“Never stop learning.” With Candice Georgiadis & AJ Cartas

As influencers, people look up to them for a reason. Some of the most common types of courses sold are workout routines, recipes, and other how-to’s and DIY’s. Aspart of my series about “How Influencers Can Monetize Their Brand” I had the pleasure of interviewing AJ Cartas. AJ has been a social media influencer since […]

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As influencers, people look up to them for a reason. Some of the most common types of courses sold are workout routines, recipes, and other how-to’s and DIY’s.

Aspart of my series about “How Influencers Can Monetize Their Brand” I had the pleasure of interviewing AJ Cartas.

AJ has been a social media influencer since 2013. By the end of 2015, he had over 1.2 million followers across Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Twitter. AJ used his social media skills and started consulting for brands from startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He has led influencer marketing for both domestic and international campaigns. Currently, he is the Founder & CEO of Syzygy Social, a social media agency that specializes in growing online communities for brands using unique engagement and content strategies as well as global influencer marketing campaigns in China, United Kingdom, and Australia.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Myname is AJ Cartas and I am an entrepreneur, a social media influencer, an author, and an investor. Currently, I am the Founder & CEO of Syzygy Social, a social media agency.

I was born and raised in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States on October 3rd, 2001. I lived in the Chicagoland area for more than 14 years until I moved to California in 2015.

I started creating content for social media in early 2013 and fell in love with the ability to grasp people’s attention and drive action. That’s when I was introduced to social media marketing and influencer marketing.

As I attended my third year of college, I realized that it wasn’t beneficial for me to continue giving my time and money due to the fact that I was doing what I was learning in my classes. After I finished the semester with a 3.9 GPA, I dropped out and took the risk of moving to Silicon Valley for an internship.

That internship actually turned into a huge scam and I had to claw my way out of that hole. I started reaching out to brands to do their social media and my Instagram was literally my resume. Eventually, I landed a client, and then another, and then another. Later on, I became the Director of Social Media for Bytedance, a $78 billion company (parent company of Tik Tok), and was Director of Influencer Marketing for Calm.

I filed a lawsuit against the company that refused to pay me and used that as a learning experience, which shaped into the type of person who I am now. I actually wrote about my experience in my book, Startups and Downs, which I published in May 2019.

As I advanced in my career, I launched my third agency, Syzygy Social, (after having the previous 2 acquired), that specializes in helping Western brands be introduced to Chinese consumers.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you in the course of your career?

One of the most interesting stories I could think of is what I mentioned earlier: how that one company scammed me. It was a very vulnerable moment for me, but I gladly share it so others can learn from my situation.

I was offered a summer internship in 2015 that required me to relocate to San Jose, California. I was offered a pretty good salary as well as accommodations as a package.

I rented out this apartment that was $3,000 per month and purchased furniture with a promise that the company would reimburse me. I was also told to lease it for one year and that the company would take over the lease after my three months was up.

Week after week, I asked the founder when I would get paid and reimbursed and he would say as soon as there’s funding and that it should be next week. It all became empty promises and eventually left. The whole process took almost three years until a judgment was filed with the company. The founder was ordered to pay me back, but it was nearly impossible to because there’s no money.

I decided to pursue the judgment so that others don’t fall victim and will see that the company hasn’t paid me back.

In my book, I also gave tips on how to spot red flags during the interview process because I wish I knew the right questions to ask and maybe I wouldn’t have landed in this mess. However, I don’t regret it at all because it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had. I truly believe I wouldn’t be where I’m at now if it wasn’t for that misfortune.

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

Before I moved to California, there was this middle school student that reached out to me from Garland, Texas to be part of a charity event for cancer. They offered to compensate me, but I refused and paid out of pocket since my grandpa died of cancer and wanted to do it in his honor.

I flew out there with a friend and did a meet & greet for the event and donated everything I potentially could’ve made. I was told by the counselor that the district has one of the highest rates of cancer and that the event became the biggest in the district!

I’m glad I was able to use my social media platform for something great.

If someone would want to emulate your career, what would you suggest are the most important things to do?

  1. Never stop learning
  2. Never regret anything
  3. Always find solutions to your problems
  4. Be resilient
  5. Learn when to spend your time and your money efficiently

These are some of the things that someone should do on a daily basis.

Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?

Yes, his name is Sumant Pendharkar.

When I moved to California, I literally had no one in my network and knew no one. Luckily, I met Sumant when I was at the lowest point of my life.

I was deep in debt. I didn’t know where my career was going. I didn’t want to go back to Illinois as a failure.

Sumant took me under his wing and offered me invaluable advice financially, professionally, and personally. He’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met and I’m glad I can go to him for any advice.

So what are the most exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m running influencer marketing campaigns for brands that are established in the U.S. and helping them expand in China via influencer marketing. There, influencer marketing is called KOL marketing, which stands for key opinion leader.

It’s exciting to me because China is a completely different field because Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and all of the other social media platforms that are available in the US are not available there. Instead, they have their own platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, XiaoHongShu, Taobao, and Douyin.

I’m able to expand on my marketing acumen by familiarizing myself with how to launch campaigns in China.

What are your “Top Five Ideas About How Influencers Can Monetize Their Brand”. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Brand collaborations

One of the most common ways to monetize an influencer’s brand is by collaborating with a brand. The brand either sends the influencer products to promote or pay the influencer to promote their product or service.

2. Affiliate marketing

Some influencers regularly curate products that they like and regularly use. Through this method, they’re able to sell these products (without direct relationship from the brand) and get a percentage every time a product is sold using their link or discount code.

3. Selling courses

As influencers, people look up to them for a reason. Some of the most common types of courses sold are workout routines, recipes, and other how-to’s and DIY’s.

4. Creating exclusive content

You can monetize your following by signing up on platforms like Patreon or Paid Followers. Your most loyal followers can subscribe to your account and pay per month, per week, or whatever the platform allows you to.

5. Launching their own business

The biggest influencers launch their own business, which is actually one of the smartest things an influencer can do because their revenue stream is not just stuck into their social media platforms. They’re able to move their followers to other areas either online or offline. Some examples of successful influ-preneurs, (a term I coined; a portmanteau of influencer and entrepreneur) are Nikita Dragun, Bretman Rock, James Charles, and Logan Paul.

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 just see this. 🙂

Arlan Hamilton!

I’d love to have a sit down with Arlan, Founder and Managing Partner of Backstage Capital which she built while homeless, who focuses on investing in founders part of underrepresented communities. As a first-generation, gay, Filipino-American, she’s uplifting those who are people like me.

We need more Arlans in the world and I hope to follow her lead and amplify those who part of underrepresented communities as well.

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

The best way you can follow me is on:

Instagram: @aj.cartas

Twitter: @ajcartas

Facebook: AJ Cartas

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