Evan Antin always knew he might want to work with animals, but it wasn’t until part way through college that he made up his mind. After ruling out both business and human medicine (“too personal,” he says), he set his sights on veterinary school, where he packed his course schedule with exotic animal electives in addition to learning to care for dogs and cats.
Since he graduated, he’s been big on travel -- and on social media. He often picks a country based on its native exotic animals, then reaches out to a wildlife rescue sanctuary there with an offer to donate his time to gain some experience with new species.
“I didn't have a big following when I first graduated,” Antin says of his Instagram account. “Now, organizations have started reaching out me to work with them and help out their animals or help their cause, largely in part because of my social following.”
Antin built his following -- up to 1 million on Instagram today -- with purpose. He saw an opportunity to be a public figure of sorts, teaching the world little-known facts about all sorts of animals, including man’s best friend. In the process, like many Instagrammers, he realized that the key to success on the platform would be to offer something unique and of value (in his case, expertise from a vet) interspersed with personality and lifestyle content.
Scrolling through his feed, you’ll find everything from a photo of his 21-year-old self sporting a mohawk hair style more than 10 years ago to images of his present-day, vet version of McDreamy self holding a puppy. Or, you know, just him shirtless, sans animals.
Entrepreneur caught up with Antin to discuss his just-launched product line, Happy Pet, what he prioritizes in his Instagram posts and why he hasn’t hired anyone to help him with his popular account.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get your start with Instagram?
I started Instagramming right when I graduated from veterinary school, in summer of 2013. I was just posting neat cases, what I was doing at work so far in my travels, things that involved animals and a little bit of stuff from my personal life.
Part of my plan with starting it was geared toward my brand. I was doing YouTube videos then as well. I knew that I wanted to have a bigger presence in the media than your typical vet. I wanted to get involved with wildlife conservation and animal education, spreading outreach on veterinary medicine in a big way. I saw Instagram as an outlet for that.
How much of your time do you spend on a post, and what does that entail?
With my educational posts, I spend at least a half hour. It's only a few paragraphs, but I take time to make them readable and relatable for readers of all ages and animal experience levels.
The only ones that don't take as long are, sometimes, I'll do little selfie ones. I did a cute little puppy post with a German shepherd puppy the other day. That took 10 minutes to get the picture right, say something cute and that's that.
It's funny, because on that post, I've gotten more engagement than some of my other recent posts. Yet I feel like some of my other posts are so much more special, and took more effort. I'll tell you, people love puppies. If it's me holding a puppy, it's going to get some decent engagement, at the very least.
Then some take hours. I did a branded deal for my Fourth of July post, and I had to film a one-minute Instagram video and edit that down. Once in a while, I'll have a friend help me film or something like that. But overall, I’m pretty independent.
Have you thought about hiring an assistant?
I play with the idea, because it'd be nice to get help with returning engagement back to my followers, like with responses to comments or DMs. But the thing is, I'm not just like, a lifestyle kind of a page. I’m a veterinarian. As a medical professional, I'm very particular about how I answer questions, especially related to animals or veterinary medicine. And so really, the only other kind of person I would potentially trust is another veterinarian.
What is your content strategy?
Eighty to 90 percent is promoting wildlife conservation, general animal education and veterinary professional outreach, and 10 to 20 percent is personal lifestyle, just getting to know me. I get pretty good engagement when I'm just sharing about myself and about my history and that kind of thing.
How do you leverage your Instagram account toward your educational goals?
I did a Fourth of July post talking about animals being stressed out around fireworks. Or, a lot of people don't realize that grapes are toxic to dogs. I'll do little PSAs about that every once in a while.
I also recently posted a picture of me with a few of my Maasai friends when I was in Tanzania. This post was talking about how dramatically different our cultures are, yet how our human nature has so many parallels. A lot of people don't have the opportunity to go to Tanzania, and even if they do, a lot of those people don't even have the opportunity to actually live amongst the Maasai for a period of time, actually get to know them and get a firsthand look at their culture and society.
Wait, dogs can’t eat grapes?
Here’s the thing: Some dogs are not affected by them and some are. There's no way to know. There's no breed, age or sex predilection for that. It's a unique toxin, in that it's not dose dependent. Like, chocolate is dose dependent. If a dog eats a tiny bit of chocolate, it could be fine, whereas one grape or one raisin, if a dog is affected by them, will send them into irreversible kidney failure and they'll die.
To what extent do you monetize your Instagram account?
My last branded partnership was with Dawn dish soap. Dawn has been huge with wildlife conservation, and any wildlife rehabber or wildlife vet will have Dawn sitting in their vet hospital. We have Dawn in our vet hospital. We don't see a lot of oiled birds, but for getting oil off birds and for degreasing oil spill victims and even the just generally cleaning a lot of wildlife, it's really effective.
And you’re launching a pet care line?
I'm very excited about it. It's called Happy Pet. We launched Aug. 13, first just direct-to-consumer on the website, then with HSN the second week. We're launching with Petco in September.
We have three different lines. One of them is Clean, and that's grooming products. They have a lot of natural ingredients, and they're really safe on pets. None of them are animal tested. They’re even safe for babies -- not that they’ve been tested on babies, but I mean to say, they’re safe for babies, so they’re safe for dogs.
Then we have an Active line. I'm offering some products that really aren't that big on the market right now, like sunscreen. Sun damage and overexposure for dogs is really dangerous, just like it is in people. Dogs can get sunburned when they're in the sun too long. Being in the sun too long does predispose them to certain cancers.
The last line is called Fresh. We have some deodorizing wipes, and some moisturizing cream called the Pawsome Paw moisturizer. Dogs living in drier climates can be prone to issues with dry skin, like chronic cracking and splitting like on their elbows and paw pads. So the moisturizer brings down inflammation and helps with healing.
What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on the platform?
Showing your passion goes a long way. And showing your enthusiasm for what you do, no matter what it is, and why it excites you and what you find interesting about it goes a long way. That can apply to anybody, in any field, wanting to get their page going, whether you're a veterinarian, a car mechanic or a baker.
I love getting a good laugh, and I've learned over the years that comedy tends to get pretty good engagement when I incorporate that, whether there's a hashtag or fun, silly videos or whatever. People do respond well to it, so I would recommend that, too, depending on what kind of page you're trying to start.
What's a misconception many people have about Instagram
A lot of people think Instagram is just to show some fake version of yourself, but I don't think it has to be that way. Instagram has allowed me to share my passion and my knowledge of the animal world with such a big audience, and I'm honestly nothing but myself on Instagram. If you go through my Instagram and watch my videos and see what I do, you'll have a pretty good idea of who I am if you got to know me in person.