With almost half a million followers across various social media platforms (think YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.), Rob Lipsett is at the forefront of online influencing and social media entrepreneurship. The twenty-five year old Dubliner has cultivated a loyal online following and thriving fitness business (at lipsettfitness.com), clothing line and public speaking career.
He sits down with Tribune Food & Lifestyle editor Ciara Landy to chart his ascent from disenchanted college dropout to qualified personal trainer, sponsored athlete and new-age media mogul.
CL: What made you initially decide to drop out of college and set your own business?
RL: Basically I was studying a course that I wasn’t passionate about. I failed first year, repeated it, tried to do it again and I failed it again. I felt completely stagnant. I realised I should stop trying to be something I am not good at and focus on what I am good at, which was always strength & conditioning and fitness. So I started doing that and blogging about it. I believe everyone should stick to their guns and do what they are good at and do what they love to do, because you often excel at it [what you love to do]. That’s exactly what I did and why I dropped out to go after what I love doing.
CL: Have you put much of what you learned in your college years into practice in the ‘real world’?
RL: In college I was there learning about quantitative techniques and stuff like that, it didn’t really have any carry over to the real world and what I’m doing. Even after studying accounting, most people still just hire an accountant [for their business]. So a lot of the time there’s just no real carry over. I learned more in six months of doing things on my own than I did in two years of college, given I wasn’t the best student.
CL: After you left college, did you have any investment when you set up your business or did you completely go it alone?
RL: Yeah, I actually did a talk in Trinity on this about a month ago and the title of the talk was ‘Starting a business with little to no investment’. Basically I was working part-time in retail, I had maybe 200-300 euro in my bank account. I just went to a student who was studying computing and I got him to make me a website that could take payments. It all started from there. After that, I just kept putting more and more money back into my business.
CL: What strategies have proved most successful in growing your online following?
RL: I definitely noticed being more personal and letting people in on my life helped massively. I started off doing just strictly informative videos. They went down well and all, but once I started letting people into my actual life and taking them around my day, that’s when people start getting really invested in you and your life, following you along your journey. It’s kind of like reality television. The Kardashians is like one of the most watched shows in the world or something like that. People just really like when you’re real and let them in on your life.
CL: Does that ever feel like too much? Your recent video ‘What happened with me and Sarah’ [Lipsett released the video following his break-up with fellow online fitness personality Sarah Godfrey] has almost a quarter of a million views. Do you ever regret sharing so much of your personal life online? Would you do anything differently in the future, or are you happy to share that level of content about your personal life?
RL: Yeah it’s definitely weird to think of sometimes, but no, I kind of like it. It’s a cool thing to think I’ve built up this kind of like crazy online family, with a network all over the world. I get some of the nicest messages ever so personally I like it, but it can get really weird when you think about it.
CL: You often personally reply to comments on your Instagram and YouTube accounts. Do you think this kind of personal, active engagement with your following is central to your brand and overall success?
RL: Yes, 100%. On YouTube after I post a video I’ll always try and reply for the first hour. It just makes it more of a community. It’s like a level above TV. When people watch TV or a movie they can’t actually talk to the character or speak to the person. The reason social media is so popular is because you can literally be sitting on your couch, chatting and commenting back to whoever you’re following. It’s actually crazy when you think about it. I think that’s what takes it to the next level, making it more and more engaging. No matter how large my audience grows, I will always try to reply to as many comments as possible.
CL: A lot of younger people may look to you for inspiration regarding fitness and online entrepreneurship. What content creators or other people have you found inspiring on your journey?
RL: There are so many but the top two I can think of just off my head would be Casey Neistat or Gary Vaynerchuk. Just anyone preaching positivity, people you can see putting in the work and living life on their own terms. There are plenty of people that I look up to and I think it’s also amazing and it blows my mind that people look up to me like that, it’s just crazy.
CL: What advice would you have for a UCD student who is trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but has no idea about training and eating right?
RL: Rule number one is pick a nutrition and training plan that you can actually sustain and adhere to. A lot of people will find a random plan online and they’ll just be like, okay, I’m going to do this, and it doesn’t suit their schedule and they last for about a week. Choose a plan you can keep up for not a week, but a year. I’ve been training and eating the way I have for years now, so for me to stay in shape now it’s just effortless because it’s habit. Find out whatever suits you, try out a few different things to find the approach that works best for you and that, ultimately, you can adhere to. I follow flexible dieting, which is sticking mainly to whole nutrient dense foods, but I also enjoy all the foods I love every day because I just work them into my calorie and macronutrient intake.
CL: In that regard, do you think that a lot of generic plans available online, for example the Kayla Itsines’ guide, don’t yield the best results as they are not tailored to the individual’s needs?
RL: A lot of the time plans just give out basic guidelines. I actually have an EBook myself, like a PDF guide. In that guide it tells you how to make adjustments to cater it for yourself. If the online diet shows you how to personalise the plan for yourself they can be good.
CL: Would your online coaching and EBook sales be your main source of revenue or would ad revenue from your YouTube channel and Instagram have taken over at this stage?
RL: They would be pretty much on par. My EBook and online guide would be main revenue stream but not far off from endorsements, public speaking appearance and my clothing line (whenever it’s in stock.).
CL: At the minute there is building pressure for greater regulation of the online ‘influencer marketing’ sector. You sometimes have advertised posts on your Instagram that are flagged with #ad. Do you think that bloggers should always have to disclose, not only when something is an ad or sponsored, but also if it is an affiliate link or brand?
RL: Yeah I think so, it’s not that big a deal and it does more good than bad. I actually always say when I’m working with a brand. I always ask [the brand] can I straight up say this video is sponsored by XYZ? It’s a lot more honest and the viewer appreciates the honesty and will be more likely to check out the brand you’re working with. If you try to do the opposite and are sneaky about it, people obviously pick up on that. It is just way more natural when you can say: this is an ad from this company I really like, I use this product myself and they reached out to me.
CL: In that regard are you selective in what brands you choose to work with?
RL: Yes, definitely. More often than not I will turn down a brand. Integrity is number one. I treat my subscribers as if they are family, like literally, if no one watches my videos that’s me done. Never bite the hand that feeds you and always put out good information. Don’t promote anything you wouldn’t use yourself. I am very, very selective.
CL: How have you dealt with any criticism online that you have faced or even just challenges in setting up your business?
RL: I’m definitely quite lucky in the sense that I really don’t get that much hate online. Probably because I don’t do anything that I wouldn’t want to see – I keep it real. I don’t promote any products I wouldn’t want to use. I don’t give any non-evidence based advice. I just don’t put out anything that I wouldn’t want to hear and I don’t do anything too outlandish. For every one bad comment there are 99 good ones. In terms of criticism, when I see that one bad comment out of 99 it is irrelevant to me, I just don’t even care. I am here, absolutely loving life, having a great time and if someone on the internet with an anonymous profile leaves a mean comment I’m just like LOL. I just laugh because it is so irrelevant.
Things were tough at the beginning [of his business] and just the start in general, when you don’t see immediate results. That is when 95% of people quit. They don’t see their business take off in year one or they don’t see their YouTube channel blow up, or they don’t see their social media take off. Or even results in the gym, they don’t see themselves looking the way they want after a couple of months and everyone gives up. This actually applies to everything in life. People are just so impatient nowadays and on top of being impatient they are not willing to put in the work, and don’t realise how hard building your dream life is. If it was easy, everyone would just love their life and just do what they want all day and that is not the case at all. I think people are just impatient and don’t realise what it actually takes.
CL: In terms of your YouTube, did you find collaboration with other YouTubers was successful in growing your audience? What other methods have you found helpful in increasing your subscriber base?
RL: Collaborations are hugely helpful because it is so hard to reach a completely different demographic. I have done a lot of collaborations with YouTubers in America and now 30% are actually from the U.S. which is amazing. Collaboration with YouTubers from different countries is important or even from different areas of YouTube. Branching into different areas is great. The past few months I have started travelling a lot and now there a lot of people from the travel side of YouTube coming over to my channel. That has really helped me grow, just diversifying into different [viewer] markets. Of course then viral videos that make people laugh or share the video, for example the calorie challenges [videos of Lipsett consuming 10,000 to 20,000 calories in a day have over 1 million views on YouTube] they’re perfect. When people ask ‘how do you make a viral video?’ rule number one is: the video has to elicit an emotional response. The video can be funny or make you motivated, excited, scared, anything – it just has to give someone an emotional response that will make them want to share it.
CL: Are there any areas you would like to see your business expand into in the future?
RL: It all comes back to growing my audience. If I was to open up a restaurant or gym and I have a million subscribers in Ireland, it’s going to be full the next day. It’s kind of like that saying ‘what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?’. There are plenty of things that I want to do and there is plenty of stuff that I am currently working on but I don’t talk about things until they are done, so I’ve got to keep my cards close to my chest.
CL: What are your plans for the year ahead?
RL: I will be in London for about ten days after I visit Manchester and after that I’m hoping to head somewhere sunny like Marbella, Ibiza or Dubai. Of course then I have to plan out my summer, so for June, July and August I hope to get away to create some interesting content.
Ciara Landy Food & Lifestyle editor