“I’m essentially in a self-induced Truman Show,” says Jenn Im, 28, a long-time YouTube star and the influencer behind ImJennIm, an Instagram account with 1.7 million followers. “I’ve always been obsessed with documenting my life.” But Im’s husband, musician and videographer Ben Jolliffe, 32, is much happier to be behind the scenes, and thankfully he’s really good at it. Since launching his videography career only two and a half years ago — mostly by creating videos for Im — Jolliffe has worked with other influencers and brands, like Jackie Aina, Bootsy Bellows, and 1 Oak, while amassing nearly 88,000 Instagram followers of his own.
Jolliffe credits much of his success to his relationship with Im, and being able to work with and learn from her. After all, she was the reason he moved from London to Los Angeles, and it was by working on her brand that he was able to fully establish his passion for videography. “Meeting Jenn changed everything for me,” says Jolliffe. “I had been in a band for most my life, and when I moved to L.A, I was excited to pursue a new career but I didn’t know what it was yet. Through helping Jenn take photos and video for her channel, I began to really enjoy it. This was a new way for me to be creative, and over time it turned into my career.”
Regardless of how cringe-worthy or jealousy-inducing it might seem, there’s no denying that in 2019, running a major Instagram account has gone from a hobby to a full-time career. And for high-earning influencers, like Julia Engel of Gal Meets Glam and Arielle Noa Charnas of Something Navy, in order to be successful, they have to be all in. And that means their partners are in, too. That’s why Jolliffe was able to parlay documenting his wife’s #OOTDs into a sustainable business of his own, and why Engel’s husband, Thomas Berolzheimer, 29, quit his tech job to become a full time partner in Gal Meets Glam, after realizing they could be making millions on her posts if he did. In the world of Instagram Husbands, those who make a real job of it are more common than you’d think.
With over 1.2 million followers on Instagram, Julia Engel, 28, is more like an empire than an influencer. In the eight years since starting Gal Meets Glam, she’s partnered with brands such as Tiffany & Co, Tory Burch, and most notably, Nordstrom, where, like fellow mega-influencer Arielle Charnas of Something Navy, she has her own top-selling line. In 2017, Forbes listed Engel as one of the top influencers in the US, and in 2016 WWD estimated that she made $1-3 million a year through sponsorships and partnerships. “I didn’t make money for the first few years because there wasn’t really any money to be made,” says Engel. “I never ever thought of it as a potential future career.” That has clearly changed. And her husband’s role evolved from the guy who shows up in a few kissy-face posts to an entrepreneurial hustler with some actual work to do.
“As long as I can remember I have always had entrepreneurial goals,” says Berolzheimer, who’s been Engel’s “Instagram boyfriend” since college. “When I first met Julia I was on the path of going to beer-brewing school and then eventually starting my own brewery.” He received his MBA, and swapped beer for the tech-startup life, but found himself spending all of his time outside of his day job working on Gal Meets Glam, applying what he learned in business school to his girlfriend’s growing fashion and lifestyle brand.
After hours, on nights and weekends, and even sometimes during his lunch breaks, Berolzheimer would meet up with Engel and shoot #OOTD photos of her, or channel his business skills to determine the best return on investment for advertisers. After spending countless weekends working a second job at Gal Meets Glam, Berolzheimer decided that he not only had the education to help take the brand to the next level, but that it made the most sense for the couple financially for him to devote himself to it 100 percent. “In 2014, we reached a point where we either had to hire someone or I needed to join full time,” he says.
But he’s been just public enough to amass a following of 64.5k of his own, and he’s parlayed his skills into a successful photography business. And he’s not the only “Instagram husband” whose proximity to an influencer has influenced his own bottom line.
Take for example Brandon Charnas, who is frequently featured on the Something Navy Instagram account, either laying in bed watching The Bachelor or answering Ask Me Anything questions from his wife, Arielle’s, many fans (she has 1.2 million followers; her brand has 207,000). Charnas, 33, is very candid about the fact that his real estate business, Current Real Estate, relies heavily on his clients being fans of Arielle, and that the payoff for that fandom can be substantial. “Frequently, I would call owners of buildings and find out that their daughter followed my wife on Instagram,” says Charnas. “Just that alone turned cold leads into hot ones, which was all I needed to get my foot in the door.”
According to a 2018 profile in The Observer, Charnas often brokers deals by including Arielle’s presence as a perk, and that perk has netted him investments in companies like Bandier, which, Charnas told The Observer, “is probably valued now at 100 million bucks.” And those types of deals are certainly fuel to keep going, even if it means having your public life and persona (not to mention quiet moments in front of the TV) constantly watched by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people.
For Wang, having a husband who is so invested in her success and also an expert in the advertising industry is certainly helpful, though it does come with its own challenges. “Anytime you work for yourself and with family, it’s easy to fall into the trap of working 24/7,” she says. “So we’re always working to find the right balance and set boundaries about how much we share or don’t share, especially with a young child, and set aside deliberate technology-free times.” They do let followers in on some of the trials of new parenthood, though; one recent DadView post documented Wang clipping Nori’s fingernails while wearing a headlamp one might use while spelunking.
That kind of attention on one’s personal life isn’t the biggest perk for everyone in the Insta-Husband game. Paris Sims, 28, the fiance of Courtney Quinn of ColorMeCourtney, takes the publicity along with the perks of exposing his relationship to Quinn’s 542,000 followers. “We’ll be walking around NYC and followers will come up to us and let us know how Courtney has impacted their life or how they identified with us. To see how the work we’re doing online has real-world impact is worth giving up a little privacy for,” Sims says.
Sims says he and Courtney often wake up at sunrise so they can take photos before he heads to work as a public relations manager, and they spend evenings and weekends developing mood boards, pitching potential clients, and gathering all the materials they need for their photoshoots. “In addition to sneaking out of work for a long lunch break to take photos or attend an event, I also have to plan longer trips around my work schedule. I’ll add PTO or vacation days around holidays and weekends so we can extend a trip or work on a large project together,” says Sims. “Luckily, I work for an agency that not only understands my unique situation but encourages me and Courtney attending industry events and networking with other influencers and brands because it ends up benefiting everyone.”
Due to his work at a marketing agency with clients including HBO, Heineken, and Nike, Sims gets the business argument for exposing his personal life the way ColorMeCourtney requires, and his experience benefits the brand, too. “He is so much of his own star, he doesn’t need me to help him shine,” Quinn says of her fiance. “He was able to create his own career from scratch, [and] if anything I would say his hidden influence and understanding of brands on the back end has helped me.”
Specifically, Quinn says sharing her love life with her followers earned the couple between $500,000 to $1 million in 2018. And Sims has racked up a few thousand Instagram followers of his own, which is only one of the benefits to being connected to an influencer at Quinn’s level. “Aside from traveling the world with your fiancé, which is an awesome benefit, I think I benefit most from the creative aspect,” he says.
But they struggle with that on-all-the-time and living-in-public difficulty every influencer knows all too well. “At the end of the day this was a choice I made to share my life, and he was just kind enough to support me,” she says. “So if we fought while taking photos one day, I won’t stop the argument to film it for Instagram stories, but I might share what I did wrong in hindsight to help someone in a similar situation.”
Others in this situation, like Berolzheimer and Charnas, say it’s important to acknowledge the effort that the less-influential partner puts in — it’s a lot more than going with the flow; and despite recent jabs at the subject of Instagram Husbands, it’s more than lying down on a beach to take hot photos of your hot wife. “There’s too much that I do to list it all out,” Berolzheimer says. Charnas adds that being full-time dedicated is crucial to the success of the brand — so there’s no such thing as a halfway Instagram husband.
“If you aren’t going to focus on making them more than just an influencer and working to help them build their brand, then don’t get involved,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, and when they don’t have your support it shows.” And that goes double when you do have theirs.