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Marketing exec Max Baron has a jam-packed day. Today, he's reaching out to five clients, facilitating a mailing giveaway, planning his firm's next two weeks of Instagram posts and reaching out to 150 brand ambassadors who need a weekly check-in.
He's doing all of this from his parents' place in New York City, where he's staying during his Thanksgiving break.
Mr. Baron just turned 17, and he's the CEO and founder of PrepReps, a company he started at the age of 15 to connect social influencers on high school and college campuses with brands looking to engender young loyalty. When he's not home for the holidays, he's camped out in a dorm room at St. Paul's School, a prep school in New Hampshire. The room, which doubles as his office, is papered with posters charting web traffic -- his friends joke that it's like the dorm room of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the film "The Social Network."
The business model is simple. PrepReps vets students, uses an algorithm to score them based on their social following and stores their info in a database. Brands pay around $15 per rep per month, guaranteeing from 10 to hundreds of representatives will wear their product around campus. It works out to about 50 cents a day, said Mr. Baron."This group of [young] people is pulling everything from what to buy to breaking news off social media," he said. "People no longer look at sidebar [ads]. We want to be front center in an organic way that drives sales for these brands on campus."
He may sound like a 45-year-old agency vet, but don't be fooled. While running his business, he's also busy taking the ACTs, playing varsity tennis, competing on a varsity ski team, singing in an a cappella group and competing on a debate team that's headed for a global championship competition this year.
Time management is no easy task, but without a hectic student life and plenty of friends, there would be no business. The idea first came to him as he watched friends apply to be brand ambassadors for individual companies. They'd discover the opportunities at the bottom of the brands' websites and through word of mouth, but there was no third party to vet the young influencers or incorporate social strategy, he said.
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He was right on the money, literally. In its first year, PrepReps says it has made $40,000 in revenue -- 99% of which is pure margin -- and touts a portfolio of 11 brand clients, including Shelltur Cases, PrepObsessed, Jadelynn Brooke and Charleston Green Apparel. It also has a database of 2,500 vetted students from more than 500 high school and college campuses around the country. Students include bloggers and active social posters with 10,000 to 50,000 followers each. Collectively they have a combined social following of just under 1 million people, he said.
The sales pitch, which is ironic given his age group's affinity for all things digital, is real people vs. social ads, to drive organic social buzz. "For every $1 on Facebook, you get two real people speaking for a brand on campuses," he said. "You don't lose clicks to uninterested individuals or people who click on [a Facebook ad] by accident. You get an actual billboard on campus."
It all started with a cold call to a brand he and his partners, which include friends and web developers from other schools, found on Instagram called Jadelynn Brooke. The clothier, which was started by three Southern sisters, markets to young, preppy girls and now pays for, and sends products to, 150 reps. Since working with PrepReps, the brand's social following has grown at a faster rate and product sales are up, he said, declining to provide details.
His idea may be novel, but his entrepreneurship is not. When he was 8 years old, Mr. Baron launched his first business, selling subscriptions for weekly batches of fresh cookies through a website. "I made like $5,000, which back then was significant," he said. Since then, he's tried his hand with at least one other startup, but with PrepReps, he says he's hit his stride.
The ultimate goal is to grow the company into a big business, he said. "The ability to work with the brands that have 5,000 and 50,000 followers demonstrates [the concept] works no matter the size of the brands," he said. "The next step is to move from Southern clothing brands to clients like the Oakleys, Ray-Bans, Nikes and Adidas of the world."
Oh yeah, and college.