Since the time he was little, vlogger, photographer, and content creator Mike Hammontree has loved making videos. It's no surprise, then, that the dearly departed six-second video platform Vine caught his eye in the summer of 2013. That's when Hammontree, along with his cousins Josh Saenz and Ryan Fenwick, began making and sharing videos on the platform.
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"I think we were camping, and we just started making videos," Hammontree says, recalling his "favorite story of all time." "It was just a hobby. We had always loved making videos, and this was the first app that made it super easy to make videos and be yourself."
Hammontree was 15 at the time, and he, Saenz, and Fenwick were questing for "likes." None of them expected to be launching careers.
"We put it in the comedy category, and we used all these different hashtags to see how many likes we could get," Hammontree says. "We never knew anything could really happen with it. I remember freaking out over getting 21 likes. It was super fun, because I had never had that kind of attention on social media before."
The three cousins kept at it, making videos once or twice a day, trying to score as many likes and followers as possible. They paid attention to trends on Vine and in the wider social media landscape. Any time it looked like a new one was rising, they set out to make a video that would be funnier than anyone else's take on it.
And then one video the trio posted went viral, earning 50,000 likes overnight.
"That was the day everything took off," Hammontree says. "We were on vacation together, and I remember absolutely freaking out. It was insane. We had never experienced something like that."
Thrilled by this newfound success, the three doubled down on their efforts, posting videos every single day and gaining more and more followers with each one.
From Gaining Followers to Cashing Checks
At the time, Hammontree says he "didn't know it was possible to make money" from his Vine fame. He and his cousins were simply pursuing their passion, making and sharing videos because they loved doing it.
But then a company called Instafluence reached out to Hammontree. Instafluence acted as a middle man between social media influencers and major brands, brokering advertising deals between the two. Hammontree was officially an influencer now – and it was great.
"They would pay us to do ads about apps or brands," Hammontree says. "I remember doing that countless times. My full-time job was to hit the upload button or re-Vine another influencer's Vine. It was so cool to be a part of that. I'd promote an app and, within hours, it would hit 'trending' on the app store."
It even reached the point where Hammontree began to get recognized in public.
"One time, I did an add for [the dating app] Badoo, and it featured the profile of a girl who was on the app," Hammontree recalls. "I posted the video, and then I went to a concert, and she was there. She recognized me. She was like, 'I was in your Vine.' It was really weird, but really cool."
At one point, Hammontree and a few other influencers held an event at Battery Park in New York City. Four thousand people showed up, shutting down the entire city block.
Not only were these events and ad deals exciting, but they also shaped Hammontree into a savvy businessman at the young age of 15. When Instafluence was bought out and shut down, he identified an opportunity to step in and fill the void left behind. Hammontree started brokering deals between his influencer connections and major brands like T-Mobile and Wendy's.
See one of Hammontree's vlogs below:
Vine Ends, But the Journey Doesn't
Eventually, though, Vine started to lose steam as a social media platform, and the social network eventually shut down in early 2017. (It now exists only as a camera app that lets users post videos to Twitter.)
Even before Vine announced it was closing down, Hammontree knew it was time for a change if he wanted to move forward in his career. So, in late 2015, he switched over to content creation, founding Wundr Media to help brands create compelling visual content.
Because Hammontree loves to travel, Wundr Media focuses on luxury travel brands. The company recently helped the Las Vegas hotel and casino Caesar's Palace create road-trip themed content centered on what people should do when they travel to Vegas.
"That's a more local project," Hammontree says. "We're working with other companies too that will take us on trips to 30 different locations around the world, like Tahiti, Paris, Hawaii, and a few places in the Caribbean."
Hammontree is also launching a luxury travel publication called Wundr Magazine and working a documentary about Tahiti with his business partner Kona Kamai.
"We're filming an entire documentary based around the culture, the religion, and the hidden places no one knows about all around Tahiti," Hammontree says. "It can be kind of an exclusive island, so we really want to show people the things no one ever really gets to see."
Be Authentic, and Value the Moment
Kamai and Hammontree don't have a defined plan for the documentary. Instead, they're going to head to Tahiti and see what happens. This improvisational approach has been important to Hammontree's success as a social media influencer, an entrepreneur, and a content creator.
"Obviously, some things are different," Hammontree says. "Actual movies and skits need to be very scripted, but with this kind of stuff – with a lot of content creation – it's better to capture the moment."
Hammontree draws a lot of inspiration from Gary Vaynerchuk's command to content creators: "Document. Don't create."
"I've found it to be way more successful to document what's happening, not creating a false sense of things," he says. "The vlogs where I've just documented and told what happened get a lot more views than some of my more scripted ones. It's a more authentic feel."
Authenticity is important to Hammontree, too. In fact, he says the value of authenticity is the biggest lesson he's learned throughout his journey.
"You shouldn't spend your time creating a false identity for yourself," he says. "I've watched people create a false identity, and they burn up very quickly."
Hammontree made that mistake at one point in his career. To help advertise some products, he started portraying himself as a "bigwig businessman" on Instagram when he really wasn't like that as a person.
"My engagement dropped very quickly, so I completely stopped doing that kind of stuff," he says. "You want to explore who you really are."
And finally, Hammontree says the path to success starts with living in the moment.
"Don't be afraid to put yourself out there," he says. "If I didn't make that first Vine and be willing to put my face out there, I wouldn't have any of the experiences I've had today."