Elliot Tebele makes internet memes for a living.
Just 25 years old, Tebele created the famous Instagram account known as “----Jerry.”
In five years, Tebele’s Instagram account has amassed nearly 10 million followers, which has helped turn his memes into money with corporate-sponsored posts.
“I like to post things that people normally wouldn’t say out loud or really think about,” he said. “And then you read it and it’s super strangely relatable.”
For example, he said, “The post I put up today on ----Jerry, when you flip the pillow over to the colder side and the owl looks like he’s … having an orgasm. That’s not really something you say out loud, but everybody does it and it’s the best feeling. Stuff like that. Playability.”
The account is now growing social media empire with a New York City office.
Tebele said it all began five years ago when he was bored and started posting pictures to his Tumblr page. A year in, he turned the Tumblr into an Instagram account and now a business with 10 full-time employees, including his childhood friend and partner, Ellie Ballas.
“We kind of all have our role in the company, which I think makes us really efficient,” said Director Ben Kaplan. “So all content decisions Elliot takes care of and anything that involves being really smart Ellie takes care of. He graduated from Stanford with a major in symbolic systems, which is like the hardest major in the world, and then all the easy stuff I do, so together we each have our role.”
Even Tebele’s wife, Jessica, joined in and runs the wildly popular Instagram account, Beige Cardigan, which has a wider female audience than Jerry.
Ninety percent of Jerry’s followers are between the ages of 16 and 35 years old -- a critical group for most advertisers. Tebele and his team declined to disclose numbers but some experts estimate top social media influences like them are making upward of $75,000 per branded post on Instagram.
The group has done posts for Bud Light, Totino's Pizza, FanDuel and more than 50 others, but their first foray into paid content was one they did for Burger King. It was a tense moment for the team because they weren’t sure how the audience would react.
“I was definitely reading every comment, making sure anyone saying, ‘Oh, this is spam,’ ‘Ads,’ ‘Sellout,’ all that good stuff, but it turned out great,” Tebele said. “I think the content’s strong enough. We make sure that it is as funny as anything else you’re going to see in the feed, so there’s no reason to hide anything.”
Tebele and his team are more than meme makers now. He founded Jerry Media, a digital agency that helps brands with social media management and media buying. The team also launched their own online business, Jerry’s World, selling everything from $55 flipflops to a $40,000 dog to a $500,000 indoor swimming pool.
Their latest venture is a card game called “What do You Meme?” -- a sort of Cards Against Humanity style photo game funded by Kickstarter.
“Over six million people see every post,” Tebele said. “Some of our best clients are film and entertainment because with one post in a few hours six million people will see something. And, if there is a show airing or new series, it’s a great way to let people know with a post.”