How One Woman Makes $500,000 A Year On Snapchat

Photo: Courtesy Cyrene Quiamco.
With its Explore section and the ability to search by hashtags, Instagram made it easy for up-and-coming Influencers to make it big on the app. Thanks to strategically shot macarons, and followers in the hundreds of thousands, many women have turned their Instagram side jobs into full-time gigs, earning them millions. But Snapchat has proved to be a far more difficult place for non-celebs to find their footing. Despite over 150 million people using Snapchat every day — culminating in more than 10 billion daily video views — it's hard to find new people to follow if you don't search for them directly. Nevertheless, a small community of users has found a way to turn their snaps into lucrative careers. And interestingly, these Snapchatters all have one trait in common: They can draw.

Cyrene Quiamco
, 27, joined Snapchat as CyreneQ in early 2014, when she was working as a web designer for a telecommunications company. While bored in meetings, she took snaps of unsuspecting coworkers and doodled on them with the drawing tool to pass the time. It wasn't until Quiamco started her Celebrity Selfie series that she realized her doodles could make her money.

Awesome snapchat art by cyreneQ

A photo posted by Kevin Jonas (@kevinjonas) on

"It was always my dream to take selfies with celebrities, and I thought it would be fun — and funny — to make that a reality through the magic of Snapchat doodles," Quiamco says. "Kevin Jonas Instagrammed my doodle 'with' him, and that was my first viral Snapchat." In addition to her celeb selfie series, she has another called The Ele Machine in which a cute, hand-drawn sidekick, Ele, accompanies her on adventures in her doodled world. Using a Bluetooth stick (which lets her control her phone from a distance), a tripod, and sometimes a stylus, she creates works of art on-screen. In 2015, Quiamco quit her job to become a Snapchat storyteller full-time. She creates her own snaps, as well as brand-sponsored doodles for companies including Disney, Jolly Rancher, OPI, Walmart, Samsung, and MTV. She's toured Pixar Studios, interviewed celebs (and gotten real-life selfies with them) on the MTV VMA red carpet, and more, all in the name of work — although Quiamco says it doesn't feel like a job because she has so much freedom, and so much fun with her posts. In many ways, Quiamco's Snapchat Stories resemble a kind of next-generation YouTube. Many of her stories, which can require hours or even days of work, take the form of interactive games or TV episodes. She'll ask viewers to tap a part of the screen, or try to screenshot a specific moment in a moving animation, and message her those screenshots for prizes. When sponsored, these "episodes" can make her $10,000 to $30,000 apiece.
She'll also host live Snapchat Stories, where she'll ask users to snap her an answer to a question, making her stories far more interactive than your standard tap-and-watch stories. One example of this: She did a live drawing of a showgirl for charity, asking viewers to weigh in on paint colors and techniques. The best part of Quiamco's job, which earns her a yearly salary of about $500,000, is that it doesn't necessarily require the 9-to-5 time commitment of a regular full-time role. "I may just have three to five sponsored stories a month, and the rest [of the time] I get to spend with my family and doing other hobbies, which I still post on Snapchat anyways," she says.
Quiamco has also been instrumental in building and bringing together the artist community on Snapchat. Shortly after she started doodling on the app, Quiamco created a website called The 11th Second, where she interviews and features fellow artists that she finds through labor intensive Google searches and Instagram searches for Snapchat artists. "I would see these disappearing 10-second masterpieces, and I felt compelled to do something to make it last more than 10 seconds," Quiamco says of creating The 11th Second community. She's since collaborated with these artists, and many share their tips and tricks with each other to make their snaps better. Sallia Goldstein, 25, is one of the artists that Quiamco found. Goldstein uses Snapchat as a $40,000 a year side gig to her full-time engineer job, and is currently making stories for 20th Century Fox. She's known for creating fan art (Pokémon Go was featured heavily this summer) and science-based stories, which have led some of her followers to call her the Bill Nye of Snapchat. Despite making thousands off of a single snap, she, like Quiamco, doesn't view her stories as work — and the money she brings in is just a side bonus. "I like drawing and I love creating," Goldstein says. "[Snapchat is] my personal space where I can make whatever I want, whenever I want."

This is a #milhouse intervention.

A photo posted by Salliasnap (@salliasnap) on

But with Instagram's recent launch of its own Snapchat-like Instagram Stories, we wondered — will artists abandon Snapchat? The answer, for now at least, is no. While Instagram is still highly valued for its discovery feature, and boasts arguably better drawing tools than Snapchat (with multiple brush types and colors), neither Goldstein nor Quiamco see it as something that will completely eclipse Snapchat. Snapchat's interactivity with its viewers is something missing in the current version of Instagram Stories, according to Quiamco. Goldstein, meanwhile, thinks that Instagram Stories lacks the video tools that Snapchat has, but has found that a different kind of viewer watches her content on Instagram than on Snapchat. (So, maybe a little healthy competition between apps really is a good thing.) If you're looking to make your Snapchat (or Instagram) doodles your full-time gig, Quiamco emphasizes that you really need to find joy in communicating with your audience. "Start Snapchat because you love to make content, and don't focus too much on the money or career [angle] at first," she advises. "Ideas are hard to come by if your heart isn't in it." Let the doodling commence.
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