The business of being YouTube star Alfie Deyes
Sounds like a dream life, right?
Well ... it's also a lot of hard work.
Deyes works seven days a week, producing 13 videos every week, and has no days off. Virtually every aspect of his life appears on video - he can't even go grocery shopping without being mobbed. If you're not familiar with Deyes - and if you're under the age of 24, you're probably not - it's difficult to describe what Deyes does for a living. Basically, he just films himself doing random stuff. His Pointless Blog empire is aptly named - it makes "Seinfeld," the show about nothing, look deep.
And it is incredibly lucrative.
Business Insider had dinner with Deyes in Prague this month, and then we interviewed him on stage with his manager Dom Smales at the Engage 2016 conference, hosted by SocialBakers, the social media management company. We wanted to know how Alfie Deyes runs "Alfie Deyes" the business, the brand, the platform.
This is what he told us.
BI: First of all thanks for coming and doing this. You began in 2009, how did this start?
Alfie Deyes: Er, I grabbed a family camera I had got on holiday and I set it up on a stack of books, and I didn't tell anyone that I was doing it, because I was like, YouTube wasn't very popular back then. This kind of content, making videos just for YouTube, so I kept it a complete secret. And then I started getting stopped in the street for pictures, my friends were like, what?
BI: What was the video about?
BI: What was the specific point after 2009 when you realised holy shit I am going to make a living off this, this is full-time work, this is a real thing?
A: I think it got to the point in college where my teachers were beginning to realise I was going to a lot of meetings and stuff like that, they said it's fine if you don't come to my biology lesson. We understand you've got YouTube stuff to do. And I'm like, OK, sounds good to me!
BI: Which university did you go to?
A: I didn't go to University. I got offered a place, unconditional. I gave them my YouTube videos and they were like, we're not allowed to say this but you can just come. You don't need any grades. But I deferred that because I had so much fun making the videos. I wanted to make that into something.
BI: Did you set out to become famous?
A: When I started it wasn't very popular. It wasn't a big thing to do, not everybody did it. And I didn't even know that I would get 100 subscribers or 100 people watching. There was never any aim except to enjoy making the videos because I was making videos like skateboarding with my friends in the park. And I was watching all these vloggers when I got home and I thought why don't I just give this a go myself.
BI: Presumably some people do now set out to become famous deliberately. It seems to me that authenticity is a huge part of it. Someone who sets out deliberately to become a YouTube star, that sounds a bit cheesy.
A: Well, in the UK, being a YouTuber was the No.1 suggested job from teenagers, of what they wanted to do in the future, last year.
BI: Now you're so famous that when you do a public appearance the crowds are so thick that you can't move your car, and the police have to come. I noticed at dinner last night, and at the hotel, that everywhere you are there is a crowd of teenagers, complete strangers show up. Some of those poor people waited on the pavement for eight hours last night for you. What is it like dealing with that? Do you have any anonymous, private life left?
A: Well I film every day of my life and I'm uploading a new one every day, so everything that I am doing today, like a video of today, will go up tomorrow. So yeah there's really not much private life. A lot of people wait outside the house and things - as long it's not waiting outside the house I'm happy to have pictures, and do everything else like that.
BI: So can you just go to Sainsburys and do your shopping? Or do you have to sign autographs just to buy a can of beans?
A: No, it's very busy, going out. But I still go out to buy food. It's very, very busy. You just have to dedicate extra time. So if you go to town for an hour, I'll dedicate three hours.
BI: Obviously you have sponsors and partners. Talk a bit about how this is monetised.
A: Yeah so there is a YouTube share, which is a monetisation by video so when you watch a video you get approval of a popup, I get a share of that.
BI: Is that a big deal? Is that a large portion, of your income?
A: Hmm. It's getting smaller and smaller, for sure. So I try it with things like books and stuff. I try my best to just work with brands that really get me and I love their product and I love the message that they are promoting. I just work in long-term with a few really, really good brands that really understand social media.
BI: One of them I know is Direct Line the insurance company. So Alfie Deyes - insurance? Explain why that was a good idea.
A: So I am 22 and I only learned to drive in January. And my girlfriend [Zoe "Zoella" Sugg] drives me everywhere and all my friends are like "why aren't you driving? I've been driving since I was 15!" So Direct Line challenged me to film some videos on my platform. They sent me on a course to learn to drive in four days. And I passed after four days. Then I am creating some really, really fun content with them about how to learn to drive safely, and putting that on their platform, and shared it with my audience, and that will be things like question-and-answer videos that I may normally do in my studio in town, but I'll do it while I am driving around.
BI: They're rating your driving as well, right?
A: They track everything I do, absolutely everything, and in the end they give me a score and the audience can see my score. If I drive badly everyone will see. I really really like it.
BI: You told me a story last night about taking a wrong turning, and ending up in a car park full of kids you were trying not to kill.
BI: Not a good day for Direct Line?
A: I was filming a video for Direct Line and I went to go get some lunch from a meeting, heading out, and on the way back I took two wrong turnings and it was all being filmed as well, two wrong turnings, I ended up in a school, I got the worst score. And I said, everybody watching, this is why you learn to drive safely, don't do what I just did. People loved it. I think that got 160,000 views in two days or something. And that was for Direct Line as well.
BI: Out of all the brands who approach you for various integrations, how many do you say yes to?
A: Oh hardly any, like 3, 5%.
BI: What are the bad ideas that you reject?
Dom Smales: They have things like take this toothbrush, pretend it's your mobile phone and use it as a mobile phone for two weeks. ... His audience is going to think he's gone crazy. It's obviously commercial. ... Alfie was asked to propose to his girlfriend as part of a brand deal. It wouldn't work.
BI: You also have a large merchandising arm. When did that happen?
A: It got to the point recently where there were so many people asking for merchandise, and they have done over the years, I've been really, really cautious about how to go about it because I want the product to be really great but I don't want it to be super expensive. I want it to be accessible worldwide. So instead of working with a company that already does that we hired a small team to do it for me. And we launched it about six weeks ago and it's going incredibly, incredibly well.
BI: So there are hats ...
A: Yeah, and iPhone cases, hoodies, jumpers, T-shirts, hats.
BI: And how many of these things are you selling?
A: Quite a lot. Quite a lot! Thousands and thousands and thousands.
BI: The classic piece of advice for social video is to keep it short, keep it under 2 minutes. At Business Insider, we try to keep our videos extremely short. We'll put up a video that lasts 30 seconds. The reason being, a lot of people are seeing this on their phone, it's wasting their battery, it's a big time-ask, there's probably an ad running in front of it, blah blah blah. Your videos start at eight minutes, and go up to 35 or more.
A: Yes! A minute ago someone said the first three seconds are the most important. The videos of mine that do the best, some of them are 38 minutes and stuff. I am not trying to hit a viral audience. I'm trying to hit my audience and the people who know me, I know no matter what I put up it's going to get a lot of views just because I know there are people out there waiting for it.
BI: One of the things I thought was very interesting about the book was it came with a series of apps you can download. Why did you do that?
BI: There is a level of complication there that shows that you as a brand are agnostic as far as the platform is concerned. You can go anywhere and your fans will show up. How big is Snapchat for you?
A: So far today I have had like 16 million views.
BI: Is Snapchat then more powerful than YouTube for you?
A: I think because it's on their phone, popping up, and it's so instant, yeah, just the audience are crazy dedicated. The percentage of the audience that I have that will watch every piece of content on Snapchat is so high, you have to be there to see it and then it's gone.
BI: Which of the social media platforms are the most powerful, and which are more marginal?
A: It depends what I want to do. I try and see it almost like a puzzle. If you want to watch a longer-form video of me, then check out my YouTube stuff. If you want to see what I'm up to right this second, follow me on Snapchat. If it's pictures, it's Instagram. What I'm thinking is Twitter. I try and see it as like each different platform I use differently to create everything I am up to, on a day to day basis.
BI: Give people an idea of how much work this is. My understanding is you work almost seven days a week.
A: Oh yeah, yeah, I do 13 videos a week, that's two videos a day except Saturday.
BI: So Saturday is your day off. How many hours a day do you work on Saturday?
A: Oh I still spend all day on Saturday working on videos.
BI: So if you want Alfie Deyes' life, you have to work seven days a week, except when you're sleeping, pretty much?
A: Although I did just stay up all night editing. There is no team. It's literally just me.
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