I have been following Casey Neistat for almost ten years. He’s one of my favorite humans.
What few people know is that even before he started on Youtube, he was already a successful filmmaker. He and his brother sold a show to HBO for $2 million the year he opened his channel. He’d been nominated for a Daytime Emmy and had received lots of praise for his short films — films like iPod’s Dirty Secret, which pushed Apple, yes, Apple, into offering a battery replacement program and extended warranties for iPod’s that showed poor battery life.
If you’ve been following him long enough, none of this will come as a surprise. Because if one thing becomes evident from observing Casey, it’s that he’s a hustler. Always has been, always will be. He sets goals, works hard, achieves them, and then sets bigger goals. That’s who he is. He talks about it often.
Given his hardcore work ethic, soon, some of his first Youtube videos went viral. There was his analysis of Chatroulette, the one about $2 bills, and, of course, Make It Count for Nike, which reached three million views in its first week alone — in 2012.
Until 2015, Casey continued making hits like these on the regular. However, after five years and about 100 such videos, Casey had “just” 500,000 subscribers. That’s a lot, but considering how much Youtube itself grew in that time, Casey’s one hundred million views, and that even his Twitter following was half as large, that’s not what you’d expect.
And yet, in that same time period, the channel of PewDiePie aka Felix Kjellberg grew from 0 to 33 million subscribers. He’s an absolute outlier, of course, but he had also never made videos before. As such, it’s a remarkable sign of what was possible on Youtube, even then.
So what’s the difference? Why did an award-winning filmmaker grew a lot less on a video platform than a kid from Sweden with no experience? Well…
Casey saw himself as a filmmaker, not a Youtuber.
A filmmaker works hard on one film. It’s a creation. A piece of art. It has to be perfect. Casey released a video every two weeks on average, but a very polished one at that. He was the director, the editor, the mastermind behind the curtain and the star of the show all at once and, as such, somewhat removed from the audience.
He saw himself as a filmmaker, and so that’s how people on the platform saw him too. Felix, on the other hand, embraced the idea of being “a full-time Youtuber” much sooner.
A Youtuber works hard to get something out every day. Anything. Sometimes, the quality suffers — but it’s the consistency that builds the relationship with fans. The vulnerability of showing up every day. The fact that it’s not perfect. That there’s someone putting themselves out there, and hoping the world will like what they see. Felix filmed himself with whatever gear he had available and made up the content on the spot — but he was there every day because that’s what a Youtuber does.
It took Casey five years to learn that lesson. But guess what he did next? In 2015, Casey started a daily vlog. He committed to putting out a video every day. Given his experience, the quality was still really high and each video had his own, unique touch. But they didn’t have as clear a message as his previous short films. Nor were they as polished. But that didn’t matter.
After one year of daily uploads, Casey had 2.5 million subscribers. He quintupled his audience in one-fifth of the time. Another six months later, he hit five million. He ended the daily vlog around that time, but his new perspective has stayed to this day.
Now, Casey Neistat considers himself a true Youtuber — and so do we.
He announces his “proper” films as productions and his normal videos are still in a more vlog-ish style. He’s involved a lot more in the Youtube community, participating in Youtube Rewind, even interviewing their head of business, and regularly commenting on issues and trends on the platform. He’s “the guy sharing his life” much more so than “the mystery genius behind the scenes.”
Casey Neistat works hard and he always has. But in order for the world to see him as a Youtuber worth following, he first had to see himself as one.
No matter what you want to achieve, you’ll have to serve a group of people to get there. Unless you become a true part of their community, you’ll never make it. This is true for any person at any level, regardless of if you’re already successful or a complete nobody — and it’s something you’ll have to remember again and again with every new venture.
Is hard work a must? Yes, absolutely. But, long before that — and even more importantly — you have to choose who you want to be. Because whatever you decide on, the world will agree.