How I Got Here V - The Viral Video


Over the next couple of weeks a few more of my history videos would start to do moderately well. It wasn’t enough that anything had really changed, but it was enough that I felt more confident in my decision to scale back the channel to one video a week and just focus on making that video as good as possible.

One of the videos I was working on was based on something I had learned while on a behind-the-scenes tour at the Magic Kingdom. When we were touring the area behind Splash Mountain the guide had mentioned that they use bromine in all of their water rides for various reasons, and sure enough there were buckets of bromine near the water filtration area of the attraction. I later decided to make a video about this, with a focus on how one of the after-effects of the bromine over chlorine was that the water smelled different.

After the video was written, shot, and mostly edited, I considered scraping the entire thing. It was far more of a focus on the science of bromine and chlorine, and not too much of a focus on Disney itself. However I was short on time before the weekly video was due, and decided to finish it up and put it out there anyway. Like most of the other history videos, it did alright when it went live. Nothing spectacular.

By this point I had noticed that when a history video got a boost in views, it would happen around two weeks after it went live. This video was no different, and as I was hoping, the views started to jump up two weeks later. Then they kept going up. Then they went up some more. Actually, they wouldn’t stop climbing.

Now I know it’s really corny to say this, especially with something as unimportant as a viral video, but the following few days felt like a blur to me. I remember a lot of the emotions I felt during that weekend, and a lot of little moments, but the general day to day was lost to excitement. Luckily I have view data to fill in the gaps.

That Wednesday in May, the video saw 9,000 views. At that point my channel would usually average around 3,000 views a day, so for one video to do that well was notable. It was similar to the spike I had seen with my Haunted Mansion video, so I was happy to see the spike happening again.

On Thursday the video pulled in just over 17,000 views. Almost a week’s worth of total views in one day with one video. I was ecstatic. I felt completely vindicated in my decision to focus on the history videos and cut back on the other stuff I was doing.

Friday rolled around and the video netted 46,000 views. This was almost half of what I might expect for an entire month. I started to worry. I worried because the rate was increasing, and I started to suspect I might have been the victim of a view-bot attack. I started to hate the thought that my numbers were being artificially inflated and my channel was being put at risk of getting shut down in the event YouTube thought I was the one ordering the bots.

By that night I was crawling through my analytics to try and rule out whether or not it was bots. The usual telltale sign is that the views come in equally from a large number of countries. Considering the vast majority of my audience is in the US and Canada, that would be unusual. Another good sign is if the hour-by-hour views are consistent. It wouldn’t make sense for a video to get as many views at 4 in the morning as it would at noon, unless the views were bots. Luckily none of those signs were showing up for me, and on top of that the comments were pouring in on the video. Both together gave me enough piece of mind to decide this must have been real. In any case, I figured by this point the surge must be finishing up, and that things would settle. A solid and respectable bump in the numbers. 

The next day the video gained 187,000 views. Holy. Crap. At this point I wasn’t paying as much attention to the views as I was on subscribers. I went from gaining 10-15 new subscribers on a good day to gaining hundreds, and then thousands per day. It all felt so unreal. It also set off another fear.

When I was making the video I researched into three different sources to make sure everything was accurate, but now with so many people watching the video I started to fear that I had overlooked some crucial detail. I just started to imagine some scientist calling me out in the comments for being wrong about something and everyone turning on me for it. It sounds so silly thinking about it now, but at the time I felt this newfound attention could just as quickly become a problem for me as it could help. It was the internet after all. All I had to do was watch my comments like a hawk and get through the next day. Surely the views would start to drop. Hard to top 187,000 views in one day.

Sunday came and the video did 195,000 views. I couldn’t believe that the growth was still happening. I was also partially relieved. While it was still higher than the day before, the growth slowed quite a lot, and so I started to think that the video would calm down for real this time. By this point I had shot past 25,000 subscribers. I didn’t know how to feel about it.

The years prior were such a slow uphill climb that every new subscriber felt like a small victory. I had convinced that person, whoever they were, to keep checking out my content. It was a specific person behind a computer or on their phone checking out my videos. Now my numbers were climbing every time I hit refresh and suddenly those numbers became… just numbers. I felt that personal connection slip away. I was still able to find it in the comments themselves, but for the first time the channel started to feel a little less like a tight-knit community.

Over the following few days the daily views on the video would drop off, as expected. I still continued to grow. One of the benefits of this happening months after I made the switch in content was that a lot of those viewers who found the “Water Smell” video, as I had come to call it, were able to jump to a number of other videos. By the end of the month the video itself would accrue 668,000 views, however the channel as a whole would do 1.73 million views. For some perspective, that was more views in one month than all of my views from the previous 21 months combined. I felt really conflicted about some of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to finally see the kind of success and growth I had been dreaming of for years. I just also felt confused about what this all meant about my work up until that point. I had been working on this channel for four and a half years and it was only five months since I decided to try the Disney history videos. Were those four years useless? Were they a waste? If I was smart enough to jump right into Disney history would I have grown this much back then? It really made me second guess everything I had been doing up until that point.

That was seven months ago. In that time the channel would continue to grow to the point it's at now, and with that growth I decided to take perhaps the biggest risk in my professional career. I decided in August that I needed to quit my job and make a real attempt at going full time on YouTube. I had been working for it for nearly five years, and each day I didn’t put my all into the channel with this newfound audience was another day the window closed some more.

I worried that if I didn’t at least try I’d never get another chance. I also wanted to get married and have kids someday, and I knew that a career change this drastic and risky would be that much more difficult to attempt with a family to take care of.

Unfortunately I couldn’t jump at it right away. I knew that I wouldn’t be making enough money to get by right out of the gate, so I had to save some up. I also knew that the 4th quarter was a busy time in the world of digital advertising, and if I left my team right as it was starting it would probably burn some bridges that I didn’t want to burn. It can be a small industry and I knew if this chance didn’t work out I’d have to go back. So I decided that I would save up as much money as I could between the end of the summer and the end of the year, and I’d start out 2018 with this new journey.

I told my boss I was leaving right before Thanksgiving, and he’d ultimately convince me to add one more week to my time with the company so I could get a proper going away party. My last day would go from December 31st to January 5th, today. 

Tomorrow I set off on a (hopefully) year long journey to try and turn this five year old hobby into a viable and self-sustaining small business. If you're reading this, I want to take a moment to thank you. Beyond just watching the videos I put out, your support is why this channel, this blog, and this attempt exists.

I hope for this blog to be a place where I can share my hopes and fears, my successes and failures. I expect this whole thing to be a roller coaster of a learning experience, and I'm really excited to take you all along for the ride. 

Until next time,