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.
Imagine you’re walking through a picturesque forest. It’s late afternoon. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. The leaves are rustling.
The leaves are rustling?
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Before you can react, there’s a muted Pfft and a sharp flick at your side. You sigh, lower your Airsoft gun, and raise your hand.
You’ve been kickingmustang‘d.
kickingmustang, aka James Trouble, is a pretty good shot, but he’s also a master of disguise. Dozens of videos on his YouTube channel capture moments just like the one above, where an unsuspecting rival player walks right by–or even right up to–Trouble, completely unaware of their imminent defeat.
How does he do it? With the very same tool lots of other Airsoft players rely on: ghillie suits.
Of course, not just any ghillie suit. Trouble makes his own–and, in 2019, he started selling them so other players could achieve the same level of near-invisibility he does.
Launching his own product was a daunting endeavor, but Trouble did it knowing he had a community of viewers from YouTube and Facebook. Like many people we’ve spoken to, Trouble didn’t set out to become a content creator. He worked as a club promoter and then a trader. He made good money, and didn’t intend to change things.
Then his colleague’s son had a birthday party. It was supposed to be a casual Nerf party, but two try-hards showed up with Airsoft guns. Those were swiftly confiscated by attending parents…..and then, once those parents had had “a few glasses of wine,” Trouble says, “we realized that we could shoot each other with them.”
Trouble was instantly obsessed. He got his own guns, began attending real Airsoft matches, and started thinking all things ghillie suit. When his brother later won a GoPro in a contest, Trouble scooped it up because he’d seen other Airsoft players recording their matches and uploading the footage to YouTube. He figured he could do the same.
Fast-forward a few years, and Trouble’s channel now has more than 2 million subscribers. He’s been getting monthly view counts in the tens of millions for a while now, but getting into Shorts has significantly boosted his viewership, taking him from 11.7 million views in July 2022 to 65.7 million in August, 79.1 million in September, 51.3 million in October, and 50 million in both November and December. He’s already cleared 20 million views so far this month.
In addition to amping up viewership, Trouble has amped his product line. Alongside his signature ghillie suits, he sells a balaclava and BB’s, and has been working with U.K.-based company Deadly Customs to manufacture a sidearm holster based on his style of gameplay.
Check out our chat with him below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: You are the first YouTuber in your niche that I’ve covered, so really interested to hear your perspective and your journey as a creator.
kickingmustang: Well, thanks for asking me to do it.
Tubefilter: Of course. I’ve watched a bunch of your videos, but for anybody who’s reading this and maybe hasn’t, can you give me a little bit of background on you and how you ended up getting into Airsoft?
kickingmustang: I stumbled across Airsoft accidentally. I was a trader in the city for about 15 years. It was through the chap who ran the office that I was clearing my funds through. His son had a birthday party. It was supposed to be a Nerf party, and two of these boys turned up with what we didn’t know at the time were Airsoft guns. We confiscated them because, obviously, you can’t shoot each other with BB guns. We confiscated them and after a few glasses of wine, we realized that we could shoot each other with them and they were called Airsoft. We went out in the dark with torches and shot each other with them, and I was hooked.
That’s how I got into it. Completely accidentally. Then we had a boys’ weekend where we bought a lot of Airsoft guns, and we ran around in my friend’s plot of land shooting each other with them, and I was completely hooked. I’d made this ghillie suit. This was 2010, 12 years ago. I made this custom ghillie suit thing, and I was using this at the time I thought it was a amazing sniper rifle, but it wasn’t. It was actually a piece of shit compared to what I have now. It was so much fun landing those headshots. I was completely hooked.
Tubefilter: When did YouTube come into it?
kickingmustang: Again, it was a bit accidental in that my brother won a GoPro and he wasn’t using it. I confiscated it because I was getting pretty good at Airsoft and I saw a couple of other guys were creating content on YouTube and were doing quite well. A channel called Northbridge, at the time, had about one million subscribers. I saw his channel and I thought, “I’m a better player than he is and I should be sharing what I’m doing,” and so I borrowed my brother’s GoPro, which he never got back, and I started recording. That was it really. If my brother hadn’t have won the GoPro in the competition, I probably would never have done it.
Tubefilter: It’s funny how things work out. What year was that? Do you remember?
kickingmustang: When he won the GoPro, would’ve been end of 2015, early 2016. That’s when I first started recording.
Tubefilter: So you’ve been on YouTube a while.
kickingmustang: Yes. My channel was originally made back in 2007 or 2008, I think, but I never–I used to be a club promoter and I made it to put on videos of the clubs I was promoting. Recording with me using an Airsoft was back in 2016, I think. The first stuff I was doing was livestreaming on Facebook, and I was building more of a community, really, rather than creating entertaining content. At the time, it was about a combination of creating a community, sharing the ghillie suit crafting techniques I had, and a little bit of showing off about how good I was at Airsoft. I guess there was an element of that at the time. Then it’s developed and evolved into mostly…I guess it’s now an entertainment product on YouTube.
Tubefilter: Is YouTube your full-time gig? What are you doing these days?
kickingmustang: Yes. I started doing YouTube full-time in 2018. 2019 maybe. 2019 was the last time I did any trading on money markets. I was trading cryptocurrency from 2016 to 2019.
Tubefilter: You were early there, too?
kickingmustang: Yes. I was doing quite a lot of crypto. I did okay at crypto.
Tubefilter: What was the catalyst for you to go full-time on YouTube?
kickingmustang: I love editing. I love editing as much as I love playing, and I’m just completely addicted to editing videos and creating pieces of entertaining content out of what I do. It was the money I was bringing in from ad revenue. Also, I think it was my ghillie suit sales. I think once I managed to produce my ghillie suit, and I was selling my ghillie suit, and I just realized the support and the trust the community had in me, that was when I completely stopped the trading and stopped doing the cryptocurrency and completely focused on editing and creating at that point. That was 2018, I think.
Tubefilter: One of the things that I’m really interested in is the fact that you went into selling ghillie suits as a business. Is that something you were able to do because of your Facebook and YouTube communities?
kickingmustang: Yes. Totally. I love playing hide and seek, basically, and my Airsoft gameplay is hide and seek. Even when I first started doing my livestreams on Facebook in 2016, it was based around ghillie crafting and sharing the techniques I use to build my suits. My entire channel was based on giving out my knowledge, passion, and techniques to the community, and the community, speaking frankly, I guess the community trusts me.
They loved the fact that I shared so much knowledge with them without charging for it, I guess. I think after doing that for years, when I managed to put my ghillie suits out in…I think it was end of 2018, 2019. End of 2018, beginning of 2019, I think, when they first really launched and went for sale. It was the best-quality ghillie suit on the market, which helped.
If it wasn’t for building that trust in the community, I couldn’t have just brought out a ghillie suit and just sold it just because it was good. The community and building attention on the channel and trust through the channel was what allowed me to do it. To answer your question, I guess in short, could I have done it without YouTube and without building a community? No. Definitely not. Building that community first was the key to its success. In the first year, I think I sold…well, it was hundreds. It was about £250,000 worth of sales in the first year off ghillie suits.
Tubefilter: That’s huge. Congratulations.
kickingmustang: Thanks. That’s kind of a humble brag, but it’s also, I didn’t sell them out of the money. I just love doing it. I love creating what I believe is the best product. I love creating what I believe is as entertaining a piece of content as I can create. I love sharing the knowledge, and I just love seeing the community around the world of ghillie crafting growing. When I first started doing ghillie crafting, when I used to turn up at events when I was wearing my suit, you would, first of all, get people laughing at you when you first turn up. “Haha. Look at that Wookiee,” in their silly Chewbacca voices. By lunchtime, that would stop.
They’d have been slapped around on the Airsoft field, and all of a sudden, they’re realizing they’re getting slapped around by this guy they were laughing at at lunchtime. That was years and years ago. How that has turned now. When people see the suits, and they see the way people have crafted them and the passion they put into them, and they see these ghillie suits because they’ve now seen my videos, and they see the community is built, and instead of it being the lone ghillie suit in the field, you now turn up at Airsoft fields and there are like a dozen or 20 people wearing my suit on the field, and they’re all crafted using the techniques that I’ve taught and shared. You see that, and now people look at us and instead of seeing them laughing, you now see this sense of, “Oh my God. We’re not going to see those people out in the field.”
If this community of ghillie crafting has been built around the content I’ve created, it’s really cool to see. I guess what I’m trying to say is if we’re talking generally for anybody looking to get into making a YouTube channel or building a business or they want to sell something, the most important thing is to create content that people trust in.
All these years I’ve created content and built community, I’ve never been trying to sell these suits. I’ve never been trying to sell anything. I’ve just been connecting, sharing, and building passion within the community. Something that might have only been a few people to start with has turned into thousands. My Facebook group’s just shy of 40,000 people, all people obsessed about ghillie crafting. That’s amazing.
I think that number of 40,000 people in a ghillie crafting Facebook group is more amazing than the people who watch my YouTube channel. That’s where the real passion is. Those people are passionately into crafting and creating something. That’s come from my content. That’s what I find most humbling to see. That’s my proudest thing to see and the community that’s built around it. I’m more proud of the community than the views that my YouTube channel gets.
Tubefilter: Got it. You recently hit one million subscribers, so I wanted to ask you: I hear from a lot of creators, especially creators who’ve been on YouTube for as long as you have, a lot of people are like, “Yes, I hit one million and then it was just another day,” or “Then I just kept going.” Was it a big moment for you? Or was it like a, “Okay, here we go. We’re still doing the same thing”?
kickingmustang: No. I don’t focus on that number at all. I never have focused on that number. It was this time last year I was approaching one million. I’ll hit 2 million at Christmas, I think, but this time last year I was about to hit one million. All my mates were going, “Oh, you got to have a party. You got to do something to celebrate.” I said, “Celebrate what?” They’re like, “That you’re going to hit one million.” I was like, “Oh, Christ. Am I?” I didn’t even think about it. It’s hard to explain, but I think a lot of my mentality of everything I’ve done in my life has been about enjoying the process of doing it rather than trying to get to goals.
It’s interesting what you said about you speaking to other creators and they say once they’ve hit one million, “I’ve just gone past one million,” and they say, “Oh, that’s it. It’s just another day.” The problem with a goal is if you don’t reach it, you’re so disappointed, like, “Oh my God, I’ve failed,” but if you set a goal and you hit it, what next? You set another goal? If you don’t reach it, you’re going to be disappointed? The goal should be enjoying what you’re doing.
If you enjoy what you’re doing, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a couple of people or 2 million people, if you’re enjoying life and you’re able to live comfortably, and you don’t have the stress of having huge amounts of debt hanging over you. When people get trapped in jobs, in their life, it’s normally because they have car payments, and a mortgage, and credit card debts, and student loans, and they can’t leave their job because they’re afraid that they’re not going to pay off these debts.
If you get to a position in life where you actually just enjoy doing what you’re doing without the pressure of having to pay debt, I believe that’s when you’re happy, and you just wake up in the morning and you want to work, and create, and communicate, and answer your email, and do your DMs, and produce cool products, produce cool content. That, for me, is what’s always been my goal in life. One million subscribers, 2 million, 20 million, 100 million, it wouldn’t make any difference to me as long as I can wake up in the morning being motivated to create and do.
Tubefilter: I think that’s an interesting perspective.
kickingmustang: It’s my friends who were like, “Oh, you’ve got to have a party. You’ve got to do a celebration. This is such a big thing.” Sometimes I think that maybe I should be celebrating it. It is an achievement. The thing about creating on YouTube, I actually don’t think the subscribers are as important today as they were, say, five years ago, because of the way the algo works.
The amazing thing now about creating content is that five years ago, the goal was you would pump out a load of content, you would push your content out there, and you would say, “Subscribe to the channel, sign up to the email list, join my Discord”–or whatever the big thing was five years ago, Facebook groups. You’d build, essentially, a mailing list and subscribers and followers, and then every time you put out new content, it’d be pushed to those followers. The thing is now with the way the algo works, if you’ve got one million subscribers, but those million subscribers all of a sudden aren’t that interested in your content, the algo recognizes that almost instantly.
If one day your subscribers just don’t start following your content, the algo will turn them off. It won’t suggest the videos. You’ll be like, “Why am I not getting views any more? I’ve got 1 million subscribers.” That’s because YouTube recognizes that the content you’re creating is no longer resonating with your followers. What’s great now is that if you don’t have one million subscribers and you’ve got 100 subscribers or 1,000 subscribers, if you create an amazing piece of content and it resonates with a few of them, the algo’s going to pick it up and it will go viral, especially in that new Shorts, Reels format.
If you’ve got a piece of content in a Short and it gets picked up on the algo, that thing’s going to fly and you’ll get millions of views. The creative is now way more important than your subscriber base. Getting hung up on your subscriber base is a big mistake for creators. Focusing on the creative that resonates with the people who you are trying to connect with is the key.
Tubefilter: What is your current production process like? Do you have a set, like, “I’m going to publish X number of videos per week”? Or how does that work for you?
kickingmustang: I can only play Airsoft really once a weekend. I might be able to play Saturday and Sunday possibly, and I have to play probably four to five hours of footage to create one eight- to 10-minute piece of content usually. If I’m flat out, and I really got my head in it, and I have no bad luck and I’m really, really going at it. In terms of do I stick to a rigid schedule? No, I don’t. I just produce as fast as I physically can, I guess.
I would like to produce once a week, but…During the COVID crisis issue when everyone was locked down, I saw it coming in 2019. I was playing twice a week for three months in the run-up to it, and I’d built up some content, but over that time when there was lockdown and I couldn’t go out and play, it’s almost a year that I couldn’t go out and play, I was still putting out a piece of content every other week or every 20 days, and it didn’t affect the algo at all.
Tubefilter: You had a backlog ready to go?
kickingmustang: Yes, and I was repurposing old content, creating Shorts. I was also doing stuff in my garden as well, like just getting a couple of mates over. I was lucky. I had some forest and we were just three of us just shooting each other running around, editing it into a cool piece of content just to keep it ticking over. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t have a strict schedule. No. I just create as and when it comes, which happens to be quite often because I love doing what I do. I love playing Airsoft and I love editing just as much. That fuels my content production.
I guess I combine it with a bit of discipline. To stay fit, I do yoga three times a week, which keeps me a bit supple and tunes up my engine so I can play every weekend. I guess that’s the key. If some Sundays I wake up at six in the morning and it’s cold outside. I think, “God, I really don’t fancy rolling around in the dirt when it’s raining,” I guess there is a bit of discipline at that point. I might not be happy, but I need to go out, and I need to record and get some footage, and that will allow me to create during the week, which I love doing just as much, if not more than actually playing Airsoft now.
There’s not really a easy answer for that one. I don’t think. People like PewDiePie, for years he was like every single day he puts out a video, every single day. I can’t do that. I’d love to say, “Every Thursday I’m going to put out a video.” I’d love to do that. I don’t think that’s a bad practice, but I don’t think it’s as important as people think. I think that’s possibly something that was more important a few years ago. I think the way the algo works now, it’s much cleverer and it just recognizes good pieces of content. You’re not so dependent on uploading every single week or twice a week to keep the algo turning over. I just think the algo is much cleverer and more sophisticated now than it was a few years ago, in my opinion.
Tubefilter: Agreed. I know you just released a balaclava to match your ghillie suit. Are you still developing more products?
kickingmustang: Yes, I’ve got a new product coming out this week, actually. [Editor’s note: This interview took place in December 2022.]
kickingmustang: There’s a way that I’ve always carried my pistol when I’m ghillie sniping that has probably very little relevance to the real world. If you’re a real sniper in the real world in the military, there is no reason to carry the pistol like I carry my pistol at an Airsoft game. What that means is a lot of Airsofters will use real steel products like chest rigs or belts that are used in the real military, or they’re sold for tactical, real-world application, but the way I carry my pistol is under my arm like James Bond, like a cross-draw holster.
If you’re in the military that has almost no use. Why would someone carry that? It’s useless, really. But if you’re a ghillie sniper playing Airsoft, we have something called a “minimum engagement distance” where if someone gets within a certain range, you can’t use your high-powered rifle or someone could get hurt, so you have to use the sidearm. If you’re lying down like a ghillie sniper, there’s a certain way to draw your pistol. I’ve always had this cross-draw platform and there hasn’t really been a platform on the market to effectively do that or easily do that. I’ve got a product coming out, which I’ve joined forces with a company called Deadly Customs in the U.K. It’s made out of a carbon fiber Kevlar weave, a platform that sits under your arm.
It sits perfectly. It’s such a sexy product and the pistol is so easy to draw out of it. It’s so secure. I’m really excited to be putting out this product this week. It’s within my niche. It’s a niche product within my niche, within Airsoft. My ghillie sniping, my technique is a niche within a niche and this product is specifically for that niche within the niche.
I think if anyone is interested in, or if anyone wants to produce products and content, I think the key to being successful on YouTube is finding that niche. It’s such a flooded market–and not just within the Airsoft, which is the content I produce, but no matter what you’re into, there is someone producing that content on YouTube, so you have to really drill down and be a niche within your own niche to have any chance of being really successful at it. That’s what my products are. They’re a niche within a certain niche, and I think I’m producing products which are the best on the market within my niche, within the niche. That’s the key to anybody who’s wanting to be successful on YouTube and build a community and selling a product to the community you’re building.
Tubefilter: Yes. Agreed. The creators I’ve talked to who launch successful businesses don’t just put out T-shirts and mugs. They launch unique, relevant products. It’s absolutely the smart way to build a sustainable business.
Tubefilter: Other than that next product, do you have anything that you’re looking forward to? Anything you’re trying to do in the next year or so?
kickingmustang: I want to travel more this year. Oddly, my Facebook was demonetized this year and got massively shadowbanned. I had really good reach on Facebook videos this year. But in September, I got demonetized for some weird…the algo flagged me for animal cruelty. Completely ridiculous. I appealed it and they said, “Yes, we’ll accept your appeal. We can see now you don’t hurt animals.” Ridiculous. Ever since then, my channel’s been shadowbanned and I’ve gone from having tens of millions of views a month on Facebook to almost nothing.
The point I’m trying to make is, a lot of those viewers, on Facebook especially, are from the Philippines. I want to go to the Philippines to play. I want to go to Japan to play. Last year, I did South Africa. It was more difficult to travel this year because the travel ban only just lifted. I want to travel more and do more, not just within Europe, because there’s some cool fields in Europe, there’s some cool fields in America, but I want to go to play in more exotic locations like the jungles in Malaysia. Some of the amazing bamboo fields in Japan, which a lot of those Japan players think, “Oh, no, you won’t be that interested. It’s just bamboo and in the forest of bamboo.” Yes, but that looks cool.
So often the grass is always green on the other side, isn’t it?
kickingmustang: Like a lot of people think my regular field where I play, Phoenix Airsoft…When you play there every single week, it’s, “Oh, it’s just Phoenix Airsoft,” but when people see it from America or from Europe, it’s like, “Oh my god. That forest is amazing. It’s like Sherwood Forest,” and they imagine sneaking around and being a sniper at Phoenix Airsoft where kickingmustang plays. It always looks amazing. I want to go to more interesting fields. I want to go back to South Africa, over in the far east. Travel. I guess travel.
Tubefilter: Is there anything else that you wanted to touch on or anything else you feel like people reading this should know?
kickingmustang: No, I don’t think so. I’m grateful that I’m in a position where I can do this. If people want to ping me emails or ask me questions or they want advice on their channel, I’m always happy to give honest opinions on what I think about people’s content, their editing. I am as interested in editing and content creation as I am in Airsoft. I’m not precious about sharing and giving opinions and sharing passion with other people. I don’t care whether they’ve got 100 subscribers or 100 million subscribers. I’ll talk to them the same way. If anyone wants to chat about that sort of stuff, I’d be happy to talk.
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