Taking advantage of technology

Design senior uses gif-obsession and Twitter wit to find personal and professional success

Justin Sengly

Justin Sengly

In his minimalistic, plant-ridden, bedroom of the Ikea display room nature, Joey Mueller set up a multi-compartmental, luxurious cage for his new pet chinchilla, Adobe—named after the company who developed of Adobe Photoshop and other design-oriented programs. While Mueller was undoubtedly excited to have a new cuddly friend to take care of, play with, and watch grow—he seemed equally as excited to have Adobe enhance his life on the Internet. “My chinchilla is going to have a YouTube channel. His name is Adobe, he is going to be famous,” Mueller tweeted.

But it’s this constant risk-taking that has caused a slew of rumors about Mueller to travel on campus and throughout Minneapolis.

Mueller has never made himself a resume, but he has over 132 thousand Twitter followers and developed Gifit, a free app used to text millions of reaction gifs to your friends. Mueller, 21, is a senior graphic design student at the university’s College of Design, and he takes more risks than most people.

But it’s this constant risk-taking that has caused a slew of rumors about Mueller to travel on campus and throughout Minneapolis. It’s a party topic: friends-of-friends claim Mueller makes $200 dollars every time someone downloads his app. It’s common “knowledge” that Joey is sponsored by Taco Bell on Twitter.

In reality, Mueller makes only a couple of dollars a day from app downloads. He’s not sponsored by Taco Bell, but once, he and his friends hopped on a Taco Bell party bus of sorts and ate boxes filled with free Doritos Locos tacos.

Mueller grew up in Blaine, Minn. with an interest in web design. He was voted “most likely to save the world” by his high school senior class, and according to long-time friend Neva Dalager, will “of course be a multi-billionaire in ten years.”

“[Mueller] has a lot of ideas and he does a lot of the ideas,” Dalager said. “But I never actually do mine. That’s the difference between him and most people.”

Justin Sengly

Justin Sengly

Like most current 20-something-year-olds, Mueller began his social media career on MySpace. Unlike most others, he didn’t just use MySpace to connect and share his life virtually with friends, but rather to customize and make MySpace profile layouts. “It’s funny looking back on that, because I didn’t even think of it as web design,” Mueller said. “I was interested in and learning all this design stuff without even realizing it.”

While he exercised his creative skills on social media via MySpace since 6th grade, his “Internet fame” didn’t surface until his senior year of high school. Mueller managed to garner over 70 thousand followers on his Tumblr account, just by posting funny photos paired with witty comments. “I don’t even know what started it,” he said. “It took just a couple good text posts.” But by the end of his freshman year of college, the Tumblr fame got old. So naturally—he moved to Twitter.

@JYMLR, Mueller’s Twitter account, currently has a following of over 132 thousand, and it’s growing every day. His popularity here, however, wasn’t just from being a funny guy. Mueller made a website where he bought and sold Twitter followers to those looking to get “Twitter famous.” He sold to bands, artists, and businesses for four months, and for every order, there would always be an extra amount of “leftover” followers. “So I just sent them to myself,” Mueller said.

The leftovers piled up. At one point, Mueller had over 600 thousand followers just from the leftovers—and that’s when he got a call from The New York Times. “They were like, ‘Hey, we’re doing a story on Internet fame, and we’d like to feature you,’” he said. Mueller complied, but avoided most of the questions regarding how he got his followers.

After the Times released the story, Mueller didn’t need to collect fake followers anymore. “People started reading the story and following me,” he said. “I requested that Twitter remove the fake followers from my account.”

Without the extra followers, Mueller still maintains his giant Twitter following using the same tactics he used on Tumblr—pairing funny images with a witty comment. “My professors are always like, ‘Graphic design is just text and image,’” he said. “And that’s what I did on Tumblr and now do on Twitter—just pair text and image.”

Grace Birnstengel

Grace Birnstengel

The majority of Mueller’s tweets reflect strange things he experiences every day, funny thoughts or ideas he has, or things that everyone thinks about but doesn’t know how to put into words. A photo of a pick-up truck with a larger-than-usual back end paired with “If Kim Kardashian was a transformer” got 21 retweets and 37 favorites. A photo of a huge crowd spanning several blocks in New York City paired with “is this the line for the iPhone” got eight retweets and 20 favorites.

Not only did Mueller’s Twitter use open the door for creative and humorous freedom, but it also gave he and his friends something arguably more important—free tacos. After tweeting several times about Taco Bell (“I am never eating taco bell again today”), Mueller got a direct message from @TacoBell asking him to be at a certain location at a certain time—and to bring friends. A strange request from a strange company, but Mueller was in. “I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “I was really confused, but I told all my friends to go to that spot.” And they did. Mueller and his friends were met by a coach bus lead by a Taco Bell marketer—inviting them on the bus to film a commercial and get free tacos. The bus drove the crew to the nearest Taco Bell, filled them up with more tacos than they could eat, and drove them back to campus.

[Mueller] has a lot of ideas and he does a lot of the ideas,” Neva said. “But I never actually do mine. That’s the difference between him and most people.

But more critically, Mueller’s Twitter following gave him a perfect space to market his very first app—Gifit—an app that allows users to find and text gifs by categories such as “thumbs up” or “eye roll,” using an already-existing database of gifs.

Because most people use gifs to express themselves humorously, exposing an app solely made to share gifs to his like-minded Twitter followers was only logical. Over 100 thousand people have downloaded Gifit.

The idea for Gifit was born in a web design class. Mueller’s assignment last fall was to prototype an app—meaning design the idea for an app that looks and works like it would, but isn’t actually functional. The interest for Gifit came from being on Tumblr and constantly experiencing reaction gifs—gifs that express a certain emotion and are appropriate to use as a reaction to something. “That was a huge thing [on Tumblr],” Mueller said. He then came across Giphy, a website that allows users to search and share gifs, and had the idea to make this same concept available through an app on your phone.

Grace Birnstengel

Grace Birnstengel

Over the summer, Mueller found himself bored and without a job, so he decided to bring the idea to life. Three months of back-and-forth communication with a group of coders in Pakistan made Gifit’s launch possible at the end of the summer. “I wished I could just do the coding myself, but learning to code would just take so much time,” Mueller said. “My skill set is of better use in other areas.”

The concept of the app changed throughout the creation process, as Mueller initially planned on downloading thousands of gifs and tagging them manually into different categories. “I started freaking out because I knew that wasn’t going to work,” he said. “But then I found the Giphy database and got permission from them to use it.”

After releasing the app, Gifit got a lot of attention from technology blogs, and more people are using the app every day. “I’ve seen two random strangers using it in public,” Mueller said. “And that’s really fun.”

Although he would like it to be, Mueller doesn’t think that Gifit will ever become extremely popular. It is, however, paying off, through advertising, for what he invested into it. “It was a good investment because it’s a cool thing I can show to future employers,” Mueller said.

Mueller now knows more than enough about the art of and desire for gif-sharing, and will even argue with you on the pronunciation of “gif” (hard or soft “g”), but ultimately, the addition of user feedback to his design portfolio is Gifit’s greatest asset to him.

“I’m always thinking ahead,” Mueller said, and he’s always thinking about his next venture. Currently, Mueller has his hands in several different design and technology startups—including one that helps businesses do more on the web for less money. Mueller also plans to start a company that puts out sweatpants with all-over crazy prints. He even has a few new secret apps in the works—an app for golf courses, an app that’s more of an art project, social experiment, and a play on how we use technology, and, yes, even an app that plays chinchilla calls, making it easier for owners to tame their chinchillas.

He may not have a resume, but Mueller’s motto is “I’ll do it for free, and it’ll be so good that you’ll want to pay me.”