May through August are always an exhilarating four months at FEE. It’s the time of year when we welcome hundreds of college students and donors to Atlanta for our big FEEcon conference, host three-day seminars around the country for high school students, and collaborate with an impressive crop of summer interns.
Alfonso Maestro from Spain is an especially interesting case in point.
The day the interns arrive is always a high point. Competition for the positions they hold is strong; we receive about 20 applications for every position our budget permits us to offer. With no exception, I can recall in my ten years as FEE’s president, our interns are among the brightest and most promising young people of our day. It’s always bittersweet to bid them goodbye when their time with us is at an end, but we know they will go on to put their passion for liberty and free markets to profoundly effective use. I like to tell them, “We want your autographs now while we can still afford them!”
Alfonso Maestro from Spain is an especially interesting case in point. His specialty is photography. (You can view his work here.) As our picture-taking intern this summer, he took thousands of them at FEE events. He might have secured the position in 2017, but visa issues stalled him until this year. All of us are of one mind on this: he was well worth the wait and did a spectacular job!
Alfonso is 20 years old and hails from Madrid. He’s humble, tireless, and about as personable as it gets—the sort of person you know instinctively is heading for success. He has a twin brother, Gonzalo, with whom he has partnered on social media under the moniker “TheTravelerTwins.” He’s also an entrepreneur who possesses, I believe, the kind of initiative and pluck that will serve him well in the business world. When I learned that more than 50,000 people follow him on Instagram, I knew there was a story here. So here it is, in interview format:
Reed: I understand, Alfonso, that your interest in photography goes back three years, to age 17, when you posted your first photo on Instagram. But you didn’t think much of Instagram at the time, and it was another year before you took it seriously. What happened to change your mind?
Maestro: Larry, I am extremely happy to be talking to you and our FEE audience!
That’s when I changed my mind about social media.
I have been passionate about travel since I was seven years old. Honestly, before I created my Instagram account I thought social media was a waste of time. All my friends were telling me to create an account, but I was sure I could do something more productive with my life than posting selfies. I finally gave it a try, but I just posted photos of my trips. Still, it wasn't anything serious.
One day, my brother told me that some people were able to travel abroad thanks to their use of Instagram. That’s when I changed my mind about social media. It so happened that I was looking for a job that would allow me to travel the world and this one fit perfectly, so I went for it.
Reed: What did you do to improve and build your following?
Maestro: At first, I was just posting photos of myself and the places I visited. I started to reach new people with those posts. So I thought that getting better with the camera would help me get more followers. I started to work on my photography skills. It worked! More followers were coming as I designed my own photography style. But I thought I could do better, so I started to read and learn about how the app worked so that I could more effectively adapt myself to it.
Reed: When you reached about 10,000 followers, you received an interesting invitation that proved pivotal to you. Tell us about that.
Maestro: One day, I woke up, I checked my Instagram inbox, and I saw a message from an account called @visit_sanya. They were telling me to participate in a contest for a chance to go to China. The winners could also bring a partner! I was impressed, although I knew it would be hard to win those kinds of things. Just the fact that they reached out to me personally was a big surprise.
To win you would have to post photos about Sanya, a city in the southern Chinese province of Hainan, and get a lot of engagement. The first six people with the most engagements in all their social media posts would go on the trip. I went to China with my brother and had one of the best trips I have ever had. I was 7th in the list a week before it would finish, I thought I wouldn't be able to make it. But I was almost there. I wanted to make it happen, so I started to post twice per day. Thankfully at the end, I finished 4th, I went to China with my brother and had one of the best trips I have ever had. Of course, I promoted Sanya on my social media, which was the main goal of the whole campaign. My brother, who has always loved traveling as well, realized there was a real chance to see the world thanks to social media. So he started a new account himself and began to develop it.
Reed: When did you realize that your success on social media could generate an income and maybe even lead to a profitable career? I think our readers would like to know how you’ve been able to turn your Instagram popularity into cash.
Maestro: It was in China. It was there when I realized how much money companies invest in social media, and the numbers of those investments grow every year. Nowadays, if your company is not on social media, you are missing a big market and losing thousands or even millions of potential clients.
Instagram is a way to show our work, and as we are reaching many new people every day.
My brother and I found out that there are two main ways to get money out of it. The most well-known is the one that uses celebrities to promote a product or a company in your posts. The other way, which is our main source, is using it to get clients. For us as content creators, our Instagram is a way to show our work, and as we are reaching many new people every day, there is always someone that either is interested in buying our photos or interested in getting content created for their use, either photos or videos.
Reed: Tell us about your twin brother Gonzalo and how the two of you came up with TheTravelerTwins idea.
Maestro: As I said, my brother created his Instagram account after the trip to China, but he wasn't like me. He started to grow fast (getting some advice and promotion from your brother always helps!) and soon he reached almost the same number of followers that I had.
Some months later we attended our first travel conference. We realized we were selling ourselves as TheTravelerTwins and people would go to social media, but wouldn't be able to find our names as easily as it was when we both had separate accounts. We really wanted to start a brand together, so we changed both of our accounts to @thetravelertwins and @twinsdestinations. If you go there and scroll down, you will see who was who at the beginning. We have been working together since then.
Reed: Though your Instagram following continues to grow, you’ve also moved beyond that particular medium to others, such as a website. What are your goals for TheTravelerTwins? I understand you might leverage it into consulting work to assist companies, organizations, or individuals to reach more people through social media?
Maestro: It would be great to keep growing our following more and more, but that is not what we are focused on right now. Our main goal is to make TheTravelerTwins the biggest content creation company in the world. And although our theme is travel, as we grow we would like to expand to other subjects as well.
And yes, another thing we have been working on these last few months is social media consulting. After years of experimenting and studying how each social medium works, we can consider ourselves experts on the matter, so through our consulting work, we want to help other companies and organizations understand this new market. If it is done in the right way, investing in social media will really make your company stand out.
Reed: Your success has opened doors for foreign travel. Aside from that visit to China in 2016, you were also invited to Romania and are soon heading to Mauritius and maybe Morocco. How do you pay for these journeys?
Maestro: We have been able to do many of our trips thanks to sponsors. But you need to understand that before working with anyone, we make sure that the product we are selling is something that fits with our ideas, as well as my followers’ ideas.
Before getting to do all these trips, there was a time when we had to pay for everything ourselves. Everyone was wondering how we were able to travel so much, and our answer was always the same: if you really want something, you go for it, no matter what. We have gone from sleeping in many different airports, to eating just a loaf of bread in three days. I am not saying you should do what we did, but our experience suggests that if there is always a way to make it happen if you’re creative, entrepreneurial, and willing to work hard and make sacrifices at the beginning.
Reed: Photography is a very competitive industry. Maybe it’s becoming more so with even amateurs using the latest technology snapping great pictures with something as inexpensive as a smartphone. How does that affect you and your business plans?
You guys both preach and practice the connection between character, entrepreneurship, and freedom.
Maestro: It is true that the competition in this business is huge. There is another thing that you need to realize—the fact that with social media, a whole new market has been created that didn't exist before. It has never been easier for a photographer to reach large numbers of new people and show his work. We also believe competence, continuous improvement, and professional conduct make us work harder and better. That’s one of many reasons I was drawn to FEE because you guys both preach and practice the connection between character, entrepreneurship, and freedom.
Reed: Both you and your brother are attending college. Friends and family have advised you to finish and get your degrees. But you’ve told me that you’re having second thoughts and might abandon college to pursue your entrepreneurial ambitions. Explain your thinking on that sensitive subject.
Maestro: This is something that has been on my mind for years. In many countries, society makes you think that there is only one way to success, which is finishing high school and going straight to college.
I am pretty sure this is what made me go to college at first, and it is the reason why I am still there. But when I think about the things I have achieved in my life, none of them was because of the degree I am pursuing. I strongly believe that what really matters is the knowledge and the practice you gain through your own efforts. I am presently reassessing what I can accomplish with or without a degree. The knowledge you can acquire it through the Internet, through your own initiative and practice—that can easily be more valuable than what you get in a formal classroom, and it doesn’t have to leave you or the taxpayers burdened with debt. You need to get a lot of knowledge and skills on your own—especially what no one else will or can teach you. So I am presently reassessing what I can accomplish with or without a degree.
Reed: What advice would you give to other young people interested in photography as a career specifically, and also more generally to those aspiring to be entrepreneurs in other fields? I know you’re only 20, but you’ve learned some lessons already, haven’t you?
Maestro: Absolutely! In the photography field, my main advice is to try new things every time you pick up the camera. If you always do the same, you will never get better. Look for different angles, play with the lighting, talk to people, try new styles, be open to a variety of approaches. Be bold, take chances, experiment!
I would give the same advice to anyone in probably any other field, and for life in general. Change the lenses every once in a while, and you will be surprised.
Reed: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you how you think your internship at FEE has impacted you. Has it made a difference in any way?
I’ve been able to pursue my passion for photography and help promote the ideas of liberty at the same time!
Maestro: Before coming to the United States, my goal with this internship was to improve my photography skills and, if possible, learn about film-making. All of that was for sure fulfilled. But that is not what I value the most from these last few months working for the Foundation for Economic Education. The experience has encouraged me to identify those things I need to improve, and I have been able to start working on those. The most important thing has been being able to do what I love every single day of this summer. I’ve been able to pursue my passion for photography and help promote the ideas of liberty at the same time! I can’t thank FEE and its contributors enough for giving me this amazing opportunity.
Reed: If people want to contact you, or learn more about your work, how can they do so?
If you are interested in our services as social media consultants, send us an email at [email protected]. We will send a free document we have created with the basic steps you need to follow to grow your Instagram account.
Reed: Thank you, Alfonso, not only for this interview but for your service this summer to FEE. Stay in touch and remember us when your talents make you wealthy and famous around the world! I’d like to close with a comment about you from our FEE colleague and Programs Manager Anna Jane Parrill, with whom you worked closely at FEE seminars in the past few months:
I have enjoyed working with Alfonso so, so much this summer. He is incredibly bright and endlessly happy and curious. This makes him not only a true joy to work with, but to travel with, too! Traveling from seminar to seminar all summer, the seminars team ends up spending a lot of time together, and Alfonso made our late nights at the airport and delays in unknown cities so much more fun. With Alfonso around, you tend to forget your problems and appreciate moments for their beauty. For all of his incredible experiences (especially being so young), Alfonso encourages you to become a more appreciative person for all the wonder the world holds.