If there was one word that Omar Raja would use to describe the last four years, it would be “thankful.”
As the founder of House of Highlights, which crossed the 10 million followers mark on Instagram this past weekend, Raja saw the potential in the handle early on, but never expected it to get to this point.
“I was a 20-year-old kid who had no idea what in the world he wanted to do for his career. Not only B/R, but this community of House of Highlights, basically gave me a job for the next decade and hopefully even longer than that.”
Admittedly not one for celebrations, Raja saw the massive follower milestone as an appropriate time to make sure the members of the community know just how impactful they have been in building the handle.
“We are going to print up a bunch of jerseys and give them away to fans,” said Raja, when talking about how they were planning to celebrate the benchmark. “I plan to do more than just that one giveaway. House of Highlights has changed my life and it’s the least I can do at this point.”
While reaching 10 million followers is quite the accomplishment, Raja will be the first one to admit that getting the first million was the hardest part.
“It took so long to build the page,” he said. “The first million took a year, maybe a year and some change, and then after that, we got that next million in just a few months.”
With any type of growth, there is an evolution of the brand and the way people interact with it. For Raja, a lot of that change took place in the first year.
“At first, what kind of stuck out to me with House of Highlights was that a lot of the user-generated content at the time was a guy squatting a thousand pounds or some other kind of extreme workout. Whether it was someone carrying a bunch of weight or pulling a truck, that first year was when that type of content went viral.”
Why then is House of Highlights still not littered with videos of people trying to show off their muscular abilities? According to Raja, it was as simple as it getting old.
“What ends up happening is you can only see that type of content so many times before it starts getting old. People just got tired of it.”
As the tastes of the audience have evolved, so too has the content. Instead of a 300-pound man pulling a plane, followers now find House of Highlights populated with content that is either focused on influencers or is funny. The goal? Make sure the content is something that the audience can relate too.
“One thing that I’ve learned is that funny and comedy never really age because you can always watch a clip and laugh at it. So I would say in that first million, a lot of the content was focused on those stunts and workouts. Now, it’s often focused on influencers and just funny content that’s relatable.”
Why does relatability matter so much to Raja? The content that people can relate to is the content they will share with their friends.
“One of the videos we posted during free agency was the one that Scooter Magruder did where he impersonated going through NBA free agency as a fan. I think that video itself had something like 7,000 comments, and if you look through them you will see so many that say ‘this is us’ or ‘that was me.’ Those are the kind of the comments that I’m looking for. You know you hit the nail on the head when you’re getting those reactions.”
Growing by 500 new followers an hour and even armed with a new logo, House of Highlights is more popular than it has ever been. More importantly, Raja sees what the team has planned next as another evolution: Innovation along the lines of what Netflix has been able to do the last few years with its original content.
“When Netflix started off, they didn’t have content of their own, but it was great and it got everybody hooked,” Raja said. “Now, everyone is more hooked because they make great original content that’s just not available anywhere else. I view House of Highlights the same way. I’ve gotten all these eyeballs over the years because of my voice and my eye for content. The next step is to get everyone hooked for the next few years with original content that they definitely won’t find anywhere else.”
Outside of original content, House of Highlights is collaborating on a show with Twitter, as well as looking for more ways to work more closely with other accounts such as B/R Football.
“The demand is already there,” said Raja, when talking about soccer content on House of Highlights. “When Zlatan came to L.A., we ran his first couple of goals and the videos themselves got two, two and a half million views, which is more than the average NBA highlight. So the demand is there; we just want to make sure we meet those demands.”
Helping meet those demands meant spending a week in London with the B/R Football team to get a better understanding of how they could work together.
“We just chatted about how I do things, how they do things, and how we can kind of work together to work on soccer content,” Raja said. “We’re already planning how we’re going to work together when it comes to the Champions League.”
Four years and millions of likes later, Raja doesn’t see himself as a social media guru or an Instagram savant. In fact, if he had to pitch people in 30 seconds about who Omar Raja was, he would tell them that he is the “Simon Cowell of internet videos.”
Why Simon Cowell? Because, similar to Cowell’s eye for talent, Raja has an eye for content.
“I know a good video within the first five-to-10 seconds.”
Regardless of what you call him, at the end of the day, Raja is just thankful for what has transpired.
“I really had no idea what I was going to do after I graduated college. I probably would be getting my master’s degree right now and still not know what I want to do with my career. Instead, I get to live out my ideal job in New York City, the greatest city on the planet. It’s been a dream come true for me.”