Ask anyone you meet, and you’ll likely find that 2020 has thrown a wrench in their plans. If anyone understands things not going as planned, it’s Adam Waheed. His plans for a career as a professional football player didn’t pan out as expected–which ultimately landed him, in a very roundabout way, a multi million-person following as one of the top influencers in America.
Rewind a short few years ago, and Waheed was playing college football with plans to pursue a professional career in the National Football League.
“I thought that was my calling,” he told AfterBuzz TV. “It didn’t really work out for me. I just wasn’t good enough, so I was like, ‘Well, what else can I do?’”
Enter comedy: Waheed had always had a natural ability to make people laugh, and it was his sister who suggested he go into acting.
“Then I just moved to LA, and once I got here, I was trying to get auditions and find a manager, and it was really tough,” he said. “I wasn’t having much success, and then I started to create my own stuff.”
Finding his voice & building his platform
That’s when Waheed turned to social media. He made a variety of comedic videos until he settled into what worked best for him and resonated with the most people: prop comedy. Inspired by the likes of Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, Waheed began churning out his first few videos on everyday incidents like waiting for a water fountain or finding an electrical outlet.
“Just everyday things are the stuff that’s most relatable; things that happen to me just on the daily,” Waheed explained. “If I think it’s funny, I’ll write in my notes, and then I’ll go and shoot it.”
While most creators focus on targeting a niche, he’s found that going broad is his best bet.
“Anybody–whether you’re a kid, whether you’re in high school, whether you’re an older person– can relate to it,” he said. “So it just gives my demographic and audience such a wide range.”
Once Waheed got in his groove, it only took him a few videos to go viral, which is when he says he realized he could actually make this a full-time career. Two years, millions of followers, and over a billion views later, that’s just what he’s done.
Since then, he’s been named Instagram’s “Instagrammer of the Year” in Jan. 2020, partnered with major brands such as Disney and T-Mobile, collaborated with the likes of Lele Pons and Hannah Stocking, and most recently made the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list.
Back to acting
Thanks to his massive success online, Waheed has been able to parlay his influencer status into a budding film career. This year, he produced and starred in the short film Tribes, the first of its kind to feature every race and gender. The film was accepted into the Cannes Film Festival and is already garnering Oscar buzz.
“One thing I always try to do, even if the video is so dumb, there’s still always a message within each piece of content,” Waheed said. “I knew I wanted the film to have a powerful message, something that everyone can relate to and something that’s real.”
The film tells the story of an African American, an Arab-American, and a white man who attempt to rob a train, exploring the themes of race and identity. Waheed says he hopes audiences will take away the message of unity.
“No matter how you separate people in different subgroups, whether it’s based on age, race, sex, or gender, everybody has commonality. Everyone is connected,” he said.
Carving his own path
While Waheed’s path to acting doesn’t look how he once anticipated it would, he believes creating his own content was the right road for him to take.
“Let’s say I would have had success as an actor early on when I was auditioning; I would have never come to the realization that I can create content and I’m a good writer. I can visually tell a story,” he said. “I didn’t know the power that I had, and because I wasn’t able to get any acting gigs, I was able to discover that.”
Not only do aspiring influencers look up to Waheed, but also actors. Even if you’re pursuing a career in a more traditional film or television medium, Waheed encourages creating your own content.
“Two years ago, it might’ve been a different conversation, but now social media is so important, and everybody’s using it; you don’t have to wait for anybody to cast you, so why would you not?” he said. “You can try it, and maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you go a different path, but I think leveraging social media one way or another is definitely the best option.”
The only regret Waheed has about his journey? Not starting sooner and allowing himself to learn as he went along.
“Even if you have a million followers, there’s always stuff you can continue to keep learning,” he said. “You can always keep getting better at your craft.”
How to be an influencer
For aspiring influencers or content creators, Waheed preaches the Three C’s: consistency, collaboration, and creativity.
“You can’t just post one video and then take a break,” he said. “You have the best chance of being seen if you consistently post.”
“Secondly, it would be collaborating: not just with people who have millions of followers, but with anybody. Even if somebody has an audience of 20 people, that’s still an audience of 20 people that you didn’t have,” he said. “When you create with others, you’re just giving yourself a chance to get more eyeballs.”
Finally, Waheed says creativity is key, and that creators need to find their own unique perspectives to draw from. This is something he’s been challenged to practice in quarantine this year.
“I’m not able to shoot with big lists of people or use whatever location,” he explained. “It’s kind of limited me and challenged me creatively to come up with better ideas that require just myself or one other person or to create an entire idea in one location.”
If success doesn’t come overnight, Waheed says to be patient and keep plugging away.
“One thing that I’ve always believed in is good content always rises to the top, no matter what,” he said. “I had about 300 followers when I started. It’s a lot of experimenting; you can’t just expect to post something, and it takes off. I was throwing tons of stuff up against the wall to see what sticks.”
“If you’re posting stuff that’s not doing well, that doesn’t mean comedy is not for you. Maybe it’s just that you have to figure out the way to attack it and go in at a different angle,” he continued. “Usually, I’ll write a joke down, and then I’ll see 12 different ways I can deliver that joke, and one of those ways will work.”
In the age of doom scrolling and negativity permeating social media, Waheed recommends staying in the creative and stepping away from the comments in order to stay in a good mental space.
“I post what I post, and then I kind of tune out,” he said. “I like to use my platform to be the one place that’s guaranteed to make you laugh and just spread positivity, and then after that, I put my phone down and figure out the next video I’m shooting.”
Waheed says that regardless of the kind of content you’re making, it’s important to be active on all platforms.
“You don’t ever want to have all your eggs in one basket. “You never know when a platform could go away or die out,” he said. “It also helps you to grow on each platform because people from your YouTube are going to come to your TikTok, people from your TikTok are going to come to your Instagram, and vice versa.”
Waheed says the future of content creation is going to be new platforms, and it’s important to hop on the trend as soon as they crop up.
“Be on your game when a new platform comes out, whether you like it or not,” he said, which is what he did on TikTok. “Last year around November, I had 300,000 followers, and I jumped on, and I started creating content on there, and now I have 10.2 million followers on TikTok in a year’s time.”
Waheed says the most rewarding part of creating his own content and forging his own path is when people recognize him for his work.
“People telling you your video or the content you’re making helps them to get out of a hard time, or that they’ve been going through a lot during quarantine or just in life in general, and watching my video for that one-minute kind of gets them out of that world,” he said.
Paying it forward
Waheed also values giving back. During the Black Lives Matter protests in June, he handed out more than $10,000 worth of pizza to protestors. In February, he traveled to Bali to build a school for underprivileged children with money he crowdfunded from his followers’ donations.
“I’ve traveled a bunch around the world. A lot of kids don’t have the same opportunities that we get here in America,” he said. “I think it’s just so important to give those kids a chance because one of those kids could end up being the next person who makes videos or acts or whatever the field is.”
Though his plans have been delayed due to the pandemic, Waheed says he has a few other philanthropic projects in the works and hopes to build thousands of schools in the future.
Giving back isn’t the only thing on Waheed’s bucket list. He says his ultimate goal is “to be the biggest actor/writer/director in the world.” In terms of the year ahead, his biggest goals for 2021 are to win an Oscar for Tribes and be in a big film project.
“Then to just continue to keep putting out content and reaching as many people as I can,” he added. “I’m trying to beat the number of videos I created this year and stay in the billions [of views] for the next year and just put out the best content possible.”
For more from Waheed, you can follow him on all social media platforms: Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.