Having played and watched hockey his whole life, Toronto-based teen Christian de Prato knew a lot about the brand partnerships and exclusive deals that NHL players made with various equipment suppliers. “I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that apart from getting free gear, these guys were paying to wear it,” he says.
When the pandemic forced schools to close and lessons online, the extra free time became an opportunity to explore the market on their own. He launched his own brokerage agency, Koala Digital, and began securing partnership deals between TikTok creators and brands. At just 19 years old, he has brokered over $140,000 in talent deals in the last 16 months.
His initial strategy was to engage with influencers, starting with Justin Escalona, founder and founder of the trendy clothing brand 1340 Collective. To his surprise, Di Bratto’s first cold DM to Escalona received a positive response, and went for his broker deals with a beef jerky brand and a gambling site.
“Involving influencers in a forum is very easy, as long as they don’t already have representation,” he says. “I just wanted a commission from the money that came in, so when someone offers them some money without charging them a fee, they don’t usually refuse.”
Di Bratto has a campaign running on email marketing site Woodpecker showing examples of what he can offer. When he finds an influencer he wants to work with, he finds his business email, uploads it to the campaign, and the software does the rest.
Notable TikTok creators he has worked with include Daniel MacDonald, Mark Tilbury, and Frank Michael Smith. He has recently brokered deals with investment app Public and Wealthfront for Michael Smith and Daniel Mac. “I ask influencers to get lists of brands they want to work with, and then I build lists of those and similar brands to engage with,” de Prato explains.
Ultimately, success depends on the correct alignment between the creator’s audience, the audience the brand is trying to reach, and the way the brand can be incorporated into the creator’s content in a non-intrusive manner. “The compatibility between Daniel Mac and Public, for example, was so good that there were really no negotiations,” he says. “That was a big deal for me; I felt as if I was strengthening myself in space.”
Koala Digital operates on a commission basis, and Di Bratto also works with The Influencer Marketing Factory, on a fixed monthly fee. “Having some money regardless of whether or not you’ve done personal talent deals provides a welcome safety net,” he says.
Currently in his second year of a property management program at Ryerson University in Toronto, De Prato is still combining his studies with his business. The fact that his entire college experience so far has been online has given him more freedom to run his business, but he insists he is disciplined with his studies.
“Mondays, for example, are purely client get-togethers and meetings until 3:00, when I have a financial class,” he says. Tuesday mornings and Thursday afternoons are only for school work. We’re due to go back to class this month (January) so I’m going to need to know that.”
He’s understandably hawkish about upcoming campaigns, but as a long-term partner of Public Investing App, he’s hinting at “some cool stuff” that’s on hand.
His goal is to build a strong asset and team around him, as well as sign a content creator management contract and help him develop his platform. He has also been exploring the idea of managing campaigns himself as an influencer marketing agency rather than a talent agent. “This may involve taking brand money and distributing it among influencers who have been determined to be a good fit for the campaign they are assigned to carry out,” he says.
Di Prato’s advice to other young entrepreneurs looking to start their own business is to “go for it”. He says, “I still have a long way to go, but I’m traveling a lot longer on my business trip than I did last year when I made one deal and made $500 online. I still think it was the coolest thing in the world.”
But it also calls for patience. “If I email 100 brands for a deal, I might get one,” he says. “It takes time and can be frustrating, but I am a firm believer that with patience it will pay off.”