‘We Built a House With Our Influencer Money’

Jack Morris and Lauren Bullen. Photo: @doyoutravel/Instagram

Follow Me is a weeklong series about personal brands, for better or for worse.

Jack Morris and Lauren Bullen are travel influencers who met in Fiji four years ago. At the time, both were already supporting themselves with brand deals, but when they started posting photos as a couple, their following skyrocketed. (Jack’s account, @doyoutravel, currently has 2.7 million followers, while Lauren’s, @gypsea_lust, has 2.1 million.) Eventually, they earned enough to build a very Instagrammable mansion in Bali with a pool. “We wanted it to be photogenic so that we could shoot content there,” says Jack. Here, they talk about competing for rates, taking photos at breakfast, and what makes for a “content”-friendly house.

Jack: I started traveling when I was 21 and working as a carpet cleaner in Manchester, England, where I’m from. It was minimum wage and just a terrible job. I managed to save up a little bit of money and booked a one-way flight to Bangkok with the idea of backpacking around Southeast Asia. I did that and really enjoyed it, but I ran out of money pretty fast, so I had to fly back home and continue my carpet job. At that time, Instagram had just come out, and I was like, “Oh, this is cool. People from around the world are following me and liking my pictures.” I built up a bit of a following, and a guy reached out and offered to pay me $20 if I would repost his picture and tag him. I thought that was a bit weird, so I created a new account where I reposted people’s pictures for $20, which was good money for me back then. Eventually, I was making about $200 a week off of it, which was enough to backpack on.

My repost accounts grew to the point where I was running about 20 of them with half a million or a million followers on each, and selling ads on them. At the same time, I was taking my own pictures and posting them on my personal account, Do You Travel. I wasn’t making any money off of that — I just wanted a fun side project, and it grew to about a million followers. Then one day a brand approached me and offered me $35,000 to come to L.A. and do an online commercial and post about it for them on my personal account. I had no idea that I could make that kind of money. So I said yes, and then I sold off all my repost accounts and started focusing on what I do now. Literally a week later, I met Lauren.

Lauren: About five years ago, I was working as a dental assistant. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I really liked traveling. So I would save up for months and then go backpacking until I ran out of money and then do the same thing again. Then my twin sister started building a bit of a following on her Instagram, which was about food and exercise. I saw how much fun she was having with it, and she started getting things for free. So I figured I’d try the same thing, but with pictures from my travels.

When I had around 10,000 followers, a local tourism board contacted me and asked if I wanted to come on a free trip they were hosting for a week. Some of the other people on the trip had way more followers than me, and traveling was their full-time job. At that point, I was still a dental assistant, and I had no idea that people made money by posting pictures. So I started charging tiny rates to cover my bills so I could quit my job — a couple hundred dollars here and there. A few months after that, I met Jack.

Jack: We met on the same job in Fiji. We spent a week there together and just hit it off. And at the end of the trip, I said, “Well, if you’ve got no plans, why don’t you come to Bali with me?” And we’ve basically traveled together ever since.

Lauren: It wasn’t a plan to merge our businesses. We weren’t taking it that seriously. But we were traveling together all the time, so we would take photos together, and it picked up momentum very quickly. People were like, “How is this couple just nonstop traveling? And who’s taking their photos?” We were one of the first travel couples to take pictures together. A lot of guys were too embarrassed to do it, so they were behind the scenes, like the Insta-boyfriends. We also have this whole style of looking like the photos are candid. Now everyone does that kind of stuff, but back then it was was pretty unique.

Jack: I think everyone dreams of traveling the world with their partner, so it resonates with people that we’re doing this together. Like, “Oh, I wish I could do that with my girlfriend.”

Lauren: When I started doing more and more fashion and beauty partnerships, it got to be that we needed a home base. I couldn’t carry clothes and beauty stuff with me all over the place, and we needed a spot to store our things and receive packages. So we rented this villa in Bali, but it cost quite a bit. It seemed like such a waste of money because we were still traveling most of the time. That’s when we were like, “We should just build a house. For the same amount of money that we’re putting towards rent, we could pay off a house in a couple of years.”

Jack: It took about a year to build the house, and it was a lot of work. We wanted it to be photogenic so that we could shoot content there. A lot of things had to be custom-built and imported. We got a lot of ideas from places we’ve stayed. Like the sunken seating area was inspired by the Mandala House, this famous villa in Bali. And all the tiles in our bathroom and our outdoor shower were inspired by the riads where we’ve stayed in Morocco. We’re keeping the cost of the house private because eventually we want to rent it out. But it’s comparable to the prices of the nicer houses in Canggu.

Lauren: I was very specific about making sure our house photographed well. If I’m doing a story job in the bathroom, talking about teeth whitening or something, I want the background to look good. I want pretty lighting, beautiful furniture, and a nice bench where I can photograph products. I want to be able to do a brand deal and not have to be like, “Oh, which villa should we go stay in tonight so we can shoot some content?” We wanted lots of windows for heaps of sunlight to be able to come in. We wanted the house to tie into our story.

We’re at a stage where we’re like, “Ah, it’s just so great to be home.” We got a dog. Traveling in general is exhausting, but traveling for work is so much more exhausting. You get burnt out. You’re away from family and friends and changing time zones. You get jet lag and you can’t have a healthy eating or exercise routine, or any routine at all. Now we’re kind of transitioning out of that the travel box and more into lifestyle content.

Jack: A big game-changer for our business, which allows us to travel a little bit less when we feel like it, is that we started selling our lightroom presets. Those are the settings we use for our photos. We started selling ours about two years ago, and it’s great passive income. We don’t even promote them that much anymore. They just kind of sell themselves. And that’s nice, because with brands, you can make a lot of money in a short period of time, but you never know when the next job is going to come in.

Lauren: We don’t disclose our current rates, because when we’ve talked about them in the past it’s been misleading and taken out of context. Each job is so different, anyway. I don’t really deal with it anymore; my management does. Right now, Jack usually charges a bit more than me because he has a bigger following. I’ve always had less followers than him, but at first I was making far more money than him. And in the last year or two, he started making far more than I have been. I think it’s because there’s less competition for guys. Whereas for me, as a female, this space is very saturated. So it’s getting to be harder.

‘We Built a House With Our Influencer Money’