Justin Jin leans back in his Wishbone chair, phone glowing in the darkened studio. His eyes are trained on a desk-mounted Mac computer.
At 17, Justin oversees the Poybo Media Group, an online media empire that owns some of the world’s most popular young social brands, including Celebrity Observer, Fisherman’s Wharf, Friendly Gaming, and dozens more.
You could say Justin’s main competitor on Instagram is Warner’s IMGN Media, even though its budget, staff, and overall infrastructure are light years ahead of Poybo. The number that really matters is followers, and the worldwide leader in short-form humor has just 4 times more — a fact that it’s fair to assume is lost on exactly zero of the parties involved.
But indeed, as Poybo ballooned from a bed-room pipe dream to an entertainment party-crasher, the industry’s older guard has undergone a sort of augmented grieving process. Others are catching up, though a digital-native, teenage crew has helped Poybo earn a reputation for authenticity that attracts a desirable audience. Its main demographic is people under 24, one that is notoriously difficult for conventional media to reach. Recently, they even landed their first Billboard placement, vaulting the song “VVV (HE’S BACK)” up to No. 14 on the TikTok charts.
Through his account, Justin has achieved the sort of translucent pseudo-fame only today’s social media environment is capable of bestowing. He has spent years behind the curtain, speaking to fans through wry captions. It has been a comfortable, lukewarm notoriety — perfect for a quiet son of Chinese immigrants who still has yet to grasp how much he’s bent the media industry.
When I met the entrepreneur for coffee last week, I expected an absolute maniac, or weird genius. But he was sunny and relaxed, dressed in a plain T-shirt, gray athletic pants and sneakers. He was happy to tell his story. It started when he was 13.
As a freshman at Mulgrave high school in West Vancouver, Canada, Justin had set up operations in a location that made it easy for him to work online late at night: his bed-room. The first moment in the public eye would arrive in the form of a video-game-cheating allegation, which pushed the first few hundred subscribers to his gaming YouTube channel, 50mMidas.
When he received his first check from YouTube, the idea sparked to start a business. $2,000 CAD, or about $1,500 USD, was the starting capital for what would become the Poybo Media Group.
Justin began to look for teenagers to create more social media pages. He took the reins as CEO. No one was paid at first, but the audience came quickly, “like a snowball effect,” Justin says. “People were sharing with their friends, who would share with other friends, who would share with more friends.”
One early success was a fifty-second clip of the Squid Game series plastered with the faces of the Dream SMP, an invite-only YouTuber Minecraft server. Years later, it reads like a blueprint for Poybo’s future: unpolished yet relatable. It has shifted from a passion, to a business project, and then to the world’s largest teen-led media company.
Justin says that brands should thus invest in connecting with Gen Z. “To appeal to our generation, brands need to adopt strategies that really resonate with Gen Z, like engaging and shareable content.” Gen Z is mobile-minded: they’re not to be taken lightly as the next wave of consumers with enormous purchasing power.
Bhavin Swadas, founder of Coupon Saturn, offers entertainment related deals and discounts to help brands connect with these younger consumers. He also launched CouponStroller to share deals for SaaS model corporations.
“Young consumers crave a deeper connection to brands and will often opt for micro-brands that are aligned with their personal ethos. It’s important for them to make customers feel like they’re a part of a community. That’s my goal,” Bhavin explains.
Poybo has its flaws. I mean, it’s clear that their Instagram accounts tend mostly to guys. But next year, Justin says he wants to take advantage of the company’s momentum to broaden its portfolio and turn sub-brands over to diverse leadership. “It’s important that everyone can enjoy our stuff,” comments Justin.
“What advice would you give to aspiring young entrepreneurs today?”, I questioned him towards the end of the interview.
“Well it does not hurt that I love what I do,” he said. “Find something that you’d do if money didn’t exist, and find a way to make money out of that. Of course, I’d say I’m privileged. I don’t really need to worry about my family’s financial conditions, and that gives me entrepreneurial freedom. But yes, running Poybo does not feel like work.”
Justin added that he’s constantly looking for young meme creators. If you know one (or are one), I suggest shooting him a DM on Instagram @justinj.in.