Wow! What a journey it has been the past few years. From starting my own business at 18…all the way to becoming a social media influencer. I would have said to myself four years ago that the idea of me joining the then-brand new social media app TikTok to market my business would have been crazy. But hey! You never know where life will take you. And with that said, your goals for your own business or venture always evolve as your own journey progresses.
But as for the platform they like to call TikTok…YES! Four years since starting my business, VOILA! And now, a platform that has my growth expanding. So how did this all start…and most importantly, why TikTok?
First of all, I should note that before my business and before getting into any social media in general, I used to be a very “anti-social media” person. From the time when I was a child (pretty much when Facebook first became popular) to when I was a senior in high school, I hated nearly everything about social media.
My parents are on Facebook frequently, and have been since about 2010. Throughout this time, I have seen all the negativity that other would see on the platform. Whether it was an argument over a political problem or a fight over an NFL game, I’ve seen it all when it comes to watching my family and friends react to those kinds of posts.
And when I first saw all this negativity, I initially thought to myself that being a Facebook fanatic would NEVER be me (but as you know by now in this story, NEVER SAY NEVER!)
Flash forward to 2016, and I was a junior in high school. I started working for a student radio station, and in order to get more listeners for the radio show I started hosting, I…RELUCTANTLY…decided to get social media– TWITTER!
Yes, good ol’ Twitter! The place that has nearly all the negative news you can think of…from exaggerated storytelling that lacks objectivity to weird, offbeat articles that don’t make any sense. Yes, when I said I was reluctant to get it, I MEANT IT!
But my dad taught me that I always need to keep an open mind, and that I should not bash or harshly criticize something if I’ve never used it, or don’t know much about it. In Layman’s terms, he was telling me to just loosen up and try something new. I guess you could say, in a sense, without my dad’s advice, I would not be in the place where I am now…six years later.
To make a long story short, I immediately fell in love with Twitter, and it instantly became my main social media platform I used. Is there a whole lot of negativity on the platform? HECK YEAH! But what I loved about it was that I was able to network and connect with all these different voices in the Broadcast News industry, an industry that I was strongly passionate to get into (and currently am in today).
As I got more into Twitter, my curiosity for other social media platforms grew stronger. A year after getting the app, I was pressured by a good friend of mine back in my hometown to get Instagram. And so I did!
And on the same day I got Instagram, I also downloaded Facebook. Keep in mind that this was in 2017, when the apps had been popular for awhile (so I guess you could call me a late bloomer).
Flash forward even more about a year later…and I’m consistently on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. HOLY COW!!! That was certainly a far-cry from just a couple years ago, when I was Mr. Anti-Social Media. See how my dad’s advice always inspires me to change who I am?
But anyway…now this is where I get to talk about the bread and butter of this story– my business. By the time I was fully onto the social media train, I had just graduated high school, and was in the middle of my freshman year of college.
One of my professors, Mr. Stephen Wade Nebgen, ran a course called Music Business. I learned so much about the Music Industry as well as the business side of it in that one course, and the more I learned from Mr. Nebgen, the more interested I got in starting my own company.
As an attorney himself, the last piece of advice he gave to the class was to get an attorney if I wanted to start my own business. And so…I chose Mr. Nebgen to be my attorney a couple weeks later. Once I signed a couple documents and got through that “business LLC craziness” that I like to call, the company “AutismChoseMe” was born.
As most of you may know, I was diagnosed with autism at the age of fived. My obstacles and challenges growing up with autism are for another chapter in this blog series, but basically, as I was brainstorming ideas to start a business, my dad stepped in with his usual inspiring advice, and told me to think of a business that touches people’s hearts and, more importantly, changes the world.
I then decided to take a break from thinking of ideas for a business plan, as my brain was getting clogged and overloaded. But one night, when I was dreaming, I just instantly woke up, and then the name just popped out of nowhere! AutismChoseMe. Yeah, I like that, I thought to myself. And then coming up with the business plan and goals were easy. All I had to do was just expand on the title as well as my plan and goals.
I decided to make my company a public speaking business in which I go to schools to speak to students and teachers about autism and neurodiversity. I just knew that this was my calling! I know almost everything there is to know about autism education from my own personal experiences, so why not pass on my knowledge to others? IT WAS PERFECT!!! I was so excited to get started. By then, I already established myself well enough on Facebook to get this venture going, so let’s do it!!!!!
Well, nothing in life is perfect, and my business did get off to a rocky start, as with most startups. But I was not worried. Even as my marketing campaign on social media was slow, it made me determined every day to keep pushing and keep trying as hard as I could…no matter how many “no’s” or rejections I got.
And believe me, the amount of no’s I received were immense. But even with the rudest no’s, a small door would open, giving me an opportunity to squeeze through. With that said, after ten months of being in business, I finally got my first paid speaking engagement opportunity. YAY!!! And all that patience and hard work really paid off. HOORAY!!!
Another paid engagement came the following month, and then I did another one the next month, and then another in March of 2020.
NOW LET’S STOP RIGHT THERE!!!
MARCH OF 2020…WE ALL KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, HMM???
Yeah, you guessed it, COVID hit.
Therefore, this was my last in-person speaking engagement. And many other ones that I was looking forward to doing the following months were all put on hold indefinitely. I was not necessarily devastated when the pandemic hit. I just viewed this as yet another challenge that I knew I would eventually overcome and conquer.
But this is also where I realized I needed to take a break and just focus on myself. This included other priorities, like trying to save up money to move to my future alma mater, Washington State University.
The university has an extraordinary Broadcast News program, and I had wanted to go there for awhile. And keep in mind, I was born and raised in Arizona, and at the time COVID hit, I was still living in the hot and dry Phoenix area, and I basically just wanted to get out of my hometown and experience another climate on my own (don’t get me wrong, though; the AZ will ALWAYS be home, and that will never change, but I just needed a fresh start somewhere else).
So, with all these things happening in my life, I decided to reduce my time doing business work, and focused on doing DoorDash (which I thankfully signed up for a couple weeks prior to the pandemic’s major start), continuing to work at Walmart (I had worked there for three years up to that point), and spending time with my family as much as possible before I left for Washington.
And on that note, I was able to take the time to appreciate everything that I had: a wonderful family, two sources of income (which were of the utmost importance), and myself. I know a lot of people viewed the early parts of the pandemic as an unprecedented challenge that seemed almost impossible to overcome. But I saw it as an opportunity to not only motivate myself, but push myself even further. In life, you can either let an unprecedented challenge tear you down, or you can use it to lift you up, and make you think bigger. That’s what I did! I went outside of the box and began to think bigger. Hmm? How can I re-invent the things around me to maintain a successful outcome?
From the time I was spending my last few months in Arizona to when I had moved to Washington, I was able to make an almost-successful transition to virtual learning. But some of the platforms that I was trying to re-invent my business with were not turning out as efficient as I thought.
So, was it finally time to panic? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Remember that panicking never solves anything, but just creates more stress and conflict! I then went back to the drawing board to try to come up with ideas on how to keep my business afloat in an increasingly virtual world…but I was also balancing school and other responsibilities, which consisted of living on my own for the first time in my life.
Then…THE MOMENT OF TRUTH CAME! One word, two syllables: TikTok! Yes, that’s right!!! I kept you on your seat for so long, going through a little backstory of my journey through social media and other parts of my life, that I am finally on the grand subject of this entire story.
To be honest, when I first got TikTok, which was in January of 2021, I was not looking to use it for my business. And please keep in mind, I had already moved to Washington by this time. The main purpose of me getting it was just to simply connect with friends who also went to WSU with me. I didn’t even know much about the platform, except that it skyrocketed in popularity when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
I initially started just watching videos on the platform, while posting sporadically. Honestly, my first post on the platform looks so ridiculous and silly that I go back to it every now and then, laughing at the fact that I don’t even remember the reason why I even made it in the first place.
But anyway…a couple months after getting on the platform, I came across several content creators who were autistic, or had other forms of neurodiversity. They amazed me with some of the new ideas they were trying to share to people about the autism spectrum.
Because I wanted to share my thoughts on their ideas so badly, I instantly got involved. I changed my TikTok username from a weird @gdub.xl username to my signature @autismchoseme name, which is also the name on all my other platforms.
Starting towards the end of March, I posted a lot of autism-related content with my own take on certain talking points about it. As time went on, and my follower count increased quickly (much to my surprise), I started to expand on my content even further. Eventually, TikTok became my primary platform for posting and engaging with other users, and my base has grown so much in almost two years to the point where TikTok has become the heart and soul of my business (hopefully the strict TikTok Community Guidelines don’t kick me off).
Most of all, my content itself, as well as the production of each video I create, have evolved, too. For instance, I mentioned that when I first got on TikTok, I was initially posting many talking-point videos about certain autism-related subjects. But as time went on, my videos have become crazier and wilder, and, some may argue, slightly more explicit. I generally don’t post talking-point videos anymore, and I usually put out TikToks that are at most only 15 seconds long. In these short videos, I’m usually dancing to a trend or doing a voice-over from a sound posted on the app, while incorporating an autism-related topic.
I purchased a ring light about a year ago as my content became more complex, and I’ve been utilizing and implementing different camera angles and filters in my videos ever since. Basically, my content looks so much different today than it did when I first got onto the platform.
But through it all, I try to stay true to one message: putting people who are disabled FIRST. No matter how crazy my content has become, I will never stop putting disabled individuals first, as that has been my vision for my business since day one of starting it. For so many years, people with disabilities have always fallen behind people who are neurotypical (as in, people without disabilities). And the TikTok platform does not change that in any way.
I should also note that while most of my content is autism-related, I have posted other content that is not related to autism or neurodiversity. This includes posting about my family, my life in college, using age-appropriate language, and drinking responsibly. As a matter of fact, the first viral video I’ve ever posted was not related to autism at all. It was called “My Three Reasons on Why I Don’t Drink,” and I posted it all the way back in May of 2021. It became viral mostly because of its controversial subject matter. I’ll get more into the video’s impact in my next chapter.
But as for the video’s affect on my TikTok page, it started to slowly establish me as a recognizable content creator on the platform. Eventually, my autism-related content started to receive more recognition. One of my alter ego characters that I created that I used in much of my earlier videos is called the “Black Autistic Captain.” The dress-up for this character is pretty entertaining: a superhero cape with an neurodiverse infinity symbol in the center, a jumbo-No. 2 pencil, and an Air Force One foam rocket toy (oh, and don’t forget the Afro pick in my hair).
As the months have gone on, I have started to use other self-created alter egos, such as “Sweet Daddy Autistic,” “Autistic Mon”, and “Autistic Ladies’ Man.” The reason why I use these alter egos is not to be weird or ridiculous, but to break stereotypes surrounding autistic people, in which many think they are weird or insane, and that they belong in mental institutions (I’ll get more into these stereotypes in a future chapter). I’m basically trying to say to everyone, “Hey, autistic people can have a good time, too.”
While I have faced my challenges throughout my time as an influencer on TikTok, I think I’ve been able to handle them in a very positive way. Believe me, I’ve dealt with many bullies in my childhood, so I kind of know how to deal with a few challenges here and there.
When some people ask me if I’m hurt or offended by some trolls or haters I get in the comments of my videos, I just say that I don’t really care and don’t focus on them. My dad always says that you should never give a jerk or a bully your time or attention by negatively reacting to them, or responding to their hateful comment. In the end, you’re just enabling them to respond back with a comment that is even more hateful or belittling. He says all you can do is ignore them, move on, and, if you feel like you want to, laugh them off. In the end, you can’t control what haters say to you, because haters are going to hate. Plus, why in the world would I vent my anger over something I can’t control?
During my two years at WSU, I would sometimes get recognized around campus for my TikToks. Now I’m not saying this to brag or sound like I’m a prestigious snob, but I’m saying this as a lesson to keep your character and your cool with you at all times, even when you’re interacting with someone who does recognize you. More importantly, STAY HUMBLE through all this! I should also add that sometimes at school, when people would come up to me and say hello to me because they did notice me from TikTok, they would call me “TikTok Famous.” In my opinion, I do not prefer to use the word “famous,” but instead, the word “inspiration.” In this case, a “TikTok Inspiration.”
To me, “fame” is a diluted word, used as a term to describe someone who is mostly just a media personality, and that’s it. In the end, fame still makes you a person just like you and me, and while you may have accomplished a remarkable task that has led to your “fame,” it doesn’t make you a superhuman or just not human. Now, if you want to call me famous, that’s your choice. Go right ahead! But all I’m telling you is that I like to consider myself an inspiration, because I “inspire” and “influence” others to succeed and push towards their goals. In the long run, that is a much greater power than fame.
And with that said, sometimes people will say because I have 120K+ followers on TikTok, I’m better than most other people. I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT THINK THAT AT ALL! As an advocate, I shall also pass on another lesson in that just because you may have a thousand, a million, or even a gazillion followers, it does not make you a better person than most other people. It would be very arrogant and narcissistic of me to think that. Besides, I believe everyone is unique and different in their own way, so we’re all kind of on the same level (save for a few jerks and knuckleheads we’ve all dealt with).
My final message I should pass on as I close this chapter is that no matter how “famous” or “well-known” you become to people, you should never forget where you came from. Even as my follower count and recognition on TikTok widens and grows larger, I still never forget that I am a city boy from the Phoenix suburbs. AND THAT WILL NEVER CHANGE! Plus, in reality, TikTok is just a social media app that I use to conduct my side gig operations. We can’t physically live in a city or home called TikTok, and we certainly can’t make the platform our whole life. And anyone who does, with all due respect, needs to GET a life.
As for my business, just in case you’ve forgotten, I will finally be returning to in-person speaking engagements, starting sometime this Fall, and lasting through Spring of next year. And during these engagements, I will incorporate some of my TikToks I’ve made over the past two years into my slide shows. As I said at the beginning of this chapter…your business plan evolves and changes over the years in ways you can’t predict.
And just remember…even as I become more of an inspiration to people, I’m not perfect. And sometimes, I do make mistakes that I look back on and wish I didn’t make. But all I can do…and this includes all of us…is move forward and focus on the future. After all, life is too short to hold on to mistakes, especially if you make them on an app as loud and boisterous as TikTok.
My username on TikTok, as well as all other platforms, is @autismchoseme. GO CHECK ME OUT!!!