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.
For the folks behind Tic Tac Toy, loving toys runs in the family.
Before joining YouTube, father and longtime toy enthusiast Jason made his living selling toys. In 2015, when his daughters Addy and Maya showed a keen interest in toy-themed YouTube channels, Jason and mother Lucy got to work learning the ins and outs of creating a toy channel of their own. Nowadays, their flagship channel boasts nearly 2.5 million subscribers and nets between 60 and 80 million views every month. That’s in addition to their vlog channel, Tic Tac Toy Family, which has a healthy 773,000 subscribers and between 15 and 25 million views per month.
The family (which now numbers five, with most recent addition Colin) generally uploads once per week. Viewers who tune in to their videos can expect to see slickly produced, scripted skits with full sets — the unique content niche Tic Tac Toy has settled into after first experimenting with toy unboxings, reviews, and themed variety shows.
Managing the Tic Tac Toy channel has become a full-time job for Jason and Lucy. And over the last few months, their plate has gotten even more full: they developed and self-published the first Tic Tac Toy merch, a journaling book called All About Me. It debuted in December and has already brought in more than $10,000 in revenues, prompting talks with traditional publishers for the family’s next literary foray.
Tic Tac Toy has more merch developments coming in 2019, but can’t reveal all the details just yet. For what they can reveal, along with an in-depth look at how they grew a booming channel in just three years, check out our chat with Jason below.
Tubefilter: Tell us a bit about your family’s background! When and how did you decide to start a YouTube channel?
Jason: Lucy was an elementary school teacher, and I came from the financial industry. We’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, prior to starting our YouTube channel, I actually flipped toys on Amazon for a number of years. It was during Christmas break of 2015 when my wife and I noticed our kids watching these toy unboxing videos on YouTube.
We didn’t think much of it for a while, until my eye caught the massive view counts that some of those videos were able to achieve. The thing that really hit home was that these weren’t highly-produced videos. They were clearly homemade. I said to Lucy, “We can do that!” Two months later, after learning everything that we could about video, audio, lighting, editing, and SEO, we posted our first video…and the rest is history.
Tubefilter: What made you gravitate to toy-themed content when you launched your channel? Your content strategy has shifted over time—can you talk a little about that?
Jason: We started a toy-based channel specifically because that’s what we knew. We had two young daughters who loved watching other toy channels on YouTube, and I actually sold toys for a living. It seemed like a natural fit. Coming from a business background, I enjoy studying charts and graphs and numbers and such.
After about a year and a half of producing toy unboxings and reviews, I started to notice a gradual decline in our rate of growth, which up until then was very steady and predictable. We were determined to figure out a path to renewed growth. The market had clearly been saturated with the numerous amounts of toy channels all producing similar content, and we knew we had to differentiate ourselves.
As a result, we came up with a whole new concept for a toy channel on YouTube — a variety show. We would incorporate our kids with an unboxing segment, a mail time segment, a joke of the day segment, etc. We were inspired by the likes of Sesame Street, or to go way back in my day, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, whereby we could start to brand these different characters in a way that couldn’t be replicated. We felt that it was something that would stand out from the crowd.
This renewed our growth for a brief period, until the retention metrics started to get pretty inconsistent. I knew right away it was the actual segmentation of the show that was causing the viewer dropoff. It was a unique concept, but it was not conducive to longer retention times, which is the key to keeping YouTube’s algorithm happy. This is when we started incorporating full story arcs and investing more time and money into scripting and improving the quality of our production. No one we knew of was doing purely scripted skits in the toy genre at that time. Our growth really started to take off at that point.
Tubefilter: What are the challenges of running a YouTube channel where your kiddos are the stars right alongside you?
Jason: Our biggest challenge is always our lack of time. We take education very seriously in our house. Lucy was valedictorian of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, and I did several years of post-graduate study in business and finance. The girls are in traditional schooling and take many extracurricular activities such as horseback riding, violin lessons, gymnastics, and ballet. We also value family time, friends, and church. In order to keep things prioritized, we limit filming for our videos to just a few hours on Saturdays. We have to be very efficient with our time.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
Jason: We received our first check in March of 2016. I think it was for around $105. It was so cool to see that this could actually help supplement our income a bit. Then our next monthly check came in. It was something like $600. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow that’s a big rate of growth!” Even then, I never thought we would ever reach even 100,000 subscribers, and that this whole YouTube thing wouldn’t be anything more than just a partial supplement to our other income.
Tubefilter: Have you had any sponsorships?
Jason: Yes, somewhere around the time when we started to get into scripted content is when Semaphore contacted us. I remember my first conversation with JD Obbards vividly. He had asked me what dollar amount I thought that we should be getting paid for a brand deal. When I answered, he just laughed. Our first deal together was for about 10 times that amount. We’ve been with Semaphore ever since.
Tubefilter: You recently launched a book! How did that come about?
Jason: We would get emails and DMs almost daily from fans, and their moms and dads, asking for some sort of product (T-shirts, stickers, etc.) to purchase for kids’ birthday and holiday gifts. There was an obvious demand for merchandise. We thought about marketing shirts and stickers and things like that, but in the spirit of our overall creative strategy, we really wanted to do something unique.
Addy really enjoys diaries and journaling books, so that was our “lightbulb” moment. We went to work with a graphic designer and created a one-of-a-kind All About Me book where readers can learn all about the Tic Tac Toy Family but also have tons of room to write about themselves — things like their favorite places, facts about their family, their hobbies, and lots more. It’s super engaging and the response was massive!
We decided to give our first month’s worth of profits to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, which ended up being over $10,000! I’m shocked that we were able to create such a successful book using the self-published route — no backing from any of the major publishers. Based on feedback from fans, we’re now looking into creating a series of fiction and other activity books. That is something that we could use some help with, so we are actively engaging with traditional publishers on that front.
Tubefilter: If you’re comfortable talking about it, how does budgeting for the channel work? Do you invest a lot in props?
Jason: When we first launched our channel, we set up a “studio” by clearing out a corner of our small master bedroom closet. We bought a piece of plywood to use as a tabletop, and we taped up some bulletin board paper to create a background. Lucy filmed with her cell phone camera using a plastic $20 tripod. That was our entire setup!
Now, we can easily spend thousands of dollars on a new set. Our original Toy School series is a great example. We have six actual student desks, a whiteboard, an activity table, all sorts of educational posters, rugs, and so many other little supplies scattered throughout the set — just to make the viewer feel like they’re actually inside of a real school classroom.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional YouTuber family?
Jason: Around September 2017 is when we made the major shift in our channel to move toward scripted content. Previously, we’d closely follow the trends and try to capitalize on hot keywords, popular toys, new movies hitting the theaters, and trending content from other channels. But those methods can only help you grow so much.
When we shifted to original scripted content, we didn’t pay attention to what other channels were doing or what was trending at the moment. We did our own unique thing. We very quickly went from adding just a few hundred subscribers per day to thousands per day. Instead of trend chasing, we were trendsetting, and we experienced a rapid rate of growth. That was our Semaphore Moment.
Tubefilter: Can you let us know how many people are on your team? Do you have an editor? Do you have any employees? What are their roles and when did they bring them on board? What about a manager or network?
Jason: Up until this point, it’s just been Lucy, myself, and the kiddos working on our family business, a fact that we take great pride in. When we began to produce scripted stories, we decided to use an independent video editing service. We brought on Christina Fleming, owner of Murasaki Media. Her amazing editing team coupled with her business consultation services have been instrumental in our growth. People tend to underestimate the power of great editing when, in fact, it can be the difference between an average and a great story. She helped us push our retention metrics through production, story, and editing techniques while understanding our business goals.
Tubefilter: What do you think are the most vital skills your family possesses as creators?
Jason: When you think of what drives any given business to success, you think of things like hard work, perseverance, and talent, but I truly feel that all of that gets you to a certain “baseline” of success. The feedback we receive from brands and other business associates are that we are genuine, we care about our fans, and we respect the power of our reach.
We use that reach to help improve the world around us, be it with our partnership with St. Jude and other charities, or the educational slant that we put into many of our vlogs, or just the way that we engage with our fans both on screen and out in public. We’ve taught our kids that our lives are not like most, and that we are very blessed to be in the position that we are in. Our goal in all of this isn’t to gain tons of subscribers or to make as much money as we can. Rather, it’s to use our influence to better our community. That’s what has driven us to this point and will lead us in our future.
Tubefilter: What’s next for your family and your channel? What are you building toward?
Jason: Big things are coming in 2019, for us and the industry. Online influencers are building strength within the retail landscape. Ryan’s World is a great example of this, and also Karina Garcia with slime.
We’re currently in negotiations with some major players in the industry in hopes of launching our own line of toys later this year. Our brand will focus on cute, silly surprises — something that resonates perfectly with us. We think Tic Tac Toy fans are absolutely going to love what we have in the works and we can’t wait to share more details as things progress, so stay tuned!
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