I’m a 29-year-old Instagram influencer who made $17,000 in one month. Here’s how I turned my love of fruit into a lucrative business.

Marley Mauvais
Marley Mauvais is a food content creator and Instagram influencer.
  • Marley Mauvais is a 29-year-old fruit influencer and plant-based content creator who lives in New Jersey.
  • In 2019, she started an Instagram account to share her fruit-based recipes with others, and slowly began to make and sell the products and home remedies she used.
  • In September, Marley recorded her first five-figure month, making $17,000 from a combination of sales on her website as well as paid speaking engagements and food demos at local colleges.
  • Instead of mimicking other people's paths to success, Marley encourages fellow entrepreneurs to carve out their own niche. Especially online, she says being authentic to yourself is the best way to gain traction and build a community.
  • This is her story, as told to freelance writer Nasha Smith.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

I used to cook for my family a lot, and I enjoyed taking photos of the spread and posting them on Twitter and my personal Instagram page. This was back when these apps first came into existence and also during a phase where I would just eat a lot of fruits. One time, a photo I posted got 100 retweets, even though I had zero followers at the time. 

In January 2019, I created a food page on Instagram. I started off posting fruit plates and small recipes like hibiscus tea with ginger, lime, and cinnamon. I also posted small snacks like fried plantain and tapas, and then began sharing full dinner plates as well. I can't even explain how I started to gain traction — I think people just gravitated towards me authentically sharing what I loved. 

But I didn't consider myself a 'fruit influencer' until I received a PR box from kitchenware company Imusa. I was very amused when I saw myself addressed as this on the label, but I decided to own it. I searched for the hashtag on Instagram and found one guy who was using it,  and he agreed to let me have it. 

The term started to spread in popularity in April after BET reposted our #DontRushChallenge

Although there are plenty of fitness, beauty, and lifestyle influencers, as a fruit influencer I don't fit easily into those categories.

Marley Mauvais
Mauvais says she had to carve out her own space on Instagram.

My Instagram is a plant-based community for beginners. I have free recipes, products for sale, and share my own daily inspiration. I distribute a lot of information — that's the heart of my business. 

Sometimes I can get extremely overwhelmed with the number of people who ask me questions, ask me to clarify something, or suggest I post a recipe. I get at least 100 DMs a day and that's just if I don't post anything. It kills me to be unable to reply to everyone, as I truly love interacting with my followers. But I absolutely, positively will always be the only person talking to my followers through my personal account. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to understand what people need, how they are receiving me, or if my content is effective. 

The brand started by accident, but it grew because there was a living person behind it. People went through my moods, highs, and lows with me, and I think that worked to my advantage to build an authentic community.

Within two months of growing my Instagram, I realized I needed a website. 

Marley Mauvais
Mauvais began a website after her followers expressed interest in buying her signature food products.

I was inspired to launch a website in March of 2019, after people kept asking for more information or where to find the products in my posts.  For example, I would post about hibiscus tea, and a follower would ask where to find the leaves. So I would ship them some, only charging about $5 for shipping. But then I realized that was costing me a lot. So then I decided to find them wholesale, package them up, and sell them.  

We have this Haitian remedy made with honey and various spices that we use for coughs, respiratory problems, congestion, and allergies. The recipe is free online but for some people the idea of making it is intimidating. So I decided to make and sell it. I would like to eventually partner with a local bee farm and people who organically produce the ingredients I need.

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My expenses fluctuate tremendously, but I spend roughly $3,000 a month on my business.

Marley Mauvais
Mauvais travels from New Jersey to New York City to buy exotic fruits for her recipes.

This cost includes paying my two assistants, one who works with me in person and one who works virtually, as well as all of the supplies needed to stock my website and ship customers' orders.

I live and work in New Jersey, so I travel to New York City every weekend to purchase my exotic fruits. In terms of equipment, I use my phone to record videos and take photos, with lighting and tripods I purchased on Amazon.

I buy most of my ingredients and materials in bulk like mason jars, bay leaves, cloves, turmeric powder, limes, ginger, garlic, and onions. I also invest in nylon nut bags, which is a strainer like a cheesecloth for making your own almond or oat milk. I only offer these in a higher quality material on my site, so they last for years. For shipping, I use the free USPS boxes offered to businesses. I put hand written letters to every single order. I also have to spend on silk ribbons for labeling the jars, labels, filler for the boxes, and tape. I go through a lot of tape. 

My business is primarily self-financed.

I was an early bitcoin investor. I didn't make millions, but definitely enough to provide a big sense of security for myself. Two of my family members also made a small investment of a couple thousand dollars to help my business get started, but everything else has been self-financed.

On average, I make about $8,000 per month. In September of this year, I made $17,000 total. 

Marley Mauvais
Mauvais films content for her Instagram and YouTube channels daily.

It was the scariest thing, because I've never made that much in such a short amount of time. Still, there are other months when I've been in the negative, which can be really tough, so I do my best to embrace the ups to help weather the downs.

Entrepreneurship, especially content creation, is hard. Most of my sales come from requested items that I post on my website, and appearances at schools like St. John's University, Skidmore College, and Baruch College, where I talk about plant based cooking or do a food demo. 

As far as influencing, I am slowly working my way into paid sponsored posts and deals with more food brands. The brands I have worked with so far have sent me boxes of stuff and told me I was free to do what I want with it. But that was when I only had 1,000 followers. Now I am over 40,000. 

People think being an influencer is just posting on social media, but the whole process is very time consuming.

Marley Mauvais
Mauvais says being an influencer involves a lot of behind-the-scenes work.

As an influencer, I don't get paid vacation or time off. It's a full-time job. I work a solid 12 hours every day, from the moment I wake up until I physically crash around 9:30 or 10 p.m. 

Usually I wake up before sunrise, and then make whatever I'm feeling that day. Every single post has been spontaneous. I realized that I'm not as productive without having the space to be spontaneous. Everything that has ever been on my page came from a place of 'I'm in the mood to make this today.' What I have learned is that posting more than once a day on Instagram is horrific for your timeline especially as you grow. I did get to a point where I was posting twice a day but I saw that I wasn't being received well. My audience was being overloaded. So everything has been extremely intuitive posting wise.

Usually on Mondays and Tuesdays I produce and package my orders — mainly my Haitian remedy because it's an order that's food, so it's not something I can package on a Friday and then take forever to ship. Some days I make 100, others I might make 10.

I set goals on a weekly basis with my assistants of what we need to accomplish by the next week. I'm also advertising for interns and production assistants, but they won't start until January. I plan to be more intentional with YouTube posts, so I'll definitely need help with production. 

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My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is go with your flow.

Marley Mauvais
Mauvais encourages other entrepreneurs to find their own niche and be authentic.

I think it is important to identify the way that you work, how you are productive, and what works for you. We always see articles saying things like, 'This is what Bill Gates or Oprah does every morning.' And it sets the tone for people to assume that's what they need to be doing to be successful. Nothing I have done has been successful until I surrendered to my own flow. Being able to recognize and accept how you work is extremely important.

Nasha Smith is a St. Lucian freelance writer covering sports, entertainment, health, lifestyle, and travel. Follow her on Twitter @nashasmith.

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