Hank Green is one half the YouTube creators The Vlog Brothers, who he co-creates with his brother John Green. Hank is the entrepreneurial brother who has the leadership role on many of their co-ventures and has launched several of his own innovative charitable and education-based projects. But going back to 2006, when Hank and John Green first started to collaborate, YouTube was the dominant platform. And that’s where they first emerged as pioneers in the Influencer Economy.
“It was 2007, YouTube had been around culturally and people had known of it for about a year,” Hank said of his origins on the platform. So they just started making videos, creating Brotherhood 2.0, a year during which the Green brothers communicated daily with each other by video instead of by phone, e-mail, or text messages. “A fun, jokey, trying-to-one-up-each-other brother project” is how Hank explained it.
One of his vlogs to John, a musical tribute to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, made the front page of YouTube. Many fans attribute their discovery of the Greens’ yearlong experiment to that “Accio Deathly Hallows” song—coming across the video and then binging on the rest of the vlogs. After their successful year of Brotherhood 2.0, the Greens honed their vision and created their new Vlogbrothers YouTube channel with similar content and shared it with a growing community that they called “Nerdfighters.” This online community of Vlogbrothers’ supporters joined forces with Hank and John, and their vision evolved over time.
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Here’s how Hank explained what Nerdfighters are fighting for: “I do like the idea that a goal of humans is to decrease suck and increase awesome. That was a saying from early Vlogbrothers. But those are two different things. It’s so objectively better to decrease suck. You know, people have awful lives. People die of preventable diseases, hunger, wars . . . These are problems we can solve. The only reason we aren’t solving them is because we haven’t applied the right amount of resources, both cognitive and monetary. And that’s messed up. But you can’t go through life just playing defense. You also have to do interesting things. You have to send a rover to Mars and have the World Series. These things are good. They help us lead full lives and allow us to apply ourselves to other goals.”
I first knew Hank and John as the creators of VidCon, the largest conference for online video world, bringing together over 20,000 video content creators, the web video online community, and industry executives to an annual conference in Anaheim, California. It’s my favorite conference in the world because it’s the only conference where the community, creators, and companies all hang out under one roof. I have attended VidCon since its inception, when it was just a couple hundred people hanging out at a hotel bar and ballroom in the Century City neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Even before VidCon, the Vlogbrothers understood how YouTube-wide collaborations could help to improve lives. Since 2007, their Project for Awesome (P4A) has been an annual call for videos from fellow YouTubers and Nerdfighters that highlight charitable causes in everything from education and health care to food insecurity. In December of each year, thousands of people post videos on the across YouTube, where both influencers and the community promote and raise funds for these charities. Video creators are instructed to tag the videos with P4A in the video descriptions in order to help The Vlogbrothers and others discover each video. Joining forces with the crowdsourcing website Indiegogo, the 2014 and 2015 Project for Awesome managed to raise over a million dollars.
By 2013, Crash Course and SciShow had both outlived the start-up money provided by YouTube. This got Hank thinking that it was time to roll out a voluntary subscription service that enabled fans to fund his education programming and the work of other online creators. “It’s tied into this idea that we want to help creators create professionally. We want to do that for ourselves and for other people because it’s a great job.” He and his brother launched the crowdfunding website Subbable, which was enormously helpful to more than 20 artists and creators, as well as the fans who love their work. Patreon, the San Francisco–based crowdsourcing company, acquired the website two years after it went live. Hank said both companies started at about the same time and have obvious similarities. “When Patreon launched, we were like ‘Whaaat?!’ because, of course, we had been working on it for six months. I called [Jack Conte, the founder] because I had known Jack before then and said, ‘Just so you know, I’m about to launch the exact same thing, but we’ve spent so much money on it that we can’t not do it.’”
It’s hard to say if Hank and John will also end up saving the planet. After all, this is still the early days of the Nerdfighters’ fight. But just from the vibe at VidCon alone, it already looks like the world sucks a little less. For Hank personally, the conference and his other enterprises have at least become rewarding in ways that he never anticipated. “Running a business is a creative thing, like dealing with people and getting the best work out of them. Understanding their motivations aren’t the same as your motivations. It’s all a bunch of moving parts, a piece of artwork in its own way. The fact that I get to do 20 different things, and that Monday looks nothing like Tuesday, is just really satisfying to me. It’s allowed me to build up a toolkit of both personal skills and, you know, having all of these great people who work with me—it allows for creativity on a level that I never believed I could have access to.”
Hank and John Green’s Vlog Brothers YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/vlogbrothers