The Confessional #11: Early YouTube Creator

The Confessional is a series of anonymous interview with influencers, brands, marketers, agencies and MCN executives to get honest, no-bullshit opinions on working in the space – the biggest gripes, the toughest lessons, the most valuable advice.

My latest interviewee is a YouTuber and director, he was among the earliest to adopt the platform and has been posting his videos online since before YouTube even launched.

Some of the highlights from our interview include:
– What the early days (ie 2006) of YouTube were like
– How CPM’s have fallen and why it’s best to use YouTube to build a career off platform
– What it was like being an early employee at an MCN

The Confessional is a series of anonymous interview with influencers, brands, marketers, agencies and MCN executives to get honest, no-bullshit opinions on working in the space – the biggest gripes, the toughest lessons, the most valuable advice.

The following has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You were among the first crop of creators on YouTube to actually build a following, back in 2006. How did you get into it? What was your very first video?

Well, my friends and I, we all took drama class together and started making videos together before YouTube existed.

So when YouTube came around, we decided to start posting there. And honestly it was slow for all of us at first.

What was YouTube like back then?

In the early days of YouTube the popular videos were lip-syncing videos or people that did their own parody songs. That was the big first thing on YouTube. You do one of those and doing well on YouTube.

YouTube was never supposed to be anything but fun. It wasn’t even supposed to be a launchpad for a career, which it ended up being (I always wanted to make movies).

You had one of the earliest ‘viral hits’, what was that like?

Well, when we first uploaded [Redacted – name of video] no one really cared.

It was probably up for a month before it got big, and then [Redacted – name of site] featured it, and just like that it was literally overnight. We went from nothing to millions of views.

How did that hit impact things for you and your friends?

So that landed me a meeting with pretty much every single major studio. It landed me meetings with Warner Brothers and Paramount. Everywhere.

But, this was 2006. It’s not like now where you can just take whatever you learn on YouTube and transfer it to some other medium and people understand the business and are ready to cut checks. People didn’t know what they were doing yet.

I had all these meetings and they weren’t quite sure what to do with me. I did get a small production budget from one of the traditional studies and got to direct, but that didn’t quite pay the bills so I went back to YouTube.

Were you guys making any money back then or was this all for fun?

When we started there was no partner program, so there really wasn’t a future, we weren’t making any money. There was no possibility of even thinking about making money on YouTube.

Companies didn’t know what to do with YouTubers.

Now companies, they’ll start you off with a Web series and the start to build you from there. We’ll do a Web series, we’ll put it on YouTube, and maybe we’ll build from there, do a Netflix series or a Yahoo series.

I started getting offers to do random Web commercials, and I did a bunch of them to help pay the bills.

All the friends you started with have gone on to be among the most famous YouTubers out there. How has your relationship with them evolved or changed?

I remember when they all really just started blowing up. They were focusing on their channels and developing their personas, and then almost out of nowhere there’d be people showing up on set (or wherever we were filming) just to meet these guys. It was a really weird transition.

Luckily we’ve stayed close and no one developed crazy ego’s, but there have been challenges.

It’s hard scheduling stuff  – they’ve gotten more popular and they sometimes are spread a bit thin.

You were with one of the MCN’s in the very beginning, what was that like?

Yeah, after I did some directing for a bit I was hired by [Redacted – Name of MCN].

It was awesome. I was the 15th employee they hired. I was so broke at the time, that I didn’t even have a cell phone, I needed a job and they saw one of my videos the next thing I knew, I was working there.

Over the years stuff started changing, and the company got huge.

When it got big and corporate I started to lose my shit with all the bureaucracy.

Where is YouTube headed?

Back in the day, it felt like YouTube was all about bucking the norm, now it feels like it’s all about keeping with the latest trends. On top of it all everybody and their fucking grandma has a YouTube channel, even if it’s just a YouTube channel where they put random iphone videos.

It’s changed to the point where there’s too much now and it’s hard to comb through it all and find anything good or original.

I think people are just putting out more content, and I think it really started that way because I remember these MCN deals where you would sign up with them and you’d have to put up a minimum amount of minutes of content per month.

No matter who the fuck you are, the audience gets bored and just churning out crap doesn’t help.

So what’s next?

I think there’s just going to be another platform out there, I think something else is going to come out. It’s happened now with Vine and instagram – you saw how those fucking just blew up.

I don’t see YouTube as a place to make money; now I see it more as a launching pad for something else. It’s a great platform to showcase yourself and your work.

How do you recommend people make a living off YouTube these days?

The only way you can really make money off YouTube anymore is with brand deals, because CPM’s are just too low.

In the early days the CPM’s were high – it was probably between $7 and $10. Now it’s averaging about $1.25. Sometimes it goes up to $3, but mostly it’s hovering around $1.25.

If you’re looking to act or direct YouTube comes in handy – everybody now looks at your social media numbers. Everybody looks at the numbers. You want to get an acting gig? They’re going to look at your Twitter followers before they look at how good you are. And I’m seeing that everywhere.

What advice do you have for people looking to get into the space and build a YouTube following?

I talk to colleges all the time and I get that question all the time. I always make a joke and tell them, “be good-looking.” It’s very sad but it’s very true.

There’s really no guarantees in this space. Even if you’re the hottest person in the world, you have the best content, and you’re collaborating with someone like Jenna Marbles, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to blow up.