How FuckJerry Wants To Go From Instagram To Empire


Walking into the exposed-brick, open office of Jerry Media in Manhattan’s Chinatown, there is no question the company is a “millennial startup.” In jeans and a baseball cap, 29-year-old CEO Mick Purzycki is facing off in a mini basketball carnival-style game against 25-year-old Elliot Tebele, the founder of the hit Instagram account @FuckJerry. Meanwhile Chief Content Officer James Ryan Ohliger (the oldest of Jerry Media’s leadership team at age 30) tinkers with a green screen. I share the elevator with a burrito-toting delivery man from Maple, the Momofuku-backed food delivery service, and Tebele’s partner Elie Ballas, 25, offers to bring me water—in a red Solo cup.

But this only seems appropriate, as Jerry Media’s mission is to harness its knowledge of the millennial mindset and habits to create advertising and branding that resonate with young consumers: content that goes viral, generates followers and makes people stop and laugh or think, rather than scroll by.

 There may be no one better to do so than Tebele, one of social media’s most viral personalities, who is known to his 8.5 million Instagram followers as FuckJerry, curator and creator of memes, funny photoshopped images and clever captions.

When he started out on the road to social media fame with a Tumblr account five year ago, business was the farthest thing from his mind.

“It was just a hobby of mine. I just took pictures and collected off the internet. I was doing my thing, posting pictures, whatever,” said Tebele in his casual and nonchalant way amplified by his black Adidas tee-shirt and skinny jeans. (For the record, there is no Jerry, the name came to him while he was watching an episode of Seinfeld.)

When Instagram became popular, he migrated over to the platform (he no longer updates his Tumblr, after a password snafu left him unable to log in), and after a number of celebrity reposts, followers began flooding in.

He started to expand, building other popular channels such as @beigecardigan (a collaboration between himself and his wife Jessica Tebele offering a more feminine perspective), @pizza and @KanyeDoingThings. By the summer 2014, with a few hundred thousand followers, he realized that he had something big going on.

Enter childhood friend Ballas, a tall, gangly Stanford grad steeped in startup culture, who soon convinced Tebele to turn the account into a business. Tebele, who was working at his family’s wholesale business (”not so fun,” he says) was receptive.

“He has always been hustling, even as a kid, everything from vintage sneakers, to tickets. So I knew if he kept up the hustle with his accounts, it could develop into something,” said Ballas, who left the app development company Fueled to partner with Tebele.

Their first sponsored post went up in the summer of 2014, promoting Burger King’s latest offering: chicken fries. That post cost Burger King $3,000—a number that is big or small depending on who you are. Celebrities like the Kardashians can get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per post, according to the Jerry Media team.

“It was definitely a nervous feeling,” remembered Tebele of the chicken fries post. “ I checked all the comments and luckily people loved it. There were a couple here and there about selling out, which sucked, but overall people loved it.”

Since then, Tebele and Balas have run with it, making branded content the core of their monetization strategy for FuckJerry. They generally charge a flat fee, as well as per engagement and follower, which has become a currency itself. FuckJerry alone—which also lends its name and comedic talents to a successful e-juice line and a clothing line — is set to do $1.5 million to 3 million in revenue over the next 12 months, the team says.

Sensing a larger opportunity, they founded Jerry Media: an agency for the digital and mobile age that helps brands with social media management, social amplification and media buying.

“We started to notice a shift in the way businesses were treating their social media,” explained Mick. “Marketing departments now view social media as the channel to put our culture out into the world.”

The Jerry Media team—which currently totals nine in-house—produces all content for its clients, taking over their Instagram feeds and Snapchat profile, while also pushing traffic towards them using their own accounts. These account takeovers are priced out per hour but the content itself generally ends up being around $30,000. On top of that, they charge a “CPF” or cost per follower, which is generally around $1, but varies on the brand and type of engagement. The company hopes to make $2 million in sales over the next 12 months.

“The response has been pretty wild,” Purzycki said, dropping his smooth-talking CEO face and breaking into an excited smile. He listed seven big-name brands the company is working with—off the record—ranging from some of the most well-known apps to restaurant chains.

“We are not taking anyone else on, for the moment,” Tebele added, proudly explaining that no company has turned down their ideas, but his exhaustion coming through his excitement.

Additionally the brand does one-off videos—largely produced and created by Ohliger—for companies, including Lyft, Shake Shack and Spot Fund, as well as one-off cross promotional work with celebrities like Justin Bieber.

“Convincing the brands to give us creative freedom and trusting in our ability to create great content for a massive brand is an incredible feeling,” Ohliger said.

Through all of the content, Jerry Media is careful to stick with the same principles as FuckJerry (if an Instagram feed can have principles): Keep it honest, keep it authentic, and make sure the gap between the creator and consumer is as small as possible.

“Don’t think of it as a Super Bowl commercial, where it’s overly produced,” said Purzycki. “Keep it relatable and authentic.”

While Instagram has many stars, some of whom are making good money, Tebele and Ballas’ initiative is rare. Compare the FuckJerry boys to popular Instagram celebrity The Fat Jew, for example. Rather than applying his Instagram skillset for other brands, The Fat Jew has made his own, becoming a front-facing celebrity and licensing everything from a book to his own line of wine, White Girl Rose.

“That was a smart move, the rose. He’s doing smart stuff, but following a different route,” said Tebele, who is still generally responsible for the six daily posts from the main account. “My goal is not to be famous.”

But the company isn’t limiting itself to funny business: It recently launched the breaking news account @FJDailyNews.

“Snapchat and Instagram are so ubiquitous that they do cannibalize time spent reading news, and a lot of millennials just don’t keep up with news the same way that older generations did,” Mick said. “So we felt it was a good next step and wouldn’t have gotten into it if we thought it was going to compromise the current brand.”

FuckJerry is also in talks with networks on a television show that would recap what went viral any given week, and developing a book of history through memes and social media, and a Cards Against Humanity type card game.

While this variety may strike some as a surprise, the team stressed one thing throughout the meeting: Jerry Media is about more than just one Instagram feed. “We view FuckJerry as a digital media company,” Ballas said. “So that is going to entail doing a lot of different things, building onto other platforms, producing our own content….The next generation platform? We’re just waiting to figure that one out so we can build it.”

And hopefully on the way, smell the roses. “I mean, I’m surprised. Instead of working some day job, I’m sitting here having a Forbes interview. That’s pretty sweet,” Tebele said.

 

(Photo by Evan Reeves)

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