2017 INC. 5000 RANK: 262
HEADQUARTERS: Rancho Cucamonga, CA
YEAR FOUNDED: 2012
2016 REVENUE: $2 million
3-YEAR GROWTH: 1,656%
After spending his teenage years in the Miami R&B group Pretty Ricky, Spectacular Blue Smith found a second calling as a social media guru. His Rancho Cucamonga, California-based company, Adwizar, manages and monetizes the accounts of more than 100 actors, musicians, and athletes. Last year, Adwizar's tentacles reached Hollywood-size proportions, with more than 300 billion social media impressions. --As told to Kate Rockwood
I never knew what an entrepreneur was, but I always knew I wanted to make money. I remember in fifth grade, my school had a candy drive and I went crazy--going door to door for days, asking my mom to sell to her friends. At the end of it, I'd sold more than $1,000 worth of candy and I got to pick out something from the prize catalog. I earned ... a yo-yo?!
I'm no idiot; I knew I'd been robbed. I decided to sell candy for myself. But I was selling out by second period. There was only so much candy I could carry, so I started asking people if they wanted to make money. I paid $20 every Friday, and if they could sell three bags a week, they'd make an extra $5. I didn't know what I was doing, but I had payroll and an incentive program. I was killing it, making $2,000 some weeks--more than my mom, more than enough to buy a car when I was still 14.
I left the candy business behind and joined Pretty Ricky with my brothers. A family member--our manager and label owner--took care of all my money until my late 20s. He made some bad decisions and left me with nothing. I was living with that family member and had no responsibilities or stress, until one day he got angry about something and kicked me out of the house. I left with no money or clothes, and went to my girlfriend's mom's house.
One of my guys called me up and said that I could make money off of tweeting, and my first question was: "Where do I sign up?" I worked almost 18 hours a day on my girlfriend's mom's little computer in her den, building up my Twitter page. Within the first 30 days, I started making $15,000 from monetizing posts with ads sold against them. By the time I left my girlfriend's mom's house six months later, I'd earned about $100,000.
I loved it--and I loved making money from it. Once I put my mind to something, I go full throttle. After two or three months, it wasn't moving fast enough, so I created parody accounts. Jay-Z, Eddie Murphy--whoever was hot at the time, I'd make a parody account, post in their voice, grow the following, and then sell against that engagement. My pages had six million combined followers, and I could make something trend within 30 minutes.
One day, the whole business changed when I had a conversation with Soulja Boy and Sean Kingston. They had six million and eight million followers on Facebook, and they didn't know how to monetize that. Business is solving a problem, and that's a problem. I knew how to solve it--at scale. I wound down all the parody accounts and went after clients really aggressively.
The thing is, if you don't know social media monetization and someone talks to you about making $20,000 a month, it sounds like blowing smoke. But I come from the music business, where everything is about advances and getting the money up front, so that's what I did. I gave people $20,000 or more, depending on how big their social media following was. Then they knew I wasn't blowing smoke--they listened to how I was going to recoup my costs and then make us both money. Word of mouth spread, and business blew up.
Last year, Adwizar content had nearly 240 million followers. I don't do it all myself anymore:
I built a team of strategists, content creators, account managers. You can see by the numbers that we know what we're doing. Celebrities see that. Actors or musicians or athletes put in hard work to build this fan base, and they should be able to capitalize on that. I'm bridging that gap.