She may only be 20, but Tori DiSimone has already retired.
DiSimone is a former YouTube star — known online as Tori Sterling — who boasts more than 475,000 YouTube subscribers and who at the height of her internet fame signed brand deals that netted her up to $37,000. She left it all behind to become co-owner of Stride Spin & Fitness, a Phoenixville fitness studio.
DiSimone's time on YouTube turned her into a sort of celebrity. Fans have come from as far as Idaho and California to attend her spin classes, and she attributes much of the studio's early buzz to her online following.
Her decision to shift careers means she's potentially leaving a lot of money on the table. YouTubers like DiSimone create videos in which they promote products. (Agreements to do additional promotion on Instagram or avoid using competitors' products can tack on thousands more.) Brands typically pay a YouTuber with 500,000 subscribers between $10,000 and $25,000 per deal, according to Brittany Hennessy, author of Influencer: Building Your Personal Brand in the Age of Social Media.
"You're easily making six figures a year," Hennessy said.
Brands are willing to pay big bucks to YouTubers because of the relationships they have with their audiences. Pick the right YouTuber to promote a brand, and the product doesn't just do well. It sells out.
DiSimone is still active on Instagram, but she hasn't posted on YouTube in four months — a video sponsored by Tampax. Five months ago, she posted a video about why she no longer does makeup tutorials.
Such tutorials — an exceedingly popular genre on YouTube — fascinated a seventh-grade DiSimone. A year later, her mom suggested she start her own channel. She created one under the name "Tori Sterling" and began posting "Get ready with me" videos and tutorials.. By her sophomore year, DiSimone was traveling for events and receiving sponsorship offers. Subscribers and brand-deal money were pouring in.
DiSimone thought she had found what she wanted to do with her life. After finishing her junior year of high school, she transferred to an online high school and moved to L.A. to live with other YouTubers and keep building her brand.
Three months later, she was back home.
"I just hated it, so then when I got back to school, I was like, 'OK, I guess I'll go to college,' " she said. "I didn't really know what else to do."
She headed south to the University of Alabama and left YouTube behind. But by the end of the semester, she realized college wasn't for her, either. She moved back to Pennsylvania and picked up her camera again.
This time though, her focus was different. She had discovered spin and fitness in L.A. and fallen in love with it. Home again, she began training to become a spin instructor at a local studio and posting videos about her eating habits and fitness routines.
"I started YouTube when I was 14, so, like, can you imagine?" DiSimone said. "I was playing softball, and I was into makeup when I was 14. I don't play softball anymore. I'm not really into makeup anymore."
Last fall, DiSimone got the itch to make another shift.
As soon as she walked into her first fitness studio, she knew she wanted to own one. "But I always thought it'd be when I was like 24 or 25," DiSimone said. "But when I was 19, I wanted to leave my old studio, and I didn't know where else to go."
She approached Jess Vierow, a friend and fellow spin instructor, about opening their own studio.
Vierow, 31, said she never had doubts about partnering with the young DiSimone. "Tori's age is just a number," Vierow said. "It didn't mean really anything to me because I knew her so personally. She's always been so determined to do big things with her life."
DiSimone's parents were on board, too.
"She's always taken the path less traveled," DiSimone's mom, Karen, said. "It was our job to help her hold the machete and forge a new path instead of steering her toward one that she didn't want to take."
As DiSimone began making plans for the studio, YouTube had to take a backseat, she says.
"Honestly, I just lost time to do it. My days were so busy to the point where I wouldn't even look at my phone all day. How could I pick up a camera and follow my whole day around when I couldn't even keep up with myself?"
Stride opened Aug. 4, an experience DiSimone described as euphoric. She expected that after the opening she'd have more time for YouTube, but that hasn't been the case. "I know you prioritize what you want to make time for, and I guess it's just not a priority for me right now, and I'm OK with that," she said.
Hennessy said DiSimone's desire to take a step back from YouTube isn't surprising.
"After a certain point, I think people start to feel empty. A lot of YouTubers start looking for something tangible. They can scale way back, still make a lot of money, and go pursue another passion."
DiSimone is hesitant to say she's closed the door on YouTube, but she doesn't mind putting less of herself on the internet these days.
"If I could redo it all, I probably wouldn't do YouTube, because I just don't like being in the spotlight. It brought me to where I am today, so I'm really grateful for it, but there's definitely times that I wish things were just more private."
She admits there have been downsides to entering adulthood so quickly. Her jobs and the responsibilities they entail have never been confined to 9 to 5, and she says she struggles to relate to people her own age.
In Stride, though, DiSimone has discovered not only a passion, but a family. She refers repeatedly to it as home and says the hardest part of her job is navigating the blurred line between being a friend and a boss to her employees.
If anything, DiSimone's youth seems to have empowered her to dream bigger. She and Vierow hope to expand Stride to multiple locations, maybe even across the country.
"When I've had this business for five years, I'm only going to be 25," DiSimone said. "I have my whole life ahead of me."