Here’s the podcast that Catfish and I did with Stevie Churchill and Brandon Begin a few weeks ago for TCU TV Episode 1.
(This was originally posted on The Come Up on September 13th, 2014)
Let’s start with a controversial statement:
Modern street riding, the kind you see pro BMX riders doing in videos, is not just difficult, but damn near impossible in the vast majority of places on Earth. There simply aren’t that many cities that are packed with coping ledges, below bar height handrails and pristine flat bars. Sure, you can ride street anywhere. You could find a rock in a Walmart parking lot and bunnyhop over it. You could ride off the roof of your Mom’s house. Every town in America probably has a curb worth manualing. But the majority of street videos that make it onto the front page of websites like this one are full of people grinding stuff, and there isn’t much of anything to grind in the majority of places.
If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that is developed enough to house 5 or more high quality street spots within a 10 minute drive, you should consider yourself lucky. The majority of places are just too flat and under-developed for there to be much of anything worth riding. Some of you may disagree with this, but I’m sure that many more of you live in such places and know that it’s true.
Brighton isn’t totally devoid of spots but it isn’t exactly LA or Barcelona either. Why Brighton then? The first Brighton Ain’t Ready came out in 2007 and at that time, the location was a simple question of convenience. Brighton is an hour outside of Hastings, where Seventies Distro is located. London would be an obvious choice for a Hastings based BMX brand to stage a 6 month DVD project, but at the time it seemed a tad cliche and London’s general massiveness was thought to be a little overwhelming. So Brighton it was.
The resulting DVD was a classic. A 6 month video project filmed in one small city is an interesting format and Ed Allen handled it masterfully. Sean Sexton truckdrivered down stairs with an uncanny aggression, early freecoaster pioneer Karl Poynter floated around backwards on Brighton’s brick laid streets, Dakota wallrided the fuck out of things and Niki Croft capped it all off with a hooliganistic tirade of an ender section.
The lengthy 6 month time frame no doubt helped ensure the video’s worth but the video’s appeal and notoriety comes from the fact that the artists at work were able to do so much with so little. As is to be expected from what is at it’s heart is just a small town BMX video, spots were and are hard to come by. Niki Croft’s banger says it all. It’s a rail hop of epic proportions but it is also a rail hop that would go ignored in most major cities. The runway is fucked, there’s a ledge after it and the hop itself is crazy tall.
With just over half a decade separating the second Brighton Ain’t Ready and the first, I knew immediately that this would offer up a unique vantage point. Two videos, 6 years apart, in the same town, both featuring many of the top pros of the day from all over the world filming bike tricks on Brighton’s sparse street offerings.
One of the reasons I started this blog is because I wanted to keep track of, comment on and discuss my latest obsession. Over the last couple months I’ve been really making an effort to spend a lot less of my time mindlessly refreshing Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and a lot more time reading.
I’m busy just like everybody else so I’ve even taken some pretty drastic measures to increase my productivity. I now keep my phone on “do not disturb” mode 90% of the time. This feature (which you can turn on in the “settings” section of your iPhone) is incredibly useful. When I’ve got it on, nobody can bother me; I can only bother myself. I’ve taken to leaving my phone in the car for 4 or 5 hours at a time, something that I could have never imagined even just a few years ago. And now whenever I’m working online, I close out of Facebook and Twitter unless I’m actively using them because I find the constant notifications distracting.
I’ve also taken to dedicating entire days to reading. When I don’t go out riding I try and get all my work done by 1 or 2 PM so that I can spend 3 or 4 hours reading. At first I couldn’t go much longer than an hour but now I rarely tap out before the 3 hour mark. My concentration is increasing steadily and it’s kind of exciting, like setting a personal record at the gym every time I spend a whole afternoon lost in a book.
Anyway here are the 5 most recent books I’ve read. I don’t read for relaxation or enjoyment, I read because I want to become smarter and more well informed. I’m writing about books because I want to share them and hopefully get more of my readers interested in self-education.
(Whenever I can’t think of a good image to use for posts I’m just going to stick with vintage Gucci Mane portraits)
People hit me up all the time with their business ideas. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a good one. They always suck and they usually suck because the person writing the email falls into one of these two categories:
1) The person who just wants to be successful. But doesn’t have any passion. Their idea is almost never good. They just want to do something well so that people can slap them on the backs and tell them what a great job they did. Maybe it’s about the money, maybe it’s about the fame, either way they are doomed. The best entrepreneurs usually aren’t concerned with being successful, they just want to make an impact.
or personality type number 2:
2) The person who is passionate about something and wants desperately to do something productive within that field, but has no vision, no edge over their competitors, no bright ideas. These are almost always presented to me in the form of a bike company or some sort of website based business, since those are the 2 things I know most about.
Recently in an interview Nick Denton (the founder of Gawker Media) was asked what advice he would give to someone aspiring to be a “digital media entrepreneur”, which is basically what most of the people that email me are asking me. He said:
“I’d advise a young professional to be something else before digital media entrepreneur. Be a gossip, a gadget obsessive, a retailer of baby clothes, anything really. Being a digital media entrepreneur alone is like being into the feel of paper, it’s a characteristic, not a profession. Most entrepreneurs won’t make as much money as they would have with day jobs in banking or law. So they’d better have some purpose other than merely success in business.”
Bingo. You can’t become a “digital media entrepreneur” (I refuse to type that title without putting in quotes) unless you have an area of expertise. You can’t gain expertise unless you are willing to really immerse yourself in something. And almost nobody is going to take the years it takes to learn everything about a subject unless they are passionate about it.
That’s why I can run a good BMX website. I spent a decade or so doing nothing but riding bikes, reading bike magazines, watching bike videos and looking at bike related forums online. I never even considered for a second that I could make a living from bikes. I just loved them. So I learned everything I could about them.
A lot of people want that role but they don’t want to put the work in. Regular people look at entrepreneurs and want that status. They want to be interviewed. They want people to recognize them. They want the end result.
All that comes after the fact. The only way you’re ever going to become well known for doing something is by getting up in the morning every single day and doing it. Over and over and over. It’s not sexy. There is no arc to the story. You just wake up every day and work your ass off and you assure yourself that there will come a day in the future that all this will pay off.
Recently someone sent in an email asking why The Come Up has never pursued a custom video player like the ones all our competitors use. In this blog I’ll answer that.
First I guess you need to ask why all those sites use a branded player in the first place. There is one answer and one answer only to this question: MONEY. you can run your own pre-roll advertising on it and you can charge companies a much higher CPM (CPM is the amount of money a publisher receives from a firm per 1000 impressions of their ad, in this case the pre-roll ad popping up before a web video plays counts as one impression) than you can on YouTube.
So why stick with YouTube? There are a lot of valid reasons but the most important one is distribution. YouTube does a lot to get your videos seen:
One way they do that is via recommended videos. 4 of the top 6 videos here are ours. One is an ad and the other is Adam LZ. YouTube is the second biggest search engine in the world. A lot of TCU’s videos get thousands of views a day as a result of search and suggested videos like you see above.
So basically we get a ton of views on our videos that we wouldn’t get otherwise because YouTube does such a great job enabling content discovery.
(Side note: Why do we have a specific How To channel? Because we want to maximize the odds of young kids discovering The Come Up. What do young kids do? They search stuff like “how to bunnyhop” or “how to 360″ on YouTube. Ideally they will find our videos first)
But what about money? Virality is great but if you can’t make any money off of your content, then you’ve got to question the value of any amplification in distribution.
Our YouTube channel makes us money in 2 ways:
1) It promotes our website. The Come Up makes money when people look at our website. More specifically, we make money by selling ad inventory to companies who want to advertise on The Come Up. The more traffic we get, the more companies we can sell advertising to. And the more unique visitors we can report to advertisers, the more assured they are that their ads will reach a large demographic.
So what’s YouTube got to do with that? A lot of our videos shout out The Come Up by name or at least show the URL on screen. We put the URL to our site and all our social networking channels in the descriptions of our videos. Anyone who looks at our YouTube channel itself is immediately reminded that we have are not just a YouTube channel, but a blog that is updated daily.
Does it work? Well here’s a graph of TCU’s unique monthly visitors ever since I started working hard at growing our YouTube channel in November:
We’ve gone from 170,000 or so unique monthly visitors to close to 270,000. I can chalk up some of this growth to our added focus on Facebook as well, but YouTube was responsible for most of it.
YouTube helps our business by getting us more blog traffic.
2) We run ads through YouTube. I already said that you can make more cash using your own player and selling your own ads but it’s more complicated than that.
If we were to sell our own pre-roll ads we would probably be able to sell that inventory for approximately 4x what we get from our YouTube ad network (actually the advertisers would probably be paying the same amount, we’d just keep it all instead of splitting it with YouTube and our ad network). A 400% increase in CPM is tempting right? Not really. In order to make that transition at least break even, we’d have to be assured that we could maintain at least 25% of our existing video views.
As much as I’d love to believe that my blog is capable of such a feat, it’s simply not possible. When you use your own video player to publish video content on your blog, it soon vanishes into the ether. Sure people search on Google and others search internally (by typing search terms into TCU’s search bar) but this provides very little traffic in comparison to YouTube.
Back in November we released a How To video in which Broc Raiford teaches the viewer how to nose manual. I knew going in that this would be a popular video because “how to nose manual” is a common search term and one that appeals to BMX riders, skateboarders, scooter kids and mountain bikers alike. It currently has 70,000 views which makes it the most popular video on our How To channel.
The post in which I unveiled the video on The Come Up got a bunch of traffic at first but it gets very little now. Which isn’t surprising. Our blog posts typically have a pretty short half life and they are unlikely to show up prominently in Google search unless the user is searching out a specific video or just Googling a rider’s name.
The video itself on the other hand got 20,000 views in just the last MONTH. That’s right, a 6 month old YouTube video went from 50,000 views to 70,000 views in just 30 days, 6 months after it’s release. Did it go viral somehow? Did it get featured on a prominent blog that I don’t know about? Nope:
Almost all of these views are from YouTube itself. The orange represents the views that came from an embedded player (like the kind that you’ll find on the TCU blog post, which is mostly ranked highly on Google because the YouTube video is so popular) and the blue is direct traffic (ie; traffic of mysterious origin like email, which is likely influenced heavily by YouTube search) but the rest is direct from YouTube. And even most of the blue and orange traffic is probably as a result of YouTube in some way too.
How many views would the how to have gotten if we had used our own player? We’d have been lucky to break 10,000 lifetime. There’s simply no comparison.
An added bonus: in the same month we got at least 96 subscribers from Broc’s video. This is very valuable to us because those 96 people will now be notified via either their email or their YouTube dashboard every time we upload a new video. There’s no way to tell how many people viewed the video and then went on to follow us on Twitter or Facebook as well, but that sort of thing is a big win for us as well; those users are essentially giving us to market to them at will, probably forever. See: Permission marketing.
Oh and another nice thing: if you rank well on YouTube, you’re more likely to show up in direct search via Google:
As you can see we’re outranking Ride BMX’s blog post, which uses a custom player. Ride has a far better pagerank than TCU and Chad Kerley is a far more well known rider than Broc but we got ranked higher. Because Google owns YouTube and Google wants you to use their player and if you do, they will treat you nicely in return by giving you prominent real estate in search results.
YouTube just makes sense for us. I love the interface and the rich analytics. We have a decent following on there with over 12,000 subscribers between our two channels. We appreciate all the views that YouTube gets us. We appreciate the platform they provide that has allowed us to grow our fan base so much. We consider growth and ubiquity more important than eeking out a few extra dollars per 1000 views. And yes, of course, we appreciate the money that we do make from YouTube and we especially appreciate not having to do our own ad sales.
So that’s why we don’t use a custom player. I guess my question is, why would we?
My name is Adam Grandmaison, better known as Adam22. I write about stuff on this blog and if you follow me on Facebook and Twitter, I’ll make sure you hear about it. It’d also be pretty cool if you subscribed to my YouTube channel and my How To YouTube channel.
Henry Rollins did an interview with Pharrell earlier this month. The whole thing is worth watching but the part where he talks about his introduction to weight lifting in high school has stuck with me:
“I did all the lifts that Mr. Peppermint instructed me to do. And it was the first substantive change I had made to myself. When you change your sheer physicality. When your body shape changes… that sense of accomplishment is probably one of the most propellant forces in my life today. And the muscles… who cares about the muscles? It’s applying yourself. It’s the discipline. It’s the great journey. And to this day, that keeps the stress down to a minimum. So I’m not going to medicate with heroin or alcohol or marijuana. This is not where I’m coming from.”
That was me the first time I pulled a 180. It wasn’t much. It was a lot less than my friends could do. But I had changed myself. A few minutes prior, I was a kid who couldn’t 180. Now I was a kid who could. My entire life people had been telling me that I could do anything I wanted to, but it wasn’t until I discovered BMX that I started to believe them.
That first thing you learn sets the stage for everything else. The clouds open up. If I can 180, why can’t I 180 down something bigger? If I can 180 why can’t I 360? If I can do a 360, why can’t I sell drugs? If I can sell drugs, why can’t I start a real business? If I can make 1000 dollars why can’t I make 100,000 dollars?
It doesn’t hit you all at once. When I learned to 180 I felt a little more confident but I had no idea that that tiny seed of inspiration would set me off on a life long pursuit of knowledge and self improvement.
I still have moments. All the time. I’ll be sitting there lost in thought. Then the power goes out. Everything else in my brain turns off and there’s a flash of light. There it is in front of me, a realization about life, something that I should have learned years ago but that never quite clicked until now.
Just so you know what I’m talking about here, here are two of those moments have taken place in just the last year:
Last Summer in Spain I took a look down at my feet and I realized that I wasn’t scared anymore. I was still holding on to those feelings of inferiority from when I was a teenager. I worried what people thoughts of me. I worried what would happen if my business failed. I doubted myself. I took a deep breathe and realized that I no longer had any reason to be afraid. No person’s opinion can affect me. I know who I am, I know what I’m here to do and I know where I’m going. My scorecard is internal.
Everything has felt different since then.
Over Christmas break, I realized I was smart. I had spent my entire life assuming that there were things I couldn’t learn. I barely graduated high school. But there was a moment over that break where I realized that I could learn anything I wanted to. I had no reason to be afraid. There is no penalty for failure, but there’s also no excuse for failure. Is there anything so challenging that I would want to learn that my brain is physically incapable of comprehending? If so, I’d like to find that out for myself.
Now I force myself to learn about things I find intimidating all the time.
These aren’t bullshit little realizations either. I still think about them daily and I could probably identify dozens of them from the past 10 years. There’s something really memorable about the moment when you change your feelings about yourself. I feel liberated whenever I am reminded that my soul is still malleable.
As a teenager, you shouldn’t be expected to know what you’re doing with your life. The only thing you know for sure is that you must change. You can’t be 13 forever. You’re going to have to turn into a man. But you’re too young to know what to do. What course of action will best help you figure out who you are?
Don’t worry about how you’re going to end up, just start changing. Learn something new. Try a new sport. Read a book. Pick up a camera and document something. Turn your fucking phone off and think long and hard about who you are, where you want to end up and what you want to do with your life. When you find it, you’ll know.
I got my good friends Chris Long, Alfredo Mancuso and Nate Richter over for the first Adam22.com podcast. It starts off with us talking about Instagram and some of the crazy situations that come up because of it. But by the half way point we were talking about the last time we cried (seriously) and why I only date Juggalos. If you enjoyed this and want to share it with your friends, we’d appreciate it.
Also if you want to listen to more great podcasts (probably much better than this one), my favorites are Joe Rogan, the Combat Jack Show and the NYT Pop Casts (look them all up on iTunes or Google them).
(Yes, I am just taking photos of nearby things with my iPhone for all these posts)
I’m well aware that at some point in the history of this blog, it’s going to be necessary that I write at length about the business I’ve spent the last 7 years building, The Come Up BMX. But I’m hesitant to do so. It’s hard to write about The Come Up without sounding boastful or prideful. Writing that sort of post demands a certain type of care. It’s hard to write about why TCU has done so well without also going into detail about what all of our competitors have done wrong. And some of those competitors are people I’m friendly with or at least people I don’t feel like openly insulting. I plan on writing that sort of blog in the near future, but I figured before I go into detail about my greatest triumphs, I should first tell you about some of my lowest lows.
What I want to talk about is one of the most common criticisms I’ve been on the receiving end of over the past 7 years, something that anyone who has experienced any sort of success has no doubt heard time and time again:
“You just got lucky”
Over the course of the past few weeks, a lot has been said about the direct link (or the lack thereof) between online buzz and sales, with Coca-Cola right in the center of the conversation. But if you ask me, if Coke isn’t seeing a return on their social networking investment, that might have something to do with the fact that they kinda suck at the Internet.