Six years, four global offices, over one hundred plus Viral employees and over five thousand campaigns, with zero investors, and one, big #VIRALFAMILY. Joe Gagliese and Mat Micheli co-founded Viral Nation together in 2014, starting out by representing athletes and helping them monetize their social media accounts. The two university classmates decided to combine their deep curiosity of social media with their passion to build a company, and founded their own marketing agency. The goal was simple – they wanted to create campaigns that made connections.
In just 6 short years, Viral Nation has grown into an award-winning influencer marketing agency, boasting big-time partnerships with companies like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitch, and YouTube. This isn’t some run-of-the-mill agency. Viral Nation is an industry pioneer. Gagliese and Micheli are Forbes 30 Under 30 winners, change agents who have become bold leaders in a space that all too often follows.
Our client list includes heavy-hitters the likes of Match.com, Facebook, Canon, Campbell’s, Activision Blizzard, and countless others. Industry leaders trust us to deliver the type of innovative marketing results that have helped shape the industry. That’s probably why we were named as one of Canada’s Top Growing Companies of 2020 by The Globe and Mail.
We caught up with Mat & Joe to ask them 6 questions about their learnings, their daily habits, and the relentless drive that helped build these 6 years of Viral Nation; and also the future of this ever-changing digital world.
How Did You Get Started In The Influencer Marketing Industry?
MM: We really got started in the influencer marketing industry before there even was an influencer marketing industry. We started in the talent business, working with celebrities, athletes, and influencers to monetize their socials. We started in the days of Kim Kardashian making a million dollars for a tweet; the “Twitter Revolution” of people being able to make money off of their tweets. We entered the game when people started monetizing YouTube videos, even back when Vine started.
We really got into it by accident in terms of why we got in. Our plan was to be in talent. Then it kind of morphed into being an influencer company. But we were probably like one of the first five companies…I don’t know how many companies still stand today who were around then. Only a couple of the platforms actually still stand I believe.
JG: The reality is, we helped shape the space, from the beginning to now. We’re the guys who started with these little, small-budget test campaigns, to now running A.O.R., $10 million dollar relationships. We’ve been able to take an idea, educate, and take it all the way to the promised land. We helped to bring the industry along, from what some may have considered this “cute thing” people did (influencer marketing) into this real marketing channel. We’ve even done tech builds, I mean…the long and short of it is, we’ve built the space to work.
What Do You See In The Future For The Influencer Marketing Space?
JG: I would say a few things here. One is that I don’t think the influencer space is ever going away. Influencers are engrained in society in a way that will never stop. It doesn’t matter the economy, or the platform changes, the politics…there’s always, now, and forever will be influencers. That’s special because the influencer is the new celebrity. Every kid wants to be an influencer. Influencers get more attention and more results than celebrities do. It’s the future of celebrity.
That being said, I think influencer marketing agencies are going to ebb and flow and change. This includes how brands look at it (influencer marketing), how platforms begin to evolve, what new platforms come about, etc. It’s impossible to say what it’s going to be, I just think that influencers are going to be around forever, and we will all continue to adjust and accommodate with how to best use the space.
MM: I think one important thing is that influencers have been around, right? The term “influencer” just means something different now. What people like Brad Pitt’s and what these artists and celebrities were 20 years ago, 30 years ago, etc, they were influencers in their own time. But now it’s morphed, and the people that the younger generation view as influencers in their mind are these social celebrities. So it’s just morphed. Celebrity is not necessarily exclusive to the “A-List” celebrities as much as it once was. If you think about it, the influencer marketing industry is really the new Hollywood. So that’s where it is going to continue going, in my opinion.
JG: Another thing to consider is, we have every piece of this. Viral Nation is the biggest talent agency in the world. We’re the biggest marketing company in influencer marketing. We have merchandising for influencers, I mean, we cover the whole space. I think that makes us interesting, and on top of that, we have built all of these other marketing services that can plug into influencer. Literally, we have covered influencer marketing from A to Z, whereas many other organizations have maybe only done it in little pieces, or specific segments. We have talent, we have marketing, we have media, we have events. Everything is covered. We don’t just provide end to end services. We have end-to-end assets. We’ve circled the space.
We only do marketing that works.
What Advice Would You Give To A Young Entrepreneur Just Starting Out?
MM: I have some contradictory advice actually. One thing is, it’s not as glamorous as it seems. That’s definitely one huge point. Being an entrepreneur, it impacts you both mentally and physically. It’s not what it’s necessarily cut out to be. You need to possess a certain personality to deal with it and thrive and become successful. Every day, it tests your mental will. School can not teach you anything to become a successful entrepreneur, besides some terminology and fundamental understanding of what industry you are in. Your experiences are really what’s going to shape your success.
The other thing I would say is, surround yourself with people that are complimentary to you, who can help you in ways that you may struggle with. You can’t think of being an entrepreneur as a 9-5 gig. It is literally from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep, 365 days a year, for the rest of your life, or as long as you choose to do it until you retire. That’s unequivocally an entrepreneur. Your business is always at the front of your thoughts. When you go on vacation, your business runs through your mind. It’s much easier to work somewhere than it is to be an entrepreneur, I’ll tell you that much.
JG: I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs, or people who want to become one, see entrepreneurs as these “rich guys” who make all this money. And, it’s not that it’s easy, but people think you just do it for a couple years, and all of a sudden you’re driving Rolls Royce’s. The reality is, you aren’t making as much as people like to think when you are starting out and trying to build something. You have this asset, and the company is worth all this money and is doing tens of tens of millions of dollars in business, and it’s not like we are flying private or something. It’s not like that, we just continue to reinvest in the business.
There’s this serious delayed gratification that comes with being an entrepreneur. Mat and I have been at this for 7-8 years, and we still haven’t really “cashed-out”, right? And, if you take the five years where we made nothing, and the last three or four years where we’ve made something, and you average it, we really haven’t made that much money after reinvesting into the company. So while being an entrepreneur looks great esthetically, and people think you have all this money and you’re special, there’s a huge delayed gratification that comes with being an entrepreneur that people need to understand.
That brings me to my favorite quote of all time, which is “entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so you can live the rest of your life like most people can’t.” What people don’t understand is that living those few years of your life like most people won’t, the reason that’s said in that statement is that the person who wrote it knows that for those few years, they are suffering. Everyone around them thinks that they’re making it, and they’re not. And then, there’s a “switch” that happens, when all that work pays off, and I don’t think people realize that about being an entrepreneur, honestly.
What’s Your Most Productive Time Of The Day?
MM: Mine would definitely have to be at night. If I’m alone by myself at night, with no distractions, I can accomplish quite a bit, in terms of doing work. But for ideating, coming up with ideas, definitely best in the morning.
JG: I would say I’m the exact same way.
What’s Your Funniest/Best Viral Memory?
JG: We got an opportunity to pitch UbiSoft on the launch of Rainbow Six. It was an RFP to win their entire strategy for the launch, and it was a really big opportunity for us. Myself, my pregnant wife, and some others at Viral Nation pulled a full all-nighter in our old office to finish the pitch. We submitted it, and we won. I remember one of our team members went to the store to get toothpaste and toothbrushes, so we could brush our teeth and just keep grinding that day. It was like a Tuesday or something. I’ll never forget the grind that went into that. We won the bid, and actually ended up building all the brand stuff for Rainbow Six Siege, and it was just a huge win for us. That’s probably my best memory.
MM: Mine was probably Dubai. When we went to Dubai and did PUBG MOBILE Club Open. It was the first major Esports tournament they ever did, and we were doing the marketing for it. You should have seen it, it was something else. The internet for an Esports tournament was underwhelming, for lack of a better term. Doing that whole event was crazy. We’d have to trek across the whole city to get there every day, it was just nuts.
But I’ll never forget; it was the final day of the tournament, and we were close to the finish line. All of the sudden, the internet went out in the building. And I don’t know if you know this, but you can’t have an Esports tournament without the internet. So it literally got to the point where you had hundreds of people in attendance, and of course, the massive online audience. So what had to happen was, we had some of our influencers start doing stand-up comedy bits, we had one our hilarious influencers start singing the Turkish national anthem, we were basically doing “Dubai’s Got Talent” on stage to keep people amused.
Funny thing is, all of that stuff eventually was on the live stream because we could get the live stream to work, we just weren’t able to get the influencers casting from their phones (as a result of the internet issues), so it was kind of a nightmare, it was like 4 hours that the stream was down. The influencers were a hit and the audience was going crazy, you should have seen it. It was the best thing ever.
Finally, What Do You See For The Future Of Viral Nation?
MM: I think we’re going to expand our current service offerings. I see our mandate, as we continue to grow as a company, just being about offering the most modern marketing and media practices to our clients. Our service offerings are going to have to adapt and shift to accommodate that. We always want to be at the forefront in terms of our ability to offer the most modern services to our clients, while also continuing to expand our tech capabilities.
JG: First thing I would say is, we have a ton of stuff cooking up in the kitchen. We are building another new technology that is coming out, and as Mat alluded to, expanding our current technologies. We’re doing partnerships with big companies, we’re reinvesting into our talent, so we can become an even stronger talent agency. We are really trending towards being this Viral Nation “group” of companies that are the best at what we do; being truly elite in all these different areas. Talent, marketing, technology, side ventures, all this type of stuff. We’re in the midst of bringing additional people on board, we’re hiring rapidly, having just hit 100 employees. I see the future as Viral Nation as us continuing to dominate, continuing to expand, and being world-leading in everything that we do.