Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.
This installment of YouTube Millionaires is brought to you by creator fintech company Karat Financial.
Cam Anderson didn’t set out to start a company.
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He just wanted a hobby.
As a pilot with the emergency transport nonprofit Life Flight, he had what he describes as a “pretty good” schedule: seven days on, seven days off. With so much downtime, he says, he had to find something to do.
How’d he stumble on woodworking? Simple: he knew a guy, and that guy made furniture out of barnwood. It seemed like a cool pursuit, but Anderson also wasn’t necessarily a fan of the end products. They were basic and geometrical, he says, and if he was being totally honest, kind of ugly.
“I was like, ‘I can make really basic ugly stuff I want,'” he laughs.
So that’s what he did. He started with barnwood, but soon figured out that was a big part of the whole “ugly end products” thing. He ended up switching to big, beautiful, and often expensive slabs of live-edge hardwood native to his home region, the Pacific Northwest. Things grew–er, no pun intended–from there. These days, Anderson’s “hobby” is now one-man, full-fledged woodworking shop Blacktail Studio. His hand-hewn creations go for thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars.
And you can watch him build many of them on his YouTube channel, where he recently hit one million subscribers.
We’ll let him tell you all about it below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: If there’s somebody who’s reading this and has never seen your videos, who are you, where are you from, and what kind of content do you make?
Cam Anderson: My name is Cam Anderson. I’m the owner and, until recently, the only employee of Blacktail Studio, which is a small, one-man woodworking shop. And I just make videos on making furniture.
Tubefilter: So how did you start making furniture?
CA: I used to be a Life Flight pilot, an ambulance pilot, and we had a pretty good schedule. We were seven days on and had seven days off. And so I needed a hobby, I didn’t have anything to fill my time. So I got into woodworking and one thing led to another and here I am today.
Tubefilter: That’s a wild background.
CA: It’s not your standard story, but I feel like YouTubers don’t have a standard story.
Tubefilter: Very true. How did you end up being a Life Flight pilot? Was it something you always wanted to do or something you kind of fell into as a job?
CA: You know, it’s funny. People always think every pilot is this guy who, as a kid, had little airplane toys, and it was all you wanted to do. But honestly it was something a friend of mine did—after college he started doing it. And I was like, “Oh, that kinda sounds like fun.” So I researched it.
Oddly enough, it was never something I felt truly passionate about. Like, it was fine. It was a fun job. But I never really thought I would be passionate about something until I got into this woodworking thing.
Tubefilter: Yeah, so how did that happen? What did you start with?
CA: Gosh, what did I start doing? I remember just kind of tinkering around making really bad, poor-quality stuff. I knew a guy who was making what I thought, at the time, was really good money selling these like kind of ugly geometric barnwood coffee tables and wall pieces. And I’m like, “I can make really basic ugly stuff I want.” [laughs]
I tried to do that, and I did sell one piece! My first sale ever was like a barnwood table, and I was an idiot so I sold it on Etsy for like $350 and didn’t charge shipping and it was $150 to ship it. So not a great move, but that was, you know, how I tried it. I saw something that looked easy and was like, “I can do that.”
Tubefilter: Obviously you’ve moved past barnwood these days. So how did this end up going from a hobby to a business?
CA: I slowly got a little bit better, and when I first made an epoxy table…I definitely wasn’t the first person to do it, but it was pretty early on and there wasn’t many people doing it. So when I was doing my first attempt at epoxy, that’s what kind of opened the doors for me. I had a decent eye for making those tables and I got an order and, you know, made the table, and then I posted pictures of it on Instagram. Then I got better order, and then a little bit better order, and it never really slowed down from that first epoxy table.
Tubefilter: What year was that? The first epoxy table?
CA: I should look. Probably around 2017.
Tubefilter: Gotcha. When did you end up on YouTube?
CA: 20…16? 2000 something?
Tubefilter: It’s okay, you don’t need to be super specific.
Tubefilter: Or you can be specific. Why YouTube?
CA: I was having success on Instagram. I didn’t know anything about social media, but when I got started, my wife showed me what a hashtag was.
Tubefilter: Wait, really?
CA: True story. I had no idea how people find your stuff. I thought you had to literally go and ask every single person to follow your page.
CA: Yeah. So she showed me how to do that, and it turned out I was pretty good at Instagram. So I got a following and thought, you know, maybe I’ll try YouTube.
I didn’t expect really anything. I didn’t know why I was posting on YouTube. I was like, “Oh, I’ll make a video.” And the first couple videos were okay. You know, they got in the thousands of views, because I had my Instagram following to kinda push it to.
But I still had, like, 400 followers maybe. Then my fifth or sixth video, I made an epoxy table, and a video on how to do it. And there wasn’t really a good tutorial out there at the time. And that one got a couple million views pretty quick. That’s when I went to like 20,000 subscribers. That was kind of my launching off point of like, “Oh wait, there might be something here.”
Tubefilter: Had you ever thought about making YouTube videos before that, or was it something you fell into again?
CA: Yeah, just fell into it. I didn’t have a reason. People ask me like, “How come you’re putting a video out?” or “Hey, you’re giving away your secrets on how you’re doing this.” I was like, “I’m not, let’s see what happens.” It worked out.
Tubefilter: That’s an interesting angle. Do you ever feel like you are giving away your secrets? I don’t feel like I could make the stuff you do after just watching your videos.
CA: At the time I thought, “Maybe I am,” but again, my secrets are just stuff I’ve learned elsewhere. There’s not really anything original in woodworking. We all learn our own little tips and tricks and maybe, yeah, I’ve done some stuff on my own, but what I found and what I didn’t expect is the more I gave away, the more I got back—meaning I’ve got a furniture business now too. And so I’ve had countless people call me and be like, “Hey, I wanted to make my own table, and I watched your video and saw how hard it is, so now I want to buy from you.”
So “giving away” this stuff got me more sales. It got me more followers. I think that the viewers appreciate the openness. They don’t like when people hold stuff back. So just kind of everything got paid back the more I gave away.
Tubefilter: How is your sales traffic these days, with Blacktail Studio?
CA: I’ve pretty much scaled, and I’m trying to get away from commission sales because people keep ordering what they’ve seen me make on YouTube, which means I can’t make a video because it’s the same thing I’ve made 20 times already, and I don’t know how many times people are gonna watch that video. I probably turn down four to 10 commissions a week.
I actually haven’t taken a new commission in months. I’ve started just making pieces and selling them at auction, like on eBay. So I might do more on the auction front just because it’s very involved on the commission furniture front, but not as interesting on the content side, I feel like, long-term.
Tubefilter: It is cool that you’re getting that many requests, even if you have to turn them down.
CA: Yeah. It’s just, if you think about it, a really good YouTube video, even if it doesn’t have a sponsor, will sell for more than a table, or will make more than a customer can pay for a table. So I really try to keep my content from getting stale if I can.
Tubefilter: Speaking of sponsors, do you work with any?
CA: I do.
Tubefilter: When did the sponsorship offers start rolling in?
CA: Gosh, I got some offers, I feel like…maybe around the 40,000 or 30,000 sub mark? Around 2018 or 2019. They weren’t very good offers.
Tubefilter: Very common.
CA: I’ll bet. It was actually kinda hard, you know, I’d reach out to companies. It was funny. It has to be their idea. I actually reached out to a shoe company that did these work shoes and was like, “Hey, I bought your shoes”–and I actually had bought them—“would you be interested in doing sponsored video?” And they sent this message back basically saying “We don’t give out free stuff.”
I was like, “No I already bought…I want money.”
Then, four months later, they reached out like we’d never talked, and were like, “Hey, we’d love to sponsor a video!”
And it’s like, “We talked about this. You didn’t want anything to do with me.”
So, stuff like that. But now I get a lot of offers and most of them are just a bad fit for my brand, so I don’t accept the vast majority of them. But it was hard. It was probably not till I had a half million to 700,000 subs before I felt like I got consistent, good offers.
Tubefilter: Yeah, we see a lot of growing creators getting meh offers.
CA: Yeah. I was actually going to stop taking sponsors altogether and just push my own products. I’d telling people a price because I was like, “Ah, whatever. Just send me an offer if you have one.” And finally somebody sent me offer that was like more than double what I’d been getting. I was like, “Oh, that’s my price, then.” So I just was apparently pricing myself way too low.
Tubefilter: It’s funny when you step back and see what other people think you’re worth.
CA: It’s shocking sometimes, actually. It makes it hard to turn down offers when they are a bad fit.
Tubefilter: What kinds of companies have you worked with?
CA: I’ve done a deal with Ariat, they’re a work clothing brand. They’ve been good to work with. I did one…I forget them as soon as I do them, it seems. But I did one with a software company. I have one with a wall art company coming up in one of my next videos. I did a men’s wedding ring one. It’s kind of across the board. Also Home Depot, which is a kind of more standard one.
Tubefilter: One of your videos is about your $65,000 journey to your current studio, all the gear you had to buy to become a full-time woodworker and company. That’s a huge commitment in both money and time. Was there ever any doubt? Any moment of like, “Will this sustain itself?” Or were you just going for it?
CA: I never spent any money I didn’t make from furniture. Everything has come from sales, and so it wasn’t like I took out a $1,000 loan or a $10,000 or $60,000 loan and said, “I gotta have all this to make this work.” Just like a lot of people, you want something and you save up for it. And I did that with everything from the company. So no, that was never a big concern. People look at everything I have now and think they have to have it, but I just did it a little bit at a time, you know. A slow process. It seems like it’ll never happen, but it finally does sometimes.
Tubefilter: What was the point where you quit your piloting job?
CA: That was an interesting time. That was in March of 2020, which you may remember, things got really interesting right around then.
Tubefilter: I do in fact remember. You would’ve been a frontline worker as well.
CA: Yeah. So when it was starting, there were some rumblings and we had protocols going on, and it got crazy for everybody I was working with. I think it still is.
Tubefilter: Very interesting time to launch a company too.
CA: It was kind of a stressful time because my wife is very involved, she runs her family’s company, and it’s very economy-driven. And so right when I quit my job, there were a lot of question marks around their company. She was a good sport, but I feel like there was a lot of pressure on her at that time because I had to make this work, and nobody knew what was gonna happen with COVID and small businesses around that time. So that was a tough time, but everything worked out well.
Tubefilter: You said you brought somebody on recently. Is that somebody working in your shop with you?
CA: Two and a half weeks ago, I hired a full-time videographer.
Tubefilter: Ah, okay, so not somebody working on furniture with you. Someone working on videos.
CA: Correct, yeah. I never wanted to be a big furniture company with a bunch of employees. I could have done that years ago, and it’s just not the business I wanna be in. So yeah, I might eventually get a part-time guy or even a full-time furniture guy to just kind of fill on some of the stuff. But for now, the content has much more importance.
Tubefilter: Are you aiming to ramp up your video production schedule or are you trying to offload some of the current tasks?
CA: I’d like to ramp up a little bit. I’m only doing about one video a month right now, which is actually doing really well for me, but I think I’d like to do every three weeks, if not two weeks, for my video rotation.
Tubefilter: It’s tough to make a lot of channel growth with one video a month–though given we’re talking right now, that schedule seems to have worked for you.
CA: Yeah. I’d like to do a little bit more. And I’ve started doing some Shorts. I’m still not sold on Shorts being the best, people don’t seem to like them when I put them out. But I do like the idea of it. I think.
Tubefilter: Shorts has worked for a lot of people in terms of views.
CA: I hear people are having success with it, and I like it because I can maybe do a little bit of stuff that might be too slow for one of my full videos. You know, if I want to talk about a little woodworking hack that’s just a quick tip and trick type of thing, it might not fit into one of my videos, but I can do it in a quick Short.
Tubefilter: Just personally, I love videos where people talk about the stuff they use in their everyday jobs. Especially if the jobs are weird.
CA: Yeah, I think I could do some quick tool reviews, something maybe a little bit different than your standard tool review. Like, this $5,000 handheld saw that probably nobody knows exists.
Yeah, so I think that’s part of the future.
Tubefilter: What other plans do you have for your company and your channel?
CA: I just don’t want to get lazy on the YouTube front. I know everything stems from that. I do have a lot of things working business-wise with getting products going. My first paid courses are out there now, like a MasterClass type of format. That’s doing really well. So I want to do more of those, and start doing some physical products. I’m working with a guy on developing some digital products.
So all of that, just to sustain myself outside of YouTube in case I’m not cool anymore and nobody’s watching my stuff. But I want to keep pushing YouTube as hard as I can for as long as I can.
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