The 'Overheard' Brand: A Digital Institution? How Overheard LA Started, And Where It’s Going From Here


Perhaps the best way of understanding any given culture is by examining its people when they're just...being themselves. But who has time to catalog everything that's being said in passing—conversations between best friends and family members that represent the true absurdity of daily life?

We'll tell you how: By following Instagram’s ever-popular account chain, Overheard.

A combined 1.7 million Instagram users enjoy content from Overheard’s six Instagram accounts: @OverheardLA, @OverheardNY, @OverheardLondon, @OverheardUniversity, @OverheardLeLabo, and the newest addition, @OverheardBumble.

Founder Jesse Margolis was running them all himself for the first two years, but today, each account has local editors who pore over their user-submitted quotes and pull out "the good stuff."

Combined, the Overheard accounts receive between 300-500 submissions per day, a number that continues to grow.

The brand also has a strong celebrity following: Seth MacFarlane, Ireland Baldwin, Mandy Moore, Demi Lovato, Kate Upton, Emma Roberts, and Erin & Sarah Foster are just a few who follow the account.

What's so special about the Overheard accounts?

Overheard submissions reflect what is trending in culture, with a hint of organic humor.

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People submit screenshots of texts, weird videos, "or pictures of funny parking signs and things like that" on Instagram, says Margolis, who launched the chain with @overheardLA in August 2015. Today, the account averages 45,000 likes per post.

"The subject material reflects whatever is going on," Margolis tells Beyond The Interview. "For the Women's March, we were getting a lot of submissions about that. During Coachella or Burning Man, we get a lot of submissions about those. These days, it's Bitcoin. And people—both men and women—are always talking about dating.”

The Best of @overheardla

With a concentration of fame, money, liberal values, and an obsession with both physical and mental health, it's no surprise that Overheard LA is the brand's most popular account to date.

"What I find interesting about the Overheard LA account is, I feel like L.A. culture is a microcosm of city culture in America," Margolis says. "It's not just L.A., but L.A. seems to be an early adapter for these sort of spiritual things, and health trends, and celebrities."

Everyone in L.A. is, you know, doing reiki or acupuncture, or going to a cacao ceremonies (which is a new big thing). There are tea ceremonies now too. People in L.A. love ceremonies because I think a lot of people don’t go to church.
— Jesse Margolis

Margolis, who lives in Los Angeles, admits to trying "all sorts of stuff like that," and long before he started the Overheard accounts.

In 2016, Margolis told The New York Times that "L.A. has gotten a lot cooler and a lot more interesting. You have all the tech companies here now. It's a lot more international, with better food, art and fashion. But the stereotypes are real for a reason. It still remains a wonderfully superficial fantasy land."

The biggest game-changer, according to the Overheard founder? The smartphone.

"I think having a phone with the ability to meet someone on Bumble, and then go out for drinks and not worry about driving home, like Ubering around, makes the city a lot more connected," he says.

"I think the smartphone makes it a lot easier to meet the right person, but I also think it makes it difficult because there are a lot of temptations," Margolis admits. "All you have to do is pick up your phone and there are thousands of people in there you can engage with instead of having a monogamous relationship."

“But you can also fall in love," says Margolis, who tells BTI that Overheard's Advertising Manager, Bridget, met her long-term girlfriend on Bumble.

Running the Overheard accounts is not a full-time job for Margolis, but it's definitely a lot of fun, he says. And like any other form of expression, it does have its own challenges.

 "For me, it's always comedy over gossip."

We never want to target an individual, we want to target a culture.
— Jesse Margolis

"There is a rule to the account: You should never be able to look at a post and know who is being talked about," Margolis explains. "Let's say there is something about a waitress in a restaurant, and she's the only one who works there or someone's name was mentioned...we always change the name."

The popularity of the brand is no surprise, even to Margolis:

"I knew people would like it, because I started it on my private account. A lot of my friends said they hated how stupid my Instagram account was before I started posting this new stuff."

When the account expanded to the public, Margolis noticed a strong emotional response.

"Someone will send us a submission and say, 'Just wanted to say reading these everyday makes life a little easier.' And I'm sure that is true for many different types of comedy accounts or if you have a really great account with animals, or art," he tells BTI.

The account also enjoys "sweet messages and some weird stuff from drunk people at bars. Literally 99 percent or higher, is positive reinforcement," says Margolis. "Sometimes we will post some things that will rub people the wrong way or maybe will be a little insensitive to post and might cause someone to write in, 'that's not cool,' or whatever. But I think with comedy, it's tricky."

He believes Instagram is an amazing platform for artists but it's also like constantly being in a casino, which can be unhealthy and really toxic for people.

With his finger on the pulse of social media and city culture, Margolis says he has learned that "social media and the internet in general, and the iPhone culture in particular, is this half-amazing thing where you could be sitting in Erewhon, hear something funny, post it, make an account, and in a year or two be in the process of building a business around that."

"The Overheard accounts are connectors, where people from all over these cities who don't know each other have similar experiences about absurdity, happiness, partying, dating, you know, weird exercise instructors, traffic, and all that stuff, and it's like this shared experience that is connected through these phones and it’s quite cool that way."

Today, the brand is looking to collaborate with others who also reflect culture.

"I think I see Overheard—this is going to sound a little cheesy—but I see it as becoming more of a digital institution," he says.

Of course, one of the most notable "no-brainer" collabs, according to Margolis, was with Alfred Coffee's founder Joshua Zad.

@overheardLA x @alfred arrives 9/1/17. #overheardLAtte

A post shared by Alfred (@alfred) on

"The coolest person I have met through the account is Brooklyn Cartoons, and we're actually doing an Overheard LA book with them, that is coming out in the fall," says Margolis of the millennial New York cartoonist, whose work resembles The New Yorker’s cartoons.

"I've also made a few friends," Margolis grants.

"Nothing weird, but there are people that have submitted a few times, and we realized we could have known someone in common, or they work at a company that we've worked with, and then we ended up talking about working on projects together."

Margolis wants to open up to a few more cities this year, as well as maybe another brand account, like the Le Labo account

"I see us doing more content that incorporates local culture and the actual city itself," he says.

The brand has also launched a new Instagram interview series where they showcase DM interviews with celebrities, brands, and press. (We know Beyond The Interview is already a fan).

Overheard is currently revamping its website and launching a newsletter, which Margolis sees "as more of a Time Out meets Funny Or Die," and branching out to new video content and local podcasts.