12th Feburary 2020
Who are you and what kind of content do you create? Let's go down memory lane, tell us your backstory!
G’day! My name is Darren Levy, I’m 26 years old and live in Melbourne, Australia. After finishing high school I had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career and tried a BUNCH of different things...
I studied commerce at Melbourne University for a year but found myself enjoying social events more than my classes, so I dropped out and tried my hand at sales. I was selling premium mattresses (some that retail for over $20,000!) and found that I was quite good at it. I earned a few promotions and eventually found myself in a big boy corporate role at the age of 21. It was cool. I was doing well but I didn’t fit in. The company was very ‘old-school’ and I found that the big boy paycheck eventually got old. Like almost every stereotypical millennial reaching a quarter-life crisis I wanted to do more, contribute more and be more than just another cog in a corporate wheel.
I’ve always loved side-hustles. My first one started when I got my first job at 15 at a bakery. The pay was terrible but all of the bread and yummy bakery treats were thrown out at the end of the day so we were allowed to take as much home as we liked. I realised that I could make a bit of money by selling the tasty treats at school the next day. It became a pretty decent income stream!
Fast-forward to my paycheck getting old at my big boy corporate job and I came across a YouTube video of a guy in a beanie named Gary Vaynerchuk who was talking about the possibility of making good coin by going to garage sales, using the eBay app to see what random items sell for and then reselling them on eBay, Facebook Marketplace etc. for a profit. I learned very quickly that the cool thing about doing this was that after a while you figure out which products sell well and you can then find those products at places other than just garage sales on the weekend. I LOVED all of it. It was like treasure hunting and within a few months, I was making more money reselling than I was at my big boy corporate job. So, I quit In March 2017.
After seeing that it was possible to earn a living outside the confines of the big boy corporate world I began trying things to sustain myself financially but more importantly to propel myself emotionally and live my very best life. If I wanted to remain financially competent, I’d have stayed in corporate sales. This was an opportunity for me to find that beautiful place where one can earn good money and enjoy the process of doing so at the same time
I started a business selling high-quality leather wallets and put myself through online marketing courses but it was kind of boring and I wasn’t getting much traction…maybe that is why it was boring! I continued selling second hand items but it was hard to maintain a consistent income as you never know when you’re going to find gold on a treasure hunt. The best product I resold was second hand iPhone 6’s as people were upgrading to the 7. In one month I resold about 40 iPhones - it was great! Meanwhile, I was driving Uber on the weekends to help with cash flow and I also quite enjoyed chatting with my passengers from all walks of life.
One day a passenger suggested that our banter was something she’d watch on YouTube. I’m pretty sure my response was something like “Yeah…I don’t know if people would actually want to watch this…” but her suggestion continued to circulate in my head afterwards so I researched the concept and found an American channel called ‘Ryan is Driving’ doing that very thing. He had a few videos of his 'Uber Adventures’ uploaded on his youtube channel and, at the time, had around 50k subscribers. I was really impressed! I researched the legalities around doing something similar in Melbourne, with my own flavour on it, and gave it a go.
I continued with my online wallet and reselling businesses but also introduced ‘Video Edit Fridays’ into my weekly schedule. I committed to uploading an episode of my show 'Funny Uber Rides’ every Friday to YouTube. Eventually, Fridays became my favourite day of the week. I loved (and still love) learning new editing techniques through watching other YouTubers (such as Casey Neistat) and then trying to mimic their transitions and styles in my own way.
In March 2018 I went for coffee with my dad and I told him that “Out of all the things I do every week, I look forward to Video Edit Fridays the most, so I’m going to just do that from now on.” He was supportive but understandably concerned!
At the time, I had around 3000 subscribers, the channel wasn’t earning any money but it all felt…....right. The point of quitting my big boy corporate job was to take risks like this because it had been pointed out to me that TECHNICALLY, the most practical period of your life to take big risks is when you’re young and have no commitments.
The next month I made an April fools video where, as an Uber driver, I find myself unintentionally taking part in a bank robbery and the video went viral. From this viral video, my channel received a bunch of exposure and a base of a big enough audience for the videos already uploaded to be binge-watched, enjoyed and shared. This is when the channel started taking off!
How do you brainstorm ideas for your content and your advice in getting the creative juice flowing.
For the most part, I have natural conversations with my passengers and then will try to formulate a story/narrative behind the conversation and use that as part of my ‘storytelling’ in my Funny Uber Rides. As of late, I’m becoming more understanding of what my audience enjoys seeing, so I will attempt to steer conversations towards these topics. For example, viewers seem to enjoy conversations around relationships and dating so I often bring up dating apps like Tinder and dating stories with passengers. I never try to force conversations. I only engage with passengers if they want to have a chat.
Outside of natural conversations with passengers that lead to video ideas, I read all of my comments and engage with my audience on all platforms. They tell me what they want to see (particularly in Instagram DM’s) and if I like the idea, I’ll put it in my notes on my phone and eventually try to develop it into a video.
What are the tools and platform you use to help with your brand?
I started making my videos on my brother’s old and laggy 2009 Mac because it had iMovie. After making about 30 videos and reaching the limitations of iMovie (subtitles are a pain in the ass on iMovie!), I purchased Final Cut Pro X and a MacBook Pro. To be honest, iMovie is all you need to start - David Dobrik still uses it, with over 14 million subscribers!
My first camera was a second-hand GoPro Hero 4 and I used that camera during trips with passengers up until a few months ago. I just upgraded to the Hero 7. I mount my GoPro to my rear-view mirror with double-sided tape - not a fancy setup at all!
I post full episodes of Funny Uber Rides onto YouTube. They usually run for 10-15 minutes. From that I take smaller clips and post them to Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter. Each social media platform has an audience that likes to use that platform because of its nuances so I try to be thoughtful and appropriate my posts based on the platform. This is EXTREMELY time-consuming but it is very much worth it in order to maximise attention from all the effort of filming and editing an episode of Funny Uber Rides.
I recently started posting short clips (15-30 seconds) of my Funny Uber Rides on TikTok. I found that the opportunity for virality on TikTok is currently much larger than any other platform. There was a period in December 2019 where several viral TikTok videos were translating to millions of views funnelling over to my YouTube Channel. I absolutely recommend cross-posting your content thoughtfully on all platforms that you’re able to. It is the best form of organic marketing that you can do for yourself.
What were your fears starting out? How did you handle it?
I’m really glad that this whole social media/YouTuber thing has become an opportunity for me at my maturity as a 26 year old. Now, don’t get me wrong…I make a lot of dick jokes! I’m by no means MATURE, but compared to 18 year old me who was probably a lot more likely to be mouldable to the barrage of comments and opinions that you’re subjected to when putting out content, I’m in a very different headspace. It is important to listen to the feedback from your audience but I feel very grounded by my morals, ethics and conceptual understanding of the world, as well as have a strong circle of friends/family. I feel like I know who I am and what I am trying to achieve so when I do receive very honest or sometimes rude feedback, I am able to filter through it without it affecting me (too much!).
In regards to comfortability infront of a camera, it doesn’t really feel like I’m in front of a camera when I am driving. Vlogging with the DSLR camera, on the other hand, is much more new and unnatural for me and I am trying to become more comfortable filming myself in public!
How did you build your brand to where it is now, take us through your process.
I saw an interview with a David Dobrik a while back and he suggested to new creators that they should “make videos that you enjoy watching back.” This stuck out to me as fantastic advice because I think that a big part of content creation is being able to watch yourself back and not cringe. If you can watch yourself back and think to yourself “yeah, that is something I would say in a normal social situation without a camera” then I believe you are building your personal brand in the most effective way possible. No one can be you better than you. I think that is the basis of my ‘brand’…I’m just being me.
There aren’t any people in my circles of friends/family that work in social media or that I look up to as mentors for this industry so I found my social media ‘mentors’ online. Gary Vaynerchuk is a well-known content creator who practices what he preaches on social media and has helped me tremendously with his practical and free advice. His energy can often be pretty polarising so if he isn’t for you just take a look at his ‘content model’ which is a free deck that takes you through how to post on social media platforms and start your personal brand. This helped me a lot. Have a look here.
For someone who wants to get into content creation, what is your advice?
These are my top tips for people starting out on social media:
Decide on an upload schedule that you can stick to, long term. As your audience grows, they will become used to your upload schedule and will look forward to the days you post. For example, I used to look forward to watching the Simpsons every weeknight at 6pm - I hated missing it! Based on me driving on Friday and Saturday nights, I realised that I could produce one episode of Funny Uber Rides every week without missing an upload and letting my audience down. You can always post more than what you’ve committed to but don’t miss a post without a good reason to. In almost 3 years I’ve never missed a Friday post on my YouTube channel.
Make content that you enjoy watching back and are proud of. As mentioned above, this isn’t my original advice but I think it is SO important in order to be an individual. It is such a pity when people build an audience and then are embarrassed by early videos and delete them years later. Although old videos won’t necessarily have the same quality edits or your opinions might have developed, they are part of your story of how you got to where you are today and people like seeing the journey - it contextualises you and allows people who look up to you to follow in your footsteps and relate to you. It’s a very good thing!
The equipment you use is secondary to the content you produce. PewDiePie, with over 100 million subscribers, uploads in 720p every now and then for shits and giggles because it just doesn’t matter. If the content is good, people will watch and come back.
Tell us your best milestones in being a content creator.
My April fools prank that went viral in 2018 gave me some credibility on YouTube with a stack of views and subscribers and is something I’m very proud of. Along the way there have been small instances of virality here and there which are fun. Starting to sell my very own merchandise was a cool milestone too…but I’m learning that amongst all of this, the only thing I can control is the quality and quantity of the output of my content.
There are so many external factors that come into play on social media like the algorithms, time of posting, the intended audience for a video, will I offend a group of people by making this joke? Will the passengers in the video like it once it is uploaded? Is the title of the video best for reaching the largest possible audience?? AND IT GOES ON AND ON AND ON! There is so much that we can’t control as content creators. However, the only thing I CAN control is the effort I am willing to put into the content. Once it has been made, then it is out there and the universe will decide if it is any good…and if it sucks, then that’s okay because I can post another video and hopefully that is better!
Truly appreciating this in the last few months, has been my biggest milestone since beginning my social media journey.
What are your marketing strategies to grow your brand?
When I started with 0 subscribers I didn’t have the balls to ask every person I knew to subscribe to me. I was part of a bunch of ‘Community Noticeboard’ Facebook groups where I would occasionally post secondhand items for sale and I noticed that some of these groups had large amounts of engagement between members. There seemed to be heaps of strangers in the groups keen to give their 2 cents on most posts and interact with one another. So, when I posted my first video on YouTube, after going to bed expecting thousands of views and waking up to only 5 (all from me), I posted to every single Community Noticeboard Facebook group that I was a member of and sincerely asked members for feedback on my first YouTube video.
I posted to about 30 groups and then promptly received a 2 week suspension on my Facebook account for spamming! I deserved that! But, I remember after a few days the view count for my first video sitting at 2200 and I was quite proud of that.
I decided to take to Reddit and do the same thing but found myself getting banned from pretty much all of the subreddits I engaged in, so that didn’t last too long. Turns out people don’t like being spammed - who knew!? I realised that you can share videos in subreddits without being eventually banned if they are contextual to the actual subreddit. For example, an episode where passengers and I discussed Tinder in r/tinder was enjoyed by the members of the forum. Of course, this is totally obvious but I was still learning how to get my videos out there without being a pest!
On top of posting to (eventually) relevant subreddits, every week I would reach out to media websites and share my Funny Uber Rides videos with them in the hopes that they would find it entertaining and want to showcase me to their audiences. 9gag were the first to reply when I had about 200 subscribers. Maria from 9gag loved my videos and when she shared on their website for the first time I was so excited! I remember thinking “this is it…this video is going to get millions of hits - I’m going to go viral!!”
The video being shared on 9gag generated about 900 extra views (which I was initially disappointed about) but when you’ve got 200 subscribers this is still a win!
2.5 years later I no longer post to reddit or reach out to media companies but I can absolutely see the value in doing it. The way that I “market” my videos is by sharing Funny Uber Rides clips across all platforms. On Instagram I use all 30 hashtags that they allow for (I’ve always done this thanks to Garyvee) and at the moment, I am super active on TikTok, posting 4-6 times per day. TikTok gets a bit of flack for their audiences being mainly younger kids but in the few months that I’ve been using the app, I’ve noticed a big increase in older users. Most new apps starts like this. They have a young user base that eventually ages up. My audience is mainly 18-24 so it is a good fit.
My personal brand has 2 components. The first is the content I produce as it is a reflection of me and the second is the products that I sell/promote as an extension of what my personal brand stands for.
I touched on this briefly above but my personal brand is just me being myself and having fun and genuine interactions with people, mainly in my car. I then package that into a (hopefully) entertaining piece of content!
From the credibility that I intend to build through my content and with my personal brand, I offer products to my audience to support me. At the moment it is merchandise such as hoodies, t-shirts, hats, phone cases etc. You can have a look at my store here. The store is very basic now but will build out into a bigger range of products that I like/use which I believe my audience will enjoy too.
At the moment I am a one-man band which is not sustainable nor scalable. I enjoy content creation the most and am in the process of outsourcing the supply-chain side of my merchandise business so that I can focus more on doing what I enjoy the most but this is a process and I am fortunate to have had a bit of experience with online sales prior to YouTube.
Collaborations is something I would LOVE to do more of. I have organised a few collaborations with comedians such as Luke Kidgell, Lewis Spears, Elliot Loney & Liz Meile but I am keen to do more. My Funny Uber Rides are natural interactions with people whereas a collaboration is an environment where all parties want the video to be as entertaining as possible - it is a lot of fun and anything is possible!
How do you handle brand deals and sponsorships?
As the channel grows and receives more eyeballs, brands begin to reach out and ask for rates to collaborate via a brand deal/sponsorship. It is exciting to be told that someone wants to give you money - who wouldn’t want that!?
There are a few factors to consider when dealing with brands. I believe it is important to think about the following:
Do you care about this brand/product or are you just trying to get paid?
Will your audience care about this brand/product or will they think you’re just trying to get paid?
Will your audience BELIEVE that you care about this product or will they think you’re just trying to get paid?
Is there a way that you can promote the brand/product and give back to your audience at the same time? For e.g. giveaways, competitions etc.
People don’t like ads. Ads aren’t a bad thing if the viewer wants to see that ad but I have to continually remind myself that without an audience consuming my content, I don’t have a job. So, if I’m going to partner with a brand I’d best make sure that my audience is going to enjoy the experience as much as I enjoy that nice paycheck.
Having said this, when it comes to promoting my own products/merch I’m all for creating awareness around this and offering my own products that I am accountable for.