Katherine Johnson-Gunn, founder of Influenser.
Katherine Johnson-Gunn worked to create a next level in-person learning experience with every Hispanicize conference her, her co-founder, and their team put on over the last 10 years. As she looks towards the next decade, Johnson-Gunn is kickstarting 2020 with a year-round extension of the mission she believed in.
“I like to say that Influenser is not your tio’s trade journal,” explains Johnson-Gunn. “We are making it fun, exciting and engaging for the next generation of soon-to-be CEOs to take on topics like diversity & inclusion, PR trends, programmatic advertising, corporate leadership, entrepreneurship and brand building. We’re also creating a community whose members are some of the most successful Latinxers in the nation.”
Influenser, which soft launched this year, is a play on the word “Influencer” and the Spanish word “ser” which means “to be.” The digital trade news hub and online community is set to cater to the ever-growing sector of the digital space that exist at the intersection of their creativity and their Latinidad.
Launching the new venture was all about right timing for Johnson-Gunn.
“Even though I had other passions and dreams while I was managing Hispanicize, I fully devoted myself to the company,” explains Johnson-Gunn. “I believe in giving your all to whatever endeavor you are passionate about. In July of 2019, shortly after Hispanicize Media Group was acquired, I made the hard but absolutely right decision to step down from my role as Managing Director and began focusing on Influenser. I’m so excited to finally share Influenser with the world and see this vision I’ve had for so many years come to life.”
Following her gut is what led Johnson-Gunn to success with Hispanicize and it’s that same gut, and the learned skills from her first business, that she’s using to build Influenser.
“ 2010 was a very exciting time in marketing because social media had just started to gain traction as a viable marketing tool and career, yet no measures or regulations were in place, it was the wild west,” shares Johnson-Gunn. “The idea of creating a social media conference specifically for the Hispanic industry was risky but innovative. After that first conference we knew we were on to something. The response we received from both brands and bloggers was incredible, we realized we were working on something not only cutting edge but very much needed in the Latinx community. To this day we hear life-changing stories of Latinos who have been profoundly impacted by the work we’ve done and it has far exceeded any of my expectations.”
Below Johnson-Gunn shares more details on how she’s building Influenser to help influencers own their hustles, what she learned from growing Hispanicize, and advice for other Latinx entrepreneurs.
Vivian Nunez: What were some of your biggest lessons learned through building Hispanicize?
Katherine Johnson-Gunn: It sounds like a no-brainer but it is absolutely imperative to create a budget and adhere to it. When it comes to client satisfaction, always aim to under promise and over deliver. Surround yourself with a good team who share your same values and invest in them. Never lose sight of why you started all this because when challenges arise, you will be tempted to throw in the towel. Be able to pivot. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to be confident in your ideas and unique background. As a young Latina in the field of technology and marketing, and the youngest partner to join the team, I often found myself in boardrooms full of men who were much older than me, which at times was intimidating even as a co-founder of a nationally recognized brand. Being young, being Latina, that’s your asset, your secret weapon. Younger people know better than anyone else in the room what’s going to be the next big thing or what is no longer considered cool—you have your finger on the pulse.
Nunez: What prompted you to start Influenser?
Johnson-Gunn: After almost a decade of working in the conference and events industry, I wanted to create a platform that would keep the conversation going year-round and capture some of the energy from a live event, digitally. Often times we attend an event and feel inspired and motivated, but as time goes by, the empowerment and motivation fades and you find yourself feeling alone and without a community to back you. I’m creating a way to continue the learnings, the fun, the feeling of community, beyond a live event. Attending a conference is a luxury that not everyone can afford. By creating a digital platform, we are making these invaluable resources accessible to everyone and anyone who has access to a computer.
Nunez: Have there been any lessons from building Hispanicize that have helped you as you as you start Influenser?
Johnson-Gunn: Even though the digital space moves at lightning speed, your time in it is a marathon, not a sprint. Consistent, effective effort will eventually lead to success. If you are able to self fund, do it. Don’t seek out investors early on. But if you have to resort to raising funds, be prepared to hand over a significant amount of control over your company. Don’t take on overhead that brick and mortar companies have no choice of taking on. This will give you more control of your company and less need for investors. I know that at Influenser I can’t do all the work alone and eventually may seek out partners. But when the time comes, it won’t be a decision I take lightly. Being in a partnership is like a marriage. And like a marriage, you need to make sure your values and goals align, that you trust each other, that you have a similar work ethic, and of course, that you genuinely like one another outside of a professional setting.
Nunez: What gaps have you spotted in the Latinx influencer space?
Johnson-Gunn: The rapid, explosive growth of the Latinx influencer space in the last three years. Every single day I see a new Instagram account or youtube channel of a Latinx entrepreneur, clothing brand, comedy creator, that has not only launched but already has solid engagement. For those of us who work in the influencer marketing industry, staying abreast of who’s who and what’s what became daunting.
For the actual creators, the rapid growth is great but comes with trouble of its own. I speak to a lot of Latinx creators who feel alone and without guidance or support. It’s not easy to make a living out of social media. There’s contracts, lawyers, agents, expectations from brands, and learning to deal with online bullying and criticism. A lot of this can hit creators unexpectedly and affect their mental health and well-being. That is why with Influenser, we are creating a safe community that will not only highlight their achievements but also provide them with the support they need to continue to achieve their dreams.
Nunez: What is your top piece of advice for a Latinx influencer looking to make a career out of their passions?
Johnson-Gunn: Make sure you are doing exactly what you love because in the beginning the money is going to be thin and it’s going to take a while to build up your fan base and start seeing a profit. Don’t go into it for the money, do it because you cannot imagine your life doing anything else. Find a community that supports you. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do and ask questions. Take care of your health, both mental and physical, because creator burn out is real and so prevalent, even when doing what you love.