When Collin Kiousis passed away in 2017, he was just 20 years young. He left behind memories, friends, and family. But Collin also left behind an entrepreneurial seed that in 2020 blossomed in the form of Tony Piloseno’s creative young mind.
“Collin was basically my big brother,” Tony told us in a recent interview. “He was the slightly older leader of our little neighborhood crew when I was five years old until I graduated high school. He led us to make YouTube videos skateboarding, creating graffiti art at the local skate park, painting bikes and building ramps – you name it, we did it and recorded it.”
Before Collin died, he and his family created a foundation that Tony supports, Collin Cares. It has donated over $100,000 to cancer-related causes. And its tagline is one that Tony says he lives by – “defy the hand you’re dealt.”
Thank to Collin, Tony was a true square peg in the round hole of life. “Collin taught me how to think artistically, but also to do my own thinking. I got in trouble with teachers in elementary school, pastors in church school, and principals in high school,” he explained. “My parents are very supportive of my work, but they always wanted me to have a 9-5 job with a 401K after college. For me, school was too much like a major corporation – strict hierarchy, rules, and structure. I wanted to get out in the world and do something!”
Tony was hired by Sherwin Williams while attending community college in 2016 and found the love of his life in the form of one-gallon cans. Despite his independent streak, Tony felt like he could have a career with the company. “I had an internship lined up on the way to management training. But in May 2019, I transferred to a different store that had a slower pace.” This slower pace gave Tony the opportunity to try his hand at mixing paint on video in late 2019. His sixth video got a million views, and by May 2020 his audience was over a million people.
As his popularity grew, Tony developed a marketing plan that he felt would help Sherwin-Williams reach his young fans before the competition could. “I showed the plan to my marketing professors, my sales rep, and my manager. The manager directed me to contact the Vice President of Marketing for Sherwin-Williams’ Eastern Division.” After two months, the VP of Marketing finally told Tony he didn’t want to see the presentation because it didn’t fit with the company’s existing promotions.
Tony took the rejection in stride and, upon researching online influencing, realized that he had to be more authentic and unique. On his time off, Tony purchased “mis-intended” paint (scratched and dented paint that the company deems not fit for retail) with his employee discount “and started being really creative,” he told me. “I started adding paint to glow in the dark projects, fruit, putting my own spin on paint.”
Tony thought everything was going great at work and for his growing personal brand until he got a call from the Director of Lost Product for Sherwin-Williams. “He accused me of stealing paint. When I told him about my attempts to reach the corporate marketing person, he interrogated my manager. They ended up firing me for misuse of company time and equipment, misconduct, and for embarrassing the company’s brand. I never got a call from HR to defend myself, and my manager’s boss signed off on my firing without getting my side of the story.”
That was when Tony decided to go all in as a paint mixer. “I moved my studio into my friend’s basement and began making two videos per day. A couple of months later, to develop an emotional connection with my audience, I decided to let them know why I love mixing paint and how I was fired. I didn’t actually go to the press, or even name Sherwin-Williams; people just put the pieces together.”
Tony’s video about his firing got nearly 34 million views. His audience grew by 300,000 followers in a few weeks. He got national media coverage and dozens of job offers. “Every major paint company in America wanted me in digital marketing. But when I talked to Florida Paints, I was talking to Don [Strube], the co-founder – not someone in HR who saw paint as just another job. Don was the only one who talked to me about our shared passion, who understood what I was trying to do.” Within four days of his story going viral, Tony had a job and was on his way to Florida.
Like a lot of great entrepreneurial minds, Tony Piloseno hasn’t always fit the mold, but he has always stayed true to who he is. Like Collin, Tony defied the hand he was dealt – and when opportunity arrived, he didn’t let it escape. Just a few short years ago, Tony lost his childhood mentor to cancer, and a few months ago he was unjustly fired – but both of these potential setbacks only made him work harder and better. “When I was 18, I had no idea how paint worked. I thought you pulled it off the shelf and it was already there,” he said in our interview. “I’ve said all along that I’m grateful to Sherwin-Williams for bringing me into the industry and teaching me what I know – for getting me started. Thanks to them, I discovered a way to show how the sausage, or in this case the paint, is made, to people.”
As of this writing, Tony is less than two months into his new job. Our phone conversations took place in his combination office/studio, and his education continues – Ohio University was “proud” of Tony and “contacted me to make sure I finished my degree virtually.” His parents have supported him every step of the way, and Tony can’t say enough about Don Strube, whom he says “is taking a chance on something that’s never been done in our industry.”
Note: Proven Media Solutions made multiple efforts to contact Sherwin-Williams for its point of view on Piloseno’s firing. We did not receive a response.