Tell us a bit about yourself, what's your background?
I've been an entrepreneur for the last decade focused on modernizing consumer packaged goods. My first company, Soylent, is focused on providing affordable and healthy food. My second company, Lucy, is focused on helping people quit smoking and vaping. My role is generally focused on marketing and technology, which has a pretty good overlap with YouTube. At various points in time, I've had to produce video ads on a shoestring budget, while other times I've had six-figure budgets to go crazy with.
Why did you set up a YouTube channel? What motivated you to get started?
I started my YouTube channel during the lockdown as a way to keep busy on the weekends, since there wasn't anything to do. I figured that putting content out on YouTube would be a good way to meet interesting people since networking events weren't happening anymore. Long term, I think YouTube is going to be a great calling card for my work in Silicon Valley. I do a little angel investing currently, but I'd like to do more in the future and I'm already meeting interesting entrepreneurs through my channel.
Tell us about your journey on the platform so far.
Growth has been great so far! My goal for 2021 was to hit 1,000 subscribers and I achieved that in May! Finding my niche has been a bit of a process, but I'm starting to narrow it down a bit. In general, I like to tell inspiring and up-beat stories about technology companies that are solving hard problems. There is a lot of negative content on YouTube about failed companies and I want to balance that out.
What's been key to your growth?
I think I've done a good job balancing search and browse content. I've had a few videos get pushed in browse, but I think that was only possible because my channel was getting enough impressions from search already. I've also taken a very balanced approach to content creation. Instead of daily unpolished content, or monthly super-polished content, I post weekly content that is fairly polished, but not documentary level or anything like that. This gives me lots of shots on goal. If a video flops, I'm already on to the next one, but each video is solid enough that the likelihood of winning a subscription is high if the topic is right.
What are the key insights you've discovered since starting?
Titles and thumbnails are incredibly important. This is the hardest part of YouTube if you come from a professional background. Even if your content is highly technical, you'll still need to pump up the drama in the title and thumb just to win the click. I now think about it like candy and vegetables. The candy is the title, thumb, and start of the video. Once I have the viewer locked in, I can deliver the vegetables (well researched, thoughtful, and balanced analysis).
What are the biggest challenges you've faced?
Sticking to a particular niche is really tough. I'm naturally interested in all sorts of things, so I want to put out videos about different topics. It would be great to be able to make a business video, then a science video, and then a history video, but that just won't work with the channel yet.
Have you experienced any second-order effects from starting your channel?
Yes, I've already made multiple angel investments in entrepreneurs that I met through my YouTube channel. My Twitter DMs are also filled with interesting messages from literal rocket scientists and AI researchers. It's been really awesome.
What are your goals for the future? How have your goals changed?
My long term goal is to publish 100 hours of polished content. I post about 15 minutes of video per week, which is roughly 10 hours per year. So I should get there before 2030! I feel like having 100 hours of content out there will be a really cool milestone and if I keep publishing, it will probably get really good eventually!
Would you do anything differently if you were to start again?
It's easy to say "I should have focused on my metrics earlier" but the work I did early on was still really important. It took me a long time to just get the basics right. Things like lighting, speaking tone, audio quality, set design are all really important, so I don't regret spending a little time each week improving those early on.
One piece of advice for YouTubers just starting out?
Stick to a cadence of publishing (weekly is great). Create a timebox where you make your videos. When I started, I pledged never to spend more than one day on a video. So I would wake up, pick a topic, write, record, and then edit. Some days I was busy and my video would be short and pretty off the cuff. Other days I'd have more time and could do a bigger project, but I never failed to hit publish at the end of the day. Creating a habit around publishing is really critical, since growth on YouTube takes a lot of time and there are so many different things you need to learn. Everything will get slowly better and then you'll look back after 50 videos and think "wow, that first one was so bad, I can't believe anyone watched that."
Where can we go to learn more about you?
The best way to chat with me is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/johncoogan
You can watch my videos here: https://www.youtube.com/johncooganplus
And you can drop your email on my website here: http://johncoogan.com/
How did PTYA help you?
PTYA helped me in two ways. First, I'm an extremely competitive person and PTYA definitely feels like a competition. Every week, all the participants are submitting their work, and I absolutely wanted to submit the most impressive video that week! Second, PTYA does a really good job of pulling all the different relevant things you need to know about YouTube into one place. There are tons of great YouTube channels about lighting, or cameras, or scriptwriting, or designing thumbnails. But PTYA is unique in that it takes a little bit from each discipline and puts it all together. It's very helpful in terms of allowing you to zoom out and understand what you're good at and where you need to improve.
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