How a 23-Year-Old’s Memes Landed $85 Million

Matt Lane by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

In August, Warner Music Group bought a small company called IMGN Media for a cool $85 million.

IMGN, a self-described “tech-media company,” creates trendy, data-driven content for advertisers, then distributes them across its collection of social media accounts. But while many of its brands have notable reach among millennials and Gen Z, it’s clear Warner ponied up for one portfolio account in particular: @daquan.

At 15.7 million followers and climbing, @daquan is one of the biggest meme pages on Instagram. None of the other IMGN accounts come anywhere close to its influence. The account is followed by A-list celebrities including Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Kevin Hart, and has received post requests from Bieber and Demi Lovato via DM.

The craziest part? @daquan’s notoriously anonymous founder and mastermind created the account in 2014, when he was just 16.

After starting it one day while bored in class, he grew quickly by creating “Daquan” memes, jokes about a fictional white woman dating a black man. Soon, however, he pivoted to posting all kinds of memes. In 2017, he joined forces with IMGN, and in the last three years, he’s built @daquan into a cultural force that became the driving force of the multimillion-dollar Warner sale.

This is an incredible story for sure, but if you think it was all luck, you’d be off the mark. Here are three lessons from this acquisition on how to get the most out of today’s social media environment.

1. Originality is non-negotiable

While @daquan now posts all varieties of memes, including many that are just reposts of tweets and TikToks, it built much — if not most — of its following by creating original captions for trending memes.

In an interview with Observer, @daquan’s founder recounts how he got his first 150,000 followers by creating original “Daquan” memes, which were all the rage in 2014 (as mentioned earlier, these are memes about a fictional white woman dating a black man). Here are a few links to his first posts (I’ve filtered out some of the NSFW ones).

The takeaway here is straightforward. To gain traction on social media, you must create original content. This held true in 2014 when he started the account, and it’s even more relevant in 2020 as Instagram has gotten exponentially more crowded.

Whether you’re starting a meme account, dog account or sports highlights account, ask yourself: with hundreds of similar accounts clogging up everyone’s feeds, what’s going to make someone want to follow yours?

That’s the $85 million question.

2. Subject interest is the secret sauce

It’s tempting to look at success stories like these and think “I should start a meme account too.”

But the truth is unless you’re passionate about what you’re curating, you’re setting yourself up for failure. That’s because people who are obsessed with their niche notice details others can’t see, which gives them a huge competitive advantage.

@daquan’s founder’s genuine love for memes enabled him to create entirely original jokes in the early days, allowing him to stand out from the sea of repost accounts.

Another example: I run a Golden Retrievers curation account on Instagram with two million followers. There are dozens of Golden Retriever curation accounts out there, but in 2020, most of them are losing followers.


Because they’re just copying what other accounts are posting. At the end of the day, they’re not taking time to understand the nuances of what their audience wants to see (ie. the lighting composition of the picture, what the dog is doing in the video, the kind of background music being used, etc.).

To avoid this trap, I constantly analyze which content styles perform the best, allowing me to curate content that’s strictly relevant to my audience’s tastes. This has kept my account relevant amidst the content fatigue.

So before you get too enthusiastic about starting your own meme account, ask yourself: “am I passionate about memes?”

3. Brands need memes

Warner agreed to the $85 million price tag for two reasons:

  1. They see @daquan as a powerful tool for making their songs go viral
  2. Owning IMGN means owning advanced data on how millennials and Gen Z behave

Memes hold tremendous power in today’s culture. Like viral TikToks, they have the ability to influence what’s popular among young adults. Stick a song in a viral meme and the whole internet will know it in days. It’s more than just music too — a cleverly placed product or brand can get unparalleled brand awareness.

That makes them invaluable to companies looking to reach the upcoming generation.

Want to communicate effectively on social media? Study memes. Learn how and why they go viral, then create your own. In addition to spending time on social media, use for background on why specific memes go viral.

To stay up to date on trending memes, keep close tabs on Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and Reddit.

Welcome to the Wild West

Aside from the astronomical price, this acquisition is fascinating because currently there aren’t any standards when it comes to selling social media accounts. The market is wholly unpredictable. An account with 15 million followers could sell for $85,000 or $85 million.

(In fact, selling accounts is technically against Instagram’s Terms of Use, though I’m sure if you’re Warner Music Group, you have no problem getting backdoor approval.)

Personal anecdote: I’ve been offered everything between $3,000 and $40,000 for my Golden Retrievers account with two million followers. If you measure those offers against this sale, you might conclude that they’re all too low (fingers crossed).

Regardless, the final takeaway here is to just take action, because the media industry has entered a new era where anyone can profit.

Have an idea for an account in a niche you love? Go make it happen. If @daquan was started by a bored 16-year-old, there’s no reason you can’t start the next multimillion-dollar account.

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