Today, I run a media company called Comments By Celebs with my friend and co-founder Julie Kramer. We have 1.8 million followers across all our social media accounts, a biweekly podcast, and a strong drive to continue to grow our brand's presence. But just a few years ago, I was on a completely different path.
In April of 2017, when I was about to enroll at Columbia University to pursue my master's degree in social work, I noticed a change in the Instagram algorithm that was unearthing previously unseen celebrity interactions.
The world of pop culture has always been fascinating to me, and getting to see these unfiltered exchanges was exciting. A back-and-forth between Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick was one of the conversations that caught my attention, and it made me realize that if I was this interested, other people could be too.
I felt sure this could be something to capitalize on. At the time, I wasn't certain what it would look like, but if there was an audience for this, I believed I could monetize the idea and turn it into a business. As it turned out, I was right.
One of the most important things I've learned from this experience is that sometimes the biggest impact can come from paying attention to the seemingly smallest details. Here are a few more lessons that have helped me turn my side hustle into a full-time job and career.
The first move I made was to text my friend Julie, who was a junior at Syracuse University at the time. I asked her to join forces with me. She was immediately on board.
Coming up with the name and bio for our new Instagram account that would highlight the best of these interactions was unexpectedly simple: We would call it Comments By Celebs. The total time from idea to inception was one day. With zero start-up costs, and a lot of excitement, we were off and running.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
Before we told anyone, even our closest friends, we wanted solid proof of concept. We didn't share it at all until we hit 80,000 followers in February of 2018.
At first, my plan was to finish Columbia, and Julie's was to pursue a graduate degree in forensic psychology. But the trajectory of CBC was undeniable to us and we had to make some choices.
Our mindset was that graduate school would always be there and we would be doing ourselves a real disservice by not embracing the momentum we had. So I deferred my second year of Columbia and Julie put off applying to any programs so we could work on the company full time.
With the exception of the initial legal bills to file for copyright and trademark, which were under $10,000, we had barely incurred any costs. At this point, we hadn't earned any revenue either, but were steadily seeing an increase in followers and recognition from other media outlets.
The account started to transition from simply being a source of humor for pop culture enthusiasts like ourselves to a legitimate form of entertainment news. Suddenly, our posts were becoming embedded in articles. Headlines were being written solely based on the comment exchanges we highlighted.
Video by Jason Armesto
Realizing that your product or idea is adding value to the industry you're trying to break into is an incomparable feeling. At this point, we understood that if we continued to generate great content, our audience would grow. The better the engagement, the more attractive of a platform we would be to advertisers.
That mindset paid off.
In August 2018 we did our first deal: an ad with Budweiser to announce their partnership with Jim Beam. They approached us, which was exhilarating in and of itself. They were the perfect partner to work with, because they completely understood our format. All of the advertisements would be done in the form of comments from other brands.
From that work, ad campaign partnerships with Uber and Bumble followed. Those three experiences showed us the importance of working with partners who understand our vision. The choice of sponsors was, and continues to be, so important, as it can really aid in legitimizing a brand to other potential advertisers.
We were initially concerned that our audience might be put off by the ads. We quickly learned that they not only understand we're running a business but they also genuinely want us to succeed. It was very rewarding.
As long as the ads stay true to the brand and have a sense of humor and wit, our audience has told us that they are on board.
That same summer, we started our podcast. The ability to interact with our audience in a more long-form style was one we had been craving. When monetizing the podcast, we took that same ad lesson to heart and made sure to vet all of our potential sponsors before deciding to work with them. Taking that extra step has real long-term benefits. The integrity of the brand, and respect we have for our audience, is too important to jeopardize.
If you are starting a side hustle right now, take a minute to check in with yourself and evaluate the decisions you're making for your business and why you're making them.
In my experience, fear-based decisions never yield the desired results. Remember that your ideas and perspective have value. I've found that the sooner you can internalize the belief that you and your idea are worthy, the sooner success can follow.
Emma Diamond is the 25-year-old founder of Comments By Celebs, an innovative media company that delivers celebrity news and entertainment in the form of Instagram comments. Julie Kramer, CBC co-founder and fellow self-proclaimed pop-culture enthusiast, is the other half of this power duo. Together, the two have turned their love for all things entertainment into a full-time career.
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