In one of Tori Dunlap’s most popular TikTok videos, she calls out her male University of Portland classmates who never thought she’d be this successful.
“To all the finance bros at my college — this one’s for you,” the video caption reads. “What are you going to do with a *theatre* degree?
For a moment, Dunlap looks thrown by the question. Then she drops the act. She smirks as she points to a list of accomplishments popping onto the screen.
“Become the youngest manager at my company.
“Quit my day job and go full-time entrepreneur.”
At the end of the video, the fingers Dunlap’s been using to point to her various achievements go down. She throws up her two middle fingers instead.
The 26-year-old founder of Her First 100K, a money and career platform for millennial women, currently has 5 million likes on her TikToks as of November 2020. She credits being a communication and theater major with teaching her both how to be a good storyteller and deal with setbacks.
“For theater, it’s like you’re hearing 99 ‘no’s to one ‘yes,’” Dunlap said over a video call from her home in Seattle. “So you’re constantly going in and trying to pitch yourself or pitch who you are — your story or your talents — and then also being OK with hearing ‘no.’ I think that that’s a lot of what theater taught me, putting yourself out there and sometimes getting turned down, and getting back up and doing the thing anyway.”
After graduating in 2016, she moved back to her home state of Washington to be a social media marketing manager. Within two weeks, she knew the 9-to-5 life wasn’t for her.
So, she started a side hustle. She founded Her First 100K, a website dedicated to helping women become financially independent. The name reflected her personal goal of saving $100,000 by the time she was 25. Technically, she reached that goal when she was 25 years and 3 months old.
How She Became an Entrepreneur at 9
Dunlap started her first business when she was 9. At the suggestion of her money-conscious dad, she started purchasing candy vending machines. She had 15 machines by the time she was in high school. All the proceeds went to her college fund, which is part of the reason she doesn’t have any student loan debt. After 11 years, she sold that business to a 10-year-old girl.
Her journey to save $100,000 was her next biggest financial milestone, but a much more complicated one. She found a new job and negotiated a salary that was $20,000 higher. It seemed less than perfect, but she got more money. But the extra money turned out not to be worth it.
“I had a boss who was not very supportive,” Dunlap said. “It was just really a toxic work environment, so I ended up having to quit after only 10 weeks without another job lined up, and then I spent three months unemployed looking for my next job.”
For the next three months, Dunlap had no idea if she’d make her $100,000 goal. She lived off her emergency fund and wasn’t sure how long she’d have to stretch it for. The anxiety was worth it. She learned that loving life was worth more than a $20,000 raise.
Dunlap eventually found work as a digital marketing manager. But in November 2019, she left her day job to focus on Her First 100K. In her first eight months of full-time entrepreneurship, the venture made $250,000 in revenue.
How She Became a TikTok Money Expert
Dunlap’s audience finds her via seven digital platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Pinterest, LinkedIn and her website. Her favorite platform — and the one she’s found the most success on — is Instagram, but in mid-July, she decided to make her personal TikTok account into a space for sharing her best money and career tips.
With video titles such as “Things you should NEVER do in a job interview” and “How I made $37K in July working four hours a day,” Dunlap amassed 400,000 followers and earned $60,000 in revenue on TikTok in six weeks.
Dunlap is a marketing professional, not a financial adviser, so it’s fair to wonder how she can call herself a “money expert” on TikTok. She said it all stems from growing up with a dad who used to renegotiate the family’s cable bill every six weeks.
“I got a masterclass from my dad,” Dunlap said. “I watched him do that and I wanted to feel confident doing that… I say to my clients that negotiation is a muscle. So the more that you can do it, the more confident you’re going to feel.”
One of the best moves she made early on was using the app’s live function to answer people’s questions. That was a simple way, she found, to build trust and credibility through direct communication. In addition to answering basic personal finance questions, she’s then used the app to promote her online courses so people can learn more. She has affiliate partners that have started to switch over to TikTok as well, so she’s excited about future monetization possibilities.
Dunlap also follows TikTokers who aren’t in the personal finance space and are doing interesting things with trends. Then, she’ll “kind of do that trend, but with the personal finance spin on it.” She does this most often with sounds that go viral on TikTok, such as a “Stop Complaining” remix of Ariana Grande’s “Successful” that she used in a video as a dig at money management expert Dave Ramsey.
Her best advice for anyone interested in making money off their TikTok is to watch plenty of videos first. “I understood what worked and what didn’t just because of what I consumed,” she said. “So I didn’t just dive in.” She’s also learned that just like on Instagram, hashtags are huge on TikTok — especially when you’re first getting started. She recommends researching hashtags and then testing them until something sticks.
Dunlap gets her fair share of haters. “I posted a video that apparently people did not like,” she said. “I was just wearing a dress and I didn’t have a bra on and people roasted me for it. People really were like, ‘You show too much cleavage’ or ‘You don’t have enough cleavage to show,’ just objectifying my body. So it’s a constant battle.”
But Dunlap knows she’s providing value to people. “I know because I get messages literally every day from women saying I’m changing their lives,” she said. “So that’s what I focus on.”
Niki Kottmann is a contributor to Codetic.