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We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet.
This week, we spoke with John Rondi Jr. Alongside his dad, John Rondi Sr., Rondi spearheads JohnnyDrinks—a father-son content creation duo with over 4 million followers across TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
JohnnyDrinks got started, like many social media sensations, during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rondi told Passionfruit he was bored at home and on a whim decided to throw together a video of his dad making a cocktail. He added some Frank Sinatra music and posted it to TikTok, an app he knew little about at the time. To his surprise, the video went viral, getting tens of thousands of views.
Despite neither side of the father-son duo having any bartending experience, Rondi discovered viewers loved the father-son dynamic and his dad’s passion for being a good host. This led the family to post more cocktail creation videos and also expand into “fatherly advice” content.
Today, JohnnyDrinks has grown into a large brand across multiple social media platforms, launched its own liquor and merch products, and partnered with large brands—including eBay, Chubbies, Bright Cellars, and Manscaped.
As his son spearheads a career in the media world, John Rondi Sr. told Passionfruit he is glad to know his son is taking advantage of JohnnyDrinks’ viral success.
“It’s been nothing short of a gift working with my son. Social media found us, and, in turn, we found a way to celebrate our relationship, as well the dynamic of our family. Working with one another continues to bring much success, greater than anything I’ve expected. To be in such a close proximity, watching, listening, and learning from John is very satisfying,” John Rondi Sr. said.
In an interview with Passionfruit, John Rondi Jr. discussed the success of the father-son dynamic on TikTok, the pros and cons of working with family, advice for responding to negative feedback online, the future of JohnnyDrinks, and more.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
When did you first start making videos together?
We started this page about 2 and half years ago, I guess it was like February 2020, so right before quarantine hit. My dad was making a Manhattan cocktail. At this point, I didn’t know much about cocktail making, I was kind of fresh out of college so I thought it looked pretty cool and threw some Frank Sinatra in the background and figured I’d post this thing on an app I had on my phone for literally a week. We didn’t know much about it.
I’m checking my phone at dinner, and this video is going (what I thought) was viral, right? It had like 20,000 views at the time. And I was like, this is crazy. So I checked the next day, it’s doing well, it has a couple million views. And then quarantine hits with nothing else to do, so my dad and I were like, “Screw it, let’s just keep making cocktails.”
It worked really well… but we identified the fact that: the cocktail stuff was cool, but people really stayed to watch the father-son dynamic. So we started to do more stuff like fatherly advice. “Hey dad, how do I tie a tie or shine a shoe?”… We expanded our brand and diversified a little more.
Fast forward 2.5 years, and we have 2.6 million followers on TikTok, we have a little over 1 million on YouTube, I think we have 40,000 on Instagram… The most ironic part is we’re “JohnnyDrinks” but neither of us have bartending experience. My dad just likes to make a good cocktail and likes to be a host.
How do you both come up with video ideas together?
You can only make so many cocktails, right?
We realized that it wasn’t as much about the cocktail, it was more about the entertainment factors. We’ll make one cocktail one way, the video does decent, we do it a different way, the video does really well. So what are those reasons why?
Now I’m trying to identify: How do I do an intro? Do I intro by throwing him something, do I intro it by waking him up, do I intro it by asking him a question? …I guess nowadays, I kind of let the brands that we’re working with determine the type of content. So if it’s a liquor brand—whether it’s a tequila, a vodka—now we know what kind of cocktail to make, and let’s get creative about how to go about making it… I try to sit in the other seat and say, “If I was watching this video, what would hook me, what would catch me, what would keep me watching?”
How do you choose brands to work with? Are there certain positive qualities you look for or red flags you look out for?
A couple things that I look for are, number 1: a brand that is going to level up our branding… Because it is an extension of you, and if you become that ad-heavy page you’re going to lose your audience very quickly.
If I’m promoting something, and we say, “Hey, go buy this tequila” and the tequila sucks or whatever it may be, you’ve lost that credibility… We make sure we like the product we’re actually using—my dad’s really big on that. He will not promote stuff that he doesn’t believe in.
A red flag is always a brand that tries to write the script for the creator. They’re very strict about what you have to say, what you can’t say. I’m not saying there aren’t guidelines you have to follow, but it ruins the content and it ruins the brand when you sound like a robot.
Is there a moment where you realized your videos were starting to create real business opportunities, or was it something that was always in the back of your mind as a possibility?
The funny part is I’ve always been intrigued by the creator and content creation space, and I always knew how much opportunity there was to make a business out of your brand. That’s what excited me. But I never had a niche of my own, so when I found out my dad’s character and our dynamic online was really working, it was very early that I knew it was going to be something special.
It wasn’t day one that I said, “Let’s just start making money,” because I do [think] there’s a pace to this stuff. If you have 10,000 followers, and you’re already trying to take brand deals, it’s not worth the $50 you’re going to get paid to now start running ads and lose the ability to grow in a short period of time. So I think we took it day by day, and we said, “Let’s take brand deals as they come but let’s make sure they make a lot of sense.”
Are there any challenges you face separating your family life and your working life now that you have a career alongside your dad?
I’m actually moving out next month, so I still do live with him, which honestly I think makes it a little bit harder because there is no difference between real life and this business we’re running. When we’re sitting at family dinner, it’s natural—we tell ourselves we’re not going to do it, but it comes up. And now if we’re arguing about something that bled into real life, it’s not a good situation… [But] we’re not going to let a little argument get in the way… We’ll take a breather, get back into place and do what we have to do.
I think the cons of working with your family are actually a part of the pros too. Yeah, we’ll be quick to argue and be not afraid to speak our minds. Sometimes if you’re working with someone outside of the family, you will, but we don’t bite our tongues. Sometimes you need to be really honest with who you’re working with, and I love that. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
What’s it like having so much online attention? Do you and your dad read the comments?
To say it doesn’t bother us would be a lie, it does bother us when it’s very very negative and very stabbing to who we are as people… At the same time, I do take feedback very well, so if [somebody] is being mean but there is an underlying message to what they said, like: “You made the cocktail wrong” and they follow that with “You’re an idiot you shouldn’t make content.” I won’t listen to that last part, but I will take notes and my dad will take notes. We’ll say, “We made that cocktail wrong and let’s make sure we don’t make that same mistake again.”
So I think you should listen, to an extent, to what people are saying, because they’re the most honest people. And they are the reason you are where you are. Learn from that feedback, whether it is good or bad… Try to twist it into a positive. I’ll actually comment back and be like, “Oh I never thought about it like that, thank you for bringing that up to us.” And almost 99% of the time they’ll either not reply or reply positively.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges creators are facing today?
The saturation of TikTok is ridiculous. Six months ago, if you did the exact same video, it would have been seen by millions of people and now it’s getting seen by nobody… Creators hold themselves to the standard of: “I used to get 1 million views, now I’m getting 100,000, I must be dumb, people don’t care about me anymore.” That’s most likely not the case.
Focus on the input and less about the output… Take a step back, watch your own content. Did you watch the whole thing? If you stop 5 seconds in, maybe you’re making shitty content. Maybe you’ve got very bored, and now it is becoming a job, so you don’t like doing it anymore and your content shows it… I would get a very tight knit community around you, people to act as a sounding board and say, “Hey, what’d you like about this video?” And let them be honest.
The biggest challenge is just staying very consistent. People are looking to make the perfect video, [but] if the perfect video requires you to post once a week versus a good video seven times a week, go seven times a week. Don’t wait and lose out on opportunities to win the lottery—which would be getting on the “For You” page—just because you don’t think your idea is good enough. It doesn’t mean you should put out shitty content, it just means don’t sit on the sidelines, you can’t score.
What do you like and dislike about TikTok?
The lack of transparency is what people don’t like… I don’t think any [platform] really does a great job with giving feedback. Because think about it, there’s so many people that are reaching out and asking why your content got banned.
It’s a very trendy app. People will gain a massive following overnight… But, let me try to go sell something, let me sell some merchandise, and nobody buys it because your content is very trendy. They don’t want to see you sell merchandise, they want to see you do your little dance or funny skit. Numbers are very inflated nowadays and people think they’re more valuable than they are.
When you find your niche, really try to provide something valuable to people. If you’re funny, create really really funny content with the intention of, whatever it may be. Maybe getting on a real TV show, or collaborating with somebody pretty important, or Netflix. You have to have a bigger goal in mind, you can’t expect to make a business on 20 to 30 second videos if it is in a very trendy niche.
How do you think TikTok differs from other platforms like YouTube and Instagram, and how do you decide what content will be best for each platform?
I’ve noticed that good content is good content. If it does well on one platform, it does well on the other ones… It almost never happens where I get a really good video on one platform and it doesn’t do well on the other one, something must have happened if that’s the case… I think there are a little bit of differences, people on Instagram are expecting things a little differently than TikTok or YouTube, but overall good content is good content.
You’ve grown your audience substantially, some people might think you’ve “made it.” But at this point, what are some of your current goals?
That’s the funniest part too. You’re chasing the carrot in front of you, it’ll never be “you’ve made it”… It’s kind of just how you look at it. Now you’ve hit 2.5 million, well there’s people that have 25 million… But I do take a step back and appreciate what we’ve built, because that’s super important to do. If you don’t, you get very lost. That’s what is the demise of a creator: if you don’t realize how special it is that you have it, you may get really upset and depressed about your situation and you stop.
I don’t believe in an end goal, but I’m always looking to create a brand that is bigger than “JohnnyDrinks.” Whether that’s a liquor brand, or a bar franchise, or a lounge, or an agency—whatever that looks like, I’m right now trying to do as much as I can without spreading ourselves too thin just to see what hits.
We launched a single-barrel bourbon two weeks ago and we sold out overnight pretty much. So that was a very good tell for us to say, “Okay, we can sell something online at a pretty high price point that’s in the liquor space.” So now that’s a rinse and repeat process… I want to become bigger than the platforms I’m on. We want to be known as more than, “Hey, those are the TikTokers that make the fun cocktails.”
Thank you, JohnnyDrinks, for talking with us!
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