From fashion inspiration and food tips to motherhood advice and life hacks, these social media superstars are owning the online space in Connecticut and beyond.
Kallie Branciforte, 'But First, Coffee'
Hilarious realness to helpful life hacks, because everything is better after caffeine
I don’t do well with idle hands,” admits Kallie Branciforte, the personality behind But First, Coffee. “Six years ago, I was a teacher and had my summer off. I thought a blog would be a fun, creative outlet for the summer.”
Flash forward to today, and the new mom is still sharing lifestyle hacks, DIY projects and money-saving tips on butfirstcoffeeblog.com as well as her YouTube channel, Instagram and Twitter. Only now, her passion project has a much bigger audience. Branciforte’s witty but enormously helpful YouTube videos receive hundreds of thousands of views and more. Her “Life-Changing Gift Wrapping Hacks” vlog has been watched nearly 20 million times.
An Essex resident, Branciforte balances her blogging career with being a new mom and working part-time as an internet marketer. She is candid about the fact that being an influencer isn’t just creating fun content. “You’re also signing and writing contracts, bookkeeping, editing constantly, and working on all the boring backend stuff that makes it tick,” she says.
Being candid, however, is what has garnered Branciforte such a devoted following. “I just remain myself — it’s really all we have to differentiate ourselves,” she says. “I’ve found that being as real as I can helps people connect with me as just another person, which is what I want!” For example, Branciforte has been open about her and her husband’s struggles with debt and how they cut back in order to live debt free and have since purchased their first home.
“It’s easier said than done, but it’s really about sharing the real, everyday stuff as opposed to only showing the perfectly curated,” she adds. “That’s what people connect with these days.” Branciforte is able to maintain her authenticity and make a profit by opting for long-term partnerships with brands she truly uses or likes. “That way it never feels pushy, and it’s more authentic for everyone,” she says. — Ann Loynd Burton
175k YouTube subscribers
What’s your elevator pitch? “I share tips for saving time and saving money as well as navigating adult life and motherhood.”
How do you handle the critics? “You have to let it roll off your back. I’ve heard every negative piece of feedback, including the straight-out mean and nasty. I remind myself that what they say about me says a lot more about who they are as a person than who I am.”
Advice for breaking into the blogosphere: “Just do it, and then stay authentic. Don’t try to recreate other people’s content. Don’t get into it for the money because you’ll never enjoy it and people will be able to tell.”
Daymon Patterson, 'Daym Drops'
This fast-talking fast-food critic turned his lunch break into his big break
You wake up on Tuesday morning, get out of bed, and think about what you need to do that day. First order of business: Head to Subway for lunch to review the new brisket sandwich and some mac and cheese. Because that’s what your fans want you to do.
This is Daym Drops’ life.
The fast-food critic and larger-than-life YouTube star blew up in 2012 after his review of Five Guys went viral. Daym worked at CarMax in Hartford and would film himself doing in-car food reviews on his lunch breaks. His posts usually averaged between 800-1,000 views, but his first Five Guys experience evoked such passion that Patterson’s reaction would change his life.
Seven years later the Stratford native and New Britain resident recounts that meal like it was yesterday. “It was almost as if they seasoned up that meat for hours just for me. And I broke down. A grown man broke down. I almost cried on camera.”
After being posted on Reddit by a fan, the video quickly amassed over 300,000 views and Daym’s inbox started getting peppered by production companies. YouTube stars the Gregory Brothers — of Antoine Dodson and Backin’ Up fame — chopped up Drops’ video into a song, posted it and reached 300,000 views in less than an hour. “We did a contract together and I’ve collected a check off that video since 2012,” Daym says. “The checks are much smaller today, but I’m still getting paid off that video.”
Doors opened that Daym didn’t know existed. He says he was offered anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 just to review a meal. He hosted Best Daym Takeout on the Travel Channel in 2013, made two appearances on The Dr. Oz Show, then did two exclusive reviews for Jimmy Fallon — the McDonald’s McRib and a box of Russell Stover’s — before signing with Rachael Ray to be the food correspondent for her daytime TV show.
“I happened to go viral at the right time,” Daym says. — Mike Wollschlager
Over 1 million YouTube subscribers
On trolls: “They’re getting you those views. Views turn into money. So at the end of the day you’re still getting money off the negative. You ain’t gotta respond to it. Just go ahead and walk to the bank with a smile on your face.”
On keeping it real: “The worst thing you can do is try to be somebody else for your own channel.”
On being at work at CarMax the day he went viral: “If you brought your vehicle to me on the day I went viral, I probably just looked at your tire and walked back inside. I did not do my job officially that day.”
Eva Amurri Martino, 'Happily Eva After'
The Westport wife and mother’s latest scene drops the act to focus on being real
Happily Eva After blogger Eva Amurri Martino may have 133,000 Instagram followers, but this isn’t her first experience with fame. Amurri Martino is the daughter of director Franco Amurri and actress Susan Sarandon, so she was raised in the public eye before garnering her own career as a working actress.
“I felt very unfulfilled most of the time,” Amurri Martino says of her decade-long career in acting. “Once my daughter was born, I knew that in order to be able to tell her as she grew to always look for fulfillment in life, that I would have to practice what I preach!” In 2015, she shifted her energy to developing a lifestyle blog to share her interests spanning style, decor, food and crafting.
One of the challenges in this new spotlight has been combating preconceived ideas about her seemingly idealistic upbringing. “My parents were very private and protective, and there are some benefits to that, but I think it created a misconception about them, and us as well,” Amurri Martino explains. “Most people don’t know how different my past is to what one would assume.”
Being open, real and raw has been the blogger’s goal from day one. After just a few months into her new online career, Amurri Martino and her husband suffered a devastating miscarriage with their second child. “I decided to share publicly on my blog the pain and heartache we were going through as a family,” she remembers. “That experience really showed me who the Happily Eva After audience was, and what a strong connector sharing in the motherhood space can be.”
That community aspect of Happily Eva After is still the part of blogging she most enjoys, and it’s led to some real-life friendships, as well. “I’ve met some incredible momtrepreneurs in Connecticut, and some of them have become my closest friends,” Amurri Martino adds. — Ann Loynd Burton
133k Instagram followers
Advice for starting a blog: “Learn, ask questions, look for opportunities to connect with others, and get hungry. It’s a landscape of hustlers, and you definitely only reap what you sow.”
Thoughts on algorithms: “Our team stays committed to constantly educating ourselves, and striving to make the most of the tools out there. One of the things I love most about this industry is that it really keeps you on your toes and requires critical thinking.”
How do you stand out in a crowded landscape? “I always tell people to be true to exactly who they are. Every single person has a unique perspective. Tap into your own, and do things your way!”
Kevin Droniak and Grandma Lill, 'Kevin and Lill'
This grandson-grandmother comedy duo garners generations of fans
Most people, if they found out they were being videotaped for years without their knowledge, and that those videos were being uploaded to YouTube, might be upset about such a revelation. But not Grandma Lill, one half of a multi-generational comedy duo with her grandson Kevin Droniak. “I thought that was great, because it made me younger,” Lill says. “I retired 27 years ago. Kevin says, ‘Gram, you’re working!’ ”
Kevin and Lill have over 550,000 subscribers on YouTube. Kevin originally recorded the amusing videos without letting Lill in on the joke, but she’s up to speed now. When asked if he always realized his grandmother was maybe a little more fun than most people’s grandmothers, Lill hopped in without hesitation to answer.
“One of the best,” the Shelton resident says. “One of the best! That’s why they pick us.”
“She’s the funniest person I know,” Kevin says. “Growing up, a lot of my friends would be like, ‘Wow, your grandma is so funny.’ ”
“And he makes me feel young,” Lill says. “I’m 89! And I act like 65.”
Kevin, a Newtown resident, is a student at Western Connecticut State and interned at Social Chain, a media production company, in New York this summer. You could say his first real internship was placing hidden cameras in his grandmother’s car when he was 14.
The height of their fame — which included an appearance on Steve Harvey’s Little Big Shots: Forever Young television show — was around 2015, but with Kevin at college things have slowed in recent years. “I think it’ll always be something I want to do and continue to do,” Kevin says. “It just might not be every single week anymore. I can’t see it ever really ending.”
“No, we don’t want it to end,” Lill says, “because that’s gonna be no good.” — Mike Wollschlager
Over a half-million YouTube subscribers
A time they wish cameras were rolling: “One time we were gonna miss a flight coming home, so I put her in one of those wheelchairs that we found in the airport and ran so fast and went through everything,” Kevin says. “We just made the flight.”
College makes it tougher: “Since I haven’t seen her in a while, I’m not gonna whip out a camera and make us film a video even though I don’t have much to post for the next week,” Kevin says. “I don’t wanna make our time feel like I’m just doing it for the video.”
Lill on longevity: “God lets me live so I can be nice to people.”
Marissa Meade, 'Style Cusp'
Stylized outfits and wander-worthy travel photos offer a flexible, creative life.
Style Cusp blogger Marissa Meade lives by the mantra, “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” She perhaps didn’t know that for her, that would be a full-time career in blogging when she started Style Cusp on a snowy night in college in 2010.
Nearly a decade later, the Southington native is still sharing her thoughts and hobbies for her subscribers and 130,000 Instagram followers. Only now, there are a few more perks like international travel and impressive brand collaborations.
“My favorite thing about blogging is the flexibility it allows and the opportunity it’s given me,” Meade says. “I’ve been able to travel and take time to be present for things that a normal desk job wouldn’t allow. I’m able to be creative and call my own shots.” Her manicured Instagram account is a compendium of awe-inspiring travel shots, stylized outfit photos and picture-perfect decor.
In fact, followers are soon to enjoy an added dose of decor photos, as the Connecticut blogger has just purchased her first home in the state. Even more impressive? Meade did it all on her own. “There’s a certain pride and satisfaction that comes from being able to say, ‘I did this all on my own,’ especially as a woman,” she shares. “That’s not to say I let it get to me — trust me, I don’t!”
The house will serve as command central for this single woman and business owner, who is thrilled to finally have designated space for work and inspiration. Along with living space, Meade will have a studio/shooting/working room as well as a separate office.
Purchasing her own home is just one milestone earned from a lot of hard work in the influencer space. “Blogging is by no means an easy job — so much goes on behind the scenes to keep this space going,” she admits. “But I’m grateful to have a ‘workspace’ that allows me creativity and flexibility.” — Ann Loynd Burton
130k Instagram followers
What’s a surprising fact about you? “I am a born-and-raised East Coast lady who’s the eldest of seven girls.”
What’s your elevator pitch? “Style Cusp is a fashionable lifestyle site where all of my favorite things come together — my personal style and shopping finds, journey with essential oils and healthy living, documents of my travels, and more.”
Advice for starting a blog: “Everyone can bring something to the table because we’re all different. As a blogger, you’re your own brand. It isn’t about being the next person. People will want to follow you for you.”
Nonee Ngazimbi-Cunningham, 'Nonee’s World'
Connecticut Bloggers Collective founder fuses Instagram fame with real-life followers
Visit Nonee’s World, a life and style blog, and you’ll find a polished compilation of professional-looking travel and fashion photography. As it turns out, this stylized site is actually Nonee Ngazimbi-Cunningham’s second endeavor into the blogging world.
Her first blog, started in 2012, can still be found in the dark annals of the web someplace, she laughs. Ngazimbi-Cunningham started Nonee’s World in 2015 after settling in Connecticut from Washington, D.C., and previously, Portland, Oregon. But her reasons for blogging are still the same. “I focused on health care in college and landed in nursing. I didn’t feel super fulfilled,” she explains, noting that family urged her to pursue a more sustainable career than the fickle fashion industry. “My brother suggested doing it on the side, so I started a fashion blog.”
Ngazimbi-Cunningham was also hopeful that blogging would help her meet others with the same interest in her new home. The problem was, there was no real community for bloggers in Connecticut, so she built her own, called Connecticut Bloggers Collective. “Connecticut Bloggers Collective started out of frustration. I moved to Connecticut from Washington and knew 12 bloggers. It seemed impossible,” she remembers. “I find a lot of power in connection. I met one blogger and our energy just from chatting was incredibly helpful to me in my blogging career.”
So one night in 2017 in the wee hours of the morning, Ngazimbi-Cunningham created a logo, grabbed an Instagram handle and started reposting photos from bloggers. “Within a week I had found 100 bloggers in Connecticut,” she says. “It grew legs and started walking.” The virtual community she created on Instagram, @ctbloggerbabes, has turned into a real-life resource, and Ngazimbi-Cunningham hosts well-attended events throughout the year that bring bloggers and local business together — with plenty of photo-worthy installations, of course.
“What I found in the blogger space is you can’t rely on borrowed space on Instagram to grow your brand,” she offers. “Creating events, doing stuff offline and creating a sense of community is really huge.” — Ann Loynd Burton
17.8k Instagram followers, founder of Connecticut Bloggers Collective
Thoughts on the Connecticut blogging community: “I’ve met amazing women who are on fire. They say they’re going to do something, and they do it. I’ve gotten such energy from this community, and being able to talk to these people has been the greatest thing in my life.”
Moment you knew you were an influencer: “It was a very simple moment. I was contacted by a mattress company who offered to send a mattress of my choice in exchange for an Instagram post. I was like, ‘Wow, you want one post for a whole mattress?’ I realized this could actually be something.”
Alexa Curtis, 'Life Unfiltered'
This blogging prodigy turned grown-up entrepreneur gets fearless online
Alexa Curtis was a 12-year-old girl in Mansfield when she started her fashion blog, then called A Life in the Fashion Lane. She needed an outlet to build her confidence and serve as an escape from family issues and bullying. Eight years later, Curtis is wrapping up an impressive tenure hosting her own podcast for Radio Disney, Fearless Everyday. She continues to run her blog, Life Unfiltered as well as a podcast, This Is Life Unfiltered, to educate young adults and parents about the effects of social media.
Curtis’ success is no accident; there was no magic moment. “I built it slowly and organically and never expected it to become anything,” she admits. Moving out of her parents’ home at only 17, Curtis spent 30 days in a row at Sally Hansen Beauty Supply in Brooklyn, taking photos of brands to email. In a recent podcast, she remembers emailing hundreds of brands and getting one reply for an Instagram takeover.
“I’m the opposite of Kendall Jenner because I’m authentic about what I’ve struggled with in my life,” she says. “A reason why I’ve been able to make this a career is that I’ve grown up with these kids who follow me.”
Curtis has been on Rachael Ray and The Today Show and was profiled in Forbes at just 19. But at 21, she hasn’t stopped hustling. Along with her media channels, Curtis runs her nonprofit, Media Impact and Navigation for Teens, and recently launched a Be Fearless Summit to host speakers at universities across the U.S.
Curtis doesn’t consider herself a traditional influencer, and her following contains those who have grown up with her and new young people looking for a role model. “They look up to me for when they are 21,” she says, adding, “I don’t worry about aging out, because I think of everything I can learn and share getting older.” — Ann Loynd Burton
Weekly podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher
Advice for starting a blog: “Do it because you genuinely love to write. You shouldn’t do anything because you’re going to get famous or get a lot of money — it won’t happen.”
What’s next? “Hopefully some type of TV show.”
Thoughts on algorithms: “Instagram can disappear tomorrow. I think it’s great Instagram wants to test theories with removing likes, but you can’t think all you need in the end is to have a million followers.”