When it comes to making a living out of taking the piss, no one does it better than Matt Ford and Jack Steele, the self-proclaimed ‘battlers’ behind The Inspired Unemployed. But the two best mates are quickly learning that creativity and credibility don’t always go hand in hand.
On the 11th of February 2019, an account with the username @theinspiredunemployed shared its first post to Instagram. A shaky clip of two friends driving the streets of Clapham, London while purposely butchering the British accent.
“It’s pronounced CLAP-HUM mate, CLAP-HUM,” says the shaggy-haired one.
“CLAP-HUM, like WEST-HUM?” replies the taller one, trying hard not to laugh.
The post was funny, if unremarkable. Fast forward to today, and that same account boasts nearly 750,000 followers. Each post is flooded with comments, tags, and likes; their videos are circulated amongst friends, reposted and shared.
The Inspired Unemployed are the relatable Aussie content kings of Instagram, and it all started with that one video.
“We watched it back a few weeks ago for the first time since we posted it,” says Jack Steele, the taller half of The Inspired Unemployed.
“The acting and editing are so bad, but it’s so good because there was no pressure.”
“It does bring back a lot of memories,” agrees Matt Ford, the shaggy-haired half of the duo.
“We were overseas, had bought this car and just started mucking around shooting videos, that was the origin of everything that’s followed.”
There’s a hint of nostalgia in the way both Jack and Matt talk about that clip. It’s a little over a year old, but for these two mates from Kiama, on NSW’s South Coast, it may as well be a lifetime ago.
In the nineteen months since The Inspired Unemployed has exploded. Their unique brand of finger-on-the-pulse content, which includes everything from choreographed dance numbers to painfully relatable sketch pieces, has struck a chord.
But while it sounds like a rapid rise to the top, the Insta-success wasn’t instant. It took the pair seven months to reach just ten thousand followers.
“Seven months felt like seven years because we were putting so much work in and getting so little in return,” admits Jack, 27.
While travelling across Europe the boys split their time, working during the day and partying at night.
“There were times when we asked each other, ‘What are we doing this for?'” adds Matt, 26.
“We were taking time out of our holiday to work, but it wasn’t working, so it makes you question yourself.”
After returning home, the boys considered packing it in and returning to the worksite.
“We weren’t sure if we’d keep it up,” says Matt, who had delayed starting an apprenticeship to join Jack in Europe.
“But then one of the first videos we shot when we got back just snowballed, and then it took off from there.”
That video was a sixty-second clip of two boys, flanked by their friends, dancing to La Bouche’s 1992 dance floor banger, Be My Lover.
Hypnotic, weird, hilarious, the video copped a repost from Brown Cardigan, and the Inspired Unemployed sat back and watched the followers roll in.
“And we literally filmed it in ten minutes. I chose the song while I was at work and then text the boys and told them to pick something black from their wardrobe and chuck it on.”
“We practised our moves, and we walked down the road to the quarry to shoot it,” says Matt.
“Ten minutes later it was finished, the easiest video we’ve made and still the biggest.”
From there, the floodgates opened, in just over twelve months, ten thousand followers ballooned to seven hundred and fifty thousand.
Now everyone wants a piece of Jack Steele and Matt Ford; The Inspired Unemployed, unemployed no longer.
On the day the boys visit the Boss Hunting offices they are on THE ICONIC’S dime. The online fashion retailer tapped the pair to help choreograph their virtual 2020 Summer Show – Runway Everywhere. The latest in a long list of partnerships that have flowed their way.
“THE ICONIC came to us, and pitched the idea of Runway Everywhere, which is all about making fashion accessible for everyone,” explains Jack.
“We’re like the gateway to the battlers,” adds Matt.
“They wanted a bit of average-ness,” laughs Jack. “So they hit us up.”
But while brands might be knocking on the door, the boys are knocking them back. A quick scroll through their feed reveals very few paid collaborations. There are the obvious ones, a campaign with Toohey’s Extra Dry has been tagged and disclosed, and the less-obvious.
A recent video on The Inspired Unemployed’s page, featuring Jack and Matt dressed up as Borat characters, felt like a blurring of the lines. It was posted shortly after Amazon Prime‘s media blitz following the release of the new Borat film.
Amazon wasn’t tagged, but it’s hard not to suspect you are viewing sponsored content. Perhaps the omission can be traced back to a desire to remain not for sale.
“We say no to 95% of brands that want to work with us,” explains Jack.
“If it’s going to fit with our tone, then we’ll do it, but we need creative control, and we need to like the brand. But it’s such a fine line between trying to make money [off Instagram] and feeling like you’re forcing shit down people’s throats. Ultimately, we want to be for the fans.”
While talking to the boys about monetising their content, it becomes clear they’re trapped in a culturally specific catch twenty-two.
They’ve skyrocketed to success as the laid back larrikins who don’t take themselves too seriously—cue interest from big-spending brands. But Australians switch off if they suspect you’re selling out. The minute you start chasing the dollar, your credibility is gone.
In fact, it seems the fear of selling out is enough for The Inspired Unemployed to consider turning the tap off for good.
While their branded content might slow to a trickle, the boys have no intention of limiting their output. Currently, they’re operating on a two-videos-a-week schedule.
“In an ideal week, we release Tuesday and Friday. So that’s shooting on Monday, edit and post Tuesday, then shoot again on Wednesday, edit Thursday and release Friday,” explains Jack.
Surprisingly, it is the internet’s favourite ‘all in’ entrepreneur, Gary Vee that is responsible for their prolificacy.
“I was onto him for a while, before we started the page when I was trying to get thinking about business ideas and expanding my skills,” says Jack.
“That’s how we got the idea in the early days to pump out as much as we could because he’s all about constant content and it worked; our followers went up because we posted regularly.”
“Five videos a week means you’re five times more likely to blow up,” says Matt.
Amongst the many Gary Vee quotes scattered across the internet one of the more popular ones is: Evolve or Die. A timely piece of advice as the Inspired duo look to expand their offerings.
“We know there could be another Inspired Unemployed style-page blowing up in the next year, so we need to stay relevant,” says Jack.
In a case of going backwards to move forwards, the Internet stars are considering a more traditional style of media for their next move.
“From the start, a TV show has been the biggest goal, and we’ve met with some production companies, but nothing is set in stone just yet,” says Jack.
“Though we did have lunch with Karl Stefanovic the other day, which was funny; a bit of a work chat, a bit of socialising.”
You know you’ve made it when the commercial networks are sending top tier talent to wine and dine you, but the boys remain wary.
“I don’t get excited about anything now until it’s really happening,” says Matt. “People talk a lot but don’t follow through.”
As our interview comes to an end, talk turns to the best perks that have come from The Inspired Unemployed.
From curating fashion shows for THE ICONIC to flying around the world to film content, the boys have experienced a fair few pinch-me moments. And yet both Jack and Matt agree that their favourite times are still the simplest ones.
“Because we live down the coast we spend so much time in the car, just hanging out and debriefing,” says Jack.
“We’ll be driving back from some ridiculous meeting, then look at each other and ask, ‘What the fuck is our life?!’ offers Matt, before both burst out laughing.
Two best mates hanging out in a car, wondering what the future holds. It seems some things never change.