Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
This week’s featured creators are familiar faces here at Tubefilter. In August, Damon Dominique and Jo Franco — known as just ‘Damon and Jo’ to fans — starred in our YouTube Millionaires column after netting one million subscribers. Since then, this globetrotting duo has gained nearly 100,000 more, and their channel, where they chronicle their round-the-world adventures in multiple languages (English, Portuguese, French, and occasionally Spanish, German, and Italian), has been netting between two and five million views per month.
Make no mistake — though Dominique and Franco don’t get more than 100 million views per month like some of our other Creators Going Pro featurees, they are pros. Just 27 and 26 respectively, they’ve taken their love of travel and turned it into a full-scale business, the face of which is their recently relaunched travel site Shut Up and Go.
Dominique and Franco manage a team of 10 employees, contributors, and interns for the site, which offers content about everything travel-related, from how mental health and travel intersect to what a $32 hotel in Morocco is like to how black women on the go can find natural hair products in Europe.
Shut Up and Go has hit the point where it can fund the trips its staffers take to make content — and Dominique and Franco certainly haven’t stopped taking trips of their own. They’re on one right now: a drive across the U.S. as part of a big partnership with Jaguar.
Check out our chat with them on how Shut Up and Go came to be, how they’ve shaped it so far, and where they want to take it in the future.
Tubefilter: You told us about your backgrounds (and your non-romantic meet-cute) for YouTube Millionaires, so let’s take a different tack for our usual background question: How did each of you fall in love with traveling?
Damon Dominique: When I say that I first fell in love with the idea of traveling by watching reality television, most people think I’m joking. Growing up in a medium-sized city in Indiana, I often found myself dreaming for something bigger…or at least something beyond the Indiana cornfields. Watching The Real World and Survivor offered an escape to different cities around the world, and a glimpse into a different life. While Indiana is a great place to raise a family, I knew there was more for me and my late teens and twenties. I remember applying to nine colleges out of state, and one in Indiana. I guess you could say I was ready to shut up and go.
Jo Franco: For me, it was a mix of fate and curiosity. I was born in Brazil, so technically my life could’ve played out completely differently if my mom hadn’t immigrated to the U.S. I was five when my life took a 180 and I was left scrambling to learn a new language and embrace a new culture enough to hopefully be adopted into it. That was in 1998, and as the years went on, I became curious about other cultures, since I had an outsider’s point of view on the American culture. The minute I had the choice to learn French as a 13-year-old, I was hooked on the idea of learning languages and becoming good enough in them to adopt other cultures.
Tubefilter: You tried to take your travels to TV before turning to YouTube. What was that experience like, and why was YouTube–as opposed to other platforms–the place where you ultimately decided to take your content?
DD & JF: We spent two years trying to get our show on TV. Through research and tons of coffee meetings, we slowly learned the backend of traditional entertainment (how to write a pitch, loglines, looking for sponsors, etc.). Despite us knowing how to create and execute a lot of these pitches, the gatekeepers of traditional TV didn’t want to risk two kids with a dream. We had no choice BUT to take our idea to YouTube, because a YouTube channel was something we could actually control, grow, and turn into a career without anyone standing in the way.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it? What about your first check outside of AdSense $? Have you had any sponsorships?
DD & JF: The first check we got was for $2 from AdSense. It was the day we realized we could grow on YouTube and make a living out of it, even if the check was only enough for us to share one cup of coffee. The graph showed progress and growth, so we kept our eyes on the prize and produced our asses off without thinking of a plan B.
Our first sponsorship was with Warby Parker for an unboxing video of their glasses. We got paid $200 with around 20,000 subscribers and thought we had made it. It was mind-blowing that we could get paid doing something we had done for free for years just for the love of it.
Tubefilter: You recently relaunched your travel website Shut Up and Go. Can you give us the elevator pitch for SU&G, and talk about how you decided to both launch and relaunch it?
DD & JF: Shut Up and Go was always a vision we had when we started the channel. We remember writing down our master plan on how to turn an international lifestyle into a business on a napkin around 2013. Now, we’re finally doing it. The vision was to create a platform and community of global people who wanted more out of life than the standard bubble mentality of living in one place and only experiencing one culture.
Once we grew an audience of one million people on our YouTube channel, we had proven that the community was out there, they just needed a platform to find more content, resources, and inspiration. We relaunched shutupandgo.travel to create that place. Now, our global contributors tell their stories and inspire the masses on @shutupandgo, which is the dream we’d always had: build something bigger than ourselves because we’re not the only ones shutting up and going.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for each of you—the first time you realized you were a professional YouTube creator?
DD: It’s one thing to read comments about how people are inspired by our videos, but it’s another to meet them in person. I’ve started asking for pictures with them so I can look back in my low, what-did-I-get-myself-into moments. I always find it funny too, because it’s not just like people come up to us in coffee shops or on the street — it’s always in the oddest locations that people recognize us: a unisex bathroom in Barcelona, the supermarket in Tokyo, the club in London, even Target in Las Vegas. I’m just flattered that people like what we do.
JF: The first deal we closed with AT&T where we were on tour for about six weeks back in 2015 was a huge moment for our careers. We were finally getting compensated for doing something we loved. Now, I still smirk when I have to do crazy things like fly to Napa for 24 hours to post about a wine event or get paid to be the first to drive a Jaguar EV on a highway while crossing the country. Every day reminds me that we built this job from scratch for ourselves, and now we’re doing the same thing for everyone who works with us and for us on Shut Up and Go.
Tubefilter: Of course, traveling is hard for a lot of millennials and Gen Z’ers who are saddled with our current economic struggles. How do you two budget your travels? Do you budget any differently now versus how you budgeted when you were just starting out on YouTube?
DD & JF: We’ve always been the type of people to sacrifice material things for experiences. In the beginning, we wouldn’t budget so much as we would research the cheapest places to go. We knew that sexy beaches would cost more than Montreal, so we went to Montreal. Not much has changed now — even if we do get paid to travel, we’re still super conscious of our spending and think twice before buying material things because at the end of the day, more crap is just more crap to carry in our suitcases, and less money to invest in memories.
Tubefilter: Can you talk about where your revenue comes from? How does it break down between AdSense and other income?
DD & JF: The best way to describe our revenue is on a 20/80 ratio. 20% of our income being passive, from AdSense on YouTube, and 80% coming from direct partnerships where we’re hired as basically a creative agency and production house, creating branded content for companies. Then there are other supplementary ways to make income, like ebooks, tours, and merch, which we’re working on now!
Tubefilter: What’s your production schedule like? Are you two constantly traveling? Do you take days off from filming? Do you film for set hours, or have a camera in hand at all times while you’re out and about abroad?
DD & JF: Right now our lives are really hectic, because we’re filming a six-episode series crossing the U.S. with a really huge sponsor. Just last week, we were in LA, and seven 14-hour-long-days later, we’re in Colorado on our day off. Tomorrow, we’ll start shooting at 7 a.m. as we cross the country. That’s what a film day looks like. While we have a great work/life balance, since our work is basically to live a good life, we still discipline ourselves to crack open the laptops at every spare moment to get something done like editing or emails.
Tubefilter: Have either of you ever experienced creator burnout or a lack of inspiration? What do you do to prevent it?
DD & JF: Our biggest problem is that we have TOO MANY ideas. Each of us individually has enough video and article ideas to fuel a content machine. When you put both of those minds together, you get the problem we both face: too many ideas, not enough time to create it all. In terms of creator burnout, we definitely burnt out when we were making three videos a week in three different languages. We grew our audience around 70k subscribers a month, but the schedule was insane — we never caught a break. Since then, we’ve started creating one video a week (usually containing two or more languages) until we can muster up the strength to go hard again with the multilingual videos.
Tubefilter: Tell us about your team! Do you have editors? Employees? Do you work with a talent manager or agent?
DD & JF: We have two teams: our YouTube team and our Shut Up and Go team. On our YouTube side, we really have the best of the best. We have a team of managers, Creative Artists Agency as our agents, and a lawyer who works on brand deals and overall personality development for us.
On the Shut Up and Go team, we have 10 writers who write daily articles on the site, four community moderators, a content manager who makes sure content is flowing both on the site, and on social (check out our ‘gram!) and an editor who looks for typos! Our Shut Up and Go team is fully remote, but we speak to them every day via email, FB messenger, Whatsapp, and monthly calls! They’re now going on trips to feature experiences on the site, which is incredible to think we’re giving people the opportunity to work remote and do what they love just as we do.
Tubefilter: It’s amazing that you run such a large team. How did you reach the point where you knew you wanted to–and knew Shut Up and Go could afford to!–hire staff? What are the challenges of managing remote staffers while you’re on the go?
JF: Bringing people on board was always a big dream of ours — a big, scary, seemingly impossible dream, because we’re aware we only have 24 hours in a day, and sometimes even less if we’re dealing with different time zones. But the bottom line is that we knew we weren’t the only ones living exciting and international lifestyles. We were reminded of that every time we read comments from people who followed us. We were not only genuinely curious about other people’s stories, but wanted to provide the platform to share those stories in hopes of inspiring people who connect to other travelers.
We were able to make that possible all due to a tweet. Our now star employee, Nasir Fleming, randomly tweeted at us about a year and a half ago asking if we’d ever accept contributing authors on our site. After letting his email sit in my inbox for months (woops, I was swamped), I took a look, fell in love with his writing, and decided it was time to create a new contributor profile on shutupandgo.travel. As he continued to contribute, I asked if he wanted to help us by sifting through other contributors’ posts. He agreed, and what started out as a remote internship turned into a paid job where he gets paid to travel the world fresh out of college, and also curates the content on the site and Instagram from our global writers. Funnily enough, I trained him while under a mosquito net in Kenya, taking screenshots and annotating things I wanted to be modified, because sometimes you don’t have the luxury of a desk in a controlled office, but it doesn’t mean things can’t get done.
We’ve been able to scale the business with his help, and now we have multiple people on board who are all equally passionate about the Shut Up and Go.
It’s gratifying to have a team of cheerleaders, and innovators. Every day we’re getting funny messages, or great ideas from our moderators and writers on the directions for the week in terms of content, digital events, and creative ways to engage our audience. It isn’t for everyone, though — communication is key with remote employees and interns, which means more time on the screen, but it’s worth it when you create a digital family.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel, and for Shut Up and Go? What are you building toward?
DD & JF: We’re growing everything simultaneously. The goal with DamonAndJo is to become the household names of travel and international lifestyle. The goal is to get the company and channel as big as an international version of BuzzFeed and Vice with the motto and voice we’ve built over the years.
Photo by Thomas Serre
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