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.
Step into and shop the digital halls of Vat19.com and you’ll find yourself in a sprawling commercial menagerie stuffed with some of the world’s weirdest and most wonderful products that can be shipped straight to your door. Need a two-foot-long gummy worm? Cool. The toe of Satan? Got it handled. A tiny screaming goat? Obviously.
If you’re wondering how YouTube fits into all the magic, it’s like this: Vat19 sources products from creators all around the world. Once a product is in the Vat19 store, founder and owner Jamie Salvatori and his 12-person video production team get to work. They make trendy, attention-grabbing YouTube videos that double as commercials for the item — like this Will It Blend? video featuring the world’s largest gummy bear and this taste test using the Mberry taste-changing tablet.
Vat19 is upfront about the fact that its YouTube videos are advertisements, and the content strategy has clearly paid off, considering its channel has amassed 6 million subscribers and regularly nets 75 to 100 million views per month. YouTube has been good for the Vat19 store, too; Salvatori says more than half of Vat19 customers say they found the store through YouTube.
Business wasn’t always so brisk for Vat19, though. Salvatori (who now works alongside Matthew Baptista at Studio71) started the company in 2007, after business for his hometown video production business started to slow. Raising Vat19 to its current state took 12 years of grueling work — and Salvatori’s definitely not done pushing the business to bigger and better (and weirder) things.
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about your background. Where are you from and what did you do before Vat19?
Jamie Salvatori: I grew up in Saint Louis, Mo. (where I still live with my wife and four kids). Before Vat19, I worked at our family video production business. We offered video production services to our local community. This business ultimately became Vat19.
Tubefilter: What made you decide to start Vat19? Can you talk about the nuts and bolts of turning your first business into Vat19, and what it was like to expand onto YouTube with your team?
JS: I started Vat19 in 2007. For the four years prior, my company had been developing our own original content in addition to selling our video production services locally. We sold our original DVDs online as well as to schools and libraries. At the end of 2006, my best friend (who had been working at the predecessor to Vat19) left the company to join the U.S. Army. He had been instrumental in creating our original content DVDs, and I felt the company needed a change of direction.
Instead of selling DVDs of our original content, my plan was to sell products made by other companies, and we would create the commercials for those products. We began by simply adding products that seemed complementary to our original DVDs, and eventually we expanded well beyond that. We wouldn’t charge anything for the commercials, so we could make them fast and be totally unencumbered by the whims of a client. I started posting videos on YouTube in 2007 as a cost-cutting measure. Prior to 2007, we had hosted the trailers for our original content DVDs on a content delivery network (perhaps it was Akamai — I can’t remember). I think that cost us a few thousand per year, maybe more. Frankly, I switched to posting to YouTube because it was free. I’m glad I did!
From 2007 to 2009, we were basically two companies. We continued to provide video production services locally as we expanded our online retail store. At the start of 2009, I completely shut down the video-production-for-hire business. It was an amazing feeling to rid myself of a failing enterprise and focus solely on what was a rapidly growing part of the business.
For many years, every employee wore multiple hats. For instance, my first “Vat19” employee (hired in 2008) wrote, shot, and edited every video. Vat19 now has a full-time staff of about 20 people. Of those, 12 are on the video production side of things (writers, directors, editors, and a producer). The rest of the staff is dedicated to our store and our warehouse fulfillment operations.
Tubefilter: What are some of your favorite products you’ve featured on the Vat19 channel?
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
JS: I don’t remember exactly when we got our first check for online video revenue. Sorry! I went back into our records, and perhaps it was in 2008. It was probably for $100 or something like that. I don’t think we earned any revenue from videos outside of AdSense until 2015 — then, we got $2,500 for a shout-out in a video.
Tubefilter: Have you had any sponsorships or brand partnerships for videos? How did those come about?
JS: Yes, we’ve had a fair number of sponsorships and brand partnerships in the past three to four years. They’ve come about in a variety of different ways. We’ve had companies reach out to us directly through the contact area of our YouTube channel. Our MCN, Studio71, has brought us some deals as well. About six months ago, we hired a talent agency to help us manage our sponsorships. I also work with a member of our staff specifically on outreach to earn new brand sponsorships.
Tubefilter: How has your YouTube content affected the Vat19 shop? Have you seen a significant number of traffic or sales come over from YouTube?
JS: Our YouTube channel has been instrumental in the growth of our online store, Vat19.com. Over 50% of our customers tell us they heard about us through our YouTube videos.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional YouTuber?
JS: I’m not sure if I ever had an “ah-ha” moment where I realized that our video team members were becoming professional YouTubers. I think it was more of a gradual thing. Our channel didn’t blow up overnight. We’ve been working on it for 12 years.
Tubefilter: How do you find new products to add to the shop? Also, for those who may not know, do you design products in-house, too, or are your products externally sourced?
JS: We have two full-time buyers whose job is to scour the globe for all of the cool products we add to our site. Most of our products are externally sourced. However, we have designed a few items ourselves, such as the World’s Hottest Chocolate Bar, the Burn or Bliss Challenge, the Stank Prank Candle, King Size Playing Cards, the Not-a-Cat Cat, and the Deck of Black Playing Cards.
Tubefilter: What’s your YouTube production schedule like? Do you have a set filming/uploading schedule?
JS: Yes, our production schedule is fairly rigid. We spend a few weeks writing the script, approximately one week shooting, and one week editing. However, we work on several videos simultaneously. We try to complete three or four videos each week.
Tubefilter: What do you think are the most vital skills you possess as a creator and an entrepreneur?
JS: I believe that my most vital skill as an entrepreneur is to constantly look for new opportunities that could help the business. This means being flexible, and being willing to try new things. As a YouTuber, it is really easy to get swept up in your stats (subscriber count, likes, and views). These factors can adversely affect your mood and mental health, and there’s nothing wrong with admitting that. I’m an old man as far as YouTube is concerned — I have four kids who watch YouTube daily! — and I still become depressed sometimes as a result of how videos perform. I think that’s natural.
I try to take the following approach: let yourself have some time to feel bad about the results of your latest upload. It’s OK to be upset that things didn’t work out the way you wanted. The next step, in my opinion, is crucial. Analyze, to the best of your ability, what happened. Why did the video perform below your expectations? Look at YouTube’s analytics. Assess the situation and try to determine what you could have done differently to improve the outcome. Then, focus on the next project and how it’s going to be better than the last one. You’re always one video away from your next hit!
Tubefilter: What’s next for you, Vat19, and your channel? What are you building toward?
JS: We are constantly trying to create the world’s greatest commercials — ones that people want to watch! We want the product or service to be so sublimely integrated into the content that when the viewer reaches the end of the video, they’re suddenly hit with their own ah-ha moment. “Wait, was that a commercial?!” That feeling leaves a lasting impression. Ultimately, we want to be the premier destination for the world’s biggest brands as far as branded content is concerned. And I think we’re moving in that direction each day.
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