The finance major is looking to change the way personal finance and building wealth is taught to the next generation.
Finance major Jon Melillo ’22 leveraged the popularity of TikTok with his passion for investment to found The Stonk CEOs, a stock investing community for the common man.
Since its founding in December 2020, the brand has amassed 100,000 followers on social network TikTok (@stonkpresidente) and more than 11,000 community members on the Discord platform.
“We educate those who want to learn how to be successful in investing and properly building wealth at a young age to achieve financial freedom,” Melillo explains. “We believe that with conducting good due diligence, doing your own research, and having conviction, we can beat the suits on Wall Street.”
The online community provides education and insights into the financial services industry. “Our team’s goal is to progress you as a trader/investor along the way,” Melillo says. “We provide chart analysis, collaboration, insight, news and much more to help generate new skills for our members.” This Discord community, however, is just the beginning of his plans. Melillo intends to transform The Stonk CEOs into a media conglomerate.
Melillo is the latest person to be featured in a series of Today at Elon profiles highlighting student innovation and entrepreneurship. He recently answered questions from the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business about his venture.
What inspired you to develop The Stonk CEOs?
My entire life I have had a strong passion for personal finance, building wealth and investing in the stock market. My dad is someone who inspired me to take on these interests from the education and his personal insight/experience that he has had growing up. I went from saving money to investing it into the stock market and other alternative assets in high school. Going to Elon, I had the intention of getting a finance and economics degree to become a financial advisor/planner or to work in wealth management. Despite this vision, a big part of me has always believed that I am truly an entrepreneur and never really envisioned myself wanting to work for an employer, but instead work for myself and have my own schedule.
When the coronavirus hit last March, TikTok went parabolic and it seemed like everyone I knew, including myself, was glued to their phones on the social media app while we were all quarantined at home. The TikTok algorithm is something different, where it has a “for you page” (FYP) integrated within it that shows you content that relates to your personal interests. I started getting a lot of personal finance content on my FYP and immediately followed a few creators that relate to me that I enjoyed watching and learning from.
When COVID-19 cases spiked, it caused a nearly 30 percent correction in the S&P 500, one of the fastest pullbacks in the market that I have ever seen in my lifetime. At home I talked to my dad about the markets and we both agreed that this correction we are witnessing may possibly be one of the best opportunities that I will ever see in my life time to invest in the stock market. Some of the best fortunes were made during the Great Depression. During times of fear and uncertainty, people who are willing to take risks are rewarded massively. My mindset was if anyone wants to build wealth and potentially even make a fortune, then the best time to start is now because the next time we see another opportunity this good we will be 50 to 60 years old or older. I took that and not only invested in the stock market, but founded The Stonk CEOs LLC.
Once you came up with the idea, how did you go about creating and launching the brand?
There was a lot of learning along the way. Whether this was designing a brand logo, building our website on Wix, creating/formatting our Discord with all of the proper roles & permissions, or signing up for the LLC and business license, etc. Working 10-plus hour days for an entire month while being a full-time student before even launching our Discord community was needed to get to where we are now.
The majority of our brand’s growth came from TikTok. I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity and did significant research on how the TikTok algorithm works to maximize exposure/engagement. From my eyes, it seemed like TikTok was the fastest platform to scale a following out of any other social media. In just three months, we were able to grow our following from zero to now over 100k followers from posting quality content within our niche. We also now have a team of 10+ creators posting content on TikTok, representing our brand.
Through TikTok we also promoted our investing community on Discord. We now have over 11,000 members within our free Discord and 250+ premium members. Our Discord community of traders and investors are provided with education on our insights about the markets. We specialize in options trading, as well as short and long-term investing. We have 11+ analysts and a “Stonk Support” that offer excellent guidance, properly setting our members on the right path towards financial freedom. Our team’s goal is to progress you as a trader/investor along the way. We provide chart analysis, collaboration, insight, news, and much more to help generate new skills for our members.
What has been the greatest challenge you’ve encountered so far?
My greatest challenge so far is balancing my business with school work. I still spend 10+ hours a day growing my business, trying to make it better every single day, and it has been a huge problem for my school work. Not to mention I run an entirely other business in N.C. My parents have always told me school first, but growing The Stonk CEOs to what I believe it can achieve has been my priority and passion these last four months.
It has been hard to be motivated with my school work with most of my classes being online, but I have been spending most of my days in the Belk Library from noon to midnight getting my school work done and growing my business, attempting to maximize my time management. There have been a lot of things and people I have had to zone out to achieve this, and it has taught me that if you put your mind to ANYTHING you are able to achieve it. You just have to cancel out the noise and put your head down and get to work. Success doesn’t happen overnight.
What has been a key factor in The Stonk CEOs’ success?
Collaboration. Plain and simple. I couldn’t have achieved any of this without my team. My business partner, Alex Johnson, who founded The Stonk CEOs with me is committing himself full-time to achieve our end goal, and has put in just as much work as me, if not more, to get us where we are today. This business began as just the two of us, and now we have a team of over 15+ employees/staff. The Stonk CEOs has an executive leadership team consisting of myself, Alex Johnson, Luis Lopez (daily operations) and Nate Tringali, our marketing guy.
How have your experiences at Elon prepared you for the work you’ve done?
Elon as a whole is a prestigious university, which requires someone to have a proficient work ethic to become successful. The work ethic that I have established from being a student at Elon contributes to a significant portion of my success with The Stonk CEOs in these early stages. As a student in the Love School of Business, I have taken many classes on management, marketing, investments, etc. A lot of the skills that I have learned from these classes I use in the real world when building this business. Besides those aspects, growing a brand centered for the common man benefited from the friends/relationships that I have made while at Elon.
What advice do you have for fellow students looking to start their own business?
If you have any desire to start your own business, do it. There is no better time for you to start your own business, especially in this day and age where everyone is so self-reliant on their phones and being on social media. What’s holding back 99 percent of the people my age from starting a business or even being an influencer is caring about what other people think. When I started posting content on TikTok and trying to build a following in the beginning, a lot of my friends from home and at Elon made fun of me and basically said what I was doing is stupid and it’s not going to work out. Now I have people reaching out to me asking for help, whether it’s on getting started with investing, building wealth, learning about financial literacy, etc. Funny, right?
I have learned to just not care what other people think because 20 to 30 years from now I want to be able to look back and tell myself that I am so happy that I was different than most of the kids my age, and that I started my own business, and worked hard at scaling it, because now I am working for myself, traveling the world, and not hating my 9-to-5 job; a job I would have only been working because I needed to in order to support my family. If you believe in something, and that something genuinely makes you happy, then pursue it because 100 percent of the time it will work out in your favor; you just need to do it in order to achieve it. Don’t miss your window and have a “what if” moment when you’re older.
What is next for you and your company?
The Stonk CEOs has a lot in store for 2021 and plan to exponentially grow organically, disrupting our space. We plan to become the Barstool Sports of investing and education on building wealth. Barstool is a full-on media company that focuses on sports and pop culture. We want to do the same for investing and finance. We want to replicate that culture for education on building wealth.
One of the biggest things we know is that this country does a poor job at teaching younger generations about finance and setting themselves up for the future. We plan to create a massive movement that makes an entire young generation savvy and have a huge advantage in their futures. The Stonk CEOs will transform into an internet conglomerate that’s looking to change the way finance and business is taught to the next generation.
Getting financially literate has never been easier than it is right now. Create this idea and mentality that anyone can become a Stonk CEO. How do we do that? By creating content that is high quality and able to catch people’s attention and want to get more information and learn. Imagine down the road having an entire lineup of podcasts, online shows and general videos that focus on the market, real estate, side hustles, passive income methods, investing, being a creator, entrepreneurship and general finance going throughout the whole week under one empire brand. Really create a brand that is unlike anything in this market right now. That will be us. The sky’s the limit.
We are continuing to look for creators that share our same vision, and want to work for us to help achieve this goal.
We are also currently working on an online classroom on “teachables” that carries out the fundamentals of investing and options trading. We are spending a lot of time recording webcam videos walking through the fundamentals of what the stock market is, a section on all different brokerage account walkthroughs, an entire section of videos on option trading, technical analysis, fundamental analysis, etc.
There is a lot that’s going on behind the scenes, which makes this process extremely hectic for myself and my team, but we are trying our best to stick to a plan and attack these goals brick by brick. Where we are now is the tip of the iceberg.