From Influencer to Entrepreneur with Mona Molayem

July 20, 2020

By: Richard Lau

From Influencer to Entrepreneur with Mona Molayem

Tell us about yourself and how your journey brought you to where you are now.

The journey that brought me to where I am now can be mostly attributed to life In pursuit of continuous education -- both formal and informal/self-taught. My quest for higher education began with attending the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles. I graduated with a B.S. in Business Management and an A.A. in Visual Communications. After FIDM, I went on to pursue my Master's in Communication Management at the University of Southern California (USC). Shortly after USC, I obtained a Credential of Readiness in Business Fundamentals at Harvard Business School Online, Harvard University's online education program and platform. All the while, I supplemented my formal years in education and my time after investing in courses, books, and time dedicated to my research to further my goals.

I now run a successful travel blogging business and teach at my Alma mater FIDM, and use the resources and connections I've gained throughout my experience to give back to my community and help like-minded individuals connect as the Harvard Business School Online Los Angeles Chapter Community Organizer. All three of these educational institutions have provided me with the benchmark of who and what I am today. FIDM is mostly where I learned my design sensibilities and the foundations needed to start my own business as an entrepreneur. At USC, I deepened my knowledge and understanding of design thinking and how it applies to the digital space. Finally, through the advanced mastery of business fundamentals that I acquired upon receiving my certificate from HBS Online, I was fully ready to give up the life of working for someone else's dream and completely surrender to working solely toward my own.

Was there someone or something that inspired you?

I am most inspired by the freedom and flexibility that comes with living a digitally nomadic lifestyle. As a digital nomad, I have set myself up to run a business and teach online from anywhere in the world. Being location-independent means I'm continually experiencing and immersing in new cultures, and that itself is a source of continuous inspiration on its own.

How did you create your brand name and logo?

Mona Corona is a decade-plus old nickname created around the Myspace era of the early '00s when rhyming and alliteration handles were popular. My legal last name, Molayem, is often confusing to remember, pronounce, and spell, resulting in the easier pen-name Mona Corona. The catchy nickname stuck and carried on to platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. I first grew my audience as a beauty & lifestyle influencer before launching my luxury travel blog. "Corona," which translates to the crown in Latin, felt fitting for a luxury brand, especially since my middle name, "Malka" means queen in Hebrew. Upon launching my blog, I wanted to make sure that the name I chose' can continue to evolve and grow should I ever wish to pivot or further expand my brand outside of the travel niche. No other name felt quite fitting, so was the obvious choice.

My site colours are millennial pink, and shades of blue to represent water and air, the pillars of travel. My logo is a crown and an airplane to represent both "Corona" and luxury travel. I created the logo and visual elements for my site using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

How did you go about establishing your marketing?

I saw a gap in the marketplace and forecasted a trend for the future of luxury travel for the new generation. With a background in digital marketing, I utilized the social media platforms that resonate most with my demographic to define what millennial-luxury journey is. No longer does luxury travel mean jetting to 5-star resorts, never to leave the property except the odd excursion carefully designed by a large travel chain; and no longer is it reserved for elite CEOs, wealthy families, or the boomer generation who worked tirelessly year-round to cash in on hard-earned vacation days. As millennials, we crave authentic and rewarding experiences. We may not have the type of disposable income as the generation who came before us. Still, we are savvy enough to travel-hack our way onto business class flights and into 5-star hotels through methods that involve collecting credit card points at accelerated speeds, gaming loyalty programs, and knowing when, where, and how to find the best deals on the web -- but once we arrive at our destination we want to eat cheap street food, have ethical interactions with local communities and wildlife, and above all, make sure we are reducing the negative impact travel has on the earth through making conscious and environmentally-friendly choices. This type of travel is the basis of my marketing and the content I create to inspire and help others travel in this way.

Tell us about your first experience in the industry.

I like to joke to my students that my first job in digital was pretending to be a certain well-known D.J. on MySpace while working for his record label. Through managing his social media accounts (pre-Instagram era) and occasionally writing for the label's blog, I got my first taste of what it means to build a personal brand online and the power of social media. I was compelled to create my digital presence, and thus, "Mona Corona," the social media personality, was born.

What is your work structure like, and what does the average workday look like for you?

The beauty of my lifestyle is that no two days look the same. Whether I am waking up at my home in Los Angeles, or a hotel room on the other side of the world, the only constant in my routine is that my day starts with an iced latte. There, it is a mix of working on my laptop, teaching/tending to my students and grading assignments, creating content for my blog and socials, and exploring my surroundings.

What philosophies do you integrate into your workflow most often, and what view inspires you in your work?

I've always been inspired by the philosophy of "work smarter, not harder." A driving force behind creating my travel blog as a business vs. a hobby is that I knew it could be a passive income source. One aspect people don't realize about ditching the traditional 9-to-5, however, is that you'll be trading it in for the 24/7, at least in the beginning. But once you get over the initial grind of setting up a blogging business, you can necessarily make money while you sleep (or in the case of travel blogging, while you travel.)

Our society often rewards and even conflates working long, arduous hours with success, at the very least in a socially-validating sense. But for me, I want the success of my work to be defined by my impact and built around doing the things I love to do most, which is travelling and creating -- and getting paid for it. Personally, this is what I view working smarter, not harder is all about.

What do you think you do that drives your success?

My passion for helping and teaching others. My drive to work toward a more interconnected and tolerant world. My desire to create and showcase destinations through my eyes to inspire others to travel more.

How do you engage with your clients and build your following?

I always try to provide as much value as possible to my audience. I stay clear of writing any journal-type travel entries and get straight to the information that will be useful for planning a trip. I try to make myself as available as possible and answer every direct message, email, or question/comment my followers and readers send.

How do you use social media, and what recommendations do you have?

I use social media to connect with my audience in a more personal way. I also create bite-sized snapshots of the content that appears on my blog for those who prefer short-form content; and for those who desire more information, I use it as a driver of traffic to my blog posts. My biggest recommendation is always to provide value on social media to establish authority and credibility within your industry, and to create high-quality images because visuals are another way to communicate professionalism within your field.

Is there an event or situation that you can point to that was life-changing for you that you can share with us?

When I first started my blog, I was also teaching on campus and trying to schedule short trips between the days I wasn't teaching, and longer, international flights during school breaks. It wasn't until I had the opportunity to adapt my classes to be taught entirely online that I found the freedom to be wholly location-independent and accelerate my travel blogging career to the next level. Now I can show from places like Southeast Asia or the Middle East while also working on my business, and for now, I wouldn't have it any other way.

What has been the most memorable or inspiring interaction with a client or customer?

As an influencer for so many years now, I've worked with hundreds of brands in varying capacities. My favourite and most exciting campaign to date took place when I was photographed by Nike in NYC and featured in a 5-page spread on their "SNKRS" app in a "Women to Watch" segment, for the release of their Air Max 270 React sneakers. Nike is one of the few brands that have been a constant in my life since I was a little kid, and being associated with such an esteemed brand was an extraordinary moment in my career.

What has been the hardest challenge for you in this industry?

The travel industry has faced many different challenges over time, with the most significant and recent being the global pandemic. My strategy has been to adapt to the problem instead of pausing, pivoting, or working against it. I aim to find safe ways for people to travel or take staycations, highlight safety initiatives implemented by hotels and airlines, act on the best deals for future travel and stay inspired and keep planning.

What are the trends in the industry that you are excited about?

I am glad that the travel industry is moving toward a greater focus on ecotourism and sustainability. Travel can be extremely damaging to the environment, and by being more mindful and responsible travellers, we can reduce both the environmental and social impact on the earth. I wrote more about ways we can be accountable travellers in a campaign I did with Expedia on my blog. You can find it by searching for the title, "20 Tips for Being a Responsible Traveler: Ecotourism, Sustainability & Ethical Tourism Guide."

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