The first time I see Logan Paul, he is 500 metres away. And that’s about as close I get. We are at ViDCoN in Los Angeles, and the social media superstar has made a surprise appearance, only to be mobbed by over 2,000 screaming fans. It feels more like Beatlemania, as the 22-year-old college dropout from Westlake, Ohio – who nobody outside his immediate circle had heard of four years ago – is bundled into safety by security guards.
Four months later, Paul is sitting in the Delphine restaurant at the W Hollywood hotel on his own, sipping mineral water, wearing his own branded T-shirt and shorts. The setting may be less crazy, but the numbers still don’t make sense: Largely by making prankster videos of himself, he has garnered 15 million fans on Instagram, 12 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, 16 million Facebook fans, and a total social media reach now approaching 48 million. Big brands beg him to endorse their products with the lure of hundreds of thousands of dollars, though he usually turns them down. He rakes in millions per year, as his own Maverick clothing line has taken the US by storm. And he talks like an accomplished CEO twice his age, already plotting to float his empire on the stock market, and in the process, become the world’s first ever social media billionaire.
“I am a businessman. I am an entrepreneur. I am an entertainer, a creator, a life shattering mogul. It’s crazy what’s happening isn’t it? I guess there is a fascination with a six foot two white guy who dropped out of college.”
It’s a unique position to be in at a very young age, which could be viewed as either exhilarating or terrifying, and possibly both. “I feel very powerful,” is how Logan describes it, before describing how he is aware of the need to stay grounded amid the hype. “I feel very fortunate and it is so cliché but with great power comes great responsibility. I’m not kidding. I cherish that and take it very seriously, because, without sounding too cocky I am becoming the voice of a generation. And there is a lot of weight that comes with that. Although I am young, I am 22 and I sometimes do some dumb stuff in my videos, there are hints of genius in it. I know there are.”
He can say that again, having first risen to fame as a member on the internet video sharing service Vine. From that point, his rise to influence was dizzying in its speed. In February 2014, he had over 3.1 million followers on various social media platforms. By April 2014 he had attained 105,000 Twitter followers, 361,000 Instagram followers, 31,000 likes on his Facebook page and about 150,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel.
A YouTube compilation video of his Vine work attracted more than four million views in the first week it was posted. In 2015 he was ranked as the tenth most influential figure on Vine, with his six-second videos earning him hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue. By that October, his Facebook videos alone had more than 300 million views.
He posts a daily vlog on YouTube which includes him performing challenges, while his other YouTube channel, TheOfficialLoganPaul, is where he posts short films. Today, a single post from him on Instagram gets over a million likes and more than 12,000 comments, within a matter of hours.
A maverick is born
How on earth did this all happen? “When I was eight years old I asked my mum for a digital camera and I took pictures of flowers for a year. That turned into sculptures and landscapes and monuments. Then I found out what a video camera was, and I thought, ‘This is cool. I want to step up’. So I saved up, got myself a video camera and the next day my first video was on YouTube,” he says, adding: “It was ‘Logan does stunts’. I was in my basement jumping off refrigerators and over chairs and running over friends with a bouncy ball. This was just a fun hobby. Being from Ohio, entertainment and movie making wasn’t the thing.”
Eight years later, at the age of 18, as he was about to embark on his studies with a view to a career in engineering, he decided to drop out of college and move to Los Angeles, to pursue a career in entertainment. “It was difficult, to just drop out of college. It’s such a leap and sometimes taking that jump can be scary. Everyone is faced with a pivotal point in their life where they have to decide whether to take a leap or not. But I am a maverick. I took a leap.”
Paul is not the first or last college dropout to head to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune, but one of just a handful to make it big. He says it’s all down to his “work ethic”, before explaining how this is an ingrained trait.
“I have had it since I came out of the womb. When I was 15, every morning and every night I would look in the mirror and say to myself ‘I will be more successful than anyone I know’. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. ‘More successful?’ What does that even mean? You have to define success. Is it money, is it happiness? I just repeated it to myself. But these things I said became reality because of my work ethic and how I was raised from a young age.”
He adds that he started to see how this belief was becoming a reality in 2014 when he was becoming popular on Vine, and saw how many people came to his first meet-up engagement with fans. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is real’. Through a piece of technology, people will listen to the words I’m saying and then act on that as if under some sort of spell. That’s where the power comes in. I can make people do things through a phone.”
It does of course take more than hard work to make it big on social media. Close to 800 million people around the world have Instagram accounts, Facebook has more than two billion users while more than 2,000 YouTube channels have over a million subscribers. Around 44 percent of the world’s entire population own a smartphone. So what makes Logan Paul so much better than the rest?
“From the outside, and I’ve heard people in Hollywood say this, they say, ‘It’s very easy. You just pick up a camera and record your life. It can’t be that hard.’ Little do they know everything that goes into the conceptualisation, editing, posting, strategies and brand awareness. Then there’s ingraining yourself into the youth and your audience, and making it a habit that they have to come back and watch you every day. There is a strategy that goes into that. There is a science to all this.”
And what is that formula? Logan says wannabe influencers need to follow four careful steps: they must find and fill a niche, they must be creative and original in their work (“don’t worry what anyone else thinks”), and they must pay huge attention to execution and editing.
“You can’t take any of this for granted. Execution, if you are filming something, is crucial. If the lighting isn’t right or the audio is poor, nobody will watch your stuff. And if they do, they won’t come back. When it comes to editing, well, this is absolutely huge. There must be consistency in what you do, and it must be relevant. You don’t just upload. Believe me, editing is everything,” he says, adding: “This is all very scientific. I was an engineer doing industrial and systems engineering, which was about efficiency and processes. Dude, it’s a formula and I have perfected it. And I just happen to be really good at it.”
For Logan Paul, though, this is only the beginning. “When I dropped out of college I had no business plan or anything,” he explains of how past decisions inform his future intentions.
“A lot of my life has been impulse. I did not try to become a social media star. When I moved to LA, the goal was to become the biggest entertainer in the world - and it still is. But I did not know how I was going to do that. Now I know social media is the first step. This is a hobby that I have turned into a business. It is time for me to use this as a stepping stone to change the world. And I’m going to do that. I will influence people in a way that Logan Paul becomes a household name that brings happiness, entertainment, fun and inspiration to everyone.”
It is also a pretty decent business model. Paul is often offered hundreds of thousands of dollars to endorse brands, and with his huge followings on YouTube and Instagram, his earnings are thought to be millions of dollars year. But significantly, he no longer accepts every brand deal that comes his way, of which there are many. His “Maverick” brand features collections of clothes, which has extended into accessories such as bags, hats, and even iPhone cases.
But where Paul has taken a step ahead of other influencers is by making the most of his own brand, and being fully in control of it. Maverick Enterprises is now his holding company, with plans to launch a health product, an education product (using social media), a production movie studio, a record label and a hygiene product. “I consider myself a businessman,” Paul says of these offshoots. “And being a businessman to me is seeing the future, seeing where the trends are going and how I can use what I have and the audience that I have to create brands, sell those brands and grow those brands, through Maverick Enterprises. It’s crazy but what we learned is that with this power that I have, we have the ability to own everything and control everything and operate everything. So I don’t do many brand deals anymore because we’ve been able to create a brand that means more to me than any brand I work with, and is better quality.”
He adds that he’s not totally opposed to working with the right partners (“If a brand aligns with my brand and values then yes I may work with them”) but that he is more interested in shifting the whole influencer business model away from leveraging his audience to plug other brands’ products. ”We’ve created something so massive [and in doing so] our eyes have been opened to exactly what we can do in the world of consumer products. And all this has happened in the past six months. Why would I do brand deals like every other influencer when I can change the face of consumer marketing?”
His website loganpaul.com offers a good insight into the value he brings to brands. The homepage has a tab that allows you to see some statistics on the impact of his cameo in American TV series Law & Order: SVU in 2015. His appearance in the long-running show, which lasted for a couple of minutes, garnered 28.4 million loops on Vine, 234,000 shares and 1.4 million impressions.
These are engagement levels among the youth demographic that any studio would kill to achieve, especially when it is attached to an ageing product (Law & Order debuted in 1999). Not surprisingly, Logan has since appeared in other films and TV shows, as well as a YouTube Red film (the ad-free subscription service offered in some international territories by the social media giant).
The future: adapt or die
It’s while discussing the revolution in the way brands market themselves that Paul the prankster undergoes a metamorphism into Paul the hardnosed businessman. And it is an impressive transition. “You would think that brands realise that true exposure now lies in digital,” he says of where he feels his business model adds real value. “But for some reason, they still have to be woken up to this world. And it has been my job to wake them up. After we created the Maverick brand I thought, ‘I’m done waking them up. I don’t have to convince brands anymore. I will do my own thing and you’re going to watch me.’”
He offers a stark prognosis for business leaders and marketers who don’t see the world the way he, a millennial digital native, does: “Big brands still need convincing,” he warns. “My guess is it’s because the people who run them are in their sixties. You can imagine doing something a certain way for your whole life and you know it works, and then over the past four years the landscape is being flipped on its head... To be told everything that you are doing is great and is working, but that’s not where the future is; that’s a hard pill to swallow.”
He repeats a phrase he says he hears repeatedly from older, supposedly wiser, heads. “‘I’ve been in the business for 30 years; I know what I’m doing’... Listen, the world is changing. Look at Blockbuster, which was once laughing at Netflix and see what happened.”
Ultimately, Logan Paul isn’t someone who dwells on the mistakes of others. As he repeatedly makes clear, he does things his own way, to stay ahead of the pack. He rattles off several numbers and says he is looking at the potential to eventually list Maverick Enterprises on the stock market. “A stock market float? Yes, the answer is 100 percent yes. If I am the first influencer to list on the stock market that will be a game changer, so that is where I am going,” he says.
And just how big could that valuation be, given the potential audience numbers. When I suggest Maverick could be worth a billion dollars in ten years, he pauses for the first time, looking confused. “Dude that’s where I’ll be in five years’ time. I been doing this for four years and it’s become a staple of what it means to be an influencer. Give me 10 years? I have no idea. I have no ceiling, there is no cap.”
Brand strategy: stay positive
Given this talk of billion-dollar companies and digital strategies, it’s easy to forget that Paul is an excitable 22-year-old with direct access to a large and impressionable audience. One word from him on Instagram can make or break a brand or individual. Is he ever tempted to have some fun with his phone, and take down anyone he doesn’t like?
“It’s very tempting,” he admits. “I’m an early 20s man. If someone upsets me or I get poor service on an airline, what’s holding me back from completely disparaging that airline? Now, I’ve never done it, but pretty much every social influencer friend of mine has spoken their mind.”
He says he’s resisted the temptation “because I realise when I do want to put my voice behind a cause, good or bad, it’s more valuable. If you talk negatively about a brand what are you gaining? I stay out of it and keep my feelings to myself.”
And then he adds a note of humility that perhaps explains why millions of young people identify with Paul as one of their own. “I find it so amusing that social media influencers think they rule the world,” he says. “Someone needs to slap these people in the face and say, ‘You’re a C-list celebrity, calm down.’ Yes, it’s cool to have followers but who cares unless you are actually doing something with them. You’re not entitled to anything. I’m not better than you because I am me. If I can outwork you, then that’s what makes me better. In this world, you have to earn respect.”
Few could argue he has done exactly that in the past four years.
Logan Paul will speak at the ITP Live Conference in Dubai on November 12. For more information contact: email@example.com
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.