Marques Brownlee is one of the best reviewers I know, and also one of the most savvy and successful YouTubers. And he’s been in the game for a long time: he started the channel MKBHD in 2009 when he was just a teenager making videos about his new HP laptop. Since then, he’s grown it to one of the biggest tech channels on YouTube, with 13.5 million subscribers, a podcast, and a growing support team.
But what looks effortless and fun to the viewer is often the result of careful planning and investment. YouTubers are entrepreneurs, and Brownlee — my guest on today’s episode of Decoder — talks that talk with the best of them.
I am fascinated by the business of influence, and so I wanted to talk to Marques about the day-to-day operation of a YouTube channel where he plays every role from business development to ad sales to actually reviewing the phones. We talked about what he can and can’t scale, how he thinks about his dependency on YouTube as a platform, and what the future of his business looks like. Here’s a little news: he’s launching new channels very soon.
Okay. Marques Brownlee, MKBHD. Here we go.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Marques Brownlee from MKBHD Inc. Welcome to Decoder.
Thanks for having me. Sorry in advance for all the noise. There’s going to be random noises.
That’s fine. What’s the random noise?
We’re in a building surrounded by other random tenants who make noises and have construction sometimes. So it just happens.
How does that work for you when you’re shooting your videos?
Oh man. Well, usually it’s quiet until I turn the mic on or hop on a podcast like this, then they make lots of noise and we just kind of wait until noises stop. It’s not ideal.
You’ve got to embrace uncertainty.
Exactly. I’m very used to it.
So you run a very popular YouTube channel. It’s your channel. You started it when you were a teenager in your parents’ house. I think a lot of people listening to this kind of know your story, but give folks the quick version of that journey.
So I was a teenager in high school and was always into tech, but I had to make a big purchase: I had to buy a laptop. So I watched a whole bunch of YouTube videos on which laptop to buy. When I finally bought a laptop and saw some stuff with the laptop that I didn’t see in those videos, my natural response was to turn on a webcam, talk about those things, and upload it to YouTube, just in case someone else was watching videos to choose what to buy. That kind of snowballed into just making all kinds of videos with the laptop, and then the software, and the cooler and the mouse and keyboard, and my channel just turned into a tech YouTube channel. And here we are.
So that was a very early version of YouTube, right? I don’t want to make you go back into your brain and imagine yourself as a teenager, but the instinct to make a video on YouTube then and the instinct to make a video on YouTube now feels very different. Everyone’s motivations are very different across that sweep of time. What was your instinct? How did you choose that as the best way to share what you knew rather than say, a blog post?
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