Everything I Learned from Being a Famous Teenage YouTuber
What life is like after growing up on YouTube
These days when you ask children the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, their answers are a little different than ours were when we were kids. YouTuber, Gamer, Influencer, etc. This can be concerning for a lot of parents, but I’m here to tell you my story and shed some light on what their future may hold. So here’s the story of the rise and fall of my YouTube career, and what life is really like post-YouTube success.
The Early Days (2011–2015)
When I was growing up, being an “influencer” was not a career path or even a word in anyone’s vocabulary. YouTube, Facebook, and others were not created until around 2005, and did not hit my consciousness until around 2010, when I was fifteen years old. My interest in video began to percolate while making little scripted shorts with my younger brothers around that time.
One spring day in 2011, my brother Kevin (11 years old) came to me and said he and our youngest brother Josh (5 years old) had filmed a short video with my dolls and wanted me to edit it. We went to work in Windows Movie Maker, adding music and transitions. When we were done we thought it was hilarious, so we posted it to our mom’s YouTube channel (which she used to share home movies).
Not long after, we started to get comments from other children. “There are children watching videos on YouTube?” we wondered. No one was making kid-oriented content at the time. We made more videos simply because we were having fun, but soon we realized there was an audience growing around what we were making.
Looking back on it now, we were actually one of the first channels to begin making “toy play” videos. Yes it’s a very lucrative genre now, though at the time we were just kids having fun. By the end of one year we had made 8 videos, which garnered around 100,000 views. That was a lot more impressive of a number ten years ago. We were taking it very seriously at this point, and decided to take a leap and create our own channel, reposting all 8 episodes. Thankfully our audience followed us, and the very next video we made (the first episode of “season 2” of our show) is to this day our most popular, with just shy of 30 million views. By the end of the second year we had 7.5 million views and about 8,000 subscribers.
At this point we began to discover the budding world of social media influencers and YouTube networks. As still mere children, we had different networks vying for our attention, and eventually signed with AwesomenessTV. By 2013, we had started going to VidCon every year and learning what it was like to hob-nob with “YouTube Celebrities” and go to influencer parties. As three shy, homeschooled kids from central Indiana, it was a whole new world to us, but we were having the time of our lives. Thankfully our parents were able to protect us from those that would take advantage, and we all look back on this time with a lot of fond memories.
Struggling to Stay in Business (2016–2018)
By around 2016, views on our channel began to wane as larger toy play channels and those posting daily started to take over the landscape of YouTube. Our episodes being 10 minute scripted videos coming out once a month, we just couldn’t match the production demands of daily content. We thought long and hard about changing our format to keep up with the changing times, but decided against it because we didn’t want to comprise the quality of our content.
Around this same time, we heard that Amazon was beginning a new service called “Prime Video Direct”. It allowed video creators to publish directly onto Amazon Prime after a quality review and approval process. We immediately began the process of uploading our backlog of content there, and soon saw great returns for it that sustained our business for the next two years. We made over $125,000 on Amazon alone in just 15 months, which was at that point a lot more that what we were making on YouTube.
What Now? (2018 and beyond)
The end came two years later, in 2018. Amazon Video Direct is very much an experimental product for Amazon, so the royalty payouts fluctuated. They gave out a lot of incentives and bonuses in the first couple years, but then decided to move to a tiered royalty system that greatly impacted our earnings. At that point we knew it was over. And then a year later, the whole COPPA lawsuit happened with YouTube, causing kids channels to have “personalized ads” removed, pretty much reducing what ad revenue we were making to almost nothing.
I can’t tell you how angry I was watching everything we built for seven years come to an end so quickly. But I had also known that this could happen at any moment when you’re a business owner. I had to start over. Thankfully life kept going, and instead of moving to LA like I had planned for many years, I stayed in my home state and ended up meeting my husband just a few months after I stopped making videos.
The other bright side is that in the wake of all this, we started making toy play videos for clients under the name Playmation Studios. Our client videos have also performed very well, the most recent being a promotional video for Netflix, gaining over 12 million views in just a few months. Currently though, it’s still not enough to support our three person sibling team, so one brother works as a Chick-fil-A delivery driver by day (music producer by night), the other brother is a freelance photographer & videographer but still young enough to live at home, and I work with my husband at our local Chick-fil-A running their social media pages.
Key Lessons Learned
If you or your child are considering this path, these are the key takeaways I want to leave you with:
- Make sure you are focusing on developing valuable workforce skills (photography, video editing, graphic design, etc.) while growing your personal brand. The value of your presence online will most likely fizzle over time, but the value of those skills will not.
- Seek out mentors to teach you personally, and opportunities to get real on the job experience, rather than getting an expensive 4-year college degree.
- Pay attention to the parts of your business that you enjoy the most, so you know what kind of job you will want later. Being a jack of all trades can be helpful, but being a master of none shouldn’t be the end goal. Over time, my brothers and I each took over a different part of production, as we realized which parts we liked most. This allowed us to really develop those different skills, making us an even better team now.
- Don’t stress. You can do your best to prepare for the future, but you can never predict it. Most of all, make sure you’re having fun along the way.
Best of luck!