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You can find more than half the world's creators on YouTube these days. Their videos gather millions of daily views, and their influence spreads into all parts of the globe.
But, while the pure entertainment channels chase the viewing numbers for ad revenue, the world's top creators are playing a smarter game.
Don't make the mistake of viewing these savvy men and women as talents. Instead, it's more accurate to compare them with startup founders. Suppose we define a creator as an individual who combines individuality, leverage, and rebellion to scale without permission. In that case, we realize that creators, like founders, are growing their channels as their business.
But are these top channels dominating the market? Has YouTube reached a saturation point?
No way says Paddy Galloway, a long-time YouTube Wizard whose videos unpack how and why top creators are so successful. Because while it's true that some areas may be oversubscribed, there are still so many niches and sub-niches out there that are nowhere near reaching their potential.
"If you focus on building a relationship with your audience," says Paddy, "you don't necessarily need those big views." Instead, think like a founder, and focus on the strategies you need to succeed.
How does having a founder mindset help creators leverage YouTube to grow their business above and beyond the daily grind of getting views?
Four characteristics of the creator-founder mindset
1/ Passion, determination and the will to succeed:
Top creators are in love with their channel, their audience and their business. They're driven, almost to the point of obsession, to be the best in their field. These are the people brimming with ideas for new content and new ways to serve their audience. If you talk to this sort of creator, the conversation always leads back to their channel, plans, and desire to improve.
2/ Business savvy creators:
Forget the idea of the starving artist in a garret; creators are making money because they know their audiences and YouTube inside out. And, instead of trying to do it all themselves, they recognize the value of hiring a team.
Creators look for business opportunities instead of relying on ad revenue. In fact, ads represent only a fraction of most of the top creator's revenue baskets. Even sponsorships and affiliate products are only a stepping stone on the journey because the sky's the limit for generating income.
Many creators make digital courses, but there's a wealth of possibilities in creating other digital products. Think memberships, paid private communities, paid newsletters, bitcoins, tokens and products that solve your audience's problems.
Physical products are another arm of a growing creator business. "Merch" can be anything that resonates with your audience. A coffee blogger might launch a line of coffee mugs or even a brand of coffee. Food YouTubers often produce recipe books. Jimmy Donaldson, aka Mr Beast, has taken physical products to a whole new level with his Mr Beast Burgers.
But why stop there? Retreats, events, guided tours and summits — virtual or in-person — are all physical products that fit into the creator business model depending on your niche.
3/ One eye on the future:
It's not enough to work day to day or week to week on your videos; creators have long-term goals. They're thinking one, two, five, even ten years ahead. Having that future-focused vision allows them to learn from failure instead of being overwhelmed by it.
Failure? Oh yes! All creators — and founders — suffer multiple setbacks. It comes with the territory.
"Not many people understand that YouTube is like failing in public," says Paddy. "If the views go down, everyone can see it."
And the perception of failure grows with your channel. Those 1000 views you were ecstatic about after a few months feel like a setback if you get them after a series of 100,000-view videos. Likewise, the click-through rate (CTR) will often be high when you're starting out because your small audience is likely to be highly engaged. However, the CTR diminishes mightily as your channel grows because YouTube will show your videos to a larger number of people who don't click on them.
4/ Constantly striving for perfection
"You're only as good as your last video."
Far from being offended by criticism, creators and founders always look for ways to improve their videos or products. They constantly analyze the data, looking for strengths to replicate and weaknesses to fix.
Growing on YouTube — it's all in the data.
Paddy uses the knowledge gained from years of experience and his sharp analytic skills to advise YouTubers on how to grow their channels. Start with YouTube Studio, which offers a wealth of data and insight into how your videos are performing.
So, what data does Paddy advise you to focus on? It can depend on your level of experience. Still, when Paddy has his analysis hat on, he goes straight for his top three metrics: CTR, AVD (Average View Duration) and the Audience Retention graph, which shows where you're losing viewers.
Optimize your videos for maximum view time
Exactly how long are people watching each video for, and what points do they leave?
1/ First, analyze the metrics:
- How many watch right through to the end?
- How many quit after the first 30 seconds?
- Did a big chunk of viewers click off at the 5-minute mark?
- Why? What went wrong there?
And, most importantly, how does all this information inform your next attempt?
2/ Repeat the positives:
When visitors are sticking around, look to see what you did right on those videos.
- Was it the graphics?
- Were you using rapid-fire visuals?
- Did the theme particularly resonate with your audience?
- What feedback did you get through Community comments?
3/ Improve the negatives:
Similarly, when the audience leaves in droves, you need to know why they went.
- Was it too static?
- Did you foreshadow the end?
- Was the introduction too long?
- Did the video deliver on the thumbnail's promise?
4/ Reverse Engineer to optimize for success
Learn what YouTube is looking for in a good video. Read, watch, and follow the advice of those who've proved that they understand the algorithm.
Discover what works, and then structure your videos to match it.
5/ Bring unique qualities into your work.
No one's going to watch a video that's already been done a thousand times before. Your YouTube challenge is to do what works, but from a unique standpoint, because that's your point of difference.
Even Paddy, who's been making YouTube content for ten years, faced that dilemma when he launched Paddy Galloway.
"I wanted to make a channel on something that I'm really passionate about, which is obviously YouTube. But there were a lot of amazing creators making YouTube advice videos really well. I looked at them and said I could make similar content or I could come at this from a different angle."
Paddy decided that instead of making yet another advice video, he would analyse other creators' videos to explain how they achieved success. With millions of views on only 24 videos and 230 000 avid subscribers, you'd have to say his angle has worked.
Will you be the next big creator or just another YouTuber?
Creators focus on their audience, have an eye for the future, and see the business opportunities in their success.
YouTubers enjoy making videos and leverage their views and influence to make money from Adsense and sponsorship deals.
There's no right or wrong.
But, which path will you choose?