In a matter of six years, Manny Gutierrez — known to his followers as Manny MUA — went from working at a Sephora shop-in-shop in a California JCPenney store to selling his own makeup line, Lunar Beauty, at Sephora stores nationwide. In between, he became a well-known mega-influencer — now with 4.8 million YouTube subscribers and 4.4 million Instagram followers — and the first male face of a Maybelline campaign. After speaking at Advertising Week on Tuesday about breaking influencer barriers, Gutierrez met with Glossy to talk about the competition among influencers, the expectations of brand partners and the future of his brand. 

As you see it, are all influencers in competition for brand partnerships?
I felt pretty competitive when I started out; when you’re a smaller influencer, there’s so much competition: You’re a micro-influencer in a pool of other micro-influencers. When you get to a higher level, there’s competition, too, but people know what you do, and if they want to work with you, it’s because of who you are. With me, they know they’re going to get a guy in makeup who’s very bold and intense. The only competition now is with myself.

What level of transparency do you feel is required, in terms of sponsored posts and gifted product?
I am very open and honest about my partnerships. When it comes to getting paid for something, I will say in the beginning of my video that I partnered with this brand or I’m working with them, I’m sponsored by them. It’s very important to disclose that, to maintain honesty with your audience. But if I’m using a product really quickly in a video, I’m not going to be like, “This was sent to me.” You just kind of forget, and I think it’s known that beauty influencers get sent a lot of beauty products to try out. 

Do brands expect immediate conversion when you feature their products?
If I do a brand partnership, and they’re like, “We didn’t get as many sales as we wanted,” I just say, “You’re not working with me only for potential sales, but you’re using me for the number of eyes I have on me.” If I work with a brand and I show a product, someone in their head may say, “Oh, that looked cool.” Maybe they don’t buy it right away. But then another [influencer] will show the product, and that person may be like, “Oh, shit, Manny liked that, too. Maybe I’ll buy it.” There’s a lot involved with using influencers to sell a product. Even if you don’t get a ton of sales in this one jolt, well, you also got a million eyes on it for potential sales in the future.

Are you sticking to Instagram and YouTube, or are brands now asking you to create unique content for, say, TikTok?
I tend to just stay in my lane. I think the highest converting platforms are Instagram and YouTube, and even Twitter sometimes. But I don’t see TikTok as being a big converting platform just yet. It’s fun and I love watching it, and there are such cute videos, but that tends to be how people see it: just fun, little, cute clips. I think that, business-wise, YouTube and Instagram are more professional and more effective.

Does the rise of social commerce mean more pressure for influencers?
I see it as an opportunity. Being able to shop products directly on Instagram means there’s another outlet for a small business to make a sale and build an audience. As an entrepreneur, I think that’s great; it will be really lucrative for a lot of people. But of course, it will mean more pressure. With every new tool and every new platform that comes out, there’s a little more pressure added to what we do. 

Is your audience enough to sustain your own brand [Lunar Beauty], or are you marketing to other audiences?
Marketing is so big on social media — it’s where everyone is focused right now, because it’s where everyone is seeing results. Luckily, I have retailers [Sephora and Morphe] that market my product for me, in their stores and on their gondola [displays]. They offer brick-and-mortar marketing, whereas I excel in social media marketing. 

What does growing your business mean for you, right now?
My team is so small — right now, it’s me, my mom and my dad, and our design people. I would love to invest in a full-time social media girl to run Lunar [Beauty]. I still find all the content and do all the posting myself, and then my dad will do [Instagram] Stories and DMs, and we delegate between each other. I can barely handle my own social media, let alone doing Lunar’s — but it’s been fun, and it’s been nice to be able to control that early on.

What’s the biggest threat to the influencer world? Is it safe?
I can’t imagine influencers ever completely going away, because what else are brands going to do? What — you’re going to do a commercial? Girl. That doesn’t always work. You want to have more than just that.

Still, did you launch your brand as a safeguard?
Totally. It’s its own entity that will live on, even if I went away and was like, “I’m tired of being Manny MUA.” I could still put my passion into Lunar Beauty and survive off of that.