Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where—in partnership with global creator company Jellysmack—we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.
If Austen Alexander pulls his Battle Bus up in your town, you’d better watch out.
He might challenge you to an extreme Marines fitness routine. He might ask you to hang from a bar to win $100. Or he might tell you to drink exactly 16 ounces of water every single morning.
The Battle Bus, along with its predecessor the Battle Bunker, is now Alexander’s full-time job. But, not so long ago, it was a massive risk.
Alexander started his YouTube channel in 2018. Because he was still actively in the Navy, lots of his early content revolved around what it was like being in the military: his job, his colleagues’ jobs, and their lifestyles. By the time he left the Navy in 2020, Alexander had built up enough of an audience–and realized how much he enjoyed making videos–that he was willing to go all-in to take his YouTube presence to the next level.
That next level was the Battle Bunker–an enormous, rigorous obstacle course that drained pretty much all of Alexander’s savings. He knew there was a chance the Bunker wouldn’t pay off, but he hoped his gut feeling that it would was correct.
And it was, in fact, correct. Alexander used the course to produce 21 episodes where he put fellow military members, elite athletes, and, crucially, well-known creators like Markiplier, Ethan aka CrankGameplays, James Charles, Josh Richards and the Sway House, and Michelle Khare through their paces.
Those 21 episodes were “very, very successful,” Alexander says, and provided a foundation for the future of his channel.
The next iteration of his channel is a balance between long-form content with the Battle Bunker and short-form content with the aforementioned Battle Bus, a mobile fitness studio where he can get out on the road, hear people’s stories, and show them what their bodies are capable of.
Check out our chat with him below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Austen Alexander: It is because we started a short-form series called Battle Bus, which is where we go out in this big green bus. You can’t miss it. It’s very distinguishable. We pull up in parking lots and local gyms, and we grab random people and we say, hey, can you do pull-ups, can you do push-ups, can you squat? They say yes. We say, okay, well, today we’re giving out $5 for every pull up you can do or $5 for every squat. Half of them say no. The other 50% say, of course, let’s do it. They come out as many as they can.
A lot of times, they surprise themselves and we record it, break it down into short-form content, and it inspires hundreds of millions of people.
Austen Alexander: It was my idea. I built this obstacle course called Battle Bunker, and we started creating long-form content on that obstacle course where we would bring out, like, James Charles, Markiplier. Then that was in some of our first episodes. We had the Sway House out there, and we just clash these in different sports together and put them head-to-head in the obstacle course races. During COVID-19, we couldn’t really get a whole lot of people out there. So I said, let’s shift and pivot.
Then this year, when COVID let up a little bit, we had this idea for the short-form series called Battle Bus, which is basically a mobile version of Battle Bunker, where we would go out and we would challenge people to max effort fitness challenges. We had a few different iterations. It took us a little bit to get the formula and the video breakdown correct, so the iteration will be high. When we found that winning formula, it was off to the races.
We go out to each location and film 15 to 20 different interactions, and each one is broken down into a Shorts. That provides us lots of content for Shorts. On YouTube we started posting three per day, and within the first 55 days we hit over 100,000 subscribers and 100 million views.
Austen Alexander: Thank you.
Austen Alexander: I’m from a very small town in Alabama called Florence, and I graduated high school, I started college. Then I said college is not for me so I dropped out and I joined the Navy when I was 21 years old. I did seven years in the Navy. I got out in 2020. In 2018, I started making videos about my life and fitness and just tutorial videos about how to increase your push-ups or best jobs in the Navy or chatting with other military members. It breaks down from there.
I started putting celebrities and other creators and different people from different backgrounds through military fitness tests to see how they would do and to see what their scores were. Those videos were a really big hit on my channel. I never wanted my YouTube channel just to be about me. That’s what gave me the idea for Battle Bunker. In 2020, right as I was getting out of the Navy, I spent all my money on building this obstacle course out in the desert. We started producing Battle Bunker episodes. We had a very, very successful first season. We produced 21 episodes of the long-form series of Battle Bunker, and now we’re heading into our second season of Battle Bunker.
Austen Alexander: It was a massive risk.
Austen Alexander: It was. I really struggled the first few months of 2021, just because I can execute well a plan, but I can’t really plan that plan. I’m a bad planner. I’m a great executor. When we started executing this plan I said let me just spend my money on this obstacle course. I’m going to build it and we’ll see how it goes. When I got out of the Navy, all of my salary from the Navy went away. Then I took on an additional $10,000 a month in expenses. The first few months of 2021 were in the red for me, pretty significantly.
Austen Alexander: From there, I just kept the faith in the Battle Bunker episodes in the regular production on my channel. In April, May, it started to pick back up and go pretty heavily in the green for us again.
Austen Alexander: I think it was when I got out, I was so pressured to perform on YouTube it became obsessive. The average iteration has to be perfect and the thumbnail, clickthrough has to be perfect, which I had never focused on heavily before. I just created videos that I love to create and I had so much fun with it. I think all of that pressure really made me cut out a lot of the funny things, a lot of the personality on my channel and we just got in this mini whirlwind of not producing good videos.
Again, in April, May, I said, you know what? I’m just blessed to be here. I’m blessed with this opportunity to do this full-time, so let’s just start having some fun with it again. Then the videos became better because my true personality was in there. I decided to just turn off that stress for the next few videos and it worked and it’s been great ever since.
Austen Alexander: Thank you.
Austen Alexander: It is, especially when you’re in the public eye. A lot of people were saying “Austen Alexander’s getting out of the Navy, what is he going to do next?” Or, “Austin’s getting out of the Navy, he’s never going to make it on the outside world.” Just knowing that I’m in the public eye, there’s a lot of pressure to perform, and I let it get to me.
Austen Alexander: It is. It was really difficult, especially just adapting to civilian life after the military was really tough for me.
Austen Alexander: I have a problem with trying to do too many things at one time.
Austen Alexander: It got to me, but I’ve ironed out the wrinkles now and, of course, we still have little wrinkles here and there, but it’s a lot better.
Austen Alexander: I started with Night in…I believe it was 2020, actually. They helped me a lot think through what I was doing. Even though it was a new frontier for them as well, they were not scared to help me venture into new avenues like the Battle Bunker. They helped so much. They helped me get a show on Snapchat Discover, and help me set a get on Facebook and into the Reals program and lots of things. I wouldn’t be here without Night Media. Michael Gordon specifically, he’s my manager. He’s been there pretty much every step of the way.
Austen Alexander: When I first had the idea for Battle Bunker, the only thing I had was YouTube ad revenue. Throughout the year that I partnered with Night, they were able to help me get different sources of revenue, like higher brand deals, Facebook pay, Facebook’s Reels bonus program, as well as Snapchat. Now we have two sources of revenue from the Facebook Reels program. We have two YouTube channels, which is my channel and then Battle Bunker. We have a really strong Facebook page. We are having Battle Bunker events now.
Everything has essentially doubled. Plus we are working on partnering with some brands for our second Battle Bunker event. I have a full team now. I have two videographers and two editors. One long-form editor, one short-form editor, and we’ve built a team and we’ve moved and we have a brand new obstacle course. It’s great. When I talk about it, it’s crazy to say all that because if you asked me where I would be two years ago, I would say I have no clue.
Austen Alexander: The Shorts, we were able to look at the average iteration on TikTok and really gauge how well they were going to perform on YouTube down to a science. It was actually crazy. A 39% average watch time on TikTok resulted in an 85% or higher on YouTube. I don’t know how they do the metrics. That’s how I was able to hit a million subscribers on, or get the push to hit a million subscribers on YouTube is using those Shorts, the high-performing Shorts on TikTok. We would filter them out and put them on YouTube and post them as YouTube Shorts.
Austen Alexander: It started as the short-form content from the Battle Bus that we posted on the Battle Bunker TikTok. It was a testing ground, and we would take the best-performing, and those would go on my channel because they mesh very well. Battle Bunker is my brand, and I’m the host of Battle Bus. It was pretty streamlined to my channel. At first we would only take the top-performing from Battle Bunker TikTok to Austen Alexander YouTube, but now we do post all of the Shorts from Battle Bunker TikTok to a Battle Bunker YouTube page.
Austen Alexander: I was going to say, that’s how we were able to achieve that 100 million views within 2 months, because we’re pretty much posting everything.
Austen Alexander: Yes, for Battle Bunker, we shoot Battle Bus once per week. It usually takes about two hours. We don’t invest a whole lot of time into it just because we have other other things going on, but that gives us between 15 to 20 Shorts to post and we post twice a day across all channels. It’s got a really good flow there.
Austen Alexander: It’s great content too. It’s organic interactions. People are watching to see how many pull-ups others can do, or squats or deadlifts, and it’s a lot of fun.
Austen Alexander: I just like hearing people’s stories. I talk to people for a long time. We don’t document it all in the Shorts. I just say, where are you from? If they’re at a college, what’s your major? What are your fitness goals? What are you trying to do? Today I’m going to coach you there and we’re going to get you to eight pull-ups.
I naturally am an introvert, but since I joined the military, actually, and being in the military has really taught me how to speak to people, how to address people, how to have manners, how to be firm, how to be stern with people. I believe that translates a lot over to just general interaction in the real world has helped me be confident in myself. It’s helped me just speak to people a lot better.
Austen Alexander: Thank you.
Austen Alexander: Ever since I partnered with Night, we’ve had our weekly calls on Thursdays. I’ve tried to keep my schedule clear on Thursdays. I try to book calls and meetings and whoever I have to talk to. We just did an interview with the news this morning and we booked this call today. Mondays for me, we have team meetings. We schedule out what we’re going to do and what everybody’s working on for the week and what our goals are. Tuesdays, they can be a day for Battle Bus. It’s either Tuesdays or Fridays for Battle Bus. I do a lot of monitoring the social pages as well, like Facebook, YouTube. I do deep dives with my video team and Ivan especially, he’s my primary videographer on video ideas, video topics.
We do a lot of outreach on Tuesday. We reach out to Olympic athletes and military athletes and say, “Hey, would you want to film on this day?” Here’s what we’re going to be doing. That’s on Tuesdays, generally, is when we plan our YouTube videos for my channel, the Austin Alexander YouTube channel. Then my girlfriend Sarah, every morning my morning routine is I wake up, I drink 16 ounces of water. Not 15, not 17, right on the dot 16 ounces and then I have a cup of coffee. We go for a walk in the park down the street with the puppies. Then about 8:30, I’m done with that. Then I roll right into work from about probably 9:00 to 7:00 PM or so.
On the weekends we do a lot of shooting and we do a lot with the Battle Bunker, whether it’s if we have a corporate event at our obstacle course, or whether it’s filming an episode for my YouTube channel. We do a lot of those on weekends just because the training center and our talent are the most flexible on weekends.
Austen Alexander: I guess it’s a military thing. When you have attention to detail, it allows you to stay on task on target a lot better. If I started to drink 16 and a half, then the next day it may be 17. The next day it may be 17 and a half, and the next day it may be 15. The next day I may be 13. It wobbles off target but if I measure out 16 ounces each day, then it gives me the momentum to start things right the next day. I use that, I guess, way of living with a lot of things. If I’m done with my morning walk at 8:30 you know I’m going to sit down at 9:00 AM. If I finish the morning walk at 9:07, there’s no telling when I’m going to sit down because my whole schedule is loopy. It all starts with that cup of water.
Austen Alexander: I guess I’ve never put that into words ever before but I guess that’s the way I think about it. Is the title of this going to be Drink 16 Ounces of Water?
Austen Alexander: Really? That makes me feel cool.
Austen Alexander: When I first started drinking water, it used to be 12, but I felt like I could just keep going. I felt like I tried to chug as much water as possible, but 12 ounce under 16 ounces fits perfectly in a shaker bottle and I do put it on a silver scale in the morning and weigh it out to 16 ounces.
Austen Alexander: Yes.
Austen Alexander: Sorry.
Austen Alexander: I do, yes, I do.
Austen Alexander: We make about probably 60 pieces or more short-form content a month. With long-form, it’s about two to three. I think posting short-form to my channel obviously it’s let me grow a lot and get more exposure, but I think it has confused YouTube as to what my subscribers want, because they will promote my long-form videos initially to my subscribers and now all my subscribers aren’t necessarily interested in long-form. Now it does take the videos even longer to pick up and get those long-form impressions.
Austen Alexander: Yes. I do know the channel will get back on track with long-form, so I’m not going to post any more Shorts that aren’t directly involved with what my long-form is. I guess the next three to six months is to get long-form impressions and views back up there and allow YouTube to promote to the correct audience right off the bat.
Austen Alexander: I have fallen in love with short-form content. I’m a long-form creator, but the way that the algorithms cater so much to short-form now and the gravity and effect that I’ve seen it have on channels and on brands is tremendous. I want to implement a new short series called Battle Bunker Trials. Very, very similar format to Battle Bus except people come visit our obstacle course and I’m like, “Hey, what’s your name?” “Oh, my name’s Chris from New Jersey.” “Hey, Chris, my name’s Austen Alexander. Okay, you have eight minutes to complete this course and if you beat the high score, I’m going to give you $5,000 cash. Three, two, one, go.”
Austen Alexander: I think that is really going to pack some energy into this short-form content and really make a beautiful 60-second Short that’s just jam-packed. I think the iterations are going to be super, super high, I hope.
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