The current hoverboard craze took off with a big assist from Vine stars, many of whom posted photos and videos of themselves on the boards in exchange for free models. But now one social media star, Cody Johns — who has more than than 5 million followers across platforms including Vine and Twitter — is looking to turn the tables, going from using his following to help other companies sell hoverboards, to using it to sell them on his own.
"When I first rode one, I really fell in love with it," said Johns of the goofy two-wheeled scooter thingies that have shown up everywhere from basketball courts to Bieber videos of late. "I realized that this type of product would be a great business to get [involved with] — you can actually make decent money per unit."
Johns is thus forming a new hoverboard company, called Neoboard, along with with a cousin, Ian Barlett. The company is launching today.
While Johns' Neoboards are likely no different from other hoverboards on the market — most of the things are made in the same Chinese factories with almost identical parts — Johns told BuzzFeed News that his company will try to differentiate by emphasizing customer service and charging a reasonable rate. Neoboards start at $650, right in the middle of the pack.
Johns, who became social media famous thanks to his funny videos, said he will not spam his followers with Neoboard promotion, but it doesn't hurt to be followed by over 3.6 million people on Vine, 804,000 on Facebook, 568,000 on Instagram, and 348,000 on Twitter if you're trying to get the word out about a company. If Neoboard is successful, it will be yet another example of the sizable power accruing to those with large social followings.
But Johns promised he wouldn't be turning his social media accounts into mere vehicles for hoverboard advertising. "I don't want this to be the Cody Johns brand that I'm just going to shout this out all the time to my followers and try to just sell these to my own followers," he said. "I'm not interested in making a quick little dollar here."
That said, even a few posts might be enough to get the company enough attention to take off.
Jason Stein, CEO of social media agency Laundry Service, said Johns' approach makes sense and could become more common in the future. It's already picking up steam. The widely followed Fat Jew, for instance, sells his own rosé. And YouTube star Michelle Phan has her own line of cosmetics. "For all the same reasons brands want to work with these people — their reach sells products — these influencers have the ability to create and distribute their own products to their fans, who really want to buy products from them that are aligned with their values and the reasons they follow them to begin with," he said.
Johns has another advantage. Unlike many of the companies he's taking on, he's a master of creating social content. And being that interest in hoverboards is spreading largely thanks to social media, he's trying to win as an upstart by creating promotional content that will spread.
"I want the content to sell the product," he said. "I do know how to make content that is engaging and is viral. We're going to create funny videos. We're going to create videos similar to Vines and even longer than six seconds. And creative photos. We're going to try to gain an audience's respect. I want someone to watch a video or see a piece of content and say, 'Wow, there's nothing like this out there.'"
Neoboard currently has a staff of four, including Johns, Barlett, and two "associates" who will handle customer service. Johns is funding the company out of his own pocket and taking a 70% share to Barlett's 30%. Barlett, who is 15 years old, will be managing much of the company's day-to-day business. "He is the man," Johns said. "Despite him being so young, I'm really impressed with what he's been able to do."
The launch of the Neoboard is well-timed with the holiday season, which may see a rush of shoppers looking to buy hoverboards. Johns is selling them from his website: neoboard.co.
In starting the company, Johns is, of course, risking his good name among his fans. Missed delivery dates, faulty products, or a hoverboard explosion could be disastrous. Still, Johns said his faith in the company is unwavering: "I know my reputation is behind this but I'm not really worried at all."
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
Contact Alex Kantrowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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