A failed exam was enough for Murad Osmann to start photography. “I failed my first year in university,” he begins. “My degree was in engineering. If you fail, you are not allowed to take any exams. You have to come back the next year.” But instead of sitting around for a year, he started to learn photography.
“Then the whole time, you think you are on the wrong path,” says Murad’s wife, Nataly, who’s eagerly nudging Muran to recount his story from the beginning, “Tell your story! It’s interesting!” and later adds, “If he hadn’t failed the exam, he wouldn’t have come back to Moscow from London and studied photography.”
Murad opens up more about his story: “I worked for two years as a photographer. Later, I opened an agency with my friend, where we shot commercial work. I still have it,” adds Murad. In the meantime, they had to travel more and more, and during one of these trips, Nataly kept begging on him to go with her and stop taking pictures of everything. But Murad didn’t stop even then, and this is how the world-wide successful #followmeto project began.
“The project started six years ago,” says Murad. “To think of it, it’s a movement, an internet meme. If you look around, all of these movements usually have a one-year life span at the most.” If that’s the case, then how is it possible that their popularity didn’t decline even the smallest bit over the past six years? What kind of journey led them there, what did they do then, and what are they doing differently now, compared to those who end up becoming irrelevant after a brief moment of fame?
This is what I chatted with Murad and Nataly Osmann about on the first day of Web Summit at the Four Seasons Ritz in Lisbon.
1. It’s not about the money
Behind most online successes is years of hard work, and the Osmann’s case isn’t any different. “Six years ago, social media was just starting to grow. We just did it for fun, as almost no one used it for business then,” recounts Murad. “We didn’t think about ways to monetize it. When the first viral effect came a year and a half after we had started the project, we gained 2-3,000 followers. This was a big number back then.” Perhaps this is one of the reasons why these people are still around: they have been building a community from the beginning instead of chasing after brand deals. Nataly agrees and adds, “Some bloggers become popular, start earning money, and then they stop building the brand and the community.”
2. Quality over quantity
“We had a lot of offers, but rejected 80% of the deals,” says Nataly. “We wanted fewer projects, but better ones. We knew we didn’t want quick money. We wanted to build the brand first.” But this isn’t how most people view it: with a complete lack of entrepreneurial mindset, many can only see a couple of months ahead, instead of asking themselves questions such as, “Here are hundreds of thousands of followers. Why am I building this community? What are my long-term goals?”
3. Know your brand
In order to sustain your brand in the long run, it’s crucial to build a community first, just like they did. Why? This is how you can get to know your followers and how they react to certain things, helping you launch more successful collaborations in the future. “When we receive offers, we change the ideas, so they can adapt to our audience. We know who these people are, why they like us,” adds Murad. “Usually, when the brands approach influencers, they come with ready-made ideas, but if we know they won’t work, we change them.”
4. Exposure or money?
Most influencers make the same mistake: wanting to make a living solely from this, so they reject collaborations that could mean a lot more than a couple thousand dollars. Luckily, Murad and Nataly think differently: “Our first collaboration was a charity project with Michael Kors. They texted us on Instagram when we were in New York City, saying, ‘let’s do something.’ We had just shot a free photo for them in NYC, and it got exhibited in Times Square. It gave us more exposure, and it was better for the brand than getting paid,” says Nataly.
5. Keep refreshing yourself
Most people make the same mistake of focusing on just one platform. But what if, let’s say, that platform ends up like Vine did? “All the time people tell us, ‘This is your peak, and you should create something new.’ But the truth is that since we started, we’ve written two books, we’ve had exhibitions--we always tackle new challenges. The peak hasn’t ended. We’ve just started our YouTube channel,” Nataly tells me.
The secret lies in refreshment; if you see the market going towards video, and you think YouTube could be interesting in your niche, try it. “The audience is different. Who sits on Insta doesn’t sit on YouTube. If you have millions of followers on Instagram, you won’t be able to drag everyone over to YouTube,” adds Murad.
6. Reach out to brands
I hear it from more and more popular influencers that they approach the brands whose mission they can relate to with an established marketing strategy. Nataly and Murad are no different. “We don’t sit in Moscow and wait until brands come to us,” says Nataly. “We create marketing strategies, and share them with the brands. We don’t wait around for incoming requests.”
7. Give back to your community
Increasingly, people are realizing that success can’t be just about you, and it’s important to give back to those who got you to where you are now. Nataly and Murad do the same. “We built a travel community around people who may not be that famous, but are super talented. I am crazy about it,” says Nataly. “When we work with a brand, we put them on board.”
Their entrepreneurial mindset, endless energy, passion, and love for each other are some of the main reasons why they are still successful. As Nataly says, “We are lucky because it’s the two of us. If one of us is down, we pick each other up.” And that is something that really make their lives easier while they are keeping up the momentum after so many years.
Nora Oravecz is a self-made social media personality, best-selling author, and speaker on a mission to help the next generation of influencers and entrepreneurs by exploring and sharing the stories of some of the world’s most successful people. Learn more: noraoravecz.co
Proofread by: Xylia Buros