Claudia Dalby talks to James Kavanagh, of Snapchat and Instagram fame, about his recipe for the future.
For someone who has their fingers in a seemingly endless amount of (in some cases literal) pies, James Kavanagh started off with (relatively) humble beginnings. One Sunday, relaxing before starting another working week at his PR job, he decided to download the popular social media app Snapchat on a whim. After sending a few videos onto his story of him walking in and frightening the life out of his boyfriend William, an unprecedented following started to grow. The authentic (and over-dramatic) reactions offered by William that were set off by James simply saying his name or walking into a room, caused James to amass tens of thousands of followers within as short a time as a week, “I guess people found that quite entertaining!”
Companies will ponder for hours in meetings how to make their promotional content go viral; James’ story is yet another example of how the internet is entirely unpredictable, and people will swarm to what they find entertaining at any moment. The sharing app, which was primarily used at the time as a place for friends to share with friends, was slowly becoming more like social media giants Twitter or Facebook: a public platform to follow personalities and celebrities.
“James, felt that he didn’t have this kind of specific branding, as ‘I was just broadcasting my life and people just found it interesting!’”
James was one of the first in a wave of Irish personalities to grasp onto the medium and make it their own. As his following grew, companies started to send him products to sponsor and shout-outs to make on their behalf, and once the money he was making started to surpass what he made from PR, he decided it would be a good decision to jump ship, “I thought, why not just do full-time me!”
His parents were unsure about the decision to leave a steady job, with a salary and insurance, to an unstable and uncertain income. However, the fame that James’ brother had found off the beaten track certainly relaxed them to the idea. John Kavanagh, known as one of the best MMA coaches in the world and coach to Conor McGregor, studied engineering in college before telling his parents he had something slightly different in mind. “When he started training 20 years ago, no one was doing it in Ireland, and my parents were just as terrified.” Given the changing nature of the typical career path in recent years, James is certainly not the only one relying on an uncertain income, with many people jumping from different roles before settling, if they ever do so. James felt that he had a large enough fan base that it could work out, “they’ll save me! They’ll catch me when I fall!”
“In recent months, James has been delving into the food industry with his easily-scared other half.”
Most online personalities who make money from doing sponsored posts and brand endorsements, have a solid brand, be it fashion or beauty, or something like literature or diet advice. James however, felt he didn’t have this kind of specific branding, as “I was just broadcasting my life and people just found it interesting!” Despite the success he was seeing, he was still interested in looking for more financial stability looking towards the future. So in recent months, James has been delving into the food industry with his easily-scared other half.
“Their food ethos centres around organic, local, sustainable food for lunch time, and they hope to open the café in Ranelagh.”
The pair are deep in planning towards opening their own café in August, under their catering business brand ‘Currabinny.’ Their food ethos centres around organic, local, sustainable food for lunch time, and they hope to open the café in Ranelagh. In terms of looking towards the future, James would like to see Currabinny becoming an umbrella brand, and some distant ideas are to open a café in Cork, and potentially a homeware range.
The past few months have left them busy writing a cookbook for Penguin, which has an October release date. In terms of co-writing, they both write the recipes, but James feels that the combination of their skills is complementary – sweet and sour. The business side of things is taken care of by James, and William, who completed a course in cookery at Ballymaloe cookery school, has a passion for food and comes up with most of the recipes. “We’ve fallen into two roles, and that helps, because I’m all about surrounding yourself with people who are kind of good at the stuff you’re bad it.”
James is certainly good with PR; their food business has hit the public at a flying start, thanks partly to his fanbase. He credits the acceleration of their success to having his name out there already and having fans who are interested in what he does. He advises any up-and-coming food brands that social media is key. “Social media is free, can be such an effective tool that’s completely free to use, and it’s really worked for Currabinny.”
As well as that, booking a stand at markets rather than going full force into taking out a loan and going into debt for a café, is far more effective. “You’re getting your name out there, people are tasting your food, giving you feedback and it doesn’t cost you anything. I can’t say going to markets and having a following was anything planned, but we wouldn’t be where we are today if I hadn’t been scaring William. It got a large amount of eyes on us and they were hungry for other things; like food!”
Of course, working with your life partner can be challenging, in keeping your love life and business life separate. “You can be out for dinner and having a lovely couple time and then you remember what you were supposed to do in work world, so we’ve kind of started to find a balance.” When working with their cookbook team, he had to watch himself before getting narky and assume a professional relationship while at work. “We’re learning every day to work together and, well, love together. It sounds so cringey, but it’s important.”
“Not all bloggers are out there stating their opinion, and many steer clear of contentious topics and stick to style advice or brand endorsements. James thinks this is ‘a real shame.’”
James doesn’t keep quiet about issues that matter to him, such as Repeal, LGBT+ rights, autism awareness, STIs, and more. He pointed out my Repeal jumper, and immediately gave his opinion on the matter. He sees no reason to be anti-choice and has only “seen misinformation, red herrings, and a sadistic desire to control what other people do.” However, not all bloggers are out there stating their opinion, and many steer clear of contentious topics and stick to style advice or brand endorsements. James thinks this is “a real shame.”
“I don’t think anyone should be forced into saying something they’re not comfortable with, but I think it’s a shame if people are doing it to protect their audience.” He feels a lot of bloggers would be fearful that some of their following would drop off if they were in disagreement with the opinions of the person they follow for lifestyle advice. Bloggers are some of the most followed accounts on Instagram, with thousands of people reading and liking their content. “There’s some people out there who just follow Snapchatters and bloggers, they don’t watch the news or politicians, they get all their information from people like me. Bloggers have the ears of so many impressionable people and so many who would like the advice from somewhere.”
James hasn’t let this behaviour sway him in sharing his opinion and personal experiences. He has recently been talking in support of working to end homophobic bullying, and talks about his experiences in school. “I got horrendously bullied for three years straight. There was one guy who made it his business to invent new ways every day to make my life hell.” However, what was so important to his life were the people who stepped in to make a difference. “This guy tried to pass a note around the class once, and one guy intercepted the note and stood up for me. That meant more to me than anything else, because it told me there’s actually nice people out there.”
Having gone through this experience, his advice would be focused primarily towards people who aren’t affected by bullying, and particularly non-LGBT+ identifying people, because the act of stepping in, which might seem like a “small gesture,” is in fact hugely significant and can make a world of difference. “I mean I’m still talking about it today so it must have been significant to me!” James sometimes visits schools to give talks and he’s delighted to see students doing projects on repeal, trans rights, and other topics, “they’re all a bit more woke than we were.”
As we move into 2018, James will be rehearsing for his newest appearance as a co-presenter for Ireland’s Got Mór Talent on TV3 Ireland, a delve into behind the scenes and chats with contestants and judges, with Glenda Gleeson. As he moves forward with his career, his creative output may change, but he knows he’ll never stop filming his life for his audience. “I was always mad into social media, I think Bebo was my first love, that’s kinda where it all began. So while I might be more focused towards the café and other things, I’ll never stop broadcasting, that’s for sure.”