He’s a 23-year old Instagram savant who’s giving the saying “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” a new meaning. Omar Raja created House of Highlights in his UCF dorm room as a way to help his friends find funny clips of LeBron James and Co., and now The King and his court of NBA All-Stars engage with the account themselves.
Speaking at Hashtag Sports 2018, Omar Raja discusses how he built a channel that reaches over 10 million people and continues to revolutionize the way sports clips are delivered to young fans. This interview, originally conducted at HS18 by Rick Maese of The Washington Post, has been condensed and edited.
For those that don’t know, what is House of Highlights? What makes it unique? And if you have the secret sauce, share that too.
Yeah, it started when LeBron left the Heat in 2014. I was depressed, and I was looking for clips that related to [that] Miami Heat team. People usually think of highlights as dunks, crossovers, and assists, but the moments that mattered to me and my friends were moments with Mario Chalmers joking on the bench or Wade and LeBron videobombing an interview, and what kind of happened is when LeBron made his decision I was looking for those clips and I couldn’t find them anywhere.
I looked on YouTube, I looked on Twitter, I looked on Vine and no one was really doing it so I decided that I was going to do it myself. I went on Instagram and thought at max I would have 100K – 200K followers. I posted clips that I thought were funny, whether it be LeBron making a face…or a funny celebration. Now we’re at 9.6M followers. We got 700M video views in December, and I honestly don’t know how we got here but I’ll take it.
What are some examples of some of the inventive ways of working with brands that you guys have tapped into?
I think my favorite one is probably the Curry Challenge. Under Armour had this thing, the Curry Challenge that had already started, and we were able to put together videos relating to that Curry Challenge. I think [that’s] the best one. I might be wrong here, but it got like 3M views, which in 2017 according to Brandtale, was [one of] the highest viewed branded video on all of Instagram.
That was fun because we got to go work with influencers and create our own content. You get nervous about it at first because you want to live up to the expectations and I think we blew past them so that was great.
What are some examples of things that do pop? Because I know game highlights is a portion of it, but some of the best content and the funniest material has nothing to do with the sport itself.
There was a soccer clip this weekend that kind of popped off. We signed a talent called Supreme Dreams, [his] real name is Mark Phillips, and he had a soccer video which combined two things that are [super] relevant: anime and soccer. That video got 45K retweets and people thought it was absolutely hilarious. So that’s the one video that really popped off this weekend, and I think it’s a great example.
I wonder, do we see that more in the offseason? They do so much crazy stuff, like the banana boat or the guys go on vacation and open up a window into their personal lives. Do you look forward to the offseason because we get to see some of that?
Yeah, I mean the NBA is 24/7. I love that all these guys get together, and I think some of the biggest things last summer were like LeBron, KD and Carmelo having a pick-up game during the summer of last year, and everyone was just amazed that those three would willingly choose to get together and play against each other during July.
What’s also cool is like one of the highest viewed videos on House of Highlights last season was the Cavs taking the subway to their hotel, and no one could believe that these athletes–and LeBron James–would willingly choose to go on a subway to get to their hotel. It was [a highly] viewed video, and I think part of that is like “Oh, they’re just like us!” And I think that’s a big thing that House of Highlights hit on.
How hard is that to keep track of because the landscape changes so fast, and today it might be Instagram and tomorrow something totally different?
Yeah, we check the comments; that’s where people are going to react. We check the likes, we check the views, and the DM’s too. So if there’s something that they don’t like, people are going to let us know. You learn from that feedback, and you understand what’s the next move that you have to make, and that’s how you make most of your decisions.
Do you ever hear from someone like LeBron when you post a highlight?
You know, that’s also one of the most surprising things, and I won’t say names, but some of the biggest NBA athletes are sending in clips to House of Highlights asking if they can get posted.
Just say one name.
I cannot tell you one name. But I was talking to J.J. Redick on his podcast, and we were talking about how a lot of these guys are a little insecure, so when all of their friends follow House of Highlights, it’s their moment where they [want to] kind of brag about it. I think the most surprising thing is it’s never the 13th guy on the bench; it’s max players and All-Stars.
Omar Raja spoke at Hashtag Sports 2018, an annual conference designed for digital decision makers in sports. Learn more here.