Angelo “AJ” Cartas might be young, but he is a leader in the influencer marketing world. AJ — sans college degree — has transformed himself into a successful entrepreneur and accumulated over 1.2 million followers using best practice methodologies and meticulous branding. He recently launched his latest venture, RaiseFluence, a collaborative platform that enables brands leverage the power of social media influencers, and helps influencers monetize and connect with the right brands and companies.

We had the pleasure of interviewing AJ and hearing more about how he has garnered such success at a young age, and what big plans he has for the future.

Tell us about yourself. How did you end up where you are today?

During my third year of college, I had a total of over 1.2 million followers across my social media. I wasn’t learning anything and the cost of spending over $20,000 a semester didn’t seem practical to me. In 2015, I dropped out and moved to Silicon Valley.

My social media was literally my resume, and I was able to consult with multiple companies before taking on a full-time position to lead social media and influencer marketing. I led one of the biggest YouTube campaigns in the summer of 2016 and was later discovered by a $10-billion company. After eight interviews, I received an offer to lead their social media.

During my employment, I noticed a problem: it’s more difficult for international brands to penetrate the U.S. market through influencers because of cultural diversity. That’s when I launched RaiseFluence. We help international brands with campaigns to launch in the U.S. and other major English-speaking countries.

How did you start your company?

I kept in touch with a good friend, fellow influencer, and our Chief Community Officer, Gio Flores, who had built Instagram accounts totaling over six million. We’ve known each other since 2013 when we both had less than 100,000 followers. He leads our influencer community interactions.

We discussed the potential from two angles: the influencers and brands.

Gio has been immersed in the influencer community longer than I have. He’s well updated with algorithm changes, the newest trends, and the best tips and tricks. We decided to create a community of influencers to help them grow and increase their engagements as well as how to monetize their social media and how to work with brands.

For myself, I’ve been working with companies professionally as a marketer for a couple of years. I understand the struggle of influencer discovery & outreach, creating guidelines, contract negotiations, executing campaigns, and post-campaign analysis. I also have an advantage as a marketer since I have an influencer’s point of view and make adjustments before launching a campaign.

With this combination, RaiseFluence came to fruition. After a couple months, we were getting overwhelmed with requests; as CEO, I knew we had a problem with workflow processes and other operation-related difficulties. That’s when we decided to bring on Dan Fink as our COO. He’s been able to assist me with making our processes more efficient and increase our productivity.

What made you want to become an influencer?

I actually didn’t know you could be an influencer. When I started gaining followers in 2013, it was a very new concept for me and everyone else. I thought Instagram was just a photo-editing app until I learned you can get followers. My friend and I had a bet who could get the most followers in a month and I won. I thought to myself, “What should I do with all these followers?”

That’s when I started creating memes in a format that was trending back then and surprisingly got more followers after people re-posted them to external sites. I kept creating content at a consistent level and eventually reached over one million followers towards the end of 2014.

What has been the greatest part about being an influencer?

Taking part in campaigns with big brands and connecting with other influencers was great, but the best part is having influence. One of my most memorable experiences as an influencer is being approached by this girl in middle school in Garland, Texas to appear for a fundraising for cancer. I refused any form of compensation from them and flew out there with a friend out of my own pocket. It was also personal because my grandpa was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away a year later, so I decided to do this for him.

I was met with extreme hospitality and excitement! I had such a great time and I was informed by their counselor that they exceeded their goal and had the biggest event in their district. It’s so heartwarming to know that my social media influence has a positive impact outside of Instagram.

Your line of work is very independent and autonomous. How do you structure your day-to-day?

Since we work mainly with international brands, I make sure to read and reply to my emails in the morning. After I’ve sent my emails, I have multiple calls with Dan (our COO) throughout the day.

We both work remotely (Dan’s in Milwaukee, I’m in San Francisco), so most of the time, we work while we chat on the phone and keep each other company.

Our day-to-day consists of creating proposals for qualified leads, qualifying influencers and presenting them to our clients for a campaign, negotiating prices for both the brands and the influencers for the campaign, making sure our community of influencers is being moderated, and, most importantly, keeping up constant communication with our clients to make sure that their monthly, quarterly, and annual goals are being met.

When I have time, I write on Quora and answer questions. If it gains traction, I reformat and post it on LinkedIn. I try to keep creating content because content is important for my personal brand as well as for RaiseFluence.

How would you define your “brand identity”?

I would describe my brand as a millennial that digressed from traditional standards. Growing up in an Asian family with conservative Christian values, I ended up being the opposite of who my parents wanted me to be. My parents wanted me to be in the medical field, but I ended up working in marketing. I originally wanted to pursue a career in federal law enforcement, but social media is my passion.

You have had tremendous success at a young age. Do you think people treat you differently based on your age?

I would say so. Not only my age but also because I look like a young teenager. Looking young sometimes has a negative connotation. Sometimes, millennials have a bad rep from older people and think we’re just young, carefree people with student loans who eat Tide Pods.

What does community mean to you?

I would define community as a place of belonging for people with common interests, coming from different backgrounds, to achieve the same goals. A community consists of members who are eager to learn, willing to teach, and unafraid to discover new interests.

What advice would you give other influencers who are just starting to get their feet wet?

Keep creating content that you’re passionate about and be consistent. It may seem like it’s not worth it in the short-term, but your content and brand is a long-term investment. Don’t just get your feet wet — take risks and dive in. Collaborate with others and be polarizing.

Tell us about a time when someone made all the difference in your career.

There’s this person who kept me accountable and honest, Sumant Pendharkar. I’m proud to call him my mentor and if I had any questions professionally or personally, I’m glad to know I could easily just reach out to him.

I would advise everyone to have a mentor. Someone who can keep you on the right path. It’s one of the best things you can do for yourself because there will be times where you feel lost.

What causes are particularly important to you?

One cause that’s important to me is LGBT rights. Being part of the community, I’ve personally experienced cyber-bullying online and have received thousands of hate comments, but I learned how to tune them out.

I want to immerse myself further in the community and make my platform a place where everyone is welcome. I want to be able to help educate people and encourage meaningful discourse.

What aspect about IVY resonates with you?

What I love about IVY is that when I went to an event, I was shocked by the people who attended: I met like-minded, motivated people who are striving to make an impact, and I love that.

It’s important to surround yourself with others who encourage you to be a better person than you were yesterday.

What’s next? Anything you would like to share?

I’m actually in the final process of publishing my book, Start-Ups & Downs! I talk about my journey from dropping out of college and the challenges I faced in Silicon Valley. I also give tips and tricks to those who are looking to move out here and hopefully learn from the mistakes I went through. I’m looking forward to launching it around May or June.