“Influencer marketing” is not new, from celebrity spokespeople to sponsored content and product placements to affiliate marketing deals. Businesses have long been tapping into the sway of individual brands and content to build credibility, attract demand, and grow bottom lines.
In the past few years, “influencer” marketing and selling has become more accessible to a wide range of content creators and consumers, and has become more powerful in building brands and businesses. Globally, influencer marketing has more than doubled since 2019, was valued at $13.8 billion in 2021 and is projected to expand to a $16.4 billion industry within the next year. Charli D’Amelio, the highest-earning TikTok star, earned $17.5 million last year—significantly higher than the $13.4 million median income of chief executives at S&P 500 companies. Many content creators and influencers are also capitalizing off their own influence and marketing clout, and are going beyond pushing others’ products and joining the Entrepreneur Economy by building their own branded products, primarily through ecommerce channels. These are digital-first businesses, which in a recent Alibaba.com survey of more than 2,400 small and mid-sized companies, found reported higher levels of optimism than their offline peers, bolstered by stronger sales performance, larger anticipated investments and more global exports. One example of a content creator turned new digital entrepreneur is Loren Gray, who has over 22 million who follow her career and posts on Instagram, which led her to launch her &always brand and product lines. She takes fan input on what products she launches and inspires other Gen Z entrepreneurs. 
In fact, influence-preneurship might be an opportunity uniquely suited for women creators and entrepreneurs. Today, women make up the majority of the influencer community across fashion, technology, food, and travel. In 2019, approximately 84% of all social media influencers were women (vs. 16% men). Why? Because influence is built on empathy. Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to win friends and influence people,” laid out tips on bringing others to your point of view. These tips include being genuinely interested in the other person, showing respect, being a good listener, and speaking in terms of the other person’s interest — in short, being empathetic. And being empathetic is certainly a skill that women have come to hone.
I recently met an inspiring woman influence-preneur and one of the 50 recipients of the first-ever Alibaba.com Grants Program, Ada Rojas—founder of Vecina Couture, a Chicago- and New York-based luxury loungewear company. Ada’s influencer journey began when the Bronx native started blogging in college. She established herself as a voice for Afro-LatinX in the beauty and hair space. Her growing online community ultimately opened doors to collaboration with brands, and ultimately led her to Chicago to co-create Botanika Beauty, one of the first products for women with curly hair to reach major retailers. With the success of this company, Ada knew she had found strength as both an influencer and entrepreneur. And before long her next big idea struck: she occasionally posted content addressing her tens of thousands of followers in her favorite robes and coffee mug - which unintentionally became her aesthetic - and her followers would ask her about her robes. Ada realized she had influenced a product without even trying, so she started her own luxury brand of robes, Vecina Couture.
As a first-generation entrepreneur, Ada uses her platform as an influencer to not only further her brand but to also uplift her community and help them tap into potential opportunities. Her passion for serving her community led her to creating group coaching programs for aspiring entrepreneurs where she shares her experiences of building a brand.
Just as the Entrepreneur Economy is made possible by digitization, social media platforms, globalization and new content formats are making influence-preneurship possible and impactful. I’m excited to watch this space, and to see more women influence-penuers like Ada build strong communities and businesses through their unique abilities to empathize, build trust, and influence.


Erica Chan