In this series, Instagram Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular Instagram accounts to find out the secrets of their success.
By simply looking at her Instagram account, a mysterious feeling arises. Who is this “Aureta” lady with the beautifully curated, colorful account chalk full of fashion, art, design and yes -- a few selfies?
With images taken from locations around the world, no last name on her account and captions barely longer than three words -- she could be anyone: a travel blogger, a fashion designer, a painter. It turns out, Aureta Thomollari is just a woman with an incredible eye for aesthetics and Instagram is her hobby. In fact, Thomollari's main focus is on her career as an entrepreneur and investor.
While she’s always loved fashion, art and design, she didn’t initially turn to Instagram to share her passions with the world. Around four years ago, after joining Instagram under the impression that it was a photo filter app and posting thousands of personal pictures, Thomollari’s sister pointed out that she had a following of nearly 7,000 users and that she wasn’t following anyone herself. After a moment of panic, Thomollari then began using the app to document her exciting life, sharing photos she loves to help others escape through her imagery.
From photos of exotic trips around the world to inspirational images, Thomollari uses her Instagram to fuel her passions and as a public photo diary with more than 486,000 followers today. What’s been the secret to her success? Mystery. From the looks of her account, one would never know that she graduated summa cum laude from business school, without a single B in her life, and now dabbles in a number of different business ventures.
“They probably think I can't even speak. I love the mystery in things," she tells Entrepreneur. "When people are mysterious, I want to know more.”
Eventually, after growing her personal account, being the entrepreneur she is, Thomollari saw an opportunity. After noticing that her friend and now business partner, Jordan Watson, also had an Instagram account (@love.watts) that was doing quite well, they decided to join forces.
Watson and Thomollari launched @watts.on, @watts.place and @watts.world, each with followings in the thousands and hundreds of thousands, which they’ve used to leverage and gain followers to their own personal accounts.
Thomollari continues to focus on her entrepreneurial ventures while growing her Instagram account. “I look at it as a gallery space [that] I'm curating. I'm so conscious of the colors and the shapes of the picture next to the other,” she shares.
Eager to find out more about the mysterious entrepreneur-slash-Instagram icon, we chatted with Thomollari to learn how she uses Instagram and her tips for others looking to start on the platform.
A post shared by Aureta (@aureta) on Sep 3, 2017 at 1:48pm PDT
How did you get your start with Instagram?
It was about four years ago and I thought it was a filter app until one day my sister goes, “You have 7,000 followers and you're following zero.” And I said, “Following zero?” I remember it was Fashion Week and I started going crazy deleting them -- it must have been more than 2,000 pictures. I wasn't aware that it was a platform where [anybody] could view your pictures. I've always been late in new technology.
[After] that point I was aware and I saw it as a brand because no matter how big or how little of a following, you're putting yourself out there. [But] there was a viewing and people watching, so obviously [I was] more aware of what [I was] presenting to the world.
I studied business management in college and moved to Los Angeles about 14 years ago to open a jewelry store, [but then] I sold my percentage in that. I got into the business world and it was one venture after another. I was an entrepreneur. [Now I] invest in different companies, and some investment banking and real estate. [Instagram] is kind of my hobby.
Aureta is my personal one. Jordan Watson and I share the other accounts -- @watts.on, @watts.place and @watts.world.
What other platforms do you use and what percentage of the time do you spend on them vs. Instagram?
Honestly only Instagram. I dabbled a little bit with Snapchat last year and then I remember I was in Italy having breakfast when I found out that Instagram introduced Stories and I was so relieved. I love how simple Instagram is and how it's a visual diary. Even if it wasn't popular, I would [still] use it because it's such a perfect way of documenting my life.
A post shared by Aureta (@aureta) on Aug 24, 2017 at 11:52am PDT
What makes Instagram a better platform than other social media?
For me, it's so simple. It's just a flow of images and not too much work. I don't really like to influence people and give my opinion. The other ones, [Facebook and Twitter], are a little pushy. I like people to escape through images, and I think when people start talking too much they become less interesting.
How much of your time do you devote to it?
At least two hours a day. Not [just] creating content but scrolling through. Through meetings, I'm checking my Instagram [and] my messages.
How do you promote your account? What's your number one way to gain followers?
I saw that our accounts were doing so well and said [to Watson] let’s open something together where we can put whatever we want, where it's not so conscious because it doesn't really have our names. So that's how it started.
Through the other accounts -- we repost each other's accounts. When we started @watts.on, we would post pictures and we would say via @watts.on. So we're using all of our platforms to push [other] platforms.
How do you engage with others on the platform?
I love the new feature [where] you can "like" comments. I think the number one way I show that I'm reading the comments and everything is by liking. And artists have been drawing me a lot, which is very flattering, so I repost their images that they draw and I comment and like.
A post shared by Aureta (@aureta) on Aug 28, 2017 at 2:10pm PDT
How often do you post?
At least three pictures per day and maximum five. When I’m home, it's probably one picture of myself and two art [or] inspirational pictures. When I travel, which happens very often, I'm on the road and I post a lot more -- Fashion Week would be one of them [and] all the different art fairs.
I'm based in Los Angeles. I tell people this is where my closet is even though last year I was in 24 countries. I'm on this mission to hit 100 countries by the age of 40. I'm at 73.
What's your content strategy?
I look at it as a gallery space [that] I'm curating. I'm so conscious of the colors and the shapes of the picture next to the other.
A lot of people just look at it as when [they] scroll through [a] feed, whereas I go to the main page and make sure that the colors are in harmony with the ones next to it -- with the picture to the left, to the right, under it. I'm looking at it as a gallery, as a white wall space. [It’s] complete passion -- just the way I see the world. So my mood on creating content always changes on how I'm feeling that particular moment.
I'm a very private person so even though it might seem that I'm sharing a lot, it's very controlled. I try not to ever be sad even though I'm a human and I have my moments. But I try to only show beauty and hopefully help people escape through my posts.
A post shared by Aureta (@aureta) on Aug 30, 2017 at 5:53pm PDT
How has your content strategy evolved as Instagram has added features?
Lately I've been thinking that I'm going to start doing videos. I always thought it would be incredible to direct something [but] I always shied away from it because I have really successful director friends. [But] I've seen that people really react to the way I [feel] and the way I even do my Stories. I'm so neurotic to crazy levels. So lately I've been working on this 15-second video that I'm going to start introducing. There isn't an exact strategy, I just love beautiful images and magical things. I'm shooting whatever comes to my mind that day. It changes, it's like dressing up -- the range is so wide.
What's your best storytelling trick?
Mystery -- I try to say as little as humanly possible. No one even knows I went to college, no one knows that I never got a B in my life [and] that I graduated summa cum laude. They probably think I can't even speak. I love the mystery in things. When people are mysterious, I want to know more. When people start talking too much, it's just too much.
Even the way I shoot my Stories, I'm always trying to [make] them wonder: Who took this? Who is your photographer? Who is traveling with you? Even though no one necessarily -- it's just some random person that I tell how to stand.
How do you set yourself apart from others on the platform?
Honestly, not to sound cliche, but you have to be yourself. Like the saying goes, "[Be yourself], everyone else is [already] taken.” So I'm just trying not to get influenced by anybody, no trends, nothing. I'm who I've always been. If you are your own person, you're going to stand apart.
How do you leverage your Instagram and to what extent do you monetize it?
[Instagram] is kind of my hobby, but I have been able to monetize it. But I've been so careful about monetizing it. I want to be exclusive and I don't want to just say “yes” to everything. It's not my first line of work and providing a living for myself. I always want to be careful that I [don’t] oversaturate myself and [say] “yes” to everything. Any partnerships with a brand has to completely make sense to me and it has to be organic.
I just did a big activation with [designers] Oliver Peoples and Alain Mikli. That's been the latest one. It's [both] creating content and posting, also connecting them with different artists who can also create content for them.
A post shared by Aureta (@aureta) on May 20, 2017 at 7:38am PDT
What advice do you have for other Instagram influencers or people who want to build brands on the platform?
Be different. There are so many influencers, so many bloggers, there's so much -- the internet [and] the whole world [are] so oversaturated. But I think just be yourself. You have to. The only thing that is going to survive is being unique and different. Don't be afraid of your quirkiness or your differences. Don't try to fit in ever ever ever.
I tell people all the time: never compete with other humans, you are not in competition with another woman or another man. You're always in competition with yourself in life. That's how I see it. I want to be better every single day with content [and] with just life in general.
What's a misconception many people have about Instagram?
It takes a lot of time. I consider myself very, very busy. I have three lunches today and two dinners to go to and I still have to Instagram because if [I] commit to something, I have to do it. You can't just not do it. It's not easy when you're striving for something to be perfect. It's a lot of work and people that are doing it as a full-time job are spending five [to] six hours [every day].