those delving into the realm of new AI technology to craft their models, a dedicated space has emerged. Civitai, a startup cleverly named after Civitas, meaning community, has established a platform. Here, members can showcase their self-created AI image models rooted in Stable Diffusion for fellow enthusiasts to explore. The platform also provides a space to exhibit the outcomes of their efforts — captivating AI-generated photos for consumers to peruse and appreciate.
Civitai CEO Justin Maier conceived the startup to address the demand for a platform facilitating the sharing of AI models within a community. He observed that creators posted images, but there was a gap as others struggled to replicate the work and create their own images. Following the completion of a project at Microsoft, where he worked as a contractor on web development initiatives, Maier became captivated by the concept of Midjourney.
“It scratched that same itch that web development had where I saw something — or I had something in my mind — and I could type some text in, get something back. It became this collaborative experience where I could explore my creativity and get pulled in directions maybe I hadn’t planned,” he says. However, Maier soon encountered limitations with Midjourney’s credits-based plan, which led to a frustrating wait of 5 minutes for each image to be generated. That, he says, “was a real bummer because I had fallen so deeply in love with this ability to explore and create anything that I could think of,” Maier said.
Around the same time, an open-source version emerged known as Stable Diffusion, essentially offering similar capabilities for AI image generation. As the Stable Diffusion community expanded, individuals explored various techniques with the model, incorporating new ideas through prompts or introducing novel concepts—such as using images of themselves to create AI-generated selfies. Maier observed a trend where people shared their unique models, enabling diverse functionalities like generating in a synth wave or punk style, and blending models to conceive innovative concepts. However, these creations were dispersed across the web on platforms like Reddit or Discord, lacking a centralized community.
This prompted him to establish Civitai (formerly known as Model Share), an online community designed to systematically organize this content for easy retrieval. In the initial stages, he kickstarted Civitai by personally approaching model creators and requesting them to share their work on the platform. Initially, there were only about 40 or 50 distinct models accessible. However, as time progressed, the site experienced significant growth.
People were ecstatic to have their efforts acknowledged. By around January, we had become the primary platform for sharing these creations,” notes Maier. “While other sites like HuggingFace existed, they weren’t image-centric,” he explains. “So, we emerged as the de facto standard for sharing models, diverse AI resources, and the images you’d generated,” Maier adds.
How many users does Civitai have?
In January 2023, the site achieved a milestone of 100,000 registered users, leading Maier to realize that Civitai could evolve beyond a community project — it had the potential to become a company. Consequently, Civitai was officially founded, and within three months, it reached a million registered users. Presently, the user base stands at around 3 million, with approximately 12 to 13 million unique visitors each month.
“It’s astounding how rapidly it has expanded — certainly larger than we anticipated back in January,” remarks Maier.
Out of the 3 million users, only about 10,000 unique creators contribute new models each month. Nevertheless, this figure has increased by approximately 25% in the last month following Citivai’s introduction of the capability for users to train new models directly on the site, simplifying the initiation process. A more extensive user base is engaged in consuming the models and created content.
Due to its remarkable growth, Civitai, co-founded by Maxfield Hulker and Briant Diehl, secured a $5.1 million funding round in June, spearheaded by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), with a valuation of $20 million. Notably, the funding round included an unconventional participant — the legal team that facilitated the round also became an investor.
“Civitai is a standout example of a company that has built an incredible, engaged community without spending a dime on marketing,” stated Andreessen Horowitz Partner Brian Kim. “Our investment in the company will only enhance something that’s already working incredibly well, contributing to a world where any individual can leverage the significant technological shift of our generation – AI.”
To utilize Civitai, users can upload a set of images representing the desired style, select a base model (such as the standard, anime, or realistic model), and wait for about an hour for the new model to be ready. Once ready, users can generate images in the captured style. The on-site generated images come with metadata detailing prompts and resources used. Civitai encourages users generating models off-site to include this information as well.
Concerns about artists discovering their work being used to train AI models prompted Civitai to establish a process. Artists can flag resources they believe are utilizing their work, initiating negotiations for resolution. Resolutions may involve removing the resource entirely or removing the artist’s name, depending on the artist’s preferences.
“We ideally want artists to be able to use these styles for themselves. If they wish to offer others the ability to create in their style, they can do so by allowing people to pay for it,” says Maier. “However, it’s still early days, and I haven’t had the opportunity to work with many artists interested in that,” he adds.
404Media highlights a more serious issue Civitai faced — allowing users to post non-consensual explicit images and introducing a bounty feature for creating AI images of specific targets, styles, or compositions, paid for in virtual currency. While the company prohibits non-consensual explicit AI images, its policies don’t restrict the use of training AI images on real people. The report suggests that users found ways to assemble models and share non-consensual images off-site. Civitai’s investigation indicated inconsistent enforcement of its policy.
Civitai responded to the report by highlighting its policy against mature and suggestive content, providing a removal request form and email address, and stating that it prohibits the use of resources intended to replicate the likeness of real people with its on-site generator (although the foundational Stable Diffusion model allows generating real people). The company emphasized that “bounties” are not publicly available, but if resulting images are shared on-site, they must adhere to existing “real people” policies. Requests for bounties involving real people make up only 10% of the total, it clarified.
Despite navigating challenging terrain, Maier envisions a potential market for legitimate AI work in the future, including the use of AI imagery in movies, music videos, applications, and other creative projects. In the short term, the plan is to develop a consumer-facing mobile app that serves as a repository for AI imagery, complementing the experience on the main site.
The company is shifting its focus to enable users to monetize their work. This could involve connecting users with brands seeking unique concepts created with AI or exploring direct monetization options, such as charging for access to a model or one-off image generation. Currently, all features on the site are free to use, leveraging Cloudflare’s R2 to manage download costs effectively.
“I’d like to collaborate with brands, individuals, and intellectual property to offer them the opportunity to sell their likeness to those who want to use it for advertisements and similar purposes,” explains Maier. “Setting up licensing agreements and permissions will be crucial to controlling how their images are used. This is essential as we navigate the evolving landscape of the AI era,” he emphasizes.
In the future, the startup envisions expanding into other modalities beyond AI image models, but that’s a prospect for a later stage, as per Maier’s remarks.
In conclusion, Civitai’s partnership with Andreessen Horowitz marks a significant milestone for the generative AI content marketplace. With its rapidly growing user base and innovative platform, Civitai has become a hub for AI enthusiasts to share and explore unique AI image models and creations. The investment from Andreessen Horowitz will not only fuel the company’s growth but also contribute to the larger vision of democratizing AI technology. As Civitai continues to evolve and expand, businesses seeking new ways to engage customers through AI-generated content can look to this platform as a valuable resource. With its empathetic and compassionate approach, Civitai is poised to shape the future of AI-driven creativity and revolutionize the way we interact with AI-generated content.
Are you an AI enthusiast looking for a platform to share and explore AI image models and creations? Are you interested in learning more about Civitai and its mission to democratize the power of AI? Have you experienced the limitations of existing AI image generation platforms and are looking for a more seamless experience? Share your insights below.