My Startup Story: Building An Influencer Marketing Platform From Scratch

When the world talks about entrepreneurship, it’s followed by phrases like “living the dream” and “having a flexible schedule.” But ask any real entrepreneur what it was like in the beginning, and they don’t talk about how much free time they had, or how nice it was to sleep in. They talk about how difficult it was to get their idea off the ground.

My story is no different.

Today, I am the founder of a mobile-technology influencer marketing agency called theAmplify. We have executed massive influencer campaigns with big brands like Nissan, Ford, Cover Girl, Lionsgate, Taco Bell, and many more — and recently, I was fortunate to be included on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Marketing & Advertising.

But back in 2013, this dream of mine was nothing more than a simple idea.

Here’s how it happened:

I came up with the mobile technology we use at theAmplify today when I was in my mid-twenties, and suddenly found myself in the hospital. I had a bad health scare, and was there for almost two weeks. At the same time, I was working a job I really didn’t enjoy, and was questioning what I wanted to do with my life. I had always been interested in mobile technology, and was starting to see this trend of what we now refer to as “social media influencers” on the rise.

I’ve had several moments like this in my life, where I was forced to just sit there and really ask myself what I wanted, and what I needed to do in order to become successful. When I was 20 years old, I had a similar experience. I was driving back from a meeting and my car flipped on the freeway four times. Somehow, I walked out of the car — when really, I should have died.

But this time was different. I started thinking about whether there was an app where influencers could work with brands and help make the entire influencer marketing process seamless, and also collect data to improve campaign performance at the same time. When I saw nobody had built anything like this yet, I knew what I wanted to do.

I wanted to build the greatest influencer marketing campaign platform out there.

So that’s what I set out to do. I taught myself how to code. I built the first iteration of the app myself. Then I took it to my friend Keegan Allen, an actor on the television series Pretty Little Liars. He met me for dinner. I asked him if, being a well-known actor, he was working with brands and posting about them on his Instagram channel. This was just a few weeks after Facebook had bought Instagram, and I was really starting to see the potential of influencer marketing.

“No, not really,” he said. “It’s such a pain to talk to brands, figure out what they want you to post, when you should post it, what you should say when you make the post. The whole process is annoying.”

“I built an app that does all of that for you,” I said. “Want to take it for a test drive?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “Let’s try a campaign together.”

Our first project was with Redbox — and that was all the validation I needed.

It really was a chicken-and-egg dilemma. The app still needed a lot of features, and I had a very short runway to get this idea off the ground. I essentially had six weeks to generate the additional sales I needed, or I was going to run out of cash.

I went all in.

Within the first 60 days, I closed a handful of clients and $110,000 in revenue. It was the ultimate test of perseverance, pitching people all day, every day, and refusing to take “No” for an answer. And those that believed in the technology were the first to sign on as clients. It became a race to both deliver on what we had promised them, and to continue growing at the same time.

Whenever I talk to aspiring entrepreneurs, or even those that have been in the game for a while but want to get to the next level, I tell them that story. I remind them that you have to focus on what matters and ignore everything else — at least in the beginning. For us, that meant getting clients so that we could get the technology built, so that we could get more clients, so that we could improve the technology, etc. It was a constant race.

The second thing I remind people is that things are going to stand in your way, people are going to tell you it can’t be done, life events are going to challenge you or try to slow you down, and your success as an entrepreneur will depend on your ability to keep moving forward.

In 2015, my friend from the beginning, Keegan Allen, had an Influencer career that was just as substantial as his career acting.

Just goes to show how far hustle can take you.

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Please comment below if this resonated with you, and reach out to me on Twitter or by email (justin@theAmplify.com) to tell me your thoughts.