Open Influence took over iconic venue Mr. Brainwash Art Museum in Beverly Hills, Calif., April 4 for Open Creators 2023, an invite-only, external-facing event dedicated to recognizing the success of OI’s premium creator network.
The event drew more than 175 attendees involved with the creator economy, with a combined reach topping 250 million, and many of those in the room helped resolve a nagging debate: When asked whether they should be referred to as creators or influencers, a whopping 83% of the 120-plus who responded opted for creators. You can see some of those responses here.
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Food artist, content creator, and trendsetter Ruby Perman spoke first, describing how the pandemic helped fuel her shift from a graphic designer to a fashion food artist.
Perman talked about her love for awards season and red-carpet fashion, saying, “All was magical in ‘La-La Land’ until the pandemic canceled everything, including the Oscars and the Grammys, so my idea was to combine my love of food art and fashion and create a mini-fashion show in my kitchen with celebrities dressed in food.”
She started out doing so on Instagram before TikTok—where she now tallies more than 1.8 million followers—”blew up.”
Her first attempt at TikTok was a video of Jennifer Lawrence in a red pomegranate dress, which went viral, and featured among her over 500 similar efforts are Billie Eilish in a green avocado jumper to match her hair at the time, and plays on words such as Benedict Cucumberbatch, David Beckham & Cheese, and Jennifer Appleston.
Just prior to taking the stage, Perman posted a video of Mr. Brainwash dressed in kosher candy couture.
“Creating art is about connecting people, and the power of influence is all around us,” she said.
Waheed now has more than 40 million collective followers across various social platforms, with some 11.5 billion views in 2022 alone, and he was the fastest-growing comedy creator on YouTube, amassing 10 million followers in 11 months.
He entertained the crowd with his journey from sleeping on his sister’s couch in the Los Angeles area while trying to become an actor, to deciding to try his hand at Instagram videos, taking four months to make his first one, a 30-second effort, which garnered just 90 views, fewer than his 300 followers at the time.
His second and third attempts fared no better, with roughly 70 and 60 views, but No. 4 changed his life.
Waheed said, “I posted in the morning. At nighttime, it had 1,000 views, which was kind of cool—it was more than my following, but I didn’t think anything of it. I woke up the next morning, and it had 400,000 views, and I was like, ‘What the hell happened last night?’ I found out that Ludacris, the rapper, had reposted my video, which was really cool but also really random. I didn’t think he’d be watching my stuff late at night. I went to 7,000 followers in one day.”
Although his next video resulted in only 900 views, with Waheed saying, “I got humbled really quick,” he pressed on, posting videos every single day and reaching 500,000 followers in about five months, “but I was making zero money. I was getting recognized in the streets, but I had six roommates. I was meeting other creators and I was like, ‘How is everyone making money?’”
It turns out that brand deals were the answer to that question, so he borrowed $3,500 from his sister and flew to Medford, Ore., to shoot a video with a giraffe, and that video skyrocketed to 7 million views, but he still made no money.
A friend who was part of an early beta monetization program at Facebook posted one of his videos and agreed to give him one-half of the revenue, which amounted to about $18,000, and then the brand deals started pouring in.
After receiving a direct message from T-Mobile offering him $20,000 to create a video, brands including Old Spice, Mountain Dew, and Doritos followed suit, and Waheed had earned close to $1 million by the end of that year.
“I was able to turn my passion into a full-fledged business,” he said. “I was able to create branded content and create all of this revenue.”
Waheed also discussed his involvement with Open Influence, telling attendees, “A few years down the line, I was introduced to Open Influence. The thing that’s so amazing about them is that they are so forward-thinking. It’s not always easy to work with a brand. What brands don’t understand and OI does understand is that at the end of the day, we’re creators, but we’re also brands. This is a collaborative process. OI understands that. They’re that middleman—more of a collaboration than a one-way street.”
He shared advice for creators in the audience, telling them, “You guys aren’t just creators: You guys are brands. You need to start looking at yourself in that way. That’s going to take putting in the right amount of work. You have to have a schedule and hold yourself accountable for that schedule. You can’t do part-time work and expect full-time results. This never shuts off. I’m constantly going, constantly meeting people.”
As for planning ahead, Waheed said, “You always want to think forward. When things are good, how can they be great? When things are great, how can they be extraordinary? I’m always thinking two steps ahead. It’s good right now, but how’s it going to be in two years? If you don’t keep up with the times, you will get left behind.”
“Open Creators is the community we are proud to identify as our trusted creator partners,” Open Influence head of talent relations Katie Plattner said. “Why? Because we know that we are only as strong as the creators we work with. With the creator economy rapidly growing, it is crucial that we elevate creators who are fully committed to being in the driver’s seat—those not just maintaining their presence, but expanding it. With the turnout at the Open Creators official release party, we did just that.”