Christian Di Bratto of Koala Digital: “One more rewarding part is that it makes you grow as a person”

One more rewarding part is that it makes you grow as a person. It might sound cliché, but I honestly think I’ve matured more than ever on this journey — just because it kind of forces you to. I have clients and talent to keep happy, and if I don’t, I don’t have a business. I mentioned […]

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One more rewarding part is that it makes you grow as a person. It might sound cliché, but I honestly think I’ve matured more than ever on this journey — just because it kind of forces you to. I have clients and talent to keep happy, and if I don’t, I don’t have a business. I mentioned it previously, but I’ve developed a huge level of gratitude for the smallest things throughout the process. I can honestly say this is the happiest I’ve ever been.

As a part of our series called “My Life as a TwentySomething Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christian Di Bratto.

Christian is 18 years old, currently attending Ryerson University in Toronto. He is the founder of Koala Digital. His company brokers partnership deals between TikTok creators and brands. Notable TikTok creators he works with include Daniel MacDonald, Mark Tilbury, and Frank Michael Smith. Additionally, he consults agencies and brands on their email outreach to other brands and influencers. He currently works with The Influencer Marketing Factory, as well as Neuro Gum.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What is your “backstory”?

Honestly, it’s pretty simple. COVID hit, and I was out of work. I was working as a hockey instructor at a hockey school here in Toronto, but of course when quarantine hit — that business was shut down for the time being. I was in Grade 12 at the time, and we were moving to online learning for the remainder of the school year. They also made the decision to not lower any student’s marks. As you can imagine, not much work went on.

I had always been interested in brand partnerships and the behind the scenes of how these deals got done, and my curiosity got the best of me. I sent a cold DM to Justin Escalona — a creator I had been watching for a long time on YouTube — offering to find him brand deals free of charge, all I wanted was commission on what I brought in. I left my phone number in the message and didn’t think anything of it. I remember so vividly coming back from a walk and checking my phone to see a random text from 312 area code number. “Yo Christian, it’s Justin. Let’s make some money”.

I literally spent the next 3 hours emailing any and every brand that I thought would even remotely fit with Justin’s content. Looking back now, compared to how I run my outreach currently — I had no clue what I was doing. I was writing them from my personal email, my name @ gmail — which is a huge no-no. I was writing essays in their inboxes about why we want their money, it was a mess. Somehow, within 3 days, and after a bunch of rejections, I got a brand to agree to a call regarding buying naming rights to Justin’s podcast. Negotiations actually went pretty smoothly, and we closed the deal pretty shortly after. I was set to make 3000 dollars in commission, and it felt like 3,000,000 dollars. From there, I was hooked.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?

I definitely shouldn’t name the brand or creator, but this story is definitely a good one. A few months ago, I was negotiating with one brand about a deal for my creator, and the list of content deliverables just kept getting bigger and bigger. When you add more deliverables in, price goes up. When price goes up, my commission goes up. The deal started with a couple of podcast ads, and a couple of weeks later we were talking about packages spanning TikTok, my client’s podcast, and posts on their Instagram page. This was going to be far and away the biggest deal of my life. I remember waking up one morning and checking my email from my phone half asleep, and seeing an email from the brand. Gmail shows when there’s attachments included in an email before you click on it, and I remember reading “Partnership Agre…” in the thumbnail. They sent over the contract. It was for the full list of deliverables, and I was set to make over 10,000 dollars in commission. I remember sending it to the creator with a text saying something like “Sign this right f’ing now”. I thought all was well and good. It was not. When brands send partnership agreements they send it to you for signature first. Once you return it, they sign it, and they send back a countersigned copy for your records. So even though we had the contract done on our end, they did not. 48 hours later I woke up to a long email from the brand explaining that they’re backing out of the deal for various reasons. 10,000 dollars, down the drain. I can look back and laugh at it now, but back then — man it stung.

In terms of takeaways, I definitely learned that a deal isn’t done until the money is in your account. I’ve also had a case of a brand straight up not paying for a deal because they weren’t happy with how it was converting. There’s over 11,000 dollars out there from one deal that my client and I are never going to see. This experience was another case of this in the sense that even though this brand was interested enough to get a contract done with us, nothing is set in stone until the wire comes through.

Overall it taught me a great lesson in not getting too high with the highs, and not getting too low with the lows. Day to day, there are some huge wins, and some huge losses. I’ve found it very important even just for my own mental health to not let great news or bad news affect the way I go about my day.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I definitely think my age is a factor that benefits me in this sense. What I do isn’t rocket science by any means, but I would definitely say it’s an interesting business. When I get on video calls to meet with brands, a lot of the time they’re very surprised when they see my face, and I definitely think it sparks their interest. I believe my attention to detail, and the systems I have built to conduct the business also helps me stand out and deliver. Right now I’m a one man-show here, and I get to see every single email that goes out the door. Every single one is personalized to the point that it would only make sense to the recipient, and there’s simply just not many people that go through that effort. They would rather send mass, generic emails instead. It definitely takes time, and is beyond tedious, but it’s proven to be worth it. The company I help with their influencer efforts, Neuro Gum, brought me on because of this attention to detail. I had contacted them about a brand partnership for a creator I work with, and one of their founders, Kent Yoshimura was impressed with the email. We didn’t get a deal done, but it opened the door for me to start working with them. Other than that, I try to essentially befriend the people I work with. Whether it’s the creators or the agencies, I think making actual personal connections with people instead of keeping the relationship on a business level ironically helps the business relationship as well. Little things like sending clients and brand contacts bottles of wine, asking about their weekend, what interests them, things like that — they go a long way in my eyes.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve met and worked with so many great people in this space it’s hard to name one. Obviously my parents have been huge for me. We have a family construction business, so it’s definitely a whole different world that they operate in, but they are there to guide me when it comes to entrepreneurship and the ups and downs of the whole process. They’ve taught me to stay, or at least try to stay level headed when things get tough. Even them just being there to listen is absolutely huge to me. My Mom can probably tell you every little problem I’ve dealt with in this entire process. When I lost out on that large deal, it was right around exams for me during my first year at university — it was definitely a stressful time. Looking back now I can laugh about it, but I had the worst headache of my life for the two days after that deal fell through. My parents were there to settle me down and assure me that this deal wasn’t the only deal out there. They’ve also taught me a lot in terms of standing my ground in negotiations, dealing with clients, things like that. Although they’ve never worked in this space, and can’t exactly offer me help with the ins and outs of my business, they give me their full support in whichever way they can — and I’m beyond thankful to have them there in that regard.

When it comes to people inside the industry, I’d definitely say Mark Tilbury and his son Curtis. I sent an email campaign out to probably 50 creators and Mark was the biggest one in terms of following on the list. I honestly included him in the list just because I happened to come across his business email. He had 4.5M followers on TikTok at the time, I believe. Within 45 minutes of the campaign going out, I had a reply from them in my inbox and we were off and running. We did a deal with Honey, the browser extension shortly after. You need social proof to succeed in this space, and that’s why starting is the hardest part. That being said, I’ve found that this business definitely snowballs, and I’m on a mission to take it as far as it can go. Although of course Mark and Curtis benefitted from my services, I would argue that even if I made 0 dollar with them, I would still have benefitted more. Working with them allowed me to get my foot in the door with a variety of brands in the financial services and crypto space, as well as some others. It also lead me to deals down the line with Daniel Mac.

One more — Kent Yoshimura and Ryan Chen, the founders of Neuro Gum. They gave me my first shot on the brand side of things, and have been nothing but great to me from the start. They’re doing some awesome stuff at Neuro and I’m thankful to be a part of it.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

I know what I’m going to say is funny because I’m doing an interview with a magazine, but I definitely want to expand my business into the PR space as well. Overall, I just want to continue to expand while delivering a great service. I want to work with more creators on the talent side of my business, and I want to work with more agencies on the consulting side of things. I would also love to work with more brands to use these same email systems to garner them PR — but only if I know I can deliver the type of results I pride myself on. I don’t really care to make an extra 3000 dollars in a given month if it means I’m not leaving my clients happy. I’d go out of business pretty fast. Other than that, I’m starting to move towards larger deals for the creators I work with which is definitely a fun time.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I don’t know if goodness is the right word, but working on this business “for myself” if you will, definitely allows me to do things that make others around me happy. In the middle of the day, I can have a coffee with my Mom and my sister — who both work from home right now. Family is beyond important to me and I think that little things like having coffee together makes all of us happy. If my little brother needs a ride to or from work, I’m able to pick up and do that for him. Picking up the tab when I go out for coffee with friends is something I’ve been making a point of as well. Little stuff like that really does make me happy, and as simple as it may sound — it’s probably what I appreciate more than anything with this whole experience.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

Definitely How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It was always recommended to me and I finally read it during the height of quarantine I believe. The book essentially talks about using your words and demeanor to win people over, and often ties examples back to sales. One tip in the book was that in a negotiation, or if you’re pitching something — name your price, and don’t say another word. It says that the person that speaks first after the price is named loses. When I was getting my start with the email consulting work, I probably had 10–15 meetings with agencies to pitch my services. When the price of the service came up, I would sweat. I’d name the price, then before I knew it I was justifying it verbally to the agency owner, which is a terrible move to make. Finally, after probably 14 calls with agencies, I named my price and shut my mouth — and right there I closed my first email consulting deal.

Can you share 5 of the most difficult and most rewarding parts of being a “TwentySomething founder”. Please share an example or story for each

One of the most difficult things I’ve found even just mentally to wrap my head around sometimes is that there’s nobody to pass the blame on to if you mess up. I don’t punch in and punch out — this is my life right now. If I mess up — which, of course I do — I just have to learn from it and move forward. I think it helps you grow as a person. One time with a creator, I misstated their rates for a TikTok to the brand for whatever reason, and when the offer came in it was much lower than the creator was willing to accept. They were actually offended by the offer, but in reality it was my fault for not sending over the correct rates.

One of the most rewarding things is seeing your hard work pay off. I know what’s out there, and this feels like the tip of the iceberg in my eyes. I had a conversation with a friend last September about how I wanted to run my own business — and told him that if I made a certain amount of money by July of this year, I was going to buy myself a pair of Off White Converse. I got an eye roll and a chuckle. I’m going shopping this Friday to get myself a new pair of jeans to go with my Off White Converse. Jokes aside, this whole journey has given me such an appreciation for the tiniest things. I crack jokes with my friends that the highlight of my day is sitting down at my computer with my first cup of coffee. As crazy as it sounds, I find myself cracking smiles in the middle of the day by myself sometimes.

Another thing that I can find difficult sometimes is time management. Simply put, there’s a lot to do. I wear a lot of hats between the email consulting work and the talent side of things, and it’s easy to get caught up in one over the other. I also didn’t realize how much backend stuff goes into a business… stuff I wouldn’t have thought of before starting. Invoicing, documentation… literally right now I’m having a couple of problems with my website security and invoicing a brand — just little things like that that take up more time than I’d like. I make sure to write out a to-do list every night for the next day, as well as a tentative calendar with time blocked out for each task I need to get done on that given day.

Another rewarding part of being a founder, especially at a young age — at least in my case — is that you get connected with some pretty cool people. I mentioned Justin Escalona earlier, I was probably his number one fan growing up — he became my first client. Same thing with Mark Tilbury and Daniel Mac, I was a huge fan of their content — and still am — but now I work with them. Working with Mark led me to Kent and Ryan from Neuro, who have led me to sports agents representing some of my favorite athletes — the list goes on. In the same regard, between the email consulting work and my talent business, my brand contact book is getting larger by the day. There’s some awesome people in the influencer marketing space and I’d honestly say one of my favorite parts of this gig is getting connected with new people seemingly everyday.

One more rewarding part is that it makes you grow as a person. It might sound cliché, but I honestly think I’ve matured more than ever on this journey — just because it kind of forces you to. I have clients and talent to keep happy, and if I don’t, I don’t have a business. I mentioned it previously, but I’ve developed a huge level of gratitude for the smallest things throughout the process. I can honestly say this is the happiest I’ve ever been.

What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty year old who is looking to found a business?

There’s so many. Its tough for me to talk about this because in the grand scheme of things, I’m a small fish in a large pond. But I would say to make sure you truly enjoy the process. I’m nowhere near where I want to get to with this whole operation, but I’m definitely a lot further along than I was a year ago. On the same note, I think it takes a borderline delusional level of self-belief. It’s hard to put it into words, but there’s losses that would’ve literally made me quit two years ago — and it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even bat an eye when they happen now. These losses are the best fuel to move forward and improve in my opinion. I think I share that sentiment with a lot of founders. If this was easy, everyone would do it. I would also say it’s important to actually do the work. As silly as it sounds, putting “CEO” in your Instagram bio doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have a business. I’m a big believer in doing the work first and reaping the rewards later. Last one — don’t burn any bridges, you never know what the right referral can do for you.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

I mean, Drake. Apple Music shows you the top 100 songs you play in the course of a year, numbers 1 through 53 last year for me were Drake songs. I’m a huge fan of his music, but also his business acumen — which I think gets overlooked by the average fan. Other than that, Kyle Forgeard from NELK. I’m definitely a fan of their videos, but the way they’ve branded themselves with their merch line and now their Happy Dad seltzer is just beautiful. I think marketing textbooks are going to be written about them.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Definitely my Instagram, @christiandibratto

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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