Out of the many content houses that have appeared over the years in our social media age, few remain. Many chased the ‘ghost’ of 1600 Vine. Team 10 came closest to surpassing it. Arguably, only one went the distance.
Out of those still standing, only one has been able to grace the screens of our TVs and handheld devices.
The dominant, fabled TikTok content creator house boasts over 19.9M followers on the ascendant social media platform and 5.5M on Instagram, and counts Charli and Dixie D’Amelio, Addison Rae, Chase Hudson among its alums. The current members include Sam Dezz, Brooke Monk, Jake Hayward, Jack Wright, Vinnie Hacker, Mia Hayward, Tabitha Swatosh and Thomas Petrou. Petrou, one of the original cofounders of the Hype House, spills the tea on what’s next to come in the newest iteration of the content house.
Frederick Daso: I want to start with your journey that led you into the social media world. You originally dropped out of NYU as a mechanical engineering major. What from there drove you to become a social media influencer?
Thomas Petrou: I started posting on Vine when I was 12 or 13. I built a decent following on an account that I started with my cousin but ultimately got in trouble. We got the whole account deleted by Vine. I have always wanted to do social media. That was the start for me. When I was 16, I started making vlogs on YouTube, and Casey Neistat heavily inspired me. My first vlogs were very cinematic and very like eight to 10 minutes. I decided to start daily vlogging when I was 17. I did that for over three years. Up until NYU, I was daily vlogging my entire senior year, and I was going to start earlier, but I had a really bad hand accident.
I waited till I recovered. I started on January 1st, 2016, and I vlogged for over three years. I think I got to like three years of everyday posting and editing. I tracked applying for every college, getting denied from every college except for NYU. I captured dropping my whole life and moving to New York. I filmed dropping out of college and coming to LA instead of going back home to San Diego. I stayed on my cousin’s couch while I figured stuff out. I was filming every day, just trying to give hope for something and all that led to this. I ended up meeting Jake [Paul] at that camera shop, and that’s just like started my little jump in this business.
Daso: By the time you met Jake, how long were you vlogging at that point?
Petrou: I met him a year and a half into it.
Daso: Got it. How did making that long-form content for that time shape the way that you view content creation as a craft?
Petrou: I think it just made me realize how difficult it was. I was doing this every day, and my whole thought process was, if someone else can do it, why can’t I? I told myself that if I put in the work, it’ll pay off. Everyone tells you to keep working, don’t give up, just keep trying. I finally quit vlogging, but I didn’t quit overall. I switched up my format. I tried to go into more of like the reporting like DramaAlert. I was posting roughly three times a week.
I still had a sponsorship that was paying me decently. I would lay at night and think that I could get a sales job, make a good amount of money, and make 20 to 30 grand a month. I knew many people were doing it. I grew up working for my grandfather. He always told me you could sell anything. We used to sell olives at the farmer’s market. We would do the best in the market. We were popular. I was good at sales.
Sometimes I would think, ‘Why don’t I just quit and do this?’ I’m sure I can make more money. But I wanted to do social. I learned a lot about just like persistence, not giving up, and trying to adjust. I saw the Tik Tokers just getting started. I knew I could guarantee to help these kids go big, bigger than the Musical.ly kids. I got into that scene and started hanging out with them. I was like, I just like, let me help you. Let’s do something. And that’s when the Hype House began.
Daso: Before we get into the Hype House itself, a really important point that not many people pick up on is the fact that you spent time with Jake Paul and Team 10. Your experience there, I believe, helped shape what the Hype House would become.
Petrou: One hundred percent. He was a huge influence on me. Funny enough, I got a lot of amazing things from wanting to do what Jake did and wanting to reach that level of success. I got a lot of the bad things that I didn’t expect. It’s funny now because I see so many kids that come to me, and they’re like, ‘Dude, your life is perfect!’ I respond, ‘No, it’s not!’ I wish you understood the terrible things that come through. People stabbed me in the back, the lawsuits and the problems you deal with when you’re in this industry while striving for that success. I was so naive from that perspective, but I wanted it. This is my dream. And I want to do this.
I learned a lot from Jake, and I always felt like a reason why I made it a lot farther than even a lot of the kids who were a part of Team 10 because I just always appreciated what he did for me regardless of anything. It was a good learning lesson for me. There were times when I thought, ‘Why not me?’ Why doesn’t he want me to be a part of Team 10? I’m a hard worker who outworks the rest of his crew. As time went on, I was grateful for how everything panned out because maybe I wouldn’t be here today. Maybe I would’ve never done this. I soaked up the good parts of the business model that he had and then brought my own.
Daso: Tell me about the good parts versus the bad parts of the Team 10 business model?
Petrou: I don’t know how it worked on the structural end. I never asked those types of questions, but I know there was a percentage taken, and I saw that created a lot of distance between Jake and the other people because he was making the most money. They looked at it as a selfish thing, even though I saw how much value he brought all these people. Seeing that dynamic unfold, I didn’t want to do that. If I ever did this, I want to do a content house one day, but I will keep the percentage thing out of it. The business aspect, I didn’t know what it would be. I didn’t know that we would be able to build a brand name. I didn’t know that I was gonna be able to do everything that I’ve done over the last two years, but I knew for certain that I didn’t want to do a percentage thing.
I want to just be a group of friends living together. That’s what I learned that, because that was his best content to me from my perspective was like just the friendships. And I saw that from Logan [Paul] too. Like whenever I went over to his place, the genuine friendships made the content so much better. I want to keep it real.
Daso: That’s one key portion of it. You chose not to make money by not taking a cut from those within the house. The other side that I also noticed was that there’s no formal management structure. How did that impact the success of Hype House?
Petrou: I think it did both. It held us back, and it propelled us forward. The friendships were always better, which meant the content was always better, which meant that the problems were always the least. There was also the other end of it, such as how do you control a group like us? How do you make sure people come to events on time? How do you make sure that people film content? How do you ensure that they’re doing all the things that make the brand thrive? I’ve learned that I have to offer tremendous value to get others to do those things because there is no contractual obligation. No one has to be here. No one has ever had to be here. What makes someone want to be here is the name is now bringing value to people. The more people we add, the more benefit they get, and suddenly you take someone with a few million followers.
Then come out here. They already had the clout, but then they started getting followed by people in the industry. They start getting picked up by the news in the industry. They’re getting the press that they want. They live in a house, and they get collaborations. I have to build that benefit to get those responses, whereas someone at a management company says, ‘Hey, film this. Hey, do this brand deal. Hey, help with this.’ All the people here don’t have that obligation, but they choose to do it. There were other content houses at the time controlled by management companies where the creators there were forced to do this or that. In addition, I remember hearing about how they were losing 30%, 40% of their money to the management companies, with the best case being 20%.
They were also like being around people that were bringing their reputation down. On top of that, they just like, they were forced to post on YouTube. The videos were terrible because no one is going to post good content when they’re being forced. How do you get people to post willingly? That balance has been difficult for me to find, but I think I’m getting better at it. It takes time.
Daso: You’re trying to find this balance as you go into Hype House 3.0. The fact that there are 3.0 means that there was a 2.0 and 1.0 version. What were those eras, and what did you learn from them?
Petrou: Funny enough. I think we’re kind of on 4.0. The first house was amazing. COVID hit, tore everything apart, and made it a lot more difficult to do anything at the time. A lot of the talent was getting big. They started needing their own teams and all this. This is the part I didn’t think about. I was helping with brand deals in the house here and there. I didn’t know where I wanted to go with the house yet. I knew that I didn’t want to take a cut, but I thought I could make money by bringing deals and taking 10%. Anyone knows that big talents need their own team and such.
As that happened, the first Hype House crashed, and no one noticed it. Our numbers went from 600,000, 700,000, 800,000 likes on Instagram to 200,000 to 300,000. It was a big drop-off fast when COVID hit. That was when like there was drama involved, and there were problems. People needed to separate from the brand to save their own brand. I thought either end it or keep going. I’m not a quitter. I went, and we moved to the second house. I added six members, and we moved to the new house. Our biggest time was that second house. It’s like, that just reminded me that we could do it again.
There were days I thought that it was over. It’s not going to last anymore. We continued to post, grow, and continue to do well but ran into more problems. I said I got to get out of the city. I don’t want to be here anymore. The partying was driving me crazy. The fake people were driving me crazy. I needed to get out. We moved to Santa Rosa out here. That was when life got a lot better. The quality of life went up a lot. I was able to breathe. I was able to like to own the house, not do lawsuits, not deal with problems, and be a lot happier. Fast forward to now, and Alex and Kouvr moved out towards the show’s end. Still, I’ve got to keep going. The whole point of Hype House was to be an incubator to be a place for people to grow and then move on.
That’s hard. I’ve said this on the show too. That’s hard for me as a friend because I lose friends, see people go, and miss them. Despite that, Hype House is doing exactly what it’s supposed to. We were supposed to help people grow and then let them go. That’s the whole brand. You can’t stay so attached. That’s something I’m proud of. I was just talking with a couple of other people here. No one in the comments asks about anyone who was here. That was hard to get to because when Charli and Dixie and Addison left, every comment was ‘Where’s Charli, where’s Addison, where’s Chase?’ That was where it was at. The house slowly kept going by adding new talent.
For example, people hated that Vinnie [Hacker] was here when he moved in. They said Vinnie deserves better than that. Blah, blah. There was somebody out here like he was at like three or 4 million on TikTok. He moved in here, and now people love Vinnie. He’s also grown his audience too. He’s at the 14 million mark. He’s doing incredible. At first, the fans were not very happy to see him here. Now they see how happy he is here. He enjoys life here. And we just continued to add talent. And now, no one comments. There’s not a single comment about any past Hype House member. That’s something I’m super proud of because the whole point of the House is evolving, growing, changing and having new people while helping them with whatever they need.
Vinnie likes having a place to live where he has complete privacy. No one bothers him, especially now. Like no one bothers him at all. He can stream all day. He can work on his career. He can grow, have friends, and do his own thing. That’s what he needs. Tabitha is looking for like a good group of friends and people to film content with. Now she’s getting that brand reputation. She’s already a great creator, but we’re just giving her the things on top of that. Then, she’s adding tremendous value to us. And she’s an amazing friend. Growing is the goal. That’s where we’ve done well.
Daso: Got it. As you go into Hype House 4.0 then, how will you be able to separate your role as the de-facto house management versus being your own individual content creator?
Petrou: I think the two go together. One of my biggest goals is that I’ve always wanted to be a YouTuber. I did that successfully by building a vlog channel. My vlogs are comedic based on the people I’m around. I make the jokes, and I help script scenarios to make them funny. The videos do amazing numbers. People love it, but I’m starting another channel where I only film myself. I’m doing more traditional YouTube content. I love making videos. My favorite thing to do is YouTube. I’m going to build that platform all on my own. I’m just going to post and not care about the views. I want to take being a creator more seriously just by myself.
I hope to get that to a good level of success by doing my own YouTube channel outside of Hype House and anything else. For example, one video could be of me living inside a youth hall for 24 hours. That’s where I could see myself making videos for the next eight to ten years of my life. I want to build that fan base who wants that content.
Daso: That makes a bunch of sense. How will you build longevity into Hype House 4.0, given that many other content houses have been here, but have fallen to the wayside?
Petrou: Finding a good group of people is always the hard part. It has to be a good group of genuine friends. That’s why everyone we add in has to become a part of that family. The vibes have to be good, and people have to be friendly. And it’s hard. It’s hard to find those people, especially out here in LA, but we’ve done it and continue to do that. It’s this house. No one besides me in this house has been here from the beginning. It’s nine people that are here now. The fans are still here watching. Why? Because we’ve been able to bring in new talent. We keep it entertaining. From the beginning, the goal is to have a Hype House audience.