The fact that you’re reading this article means that you likely already know who TJ Hunt is. No, it hasn’t reached the point where he is a widely familiar household name (yet), so don’t feel bad if you never once heard of the guy. But let’s be honest here – he’s already achieved rockstar status in the automotive world, so there’s a really good chance that you’ve stumbled across at least one of his videos on YouTube in the past two years.
The most interesting thing about TJ (at least in my opinion) is how viral his YouTube channel went between 2016 and 2018. Heck, even now, his channel is still growing at a rate of 2100 subscribers per day with an estimated projection to reach 5 million subscribers by 2023. More than anything, I find it to be downright impressive how fast he went from 10,000 subscribers to 1.9 million (and growing).
Not only that, his estimated $2.5 million net worth (as calculated by the size of his company, the amount of merchandise he sells, the number of views his videos get, and the number of people he employs) makes him one of the most financially successful automotive influencers to date.
Having been a loyal TJ Hunt subscriber for years, I’ve got a few theories as to how we as able to become so successful in such a short amount of time…
His YouTube channel has always been about him and his friends (and not just him)
Whenever I think of TJ Hunt, I think of Calvin. Sabrina. And Kevin. And countless other people who have have made regular appearances on his YouTube channel over the years. TJ is a very social guy who enjoys being around other people, and he has always made it a point to include his friends in the content he creates.
Even when looking back at some of his earliest uploads, it was extremely rare to see him all by himself for the majority of the video. He’s an extremely social content creator.
This tendency to be social on camera is something that I believe is one of TJ Hunt’s biggest reasons for success. Think about it. What is more interesting and engaging to a viewer? One guy explaining how to install an exhaust system on a car, or a group of guys goofing off and having fun doing it together?
The commerodery between TJ and his friends is juvenile, but real. Chances are really good that I never would have clicked on a how-to video explaining how to put widebody fenders on a BRZ if it wasn’t one of TJ’s.
I’m just an old guy who has absolutely zero interest in Rocket Bunny aero kits and obnoxious widebody fender mods as a whole, but TJ Hunt and his crew fumbling around and insulting each other as they figure out how to do it themselves makes it something I want to watch.
TJ Hunt doesn’t hide the fact that he has no clue what he’s doing
In an age where perfection on social media (and the desire to appear like we all have our **** together) is the norm, TJ has always made it a point to be honest and real with his audience – all the way back to when the BRZ was his primary project car.
Every install video he creates usually begins with him explaining that he has no idea what the hell he is doing and that he’s going to be figuring it out as he goes. These videos are (usually) highly entertaining and much more interesting than watching someone with a dry personality who does every step perfectly and by the book.
Compare that with most other wanna-be YouTubers who feel like they have no business starting a channel of their own because they aren’t an “expert” in their field.
TJ simply followed his passion and dove in head first not worrying about being called out as a “fake”. He embraces the fact that he doesn’t know anything, and he enjoys shows the process of learning how to work on cars with his buddies.
Pretending to be someone I’m not is what hurt me with the growth of my own Youtube channel. TJ and I started out with exactly the same levels of experience (none), but I tried to appear like an expert right from the get-go while he approached his channel as a platform to inspire others to embrace their imperfections.
TJ Hunt has built several successful companies outside of YouTube
I can’t help but to cringe when I see other popular YouTubers focus on video uploads and nothing else. How many times in the past have we seen popular social media networks die or change focus altogether?
Basing an entire career on a platform you have absolutely zero control over is living life on the edge in my opinion. It’s absolutely necessary to diversify to prevent waking up one morning and realizing everything you worked so hard for is gone. Just ask some of the most popular creators on Vine what happened when that platform bit the dust.
Here is what TJ has got going on:
1. Hunt and Company
TJ created “Hunt and Company” very early on in his YouTube career as a way to sell branded merchandise such as T-shirts and hats. It was a very clever name IMHO, as the “company” part represented his fiends that were always around him and an integral part of his business.
He also mentioned that it was also a reference to his fan base which had been supporting him along the way. After all, he would have never become as successful as he has if it wasn’t for the support of his raving fans.
As the TJ Hunt YouTube channel grew, revenue from merchandise sales were reportedly outpacing the ad revenue he was earning from his videos. By 2016, it was a legitimate business pulling in six-figure annual sales numbers – which is impressive for a 20 year old kid making videos about goofing around with cars.
Expanding into the world of aftermarket car parts
While most kids his age wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of money (and how to continuously maintain those sales numbers over the long term), TJ decided to go all-in on the business and expand. Quite massively as a matter of fact, in a way unlike no other automotive YouTuber ever has. He expanded on the idea of branded merchandise and started selling car parts as well.
Making the decision to transition Hunt and Company from just a clothing line to an online car parts store (for the tuner crowd) was genius. It was also a huge gamble, which required the need to hire a team of employees for duties such as warehouseing, customer service, and website maintenance. However, using the power of his status as an influencer to get the business off the ground enabled him to get the next iteration of Hunt and Company up and running (and profitable) in a very short amount of time.
Long story short, he sold the parts business off to his buddies at Throtl, but has retained partial ownership.
2. Street Hunter Designs
In 2019, TJ began a partnership with a designer (and another business partner) to design, manufacture, and sell custom body kits for a variety of cars. Appropriately named Street Hunter Designs, their first kit was for the Mark V Toyota Supra. A full kit for the C8 Corvette came shortly thereafter.
Strategic collaborations and meetups made all the difference
When it came to building his YouTube channel, TJ Hunt did all the right things at exactly the right time. He resisted the urge to make his content all about himself. He was honest and up front about not having an automotive background, and made it a point to learn as he goes. Most importantly, he engaged directly with his audience and collaborated with all the right people.
Think about how amazing it would be to have the opportunity to visit and talk to your biggest idols. Chances are that it would be a life changing experience that would cause you to become an even bigger fan of that person than you alredy were.
Seeing them in the flesh, speaking to them, realizing that they are a normal human being just like you are – there’s no doubt that it would leave one heck of an impact on most anyone.
TJ realized this, and he made it a point to offer his fans the opportunity to meet him though regular events. By giving his fans regular access to him, it made him more aware of what kind of people watch his videos – which ultimately led to him using that information to decide how to structure his content. He was (and still is) giving his viewers what they are asking for.
I personally met TJ once (right outside of his shop here in San Diego). I was riding by on my bike as he was unloading his 350Z drift car off the trailer. I introduced myself, and we talked about the Z for a moment. TJ is a really nice guy in person!
They say that one of the fastest ways to grow a YouTube channel is by collaborating with other YouTubers. TJ Hunt’s natural tendency to include others in his videos made him a natural at this, and I believe that he wouldn’t have had as much success as he did if It weren’t for the fact that he put himself out there in front of audiences other than his own.
TJ and Adam LZ are very close friends, so it was natural for the two to collaborate as often as they could. Another extremely beneficial series of collaborations for TJ was with Tanner Fox – the super-hyper scooter-rider turned car guy from San Diego who had a very similar type of audience demographic that easily latched onto TJ.
Collaborating with big corporations has also been extremely beneficial for TJ. For example, his partnership with Edelbrock Performance (to supercharge the BRZ) in 2016 allowed him to do the most significant modification to his car at the time with no direct cost to him. All he had to do was make a few videos explaining the process while talking good things about Edelbrock (who in turn benefitted greatly as well from the massive exposure).
Fallout with smurfinwrx
I will note that not all collaborations ended well for TJ though. He was a business partner with smurfinwrx (who was responsible for producing all Hunt and Company merchandise), and their relationship went bad when TJ decided to break the deal and go off on his own.
He was eventually sued by smurfinwrx (allegedly at least) for breaking a contract, but it was never publicly revealed how the dispute ended. TJ Hunt is still operating his company as “Hunt and Company”, so it’s safe to assume they settled out of court.
The “keep moving forward” tag line
Although I have never personally felt inspired by TJ (outside of business-related stuff) a quick glance at the comment section of every video reveals that he is a huge inspiration to a vast majority of his fans and followers.
“Keep moving forward” is the signature TJ Hunt tagline vocalized at the end of every video, and it has truly struck a chord with his audience.
Although there is little doubt that his inspiring words of motivation is part of what has made him so successful, I’ll admit that I don’t feel any depth and emotion (or motivation) from it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s an empty statement coming from someone as so privileged as TJ is.
After all, he grew up in a very wealthy family, he drove a BMW through high school, and he’s lived in San Diego his entire life for crying out loud. Yes, his mother has been struggling with serious medical issues for most of his life, but other than that, TJ Hunt doesn’t have much to complain about.
Maybe it’s the way he says “keep…moving…forward” in a sad way to amplify the rich white boy struggles he faces every day (lol), but I’m of the opinion that there are far better role models out there. Whether or not I agree with how genuine and motivational the “keep moving forward” thing is, there is little doubt about how much of an impact it has made on the success of his YouTube channel.
While there was admittedly a certain amount of luck that led to the smashing success of TJ Hunt and his business, most of it was achieved through good old-fashioned hard work and a massive desire to succeed.
I was skeptical of TJ in the beginning, thinking that there was no way possible for him to ever become as successful as he has. But he keeps proving me wrong time and again and it’s going to be interesting to see where this kid ends up in the next 10 to 20 years.
Keep moving forward, people!