In March 2020, a young Senegalese man was fired from his job in an Italian factory due to confinement measures adopted because of the global spread of a virus. Months later, this young man had become a millionaire thanks to his tremendous success on digital content platforms…
How did Khaby Lame become a millionaire on TikTok?
The protagonist of this story is Khabane Lame, better known as Khaby Lame, who was born March 9, 2000 in Senegal, a country on the west coast of Africa.
When Khaby was just one year old, his family decided to emigrate to Italy in search of better opportunities. There, the little boy grew up in a public housing complex in Chivasso, a commune in the province of Turin.
From a very early age, he was characterized for being very noble and hardworking. He always tried to earn his own money to help with family expenses. In his spare time, he used to play sports such as soccer and basketball.
At the age of 19, his day to day life went by with absolute normality. The boy worked as an operator in a factory in the city. However, an unexpected event would completely change his life?
In 2020, a global crisis was triggered by the spread of a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19 disease. As the virus spread, countries around the world were forced to enact measures such as total quarantines and border closures, causing many companies to close indefinitely, including the factory where Khaby worked, and the young man lost his job.
Although his parents encouraged him to look for a new job, this was no easy task in the midst of a health and financial crisis.
While the days of confinement passed, Khaby tried to entertain himself by doing different activities at home, but what definitely seduced him was an application for creating and sharing videos called TikTok, which became one of the most downloaded apps during the confinement.
His first video on TikTok was posted on March 15, 2020. In it, he used a background song and simple effects on his face to make an invitation to wash his hands.
Being new to the platform, his video did not have much impact. However, this was not a reason for him to quit, as his main purpose was to entertain himself and amuse others.
In his following videos, he continued to explore the different effects of the application to create fun content.
Something that has always characterized him, is the use of his hands and how expressive his face is, two elements that gradually became part of his personal brand.
The more he uploaded videos, the more his community grew, but he was still just another user on the platform. Everything would change on November 22, 2020. By that time, his account already had thousands of followers, but what would happen next was something that neither he nor his family could have imagined…
The young man came across a video on the Internet in which a girl was trapped with her purse after her friends played a prank on her. After watching the video, Khaby decided to make a video reacting to the situation and sarcastically showing how easy it was for the girl to free herself. At the end, she made a funny expression with her face and hands that soon her followers would start replicating on different platforms.
Once published, the video quickly went viral, getting millions of views in a few days and becoming the most viewed video on her account up to that moment.
Realizing the success of this type of content, he tried to replicate the formula in subsequent videos. His next big success would come on February 11, 2021, when he posted a video reacting to a girl having trouble withdrawing her card from an ATM. Once again, his expression made the video go viral and reach millions of people. To date, this video has more than 60 million views.
Thanks to this viral content, his account managed to reach the first million followers and the young man began to be recognized around the world. His followers had fun watching him react to various situations that bordered on the absurd and to complicated and unnecessary tricks shared by influencers. His face became an Internet meme and an icon of popular culture. Suddenly, social media accounts in all languages used his expression to describe funny situations, on WhatsApp his stickers became very popular, soccer players celebrated goals imitating him and even murals of him started to appear in different cities.
At the end of April 2021, the young man surpassed eccentric millionaire Gianluca Vacchi as Italy’s most followed personality on social networks. Here the interesting thing is the contrast between the types of content that both share, because while Gianluca became known for his dances and his extravagant lifestyle, Khaby records from his humble bedroom focusing on expressing in a sarcastic and funny way what many feel when watching much of the content that is spread on the Internet. In fact, some experts say that this is precisely one of the keys to his success, because it is much easier to identify with him than with most of the big influencers who set standards far removed from the lifestyle of the average population.
On June 9, 2021, he uploaded what is his most popular video to date, with over 296 million plays and more than 35 million likes. In it, she reacts to a video in which a girl tries to open a door, but cannot because she herself is blocking it with her foot.
With the growth of his account and his popularity, he began to receive advertising proposals from different brands. The boy has already collaborated in campaigns for companies like Netflix, BOSS and 99 App, among many others. What initially was only his means of entertainment, with creativity and perseverance became his main source of income generation. Currently, according to data from the Influencer Marketing Hub platform, it is estimated that he charges between $90,000 and $150,000 dollars for each sponsored publication on his account.
In August 2021, Khaby surpassed the 100 million followers barrier on TikTok, becoming the first person in Europe and the second in the world to do so.
In September 2021, he officially launched Khaby Shop, an online store where he sells merchandising with his popular expression and some useful products for everyday life.
What have been the keys to Khaby Lame’s success in the digital industry?
Below, we share some of them with you:
- An authentic personal brand: While many content creators try to show “perfect lives” in their networks, Khaby has been able to position himself for his authenticity, charisma and simplicity. It is easy for his followers to connect with him because they feel he is a relatable figure.
- A clear purpose: Today many people jump into the digital world with the hope of “making quick and easy money”; however, after a short time they give up because they don’t see the results they expected. If Khaby’s motivation had been money, he would surely have abandoned his account in just a few weeks, but he persisted because his purpose was to entertain his followers through his content. The money was a consequence of fulfilling his purpose.
- A global language: In the vast majority of his videos, the boy does not pronounce words; it is his expressions that speak for him. This has allowed him to build a community with followers from practically all over the world, since language is not a barrier to understand him and have fun with him. Some even compare him to comedy greats like Charles Chaplin and Bean, who built successful careers without the need to speak.
- Collaborations: Although much of his growth has been organic, as he gained popularity he made collaborations with personalities such as Alessandro Del Piero, Naomi Campbell, Paulo Dybala and CZN Burak, managing to further increase his recognition.
- Diversification: Although many brands are looking to collaborate with the TikToker, he has already been exploring additional business models to not rely entirely on sponsorships, so he launched his own online store and created customized products with his iconic expression. In addition, although his biggest account is TikTok, he is also creating content for platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, which allow him to generate additional income in a variety of ways.
Currently, Khaby is 21 years old, has a personal fortune of more than $2 million dollars and has more than 115 million followers on TikTok, a figure that positions him as the second content creator with the largest number of followers on the platform, only behind Charli D’Amelio, dancer and influencer who has more than 125 million followers; however, the growth rate of the young Senegalese is greater than Charli’s, so it is expected that in a short time he will manage to surpass her and take the first place in the top. In the future, he longs to fulfill his dream of sharing the screen with Will Smith or Eddie Murphy, two of his greatest idols.
Paradoxically, although many recognize him as an Italian personality due to the fact that he has practically lived there all his life, the reality is that the boy has not been able to become an Italian citizen. He is still dealing with the country’s bureaucracy and paperwork to obtain Italian citizenship, since it is based on the right of blood and can only be obtained by the children of immigrants who turn 18 years old after being born and living in the country. For those who were not born in Italy, the process is much more complex.