Opinion

Actor and model Travis Kraft on how he built a YouTube following in the Philippines

Travis KraftTravis Kraft is an American model, actor and filmmaker who has developed a large YouTube following in the Philippines. In this guest article, Kraft tells the story of how he built an audience, and the challenges of working with brands. 

I went to Eastern Michigan University on a wrestling scholarship and was planning on becoming an actor when I graduated, so I was going to major in theatre. But I quickly realised that I was into movies not plays, so I became a film major and graduated with a degree in film still thinking I was only going to act, and that I would never actually put my degree to use.

Travis Kraft modelling shotAfter college, I took a trip around Asia and fell in love with the region, especially the Philippines. I enjoyed myself there, but went to work in Los Angeles pursuing a career in the entertainment industry. I ended up having a successful modelling career, but I kept thinking about going back to the Philippines because I loved the country so much.

Travis Kraft as SupermanI went back to the Philippines in 2006 and was fortunate enough to find a lot of work as a model and actor, and I appeared on a lot of billboards in Manila in ads for various products. While in the Philippines, a friend told me about YouTube. I checked it out, and typed my name into the search box. I was disappointed when nothing came up, so I decided to uploads videos of me and my work.

I transferred a bunch of clips of my work from TV shows from VHS to digital so I could upload them. But a TV network filed a copyright complaint and got the whole channel shut down.

Travis KraftI realised I was just going to create my own content, and put what I’d learned at film school to use. I researched equipment and bought a cheap mini-DV camera, a tripod, and $10 microphone.

I started doing a few videos for practice, and one of the first ones I did went viral. It was an instructional cooking video demonstrating how to make the Filipino dish adobo while I gave instructions in Tagalog.

It was a surprise hit.

I wasn’t trying to even make something that would be popular. I had never even heard of the term viral video. Thousands of people were watching it daily and TV shows in the Philippines played it.

So I kept making videos here and there, whenever I had a good idea. Some of them went viral. Most of them didn’t.

In 2012, I decided to the Philippines to focus on video-making because the Philippines offers a ton of great subject matter for documentaries.

But I didn’t have a solid business plan and things didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I learned a lot though. And in the past couple years my channel has been exploding in growth.

My most popular video has nearly 90 million views. This was done when I was experimenting with different genres and the idea was to make a video how I thought Enrique Iglesias would make it, but tailored for me. I have had a successful career as a model and this is kind of a play on that. It tells the story only using visuals so you can enjoy it no matter what language you speak.

This film he created about reasons to visit the Philippines was sponsored by Like Taco Bell Philippines.

Here is some of what I have learned and some of the obstacles you will face when growing a channel.

Obstacle 1: Money

Starting a channel because you think you are going to make money is a terrible idea. It is going to take money to run a successful YouTube channel, especially if you want to play and compete with the big boys in the arena.

Here are three ways to fund a channel:

Crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is a fairly new thing and it has been a Godsend to many creators. The money you make from the adsense ads on the video is simply not going to be enough unless you are getting millions and millions of views. Even then, it probably will not be enough. With crowdfunding sites like Patreon, you can have your following contribute money in exchange for rewards. The major condition for this method to work is that you have to have a fan base of passionate people who want to support you. If you are new and don’t have a following, crowdfunding will not work for you.

Sponsors. Sponsorships are a great way to fund your videos. A company will pay you to mention or do a video about their product. The drawbacks for this are you already need to be established with a following and have a track record of the quality of work you do so it isn’t suited for newcomers. Also, many people endorse products they don’t like, and this will be bad for both the creator and the audience.

As a creator, working with brands can be challenging. You will end up creating art by committee because everyone involved feels a need to influence it somehow. Everyone has an ego and they want to feel like they contributed even if they are hurting the project.

Another big problem in working with brands is many companies don’t actually understand who their customers really are. I once did a series of videos with a particular company and I am a real regular customer of that brand so it was exciting to get an opportunity to work with them.

I came up with a great idea to do an interview with a very popular and funny rock band and during the interview, I could gift them with some of the business’s product. I knew the video would get a lot of views and the people that would watch it are actually the people that would patronise that business. I shot the interview and presented it to the company who sent it to the owner for approval. The owner said they did not want to be associated with the rockers so it wasn’t approved. The owner of the company was an old woman that probably never even goes in the business so they don’t even know what type of people actually go there. It was a perfect video for their market.

The marketing person suggested I do a new interview with a certain celebrity they liked. I knew the video would not get many views and the fans of that particular celebrity are not the people that would patronise the business. I shot it and turned it in and they loved it and were happy even though the video didn’t get a ton of views as I predicted. I uploaded the video with the rockers (editing out the footage where I gifted them with the product) and that did extremely well. In the end, it all worked out though because the brand was still happy and I got a popular video for myself.

Selling your own products or services. This is the best way to make money, and in fact, this is the exception to the rule of not starting a channel just to make money. If you have a business, starting a channel is a great way to promote it. If you just want to be able to fund your video-making, you can make or find something to sell. It should be something people actually want or need, though. For example, people may not want or need a shirt with your picture on it but if you run a conservative political-themed channel, you could sell funny pro-Donald Trump shirts. If you run a liberal political-themed channel, you could sell anti-Donald Trump shirts. For me, I get tons of emails every day asking questions about the Philippines. So many, I couldn’t even answer them all. I changed my site contact page to let people know that I do consulting and if they have questions, they can first Paypal me money and then send me the question and I will respond. I also get hired to produce videos for people or their company or be in their video.

Obstacle 2: Patience

Chances are, not many people are going to watch your videos in the beginning. That wasn’t the case for me because I was blessed to have many videos go viral even though I wasn’t even trying to make hit videos. My trials came as I kept producing videos, and many of them just did moderate views and I wasn’t gaining many subscribers. However, I created my channel because I am an artist and it was a way to express myself and do what I want to do. I have the attitude that I am in it for the long haul so I never had the temptation to quit.

Obstacle 3: Enduring the crazies on the internet

Running a channel, especially one that shows your real face and identity will make you a target. Everyone has opinions and beliefs and will have their own interpretation of your work. People see what they want to see. Even though my videos are very positive, many people get offended.

Because of this, I get tons of insults every day and even a death threat now and then. The thing I focus on though is the 99 percent of comments and letters of love I get from viewers.

There is no straight line to getting where you want in any business or endeavor worth doing. You’re going to have to constantly pivot to remain relevant and move forward.

If you have the attitude that you are in it for the long run and it is something you are passionate about, you will find a way to make things work. You will also find yourself in places that you didn’t expect, so enjoy the ride.

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