Maya Lau is the creator, host and executive producer of the podcast, Other People’s Pockets, produced by Pushkin Industries and Little Everywhere. She's an award-winning former investigative reporter for The…
Gain access to ad-free versions of 20+ podcasts from the Pushkin library along with exclusive bonus episodes and other member benefits.
She started her money education business as a side hustle, but spoiler: Tori Dunlap now makes millions. The Her First 100k founder and CEO talks about the income (and stress) of influencer life, and how to do capitalism the feminist way.
... really at the heart is, can financial feminism exist under capitalism? And the answer is no. However, this is the system that currently exists. And while you're figuring out how to navigate this fucking capitalist hellscape, we can work to burn it down.
Late at night when I'm doing my revenge bedtime procrastination on TikTok or Instagram, I thought to myself, who are all these social media influencers, and how much goddamn money do they make? My guest, Tori Dunlap has an answer. She's a very on-brand guest for us because not only is she an influencer, 2.2 million followers on TikTok, 685,000 on Instagram, she's an influencer who talks about money.
And just a note, this was recorded many months ago, so some of the time references you hear might be a little off. I'm Maya Lau, and this is Other People's Pockets, the show where I ask people about their money, so the questions we all have about how much other people make and how their finances work can be a little bit less of a mystery. Hey, Tori, thank you so much for being here.
Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here.
I'm so excited to talk to you because you are all about transparency around money, and that's what we are also trying to do on this show. And I don't usually start here. I usually warm up to this question, but I figured that you would be totally game for it. So can you just tell me what you do and how much money you make?
My name's Tori. I run Her First $100K, which is a money and career platform for women. And I basically fight the patriarchy by making women rich. So I'm a financial educator and a speaker. It's an interesting question, and I'm going to give you a politician answer, but I'm going to explain why I give you a politician answer.
Up until probably a year or two ago, I was extremely transparent with my own personal finances. Would tell you immediately what number I had in my bank account, how much debt I had, if any. I paid off my debt in early 2020. Yeah, what the business made, what I was taking from the business. I was super transparent about all of that. And then an interesting thing started to happen, and this is part of the reason why I, of course the reason I do the work that I do, and it's weird to have it reflected back in my own life.
Part of what I've discovered in my own research and my own experience with what I do now is that we view money very differently depending on gender and race and all of these other factors. And specifically we view men who have money very different than we view women who have money. Men who have money are lauded and celebrated and worshiped. And women who have money, well, they must have gotten it from somewhere else. It must be daddy's money, it must be from their husband. They must have gotten it not of their own hard work and their own volition. And the way they spend that money is judged in a way that men's money isn't.
And the other thing that I've realized, also through conversations with people in my life who care about me a lot, is that if I am public as a woman about how much money I have, it puts a target on my back in a way it doesn't for men. It's interesting when I think about... I would love to be able to celebrate how hard I've worked and to talk about that transparently because that's what I've been all about for a really long time. And yet the very thing I'm fighting against, which is this view that women who have money are bad or that we get to dictate what they do with it affects me very directly.
So in the process of trying to fight against that, I'm realizing in my own life what that means and unfortunately what having financial stability means in terms of your own safety as a woman. But I will tell you, I'm a multi seven-figure business owner. Our business has generated multi seven figures in revenue both last year, and we're on track to do that this year. And I am financially independent, meaning that I would never have to work another day in my life if I didn't want to. And of course I want to 'cause I believe in my work very much.
Yeah, that's so crazy because it's like, like you said, as of a few years ago you would've been open about it, and then now you've come full circle where it's like, "Oh, actually I can't tell you this," which is the thing that you...
All I want to do is tell you, and all I want to do is talk about it because that's what I believe, is that's my whole thing about financial transparency. And yet I'm up against the very factors I'm trying to change with my work.
And just to put in context for you to be running a multi seven-figure business, how old are you?
Okay. So yeah, that's pretty amazing. Can you talk about this duality of you are a public figure, you want to talk about money. There could be people who see you on the street and recognize you. And so-
It happens all the time now, yeah.
And that's helpful for you, it's helpful for your business. At the same time, it brings these risks and these drawbacks. How do you figure out what the balance is there? Are there days where you're like, "Fuck. I just wish I could just be anonymous and just not be visually consumed, be judged, commented upon, et cetera. I just want to opt out"?
It's really funny you say that. It's like you cracked open my brain and looked inside. All of this is speaking from a place of intense privilege, having financial stability, of having a business, of doing all of those things. So anything I'm going to say is going to be a little bit like, "Oh, poor you complaining about this." But I literally have told a few people in my life, like my best friend, and I work with an energy coach, and I've talked to her about this, of I have this duality where my ambition, I want my face and our business and our mission on magazines, and I want to sell out stadiums talking about what we want to talk about. And I want to write a bunch of books and have a TV show and continue the success of our podcast. And my ambition wants all of that so desperately.
And at the same time, there is part of me that is like, "I want a cabin in the woods. I want nobody to ever know who I am, and I want to get a bunch of dogs and play board games and do puzzles and read books. And that's what I want the rest of my life to be." And I'm trying to find ways that both of those things can exist because I feel like my ambition is the thing that's gotten me here. My ambition is also a drug, and I don't want to overdose on that drug.
Is there an argument to be made that as this grows, as Her First $100K grows that you're not the face of it? Or basically, why does it even have to be about you to begin with?
The answer is, it doesn't. Exactly right. And again, it's like you've peered into my brain. We're having calls with our team every week to move from a creator-focused business to a brand-focused business. And that's a hundred percent something that we're doing right now. We are currently literally having conversations with other women we admire to bring them within the fold, both because I would really like to not burn out, please, and also because I personally don't want to just hear from a cisgendered white woman all the time. So I feel like giving some diversity, both in thought as well as experience.
But also, our audience is getting more and more global every day. And somebody comes to me and is like, "What do you recommend for Canadians?" And I'm like, "Honestly, I don't know. It's hard enough just to keep up with the United States and what's going on here." So no, that's literally a hundred percent what the plan is. And we are trying to move from Her First $100K being Tori Dunlap to Her First $100K being a company that happens to be founded by Tori Dunlap. So that's an intentional choice that literally we're in the midst of planning and making right now.
And I just love how you're talking about all this because I think that there's, obviously, this would be a very retrograde perspective to have, but there are people out there who are like, "Oh, being an influencer, that just seems so easy. And it's just you, and you just put videos of yourself. And you don't have to have a certain degree or...
"It's a 60-second TikTok. How much time did you actually spend on that?"
Right. And you're speaking to, here are the realities of it. Yes, it's helped grow your business. But at the same time, it's also really hard, and you can also really burn out. And there's mental health costs.
If there's anything that I'm now realizing, it's that on a daily basis, not just even trolls, because I can write that off of a man calling me fat and telling me I'm never going to get married, whatever bullshit, okay. It's literally now every day someone who actually whose opinion I respect is upset with me about something. And it's very interesting. And I am the human, actual physical embodiment of Leslie Knope. I want everybody to love me all the time, and I want to win people over, and that is so important to me. And I also, at the same time, don't give a fuck what people think. And that's a very interesting Venn diagram.
This is now almost a daily occurrence. And I'm trying to come to terms with that and understand that with this growth is also going to come both necessary and really helpful feedback of how I can run my business better, how I can show up better, but also feeling sometimes like I got to batten down the hatches for it. And it's something that I'm not shocked about but didn't necessarily prepare for. And I don't know if anybody can prepare for it.
And literally, I turned to my COO, Karina, the other day and I was just like, "I just want somebody to just understand all of the things that we have to think about before we publish something or before we create something." And now we're a team of 15. And managing that team and each of them doing their best to figure out how to present something well. And I love my job, and I love what I do. This is just the shit that you just don't think about of wondering if someone will give you grace when you do make a mistake.
Do you have someone help screen the comments you get? How do you deal with that?
We have a bit of that. I also feel like a fucking protective mama bear over my team too, where I'm also trying to protect their mental health. And I would rather have mine suffer if they don't have to. But no, we do have a community manager who's great, who monitors comments and that sort of thing. But I see things because I care about what I do, and I also love seeing the great comments. I love seeing the really positive ones. But no, yeah, I definitely see them. And I think it's kind of unavoidable. And I actually do hate that advice where people are like, "Just don't look at comments." And I'm like, "I don't think..." That's literally impossible if you are online for two seconds.
Right. And the engagement is also part of the whole thing.
Right. But no, again, the conversations we've had in the last year and continuing to have this year about the way we structure the business, like hiring people whose entire job it is just to grow and manage our community and make sure it's not only a safe space for myself and for our team, but also for other community members.
So how much do you currently charge for a post on Instagram or TikTok?
All rates are negotiable. I'm willing to do more work for less money potentially if the brand makes sense or if it's less of my active time and more of my team can help produce content. I think we're at 15K for a 60-second TikTok and around 10 to 12 for an Instagram post.
And do they give you creative license? Are they like, ""Great, so just do a post about our brand," or do you have to run it by them? Or how do you figure that out?
95% of the time it is, "Here is generally..." We just did a sponsored campaign with Canva, who I've actually been chasing for years. They're the design tool. And they were our dream partner 'cause literally I have used Canva in every job, every corporate job I've had. And then we built everything for Her First $100K.
[NEW_PARAGRAPH] In Canva. So I was stoked. And so for them, they were a little more flexible where they're like, "Send us some scripts about this and about your experience with it, and then we'll sign off on them." But yeah, it is very much like... Some brands are like, "You have to say this thing word for word." Others are like, "We don't care as long as you make sure to mention, of course, the product or whatever." Most commonly, it is very similar to that Canva partnership where it's like, "Okay, here's the thing we want you to highlight. We'll approve the scripts. Here's the timeline we need it by. We would like to also see basically a screen recording of the video before you publish it."
And how do you figure out what the value is of it? Are other people telling you, "Tori, you are not charging enough"? How do you figure out what is the actual value, and what should I be charging?
The one thing I do when people ask me is I ask them to think about how many hours it's going to take them to not only of course create the content, but to go back and forth with the brand, to actually record something, to get something approved. It ends up being sometimes with a campaign, maybe it's 10 hours, maybe it's 20, maybe it's 50, depending on how much work you're doing. It's really not about the followers immediately. It's just about how much time are you putting into this thing?
And in addition, of course, if you're an entrepreneur, which any content creator is, they're working for themselves, 30% of that is going to be taxes right off the top. So if it's a thousand dollars that this client's paying you, you're paying 30% for taxes; $300 of that is gone. So now your rate's 700. And if you put 20 hours in or 25, I can't do that math really quick, but it ends up being not a lot.
And that's assuming you have nothing in expenses. You a hundred percent do, right? You probably have a laptop, maybe you have filming equipment, you have your phone that you're probably filming it on, or your camera you're filming it on. So let's take another $200 off that 700 for expenses. So immediately, just thinking about your rate in terms of how much you're getting per hour for your actual labor of creating that content, typically people are undercharging just with that. So I've become the person on TikTok now who just, people will DM me and be like, "Hi, I'm sorry to bother you. This brand reached out. I have no idea what I should be charging." And unfortunately, what's typically happened is I had one woman who I follow, we're mutuals on TikTok, and I think she has 3.2 million followers. And I have 2.1, so she's even bigger than I am.
And this brand wanted to pay her 500 bucks. And she's like, "Should I take this? Is this a good deal?" And I was like, "Hell no, it's not a good deal." I was like, "No, no, no, no." And it was just proof to me of, again, these conversations are not being had, and we need to start talking to each other because both, it sucks for you if you don't get paid your worth, of course, if you don't get compensated fairly, but also if you take way less, then the rest of us have to take way less, right?
And so it hurts not just you, it hurts everybody in the industry. And again, it disproportionately affects women and people of color because we're largely the people who are doing it. So it's so veiled, and it's so new. There's this bias or this thought that content creation is like, "Oh, well you spent 30 seconds on a TikTok video. Why do you deserve $12,000?" And I'm like, "Oh, okay. Well, it is a real job, and I could go off on you for about a half hour explaining what all goes into that and the care and the detail and that basically you're a one-person marketing agency if somebody's choosing to work with you as an influencer or a content creator." You are being hired as someone to create content almost as if they were hiring a marketing agency. So it's just again, an onion; when you start peeling back layers, you just keep peeling for a while.
Can you talk about what parts of your business bring in the most money, what brings in the least money? What are all the ways that you make money?
It's actually really funny we're having this conversation right now because we just lost 50% of our revenue, and I'm happy to tell you why.
The vast majority of our business comes from partnerships. So we do sell courses. We do a lot of direct to consumer sales, so we do courses or digital downloads, that sort of thing. So if you were a person who was trying to learn about money, you could come and pay $97 and get our course or something like that. So we make a good chunk of revenue from that. But the vast majority of our business is built on partnerships with larger companies who actually have a lot of money.
So me partnering with a company, recommending them, and us getting a cut if that person, if somebody signs up doing speaking opportunities at corporations. And the interesting thing is almost 50% of our revenue came from one particular partner. And we got some feedback from our community that was pretty alarming in terms of how their customer service was treating them. And through a lot of thought and a lot of back and forth and a lot of deliberation, we chose to end that partnership at a severe cost to our business.
So overnight, in February and March, we've lost 50% of our revenue. And we will be fine as a company. However, again, the things you don't think about as a business owner is we're hiring because we're growing. And ultimately, again, we will be fine. But we chose to make the right decision for our community and taking a huge, massive revenue cut because of it.
A lot of bosses feel like no one ever teaches them how to be a boss. So what's it like not only being in your twenties, but having employees and thinking through your responsibility to other people and that this is their income, and this is what they use to feed their families? How do you think through that?
Yeah, it's a lot of pressure, in the best way possible. Yeah, no, the realization and the coolest way that this is beyond me now and that we get to give people jobs is amazing, but also the panic of, "Oh, this is beyond me now. And there's people, yes, to your point, relying on me for income."
Do you think that your employees can achieve the level of financial freedom that you have if they work at a job working for you or just at any traditional job?
That's a very interesting question. I'm going to be honest with you and say no. And I say that because my numbers, the actual numbers of how much I made and how much I was able to take home vastly changed when I went full-time in my business. Now again, I sat on that business for three years, grew it on the side of my nine to five. I made strategic decisions in order for that to happen. But the numbers between what I was making at corporate and what I'm making now are very, very different numbers. So yes, you can achieve financial independence, financial stability, a hundred percent. But I'm not blind to the fact that I did that as a 27 year old because I own my own business, a hundred percent.
Yeah. And you've talked openly about you grew up with privilege, you grew up with parents who taught you about money. Can you talk a bit more about your origin story? What did your parents teach you about money, and what was their financial situation?
Sure. My parents are very private people, and we've discussed quite a lot that they would like to maintain their privacy. But I will tell you a couple things about my parents. Both of them didn't grow up with a lot, my dad especially. My dad and his two brothers... It's going to make me cry. I've never gotten through this story without crying. They took a bath once a week and grew up in a pretty toxic situation with an abusive father and an alcoholic father. And this is part of the reason why it really hurts when I see comments of, "Oh, your parents must be filthy rich." And I'm like, "No." I was my parents' investment. And my parents worked really hard to make sure that I never wanted for anything. And of course, my parents are still in the same house I grew up in.
They could have upgraded, but they wanted to make sure to send me to really good schools and wanted to make sure that I could take piano lessons if I wanted to do that and wanted to make sure that... Yeah, I was their investment. They get so much credit for who I am and what I have been able to do with my career because they didn't have it, and so they committed to giving me that. In terms of particular advice, I learned very early on from my parents that if you want something, you have to save money for it. My parents don't have a debit card. I don't either. I've never owned a debit card, neither have they. They put everything on credit cards, and then they pay it off on time and in full every month. And that's a practice I took from them. And so they were very much, "Credit cards are actually really useful, but as long as you use them responsibly. And here's what it means to use that credit card responsibly."
My dad sat me down and taught me how to invest. I definitely didn't know everything that I was doing, but he at least helped me get started. And again, I realized with all of that that it was a privilege. In talking to my friends and talking about how they grew up, I realized that that financial education was a privilege, and with that privilege came a responsibility.
And so that is why I do the work that I do now, is realizing that unfortunately that shouldn't be a privilege and that having open conversations about money where my parents were not just telling me how to manage their money, they were actually showing me, was really powerful. And so I really saw them model what I now call value-based spending, which is spending your money, your discretionary money, on things that you really, really love and cutting back on everything else in order to do that.
And I do the same thing in my life. When I was saving my original 100K, my origin story of Her First $100K was me trying to save 100K at 25, part of that was me discovering like, "Oh, okay, I want to spend money on these certain things and then not spend any money elsewhere." And I didn't feel like I was depriving myself. I was still going out to eat when I wanted to go out to eat and was still getting to travel and do the things that were important to me, but there was just certain things I just wasn't spending my money on at all. And so having that modeled for me, I think, was really powerful.
In addition to the privilege of a financial education and me bringing up the 100K, I'm the first to acknowledge that that 100K would not have happened as quickly as it did if I graduated with student debt. I was able to graduate debt-free from college, both because I worked three jobs on campus, I got tens of thousands of dollars in merit scholarships, but also, again, I was my parents' investment. They had the foresight and had the stability and ability to set aside money for me for college. So it wasn't like they handed me a check. It was more of a collaborative process of us working to pay for my bachelor's degree. However, I fully acknowledge that that is a privilege that plenty of people don't have.
What class did you consider yourself when you were growing up, and what class do you consider yourself now?
I think we were mid to maybe upper-middle class. Even in being transparent about money, I still don't know how much my parents make. And I don't know how much they have saved, which I think is very interesting. For being as transparent as they were and as transparent as I am with them, I actually still don't know their numbers. So it's hard to say. I think now for me, based on my age, based on my tax bracket, yeah, I'm definitely upper class. It's weird. I've never actually had to say that out loud. It makes me feel weird. It's very interesting. I'm a financial expert, and that makes me feel weird.
Why does it make you feel weird?
It's a good question. I think there is still such a stigma around how we view people with money. And you want to be the person who's like, "Yes, I have money, but I'm trying to do good with it." And this is, again, a unique thing that I feel women, we feel this unique pressure as women to do. We have to caveat it.
Right. You have to hedge and be like, "But I'm a big giver." Yeah.
Right, right. And we almost have to tax ourselves. You can't just have money because it's good to have stability, and it's nice to buy nice things. And of course it's good to donate. I'm not Scrooge McDuck, right? But men don't do this shit. Men don't have to do this shit. They don't have to apologize for buying a Rolex. They don't have to do that. They don't have to show you that they donated this amount of money or that they gave this amount of money away to somebody in need. They don't have to do that shit.
I wanted to also ask you about your big thing is women need to invest. They need to invest early. Roth IRA, 401k, index funds, mutual funds, you need to be in the stock market. And at the same time, a lot of the big companies out there, like if you were to invest in S&P 500 index, those big companies are not all...
Not all roses and puppies? Yeah.
Right, right. It's definitely upholding the status quo, a lot of it. And I know we're speaking in very broad strokes, but there's one argument for, "Okay, so you need to just play the game, and you need to be part of the system because if you don't, you're going to be left behind. And you alone can't change everything." And at the same time, there's an argument for, "Burn it down. This capitalist system is a result of the system that we have." And so where do you draw the line of reconciling, you need to not get left behind, but at the same time, if you buy into this, you are buying into the system.
Okay. Again, we're going to peel back, layer by layer here, at this onion. I'm writing a book right now. My manuscripts actually do April 1st. And literally my introduction is basically answering the question you just posed to me, which really at the heart is, can financial feminism exist under capitalism? And the answer's no. True feminism, true equality of course cannot exist under capitalism.
I do not like capitalism. I do not support it. I do want it. However, this is the system that currently exists. And you have to figure out how to pay your rent. And you have to figure out how to take care of yourself. And you have to figure out how to buy groceries. And while you're figuring out how to buy groceries and figuring out how to save money and figuring out how to navigate this capitalist, we can work to burn it down. We can work to change the very system that we exist in.
And it's not a perfect solution, but frankly, I think it's the only solution we have, is try our best to do the least harm possible. Because whether we do like it or not, we have to play the game in order to survive. And that's what I believe financial feminism is, is putting your oxygen mask on first so that you can then help others.
And I am okay playing the game if it means that I get to grow my wealth and then go do good things with it. I am okay in this instance, in investing in potentially companies that I don't love or whose actions I don't agree with, I'm okay actually going in there and profiting off of these terrible companies and then doing things that they would absolutely hate, like supporting candidates that they wouldn't or supporting policies that they wouldn't, or giving money to people who really fucking need it. But again, that's of course not a perfect solution either, and I don't judge somebody who disagrees and chooses to make a different decision.
Yeah, no, it's hard because the standard advice is, "First of all, be in a diversified 401k, whatever." And if you are, that probably means that you're invested in Amazon, et cetera, right? So-
It a hundred percent does. You're not avoiding Amazon if you're... Yeah, if you're looking at performance, you're not avoiding Amazon. You're not.
Right. So it feels like there's no getting around it, unless of course you want to just opt out or very specifically choose your stocks. But then again, that would mean that you're researching stocks all day. So I don't know.
What do you indulge in financially?
Well, I did drive here in a Camaro, and that was a fun... I'm renting a top-down Camaro. They gave me an option of a Camaro or a Mustang, and I chose wrong, let me tell you. But it's very fun because it brings me a lot of joy, and it's really fun. So I think the big things I indulge in are travel and experiences. I've been doing the digital nomad thing for a while, and that's been really fun. And getting to live in different places and getting to experience life in different places has been the thing I indulge in.
Tori Dunlap, this has been such a pleasure. It's so fun talking to you.
Thank you. Thank you for asking just really beautiful, thoughtful questions and holding space for me, even when I didn't have an answer for you. And I just really appreciate it. Thank you.
Other People's Pockets is written and hosted by me, Maya Lau. It's produced by me, along with Joy Sanford and Dan Gallucci, production help by Angela Vane. Our mix engineer is Dan Gallucci. Our executive producers are me, Maya Lau, along with Jane Marie and Dan Gallucci. A special thanks to being full-time self-employed. Other People's Pockets is a production of Pushkin Industries. If you love this show, consider subscribing to Pushkin+, offering bonus content and ad-free listening across our network for $4 and 99 cents a month. Look for the Pushkin Plus channel on Apple Podcasts or at pushkin.fm. To find more Pushkin podcasts, listen on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. You can sign up for Pushkin newsletters at pushkin.fm.