How a teenage influencer became an entrepreneur

How does a teenager achieve social media influencer status, attract sponsors and become a successful entrepreneur? Here’s how Mike Hammontree did it starting at age 15 using the apps on his smartphone. 

Do you know a teenager who seems to spend all their free time taking videos of themselves and their surroundings and posting them to social media? If you’ve rolled your eyes a time or two and wondered why they can’t find something more constructive to do, consider this: They may be a budding – or even an established – entrepreneur. The videos of their new sneakers or backpack, the snacks they’re eating, or the new solar phone charger that arrived in the mail could be the source of funding for their education, for buying their dream car, or for opening their second or third business location.

Mike Hammontree is a perfect example. In 2013, Hammontree, then 15 years old, was hanging out with his cousins, Josh Saenz and Ryan Fenwick, in Lansing, Michigan. On a lark, the teens downloaded the Vine app onto Josh’s phone. Later that night they started making videos.The three had no special plans for the videos; they just tried to create and post something funny every day. After they had been doing this for 2 weeks, one of the videos went viral, quickly getting 50,000 likes on Vine.

That Vine hit attracted followers to all their accounts, and motivated Mike to continue posting on his own account. Before long one of his own videos scored more than 40,000 likes and gained him 10,000 followers overnight. Within a few months he had 40,000 followers. That’s when sponsors starting knocking on his virtual door and he began promoting them not only on those early Vine videos, but also on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Those sponsorships were the first stepping stones in a journey that led Hammontree to co-found two related businesses, Wundr Media and Wundr Magazine. He and co-founder Kona Kamai launched Wundr Media in the summer of 2015 (when Hammontree was 17 years old). Wundr Magazine became available in prelaunch in 2017.

What about Hammontree’s cousins who co-created those very first Vine videos? Ryan Fenwick, Josh Saenz, along with Brandyn Saenz and Akil Wade founded their own social media company, Bava Media in 2016. Bava Media and Wundr Media work together on some client projects.

How did he do it?

The large number of followers Hammontree was accumulating led him to be discovered by Mike LeMieux, who at the time worked for Instafluence, a company that connected marketers with social media influencers. “He [Mike LeMieux] got me sponsorships from P3 by Oscar Mayer, Badoo App, Jelly Splash, Hot or Not and a few other companies,” Hammontree explains. “He introduced me to the world of advertising — that you could actually make money with social media.”

Some six months later, Hammontree started getting sponsors on his own, running influencer campaigns for Fortune 500 companies and smaller companies that wanted him to promote their brands to his followers on all his social media channels.

Strategy for getting sponsors

Having a lot of followers on social media is one of the keys to getting companies to pay for influencer campaigns, but followers, alone, aren’t enough. To get sponsorships you have to accomplish two other tasks, too:

  • Find the right corporate contact to approach
  • Convince them to work with you

Hammontree has had the most success finding corporate contacts by contacting the public relations department of companies he wants to work with. Sometimes that’s an in-house public relations staff, and sometimes it’s outsourced, he explains.

To get attention from the public relations department, “You need a pretty good pitch and you need to be in touch with what the brand is all about. Then you have to cater your pitch to the brand,” Hammontree explains. “It’s all about showing a company what you can provide….These are my social media profiles, here’s some of the work I have done in the past. Here’s what I have in mind for your company or brand and how I’d promote it, and why the brand would benefit.” 

If the public relations department is impressed with your pitch and they aren’t the right people to speak to, they may direct you to an ad manager, brand manager or social media manager for the corporation, he says.

Behind the scenes

Besides learning how to pitch influencer campaigns, Hammontree kept working to improve his camera and editing skills. He bought better camera equipment, and started doing longer commercials for companies. It was on one of his gigs that he met Kona Kamai, and after talking about the possibility building a business together based on their skills, the two joined forces. Kamai, who is the CEO of Wundr Media and Wundr Magazine, handles “business” side of things, including managing relationships with clients, employees and freelancers, while Hammontree is more involved with the creative side and marketing. 

Wundr Media and Wundr Magazine both focus on travel, style and the “good life” for a target market that includes teens and people up to about 35 years old. They plan to start producing a documentary movie soon, too. Hammontree maintains a personal vlog on YouTube, as well. He and the Wundr Media team travel frequently on shoots, but they also have a network of freelancers and contractors around the world that they call on when necessary.

Advice to other teens

Hammontree believes teens should be looking for opportunities to succeed. “I see people my age throwing their lives away, not doing anything,” he says.”But you shouldn’t take things for granted…take every opportunity you can get.

“If you have a dream, follow it. If you don’t follow your dream it will haunt you. You’ll never know what the outcome could be.”

His second piece of advice for entrepreneurial teens is to “ride the wave.” It was the Vine videos that led him to discover marketing and influencer campaigns, and those led him to meet Kamai, and that led to forming the media company, and then the magazine. “I never imagined it would have led to any of this,” he says. “I drive my dream car, I travel… I’ve been able to accomplish things I dreamed about when I was 10 years old. “

Hammontree, who says his parents and family have been behind him 100 percent urges teens do to everything they can to live up to their full potential. “Try it [reaching for your dreams] while you’re young and have some backing from your family.It’s better to fail now than when you are 30 or 40 and have a spouse and children and other responsibilities. Every failure is only a step towards success.”

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