How We Built a Million-Dollar YouTube Channel

Published on
August 7th, 2019
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Moment has 250,000 subscribers and $1M in direct revenue on YouTube
When we started Moment, we never expected YouTube to be our best customer channel. Since we make mobile photography gear, we assumed Instagram would be the hands-down winner. We were wrong. We underestimated what vloggers could do.
YouTube vloggers are equal parts accessible entertainers and aspirational friends—celebrities you can have a conversation with, whose opinions you trust. Between their on-camera personas and comment section conversations, they form unique bonds with their audiences. When a trusted vlogger recommends a product, their audience buys in. And when a brand partners with a vlogger to create in-house content, it can create similar connections.
We started building our YouTube channel in January 2018. Over 18 months we’ve gained 265,000 followers and driven 184.5 million impressions, 22.4 million video views, and 19.4 million minutes of watch time.
Youtube now accounts for 10 percent of our traffic and eight percent of last click through revenue—over $1 million. It’s hard to measure the overall brand impact, but in our website checkout surveys, 28 percent of customers say they heard about is through YouTube. We share these numbers not to brag, but to show what’s possible. When we launched our latest Kickstarter campaign, YouTube was an incredibly valuable tool.

Why We Chose a Vlogger Approach

There are three paths you can take with Youtube.
Yeti, Redbull, and GoPro rely on inspiring content to convert customers. This direction requires production knowhow and a lot of capital for each shoot; budgets can range from $100,000 to $2 million. The risk here is that inspiring content doesn’t lead to immediate purchase, and you probably need to put additional advertising budget behind the content for it to take off.
Purple, Dollar Shave Club, and Chatbooks take an advertising approach. This direction is about testing different types of creative and putting money behind the ones that hit. This is not about building subscribers; it’s strictly about scaling to millions of views. You can be scrappier on production costs, and can get creative figuring out how much to spend on the video versus promotion. Dollar Shave Club tests different creative themes to see which resonate, and then spend more promoting the ones that work best.
The third path is what vloggers like Casey Neistat, Sarah Dietchy, and Mango Street do as independent entrepreneurs. This direction is about hiring compelling hosts that represent your brand and dive into topics and conversations that engage your specific audiences directly. With our limited capital, we decided to try this approach. We started with one personality, sharing knowledge about gear, photography, and filmmaking. This direction requires the right personality and a constant effort to make small improvements. You need to ship a much higher volume of content, therefore you have to constantly test new, quick ideas to see what works to grow your audience.

Develop Your Character

To do the vlogger approach, you have to identify and develop your screen personas. I recommend reading The Hero And The Outlaw to select an archetype: Each chapter of the book profiles a different character, and the one that best aligns with your brand should jump out to you when you read it.
Start with one, maybe two, personalities that align with the type of customers you’re trying to reach. Our first hire was Caleb Babcock, a Moment customer and filmmaker. He is approachable and has a level of video and photo knowledge that is deep but not so technical that it bores or intimidates viewers. He also has an innate ability to take a complicated topic and explain it in simple, everyday language. After Caleb got the ball rolling, we added Niles Grey Jeran and Taylor Pendleton (I’m not linking to her accounts because she recently quit social media), who have their own unique perspectives on photography. Having three personalities interacting helps keep the content fresh and engaging.
I think it’s important to select talent that can handle all of their own content production. YouTube viewers are accustomed to more authentic—and less painstakingly produced—videos. Selecting a vlogger who can also do the shooting and editing brings down your costs while giving you the right style and street cred for the platform.

Produce Your Videos with Engagement in Mind

Once you have a path and a brand personality, start making videos. There is no silver bullet for what drives engagement, and you’ll have to experiment to find what works for your channel, but these are a few best practices that we’ve discovered through our own trial and error. If you do these consistently, your audience will grow, which, in time, should lead to more customers.
1. Nail the first 30 seconds. Our average video time is 2:22, but some 40 percent of people drop off after 30 seconds, so your intro is everything. Nail your hook. If the piece is very product-focused, get straight to the specs. If the piece is educational, explain what you’ll share and why.
2. Don’t fear lengthy videos. There is always a new theory about how the YouTube algorithm works. The latest thinking is that videos over ten minutes do the best. We haven’t run enough tests to validate this, but our longer videos are often our most-viewed content. If the video subject isn’t interesting enough to be ten minutes long, then we go the opposite direction and make short ones (less than three minutes) that are punchier and more inspiring.
3. Have a consistent posting rate. We prefer three videos per week. More than that, and there’s too much content on your channel—and the quality will likely suffer. It’s very hard to make three awesome pieces a week. Even with a team of three people, we struggle to do it. The further the gap is between videos the better the content has to be.
4. Choose an interesting thumbnail. Have a designer make compelling visuals with text overlays, then test which cover images your audience likes best. As a starting point, you can bet that people will click more on objects, faces, or animals.
5. Draw viewers in with catchy titles, then update them with SEO-friendly ones. Figuring out which titles get clicks is also a trial-and-error process. As a general practice, famous names, the word “new,” or leading questions work best. Power tip: Change your title to something more SEO-friendly after a week—this makes your video more discoverable in general search. Type in a product name or category, like “iPhone lens,” and the YouTube autofill results will give you a sense of common searches. Following this practice, we drive more than 20 percent of our views through search.
6. Don’t bury your links. Your description should be one sentence and include the link to your product page. People hardly ever click “see more” to read a long description.
7. Comment first. Always be the first to comment on your own video and ask the group a question. Then read through and reply to comments quickly for the first 48 hours that your video is up. This helps drive high engagement.
8. Share across platforms. Take your main video, make social teasers, and put those into all your other channels. You want those followers to click through and see the whole video on YouTube, so post 15-second snippets with clear calls to action.
9. Track your data. Your data will suck when you start, but creating a weekly process to review it is the only way you can improve. Which subjects received the most engagement? What types of sharing formats drove the most views? How can you do more of what’s working?

Make Calls to Action and Campaigns to Win Subscribers

Great videos alone don’t grow your channel. Gaining followers takes deliberate strategies. Here are a few that work for us.
1. Prompt your community to follow you. You have to ask your customers to follow your YouTube channel. Do this in emails, customer service communications, your website, and any place relevant to your brand.
2. Offer rewards. You can use promotions like a weekend hashtag competition or a photography contest to reward people for posting, commenting, or sharing. These are low-lift efforts that many audiences are willing to participate in an ongoing way. We use a social promotion platform called Gleam, which awards your community points for doing things such as following, subscribing, and sharing.
3. Experiment with giveaways. A few times a year, you can team up with a couple non-competing brands to offer bigger giveaways that will reach all your combined audiences. Make giveaways high quality and of value for your community.
4. Collaborate with other creators. Notice how vloggers help each other cross-share their work, visit each other in person, and appear in each other’s videos? Encourage your host to build similar relationships.

Have Patience: This Takes Time

Content works to reach new customers. It’s a long term game that takes time to build, but if you are committed to it, you can create a robust channel that drives predictable traffic. This path is more than just saying “We need videos.”
Comments (6)
Michael Thomas
This is awesome! Congrats on the success :)
Naveen Sridhar
Appreciate the breakdown! It can be hard figure out a video content strategy for a startup since producing video is expensive, but this helps understand different approaches and provides some helpful tips for getting the most out of the videos.
Roman Tsegelskyi
Thanks for sharing the details! Such information is really hard to come by. Congrats!
Nicely written, thank you!
Vishal Yadav
This is an amazing story. I think that both youtube and blogging are awesome ways to describe your potential.