Some people just seem to have it all: They manage to pull off a great work-life balance, are passionate about their career, and bring home a pretty hefty paycheck. While this description may apply to many people, there’s a certain breed of entrepreneur that has created an entirely new category of success: Meet the self-made social media star.
If you’re above the age of 30 (or maybe even 25), you’ve probably only heard about this emergent class of ultra-successful professionals in passing. But let us assure you, they do, in fact, exist. There are also, perhaps surprisingly, many of them, their ranks quickly growing as men and women—many of whom aren’t yet old enough to rent a car—market themselves on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, and YouTube.
What, then, do they do to attract their legions of loyal followers? It runs the gamut: They’re comedians, fashion enthusiasts, filmmakers, bloggers, and avid gamers. Yet while these entrepreneurs may come from different walks of life, they are united by the fame and fortunes they’ve cultivated by strategically leveraging the power and reach of these 21st century digital platforms.
Skeptical? Here are five insanely successful social media entrepreneurs who have forged unique career paths that have garnered them millions of devoted followers and, more often than not, millions of dollars.
1. Felix Kjellberg, AKA PewDiePie
PewDiePie, née Felix Kjellberg, is arguably the most famous and successful member of today’s crop of self-made YouTube stars. So, what does he do? Though he has a massive audience on Twitter—6.65 million followers and counting—PewDiePie primarily records videos of himself playing videogames that he then uploads to his YouTube channel, where he has 40 million subscribers and has amassed 10.2 billion views.
Before you question the state of a world in which someone can become rich and famous for simply playing videogames, take heart in knowing that PewDiePie—whose name is a riff on ‘cutie pie’—is something of a comedian. His videos are filled with jokes that keep his diehard fans coming back for more. The twenty-six-year-old is also an expert marketer who brought home $12 million in just the past year, according to Forbes.
2. Liz Eswein, the Creator/Owner of the @NewYorkCity Instagram Account
Most people didn’t pay much attention when Instagram launched its photo-centric social media platform in 2010. But Liz Eswein isn’t most people.
According to the New York Times, Eswein, now in her mid-20s, was among the first users to join Instagram, claiming in 2011 the @NewYorkCity handle while she was still a senior at New York University. As the social media platform’s popularity skyrocketed, so did @NewYorkCity’s perceived value.
Though she still maintains the account, Eswein sought to utilize her social media prowess to help brands better and more effectively interact with both influencers and their target audiences. She continues to do that through The Mobile Media Lab, the company she founded in 2012 that the Times notes earned more than $1 million in revenue in only its first few years of existence. With clients like Kate Spade, Coach, Burberry, and Estee Lauder, that’s not hard to believe.
3/4 (Tie): Tuna the Dog, the Subject of the @TunaMeltsMyHeart Instagram Handle; and Boo the Pomeranian, One of Facebook’s Most Popular Canine Accounts
If you use Instagram, then there’s a good chance that you follow a number of animal-centric accounts. With 1.5 million followers and counting, @TunaMeltsMyHeart is one of the more popular such handles on the platform. Not content to dominate only Instagram, Tuna, whose fame derives from his strange yet undoubtedly engrossing overbite, expanded beyond the world of social media with this year’s release of “Tuna Melts My Heart: The Underdog with the Overbite,” a book that tells how the Chiweenie—that’s part Chihuahua, part Dachsund—went from a “Southern California castaway to Hollywood heartbreaker.”
Unlike Tuna, Boo the Pomeranian got his start on Facebook, where more than 17 million people have liked the little fluff ball’s page. According to BuzzFeed and Money Magazine, Boo’s owner—whom AllThingsD identified as Facebook finance bigwig Irene Ahn—is in a league of her own when it comes to canine social media entrepreneurship: She has used Boo’s cuddly visage to create toy lines, publish multiple books, and ink a deal that made Boo the first “pet liaison” in Virgin America’s history.
5. Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla, AKA Smosh
Like PewDiePie, Smosh has achieved fame by leveraging YouTube’s more than 1 billion active users. Comprising childhood friends Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla, the partners in comedy have been creating and producing sketch comedy routines for more than a decade. But it wasn’t until they began uploading and promoting them on YouTube in 2005 that they really started to gain traction.
More than 21 million users subscribe to the comedy duo’s primary YouTube account, which they update weekly and whose videos have logged just under 5 billion views. Both in their late 20s, they operate a handful of additional YouTube channels, and this year they even released a feature film, appropriately titled “Smosh: The Movie.”
These and other business ventures allow Smosh to (very easily) pay their bills. Forbes estimates that the Sacramento natives brought home $8.5 million over the past year.