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Mastering TikTok Virality: A Founder's Transition from Wall Street to Content Superstar

Written by
Jordan Elist & Jai Dolwani

Interview with Jordan Elist

This interview was conducted in-person with Jordan Elist. In this interview he walks through his transition from investment banking to the face of his men's sexual wellness brand, mate. His responses have been transcribed and edited for written clarity. 

Can you share a bit about your background and what inspired you to create mate?

Life often takes us on unexpected journeys, and my path has been no exception. I began my career as an investment banker at JP Morgan, but I quickly realized that my passions were more aligned with entrepreneurship. 

Although my time in investment banking provided me with valuable skills such as organization, diligence, and working under pressure, I found the industry too hierarchical and rigid for my taste. It didn't offer the autonomy or opportunities for engaging work that I desired.

Growing up as the son of a urologist, I saw a clear opportunity to address common men's sexual health issues like premature ejaculation (PE) and erectile dysfunction (ED) with all-natural solutions. This led me to create mate, a brand that aims to destigmatize conversations around these issues, which affect at least 50% of men at some point in their lives. Unlike other brands that focus on prescription-based approaches, mate offers men a more natural option.

Today, I am proud to be the face of a men's sexual health brand with over 70,000 followers from around the world and over 15 million impressions on TikTok.

@goodnight_mate on TikTok:

What led you to explore TikTok content creation as a customer acquisition channel?

Like many direct-to-consumer startups, we initially believed that the primary drivers of our business would be advertising on Facebook/Instagram, TikTok, and Google—the big three of DTC acquisition channels. We anticipated some challenges with ad approvals due to our focus on sexual wellness, but we were confident in finding a way forward, especially considering the advertisements from brands like Hims and Ro.

However, we encountered continuous ad disapprovals, ultimately leading to account disablement. Despite our efforts to explain the distinction between selling products for sexual pleasure (which was banned) and those for sexual health (which was allowed) to representatives from Facebook and TikTok, we were unsuccessful in getting our ads approved.

This struggle prompted us to explore organic content strategies. As a fully bootstrapped company, our resources for investing in other paid marketing channels were limited. This led us to focus on organic TikTok content as a creative and cost-effective acquisition channel.

Did you anticipate the potential of TikTok to elevate mate to its current scale, or were you surprised by the success?

When I initially ventured into TikTok, I didn't expect it to have such a significant impact on our growth. My primary goal was to establish a presence for our brand on the platform, similar to how companies maintain profiles on Instagram, even if it doesn't drive substantial acquisition.

At the time, I recognized that scaling on Instagram would be challenging (before the introduction of Reels), as it required a large following to generate results. In contrast, TikTok was more conducive to promoting videos from accounts with smaller followings, which made it an attractive option for us. Nonetheless, the extent of our success on TikTok was a pleasant surprise.

Can you describe your initial TikTok strategy and how you managed to create viral content?

Our success on TikTok hinged on several key principles.

Firstly, and most importantly, we consistently posted content even when the results were initially underwhelming. It took 4-5 months of persistent effort before our first video reached over 1 million views.

Secondly, we prioritized having a recognizable face for the brand. I decided to become the face of mate for a couple of reasons. As a bootstrapped company, we couldn't afford a full-time content creator. Additionally, having a single, identifiable figure associated with the brand facilitated instant recognition when our content appeared on users' For You pages, fostering a sense of familiarity and community. As the founder, my presence would remain constant throughout the brand's journey.

Our first viral video led to a rapidly expanding follower base, creating a flywheel effect that propelled more videos into virality.

We benefited from a favorable algorithm during this period, but we also implemented specific strategies to increase our chances of going viral. These tactics included incorporating visual cues and text hooks at the start of videos to optimize view-through rates, and encouraging users to share or save our content to boost engagement and visibility.

As someone who transitioned from being an investment banker in the corporate world to the face of a sexual health brand, did you have any hesitations about becoming the face of mate?

If the mission of the brand was to de-stigmatize conversations around men's sexual health, I felt that as the founder, I should be willing to walk the walk and truly commit to that goal. If I was uncomfortable talking about premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction, how could I expect potential customers to seek advice from our brand and feel at ease asking questions?

I was determined to give it my all, and if it ultimately didn't work out, I could confidently say I did everything I could.

Of course, it was a significant shift from an investment banker to creating TikTok content with “taboo” videos, but I wanted to ensure that if the brand didn't succeed, it wouldn't be because I held back. I was determined to give it my all, and if it ultimately didn't work out, I could confidently say I did everything I could. If I hadn't pursued the TikTok strategy as wholeheartedly as I did, I wouldn't have been able to make that claim.

If a founder isn't willing to be the face of their brand, how can they find content creators to run their account?

TikTok has a platform called the Creator Marketplace, which is primarily used for finding individuals to create one-off content like UGC-style videos or influencer seeding. However, there may be opportunities to hire someone as the face of your brand through the Marketplace. You can also check out the faces of other brands and try to connect with those individuals to see if they'd be interested in working with your brand or know someone who would be a good fit. Lastly, there are several talented content creators on The Starters, including myself, who would be excited to represent a brand and support their organic social media journey.

As a brand in a regulated industry, did you face any issues with TikTok's organic content regulations?

We definitely encountered challenges with TikTok due to our product and industry. In the beginning, they were quite strict with their content moderation policies, and our organic videos would often be removed. If there was a visual cue they found objectionable or if I used certain words (like "erectile dysfunction" or "sex"), our content would be flagged. I had to resort to abbreviations like "ED" and use alternative spellings like "seggs" to bypass these restrictions.

We had to adopt a more conservative approach initially, but once we found a strategy that worked, we gradually began pushing the boundaries again. Navigating TikTok's guidelines is an ongoing balancing act, as we're constantly walking a fine line to stay within their content regulations.

Some brands hesitate to fully invest in organic TikTok because it doesn’t offer direct response features, such as clickable purchase links within videos. How do you measure the impact of TikTok virality on your bottom line sales?

I believe there's actually an advantage to videos not being fully direct-response. When viewers are interested in the content, they're likely to visit your profile and either 1) watch more of your past videos, serving as an educational phase for the customer, or 2) follow your account, helping to build a stronger sense of community and encouraging them to return later.

I believe there's actually an advantage to videos not being fully direct-response.

In cases where our videos go viral, attracting 1M+ views, we do see an immediate increase in website traffic and conversions. But if a video only gets a few thousand views, the impact on sales may not be immediate—it's more of a long-tail game. By fostering engagement and building a community, we create a foundation for potential future sales, even if they don't happen instantly.

Have you managed to expand into other channels like YouTube Shorts or Reels?

I really like TikTok's video editing features, so we create all of our content within the platform. We then use tools to download the content without watermarks and repurpose it for Shorts and Reels.

We haven't experienced the same level of performance on these other platforms as we have on TikTok. This highlights the effectiveness of TikTok's algorithm for us—it may not always be perfect, but it has been the best-performing channel among the three based on our experience.

That being said, I've heard from other brands that Reels or Shorts work better for them. So, I believe it's best practice to post content across all three platforms and see which one yields the best results for your specific brand.

Are you concerned about the possibility of TikTok being banned in the U.S.? Why or why not?

If TikTok were to be banned, it would pose a threat not only to our business but also to thousands of other businesses that rely on the platform to build community and drive sales.

That being said, there have been long periods of time when the TikTok algorithm doesn't work in our favor, and it encouraged us to diversify our approach. While TikTok is a central component of our strategy, it's always best not to put all your eggs in one basket. This mindset helps us prepare for any potential changes in the platform's availability or effectiveness.

Besides mate, can you recommend other brand accounts for people to check out as inspiration?

My friend Yasmin runs an impressive indie beauty brand called Scrandie Beauty (@scrandiebeauty), which excels in building community. Duolingo (@duolingo) and Scrub Daddy (@scrubdaddy) have also successfully embraced TikTok by creating engaging, short-form content with a consistent face (or character) for their brands. I'd recommend giving these accounts a look for some creative ideas and inspiration.

What advice would you give someone starting out on TikTok?

Don't be afraid to dive in. It might feel intimidating, especially when starting with zero followers. However, success on TikTok comes from posting one video at a time, maintaining consistency, directly addressing your audience, and keeping your content as raw and unedited as possible. Just take the first step and learn as you go.

Sign up for an account with The Starters and start adding world-class leaders like Jordan to your team today.

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