TikTok star Josh Richards’ new fame says a lot about the app and who’s making millions

In late March, Josh Richards found himself embroiled in a public feud with another popular TikTok star, Hunt Hudson. It burst into flames when Richards released a YouTube music video called “Still Softish” – a diss track – which mocked Hudson and implied that Hudson had sent affectionate messages to Richards’ girlfriend. The video went viral, and Richards and his team continued to discuss their beef with Hudson on Twitter and TikTok. It only ended when a mutual friend organized a peace summit and naturally this was also reported on social media.

It also did some very good business. Richards recorded a total of four YouTube videos dedicated to combat, amassing nearly 40 million views. Since influencers get a portion of the ad revenue generated from their YouTube videos, Richards probably made over $ 100,000 from these vlogs. It wasn’t the only thing. Richards also posted a new pair of jogging in its range of branded products – merch in TikTok parlance – with “Still Softish” printed on the crotch. A link to order the pants appeared under the original YouTube video, and in the end, he sold thousands of the pants for $ 45 and probably made almost half a million dollars in total from the merchandise over the course. of the last year.

“I really tried to use my platform to document my life,” says Richards. “I like to be very genuine with my fans.”

In many ways, Richards remarkably represents everything that made TikTok a phenomenon, with his videos showcasing what are now the app’s most recognizable features: teen antics, beauty, dancing, drama and the endlessly remixable memes. Richards channeled this into 20.9 million subscribers and a place on Forbesinaugural list of the most profitable stars of the application. Richards, who arrived n ° 5 on the leaderboard, has made about $ 1.5 million in the past year. The majority of the money came from a carefully plotted cycle, a clearly evident dispute between Richards and Hudson: building an following, sharing intimate parts of life with them, then monetizing. TikTokers typically accomplishes the latter part through merch deals, advertising revenue, and brand sponsorship, and Richards is no different.

[Read more: Is This the Real Reason Trump Why Wants to Ban TikTok?]

As TikTok’s popularity grew, Richards came to wonder what could lie beyond these revenue streams, a big consideration. given the uncertain future of TikTok. “Equity,” said Richards, newly determined to change his image of a bad boy from TikTok into something more like a thoughtful businessman. “I want to continue to develop my entrepreneurial portfolio. This is something that has really interested me for the past eight months. Richards is the co-founder of TalentX, a talent management startup for other influencers, and recently announced that he is starting a beverage company, Ani Energy. In July, he took a role at Triller, a smaller rival TikTok, as director of corporate strategy, an agreement that pays him in equity in the startup rather than in salary.

“Josh is wise beyond his years,” says Tinder co-founder Sean Rad. He and Richards are working on a budding idea for a startup that they declined to share details about. “[I’m] excited to see him grow up.

A year ago, Richards was a teenager in a small town on Lake Ontario, a short drive from Toronto. He first rose to fame in 2019 for viral TikToks which explained how to use the app, but he quickly switched to making even more popular videos of him singing, dancing, and talking about his life. Richards studied the most successful videos and found that they received a lot of user feedback and were shared widely on the app. This encouraged him to respond to comments – fueling his fan base by interacting directly with her – and to post things like his fight with Hudson to titillate and intrigue his followers: Content that is “not so much G-rated. ‘is a bit more – well, I would say,’ edgy teenager, ‘”says Richards. After his following on TikTok reached millions, he began making deals with advertisers for sponsored content posts, and he made several hundred thousand dollars last year as a spokesperson for Crocs. .

, Reebok, CashApp and other brands.

Richards hired, then quickly fired a manager – the two disagreed over Richard’s preference for riskier content – and it ultimately gave Richards the idea that he and some friends might be. themselves better managers than anyone else. TalentX was founded last December with Richards and four other co-founders all under the age of 30: Michael Gruen, Warren Lentz and Tal Fishman. Each previously had roles in marketing or creating social media content; Fishman is a popular figure on YouTube, where his Response time channel has 15.3 million subscribers.

TalentX has since signed 105 clients, including Noah Beck, which has 10.8 million subscribers on TikTok and sponsorship deals with Bumble and Mattel

, and Bryce Hall, which has 12.7 million subscribers and deals with Cash App and Fortnite-maker Epic games. As is usually the case in entertainment, TalentX gets around 20% of an agreement signed by one of its clients.

The founders of TalentX also launched their own TikTok collective, Sway House, with Richards as its most prominent member. The formation of these types of groups is a popular trend among TikTokers, and nearly a dozen of these cliques sprang up in Los Angeles last year. Like the others, the Sway team live together – in a chic 7,800 square foot location in Bel Air – and help each other film and develop ideas for TikToks. Since they’re all teenagers (or in their early 20s to older), there’s a social element to it too, and Sway has gained a reputation as the party TikTok ensemble. Two members were arrested in Texas in May on drug trafficking charges after leaving the Covid-19 lockdown in California, and about a month later, Richards left the collective take a break from the bacchanalia.

The commotion at Sway and among other TikTokers was the main driving force behind Richards’ YouTube channel. His most popular videos are a series he calls “TeaTalk”, with tea being the slang for hot gossip. Much of it comes down to who is dating whom among TikTok’s celebrity island cache, including Richards’ own relationships and, recently, his friend Bryce Hall with Addison Rae, one of TikTok’s most popular stars.

In general terms, “TeaTalk” is like watching a live dormitory, but it is an important source of income for Richards. Amid President Trump’s threat to ban TikTok, influencers are looking for new platforms on which to grow audiences. YouTube has worked well so far for Richards, where he has posted 44 videos since February that have racked up over 200 million views. The result? The advertising revenue generated by YouTube was one-third of its estimated revenue.

While his energy drink company doesn’t launch its first line of black cherry and lemon caffeine bombs until fall, Richards’ thoughts mostly turn to Triller, the TikTok competitor who hired him in. as director of strategy. Triller tries to position itself as the place where influencers can migrate if TikTok is closed. As a creator himself, Richards knows that Triller has to offer influencers an easy way to make money in order to be successful. So his first priority, he says, will be rolling out a feature where influencers can solicit financial support while also interacting with their fans over live video, a core feature that TikTok and other apps already have.

“He looks at the product and the content and says, ‘Here’s what needs to be changed to make the product the best it can be,” says Ryan Kavanaugh, the Hollywood mogul who bought Triller last year. “Why don’t we take someone who has spent 24/7 [creating content] and put it in the mix to make sure the product is everything he and his peers love?

And just like The Weeknd recently played an exclusive gig on TikTok, Richards focuses on similar opportunities for Triller. “Mike Tyson is going to do an exclusive fight on Triller,” he said. As always, he’s thinking about how to seize the opportunity as much as he can. “And I’m going to go and shoot with Mike, actually,” he said, “for a YouTube video.”

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