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.
Alex Kushelevskiy (aka Formula) is no stranger to hard work–although if you ask him, he’ll say he enjoys it all too much for it to be work.
Kushelevskiy, now 23, got his start in digital video as a young teen. An avid Call of Duty fan, he found a small, passionate community of likeminded gamers on YouTube. But while many people who share a similar origin story went straight into creating content and/or competing in esports competitions, Kushelevskiy took a different path: management. Some of those friends he’d made within the YouTube Call of Duty community became Red Reserve, a team with ties to FaZe Clan. Kushelevskiy managed the team, splitting his time between school (he was an actuarial science major), management (three to five hours per day), and occasionally making his own Call of Duty videos, sometimes with Red and FaZe members.
He didn’t upload those videos with the intention of turning them into his full-time occupation, but when Red Reserve fell apart, he found himself pulled toward content creation more than continuing in management. However, he had a problem: At the time, he wasn’t very experienced with making videos, so producing one required an eight-hour time commitment–a full work day. And he knew from the creators he’d managed that to turn YouTube into a career, he would need to upload regularly, even daily.
So he made a bold decision. He left university, gathered four friends he’d made through YouTube, and moved to Florida, where rent was cheapest. Between the five of them, they had 300,000 subscribers, and they pitched themselves as a collective to attract brands who’d pay their rent one month at a time and sponsor their videos. They slept on air mattresses and skimped on food for months trying to establish themselves, a process that eventually involved Kushelevskiy switching from Call of Duty to the surging-in-popularity Fortnite.
In Fortnite, he carved out a niche for himself playing duos, a mode where two players are randomly matched together and compete against dozens of other two-person teams in a battle royale. His YouTube videos chronicled the triumphs and often comical tribulations of playing with randos–including one special rando. Kushelevskiy says the turning point of his channel was a video with “the nicest kid on Fortnite.” The upload (below), featuring a randomly matched, incredibly kind kiddo who gives Kushelevskiy the game’s top gun, went viral, and his subscriber count suddenly pushed past one million.
It was the start of big things. Around a year after that video was uploaded, Kushelevskiy and his friends signed with creator and esports org Luminosity Gaming. As part of the deal, their Florida home was officially crowned the LG Fortnite House. In the seven months since the announcement of that partnership, Kushelevskiy has added nearly 2 million subscribers to his channel, bringing him to a total 3.31 million, and has built his monthly views to around 25 million.
This rapid growth has led him to consider his next career expansion–one he hopes that, over the course of 2020, will help him go from YouTuber to multiplatform influencer.
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about you! Where are you from? What did you do in the days before YouTube? Did you go to school, have another career…?
Alex Kushelevskiy: My name is Alex, also known as Formula. I’m a content creator who posts daily gaming YouTube videos! I was originally born in Russia, and I have lived in the U.S. for 20 years, mostly in Philadelphia before moving to Florida with my content team house members. Before YouTube, I was a student in college at Temple University studying actuarial science. Then I realized gaming was my true passion in life.
Tubefilter: What made you decide to launch a YouTube channel? What do you think YouTube offers you, as a content creator, to help you grow your platform and build your career?
AK: I didn’t start on YouTube as a content creator. I began my career in the gaming industry managing esports organizations and helping other creators build a platform with the teams I owned in the past. My experience leading teams helped me understand what it takes to create quality content and how to manage my time efficiently. I decided to launch my YouTube channel because I was unhappy with the way my former organization, Red Reserve, was managed due to a major disagreement between investors that owned majority stake in the company. That’s when I took matters into my own hands and started making daily videos, because I have full control of myself and what I post online. Shortly after, I decided to step away from the managing route and focus solely on creating content.
Tubefilter: You’ve only had your channel for two years, and you’re at nearly 3.3 million subscribers. Looking back at your earliest videos, they’re about Call of Duty–how did you make the shift from CoD to Fortnite? Was it something you had in mind when you launched the channel, or did you decide later on to switch over?
AK: Call of Duty will always be where my roots are. I was involved with the CoD community for seven years–until Fortnite came out. I realized that no matter how many videos I posted about that game, there was a limit or threshold of people my videos would reach due to the decrease in popularity for CoD on YouTube. I saw Fortnite as a huge opportunity because it is a game I genuinely enjoy and it combines dozens of communities from different games, so I instantly saw the potential to break the barrier I was in before and reach out to a new audience.
Tubefilter: Your subscriber growth has been significantly ramping up in the past few months. What have you been doing to grow your audience? Was there one video that really took off, or have you seen steady similar view counts with most of your videos?
AK: Even though I switched to Fortnite, it wasn’t easy to gain a following at first. It is a very competitive game, with hundreds of thousands of creators posting about it. I think what really helped me take off at first was doing videos in duos, where I matched with complete strangers and got hilarious moments with them and helped strangers get wins. I guess that was my niche at the time, and my big break had to be when I met the “cutest kid in Fortnite,” which is now my most popular video with over 6 million views. Ever since then, I continue to make videos in duos and keep seeing growth. Ever since then I have been on a 400-day daily upload streak, and I would credit that consistency to a lot of my growth.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional creator?
AK: I never really thought of myself as a professional creator. I still see myself the same way as I did when I first made my channel. There isn’t a specific milestone or achievement I would put that on. I just always viewed myself as someone who enjoys making videos because of the impact it has on other people. If I could at least help one person go from having an awful day to a good day through my content, then I’d say I’ve done a good job.
Tubefilter: Is YouTube your full-time career? At what point did you know you could go all-in? Was there a sudden moment where you were like, “This is it, I’m going full-time,” or did it happen gradually?
AK: YouTube is my full-time career. There was a point in college where I would stay up until 4 a.m. every night talking to people I met online through gaming, and I just fell in love with the idea of turning gaming into a career. I always heard people giving advice to younger generations to “follow your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life,” and that quote really stuck to me and pushed me to make the leap from being a full-time student to attempting to make YouTube a full-time career. The end of my sophomore year at college, I decided to give it a chance. I dropped out and got a house in Orlando with friends I’d known for years online, and we all started making videos together.
That had to be the most euphoric moment of my life because I was truly happy doing something I loved. It wasn’t easy at first–my friends and I slept on air mattresses and ate canned food for months before we started to earn. That’s definitely not the route I suggest taking, but it’s the route we had at the time. We had rent to pay for, and every month I had to cold call brands to sponsor our house to pay that rent. We had around 300,000 subscribers total between five guys at the time, so it was still possible, but it wasn’t easy. A lot of sacrifices had to be made, but over time we made some upgrades to our lifestyles as our channels grew, and started living healthier.
The hardest part had to be moving far away from my family. I moved to Florida because it had the cheapest rent rates, and flying is expensive, so I could rarely go back to see my parents. At first, my mother was concerned about my decision to leave school, since I was a first-generation immigrant attending a university, but she knew that this would make me happy, and she supported my decision.
Tubefilter: You produce daily videos, which takes a lot of work. Walk us through a typical day in the life.
AK: Over the years, I would say my day in the life has gotten a lot easier. When I first started, I would spend three to five hours a day managing my team Red. Then I would make a video, which would take me eight hours to record, edit, make thumbnail, and upload, because I was still learning back then. This was all in the same day. When I mastered the process through daily uploading, I got it down to four to six hours to make one video. Fast-forward to three years later: I’m no longer managing any esports teams, and I hired an editor so I can spend more time recording and making better quality videos. Now, the process takes me three hours total. I use my other free time to help create videos for Luminosity Gaming, my esports organization which I am a content creator under, and just relax and enjoy my free time.
Tubefilter: Have you had any brand partnerships or sponsorships? Are you developing merch?
AK: I think the most unique brand partnership I had was with JerkyXP, a beef jerky company targeted toward gamers. My friends and I got the chance to develop our own flavor (Sweet Red BBQ) and share it with our viewers. Everyone loved it, and I think that was the coolest sponsorship I’ve ever done and would love to do something like that again soon! I’m also in the process of developing a secret project with my friends that I think our fans will love. I would definitely like to find other ways to monetize my platform. I just haven’t found the right way yet, but I am working on it. It would be cool to see a product I created outgrow my brand online. The possibilities are endless.
Tubefilter: Do you game outside of work? What else do you play? Have you ever considered moving your YouTube content away from Fortnite or mixing in other games?
AK: I don’t really consider making videos as work. It started off as a hobby, and I still see it that way even though it is monetized. When I’m not recording, I like to play a lot of open world games like The Witcher 3 and Skyrim. Exploring game worlds is such a fun concept, and it falls into my other passion of traveling in the real world. I haven’t really thought about trying out other games on my channel, as there really aren’t any games I see myself consistently playing other than Fortnite. Even though I play it daily, the game doesn’t wear me out, since there are so many updates to keep it exciting–which is what I would like to see from other developers. If there was another game that was as active as Fortnite, I would definitely give it a chance.
Tubefilter: You mentioned hiring an editor. Who else works with you behind the scenes?
AK: I have a few people who help me behind the scenes. I hired an editor six months ago who’s really helped reduce my workload and allowed me to focus on other projects. I recently partnered with Up North Management; they are a talent management company in the gaming space that can help me connect with brands I am interested in collaborating with. I currently manage all of my social medias by myself. I post daily on YouTube, three times a week on Instagram, and casually on my other platforms.
I also have a financial adviser to help me manage my earnings and put them in places that can benefit me, in case I decide I don’t want to post YouTube content anymore, or to just look out for my future years ahead. Managing your finances at a young age is extremely important because it’s easy to get carried away with spending. It’s good to have people you can trust help budget with you. I try to diversify my streams of income as much as I can so I am not completely dependent on YouTube, as there is still a lot of risk in the industry, and at any moment it could disappear. I also work with Luminosity Gaming, which helps link me with other pros and creators. Being associated with an organization is good for longevity, as you grow with a team of people who share the same interests as you.
Tubefilter: What do you think is the most vital skill you possess as a creator?
AK: When I first started, I learned how to use editing softwares like Sony Vegas and Photoshop, and those skills are very useful if you want to solely depend on yourself or if staff aren’t around to help. I use Sony Vegas to edit videos myself when my editor is unavailable, and I use Photoshop to create my own thumbnails. These are the top skills you MUST learn if you want to be a consistent creator. You also have to study analytics. You have to learn patterns of what works and what doesn’t on your channel. Time management is also KEY. I update my calendar monthly, and it includes my content schedule, what times I have meetings, what times I have to record, and so on.
Tubefilter: What’s next for you? What are you building toward?
AK: I want to grow my relationship with Luminosity and help the organization succeed and grow to give more creators opportunities. My next step is to continue my streak on YouTube and really evolve myself from the “YouTuber” label to become more of an “influencer.” I want to be as active as I can on every social media platform available, and start getting my foot in the door with household brands. I’m super thrilled to see what 2020 holds for me!
Alex Kushelevskiy is a client of Up North Management.
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