During the summer of 2011, Anthony Nguyen was approaching his senior year of high school. He and a group of friends posted a comedic video on YouTube, which amassed 5,000 views in just a week on a channel with zero subscribers. Fast forward seven years and Nguyen is still running the same The Crazy Gorilla channel with his childhood friend Ramon Guzman.
Together the pair has created some of the internet’s most engaging video content — their Facebook video comparing Donald Trump to Mean Girls has 27 million views. They also have one of the first original Facebook Watch shows, Mexican Survival Guide, that’s winning the hearts of millions online.
We sat down with Nguyen to discuss his social media journey in-depth, the ingredients necessary for creating viral content, and the current state of the influencer industry, particularly as it relates to YouTube MCNs. Get to know the motivated and insightful creator here.
1. How did you get started on YouTube?
We started the summer before senior year of high school, my best friends and I. We always made random, just crazy videos. During the summer, my friend Christian was like, “You want to make a video making fun of Shuffle Kids?” We were like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
So we posted it on YouTube and within a week we got 5,000 views. We were tripping. If you get 5,000 views on a video, you’re pumped. The same thing happened to our second video with zero subscribers. We made two videos and got thousands of views. So we kept making videos and eventually it became a habit. Every Wednesday after school we just posted.
So we did this all of senior year and it wasn’t until 2012 that we found out you could actually make money on YouTube. I remember our first check, it was like $200 dollars. When you’re in high school this is fricken awesome.
2. How would you say your content has changed since you started in high school?
Our content is definitely not the same. When we first started, it was a lot edgier. That had to do with the time period we were in. Back in 2012, you could get away with a lot more jokes. We have to be more conscious now.
3. Facebook and YouTube differ in regards to brand safety. Do you get the sense that you can get away with more on Facebook?
In terms of content, we actually changed our content overall. When we started, we would make videos about the most random subjects. We would talk about the fan in our room and make the most random video that no one could relate too, but people found funny.
Two to three years ago, we started realizing that to become viral and famous you can’t make videos about random topics. You have to make videos that are relatable, shareable. So we changed. We stopped making videos about random stuff. We kept our comedy but changed it to things that were more shareable. We immediately saw positive results from that. We started growing a lot faster.
4. Can you give an example, pre revelation, where you started to shift?
Our most popular video down that route was our Drake video, “HOTLINE BLING WITHOUT MUSIC” — that video was super relevant, everyone was creating memes. That was our first viral video. It immediately went viral. Got posted on Cosmo, all these websites. That was one of the big “aha” moments for us. Creating shareable and relatable videos is what you need to do to grow. Most of our videos are things that are trending/shareable or that people can relate too.
5. After that, did you feel pressure to match that virality?
Yes and no. When Hotline Bling Without Music went viral for us, we were on top of the world and wanted to “keep that grind going.” It gave us a sign that we were doing something right and gave us hope to create more content.
6. What made you decide to pursue Facebook as a video platform?
We didn’t get on Facebook until April 2016. We were really late to the Facebook game. We did think about it but the reason we didn’t was because at the time you couldn’t make any money. There was no motivation for us to post our videos on there.
But in 2016 we weren’t growing as fast as we wanted to. It was nowhere near where we were hoping we’d be at. We thought, maybe it’s the platform we’re posting on. Why don’t we just start posting on Facebook and see what happens? That’s when we went back and forth, “We won’t make money on it. We don’t make that much off YouTube anyway, might as well.”
The first video where we started going consistently on Facebook was our Donald Trump and Mean Girls video; our most viral video ever on Facebook and YouTube. It went instantly viral on Facebook and has over 30 million views. Our millennial video may be more viral now.
Our videos were good but we had been posting on the wrong platform the whole time. That was another “aha” moment for us. That video had millions of views.
Our most viewed video on YouTube had one million. But why is it going viral on Facebook but not on YouTube? We looked at the comments and most weren’t talking about the video, people were just tagging their friends. You can’t tag your friends on YouTube. On Facebook, it’s as easy as typing @nick, @jasmine, etc.
We went to our backlog of videos and found those that had potential but didn’t do well on YouTube. One of the first was the video “IF SIRI WAS MEXICAN.” It had a couple thousand views on YouTube. We took that old video and uploaded on Facebook and it also went viral. When that one went viral, that’s when we knew for sure. “Oh, our content was good but the platform wasn’t getting the videos out there.”
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7. What type of content does well on YouTube vs. Facebook?
Relatable videos are king on Facebook because you can tag someone and tag @joe and say, “This is what we were talking about the other day.” You will never see a vlog on Facebook, the platform isn’t right for it. YouTube prioritizes long-form videos. The more watch time, the more likely YouTube will push the video to a person’s recommended videos.
8. What was the inspiration behind your original Facebook Watch Show, Mexican Survival Guide?
We sat down and thought what can we make a series on? The first idea we thought of was a relationships series. To do a show with developing characters and a plot would be too hard for weekly videos.
Eventually, we thought, why don’t we just make videos on what we’ve been making: Mexican content, Hispanic content, what we’ve grown up with. I’m half Hispanic, half Vietnamese, but my partner Ramon is full Hispanic. We came up with the idea and thought why don’t we make that into a series? It’s pretty much what we do — him teaching the guy who doesn’t know about Mexican culture. There’s a lot I do know about, but there’s also a lot I don’t know about.
9. You were recently invited to speak at Facebook HQ — can you tell us about that experience?
I was asked if I would be willing to speak on a panel to give feedback on how the Watch platform is going. When Facebook asks you to come speak on a panel, you come and speak on a panel and don’t think about it!
Most of the Q’s were technical questions. What do you think about this feature? What general feedback do you have? It was great because it showed that Facebook is genuinely interested in improving its platform. When we would give feedback, they would follow that up, “Maybe we could do this, what would you think if we did that?” They actually do value their creators.
10. What’s your experience with how social media platforms and networks treat influencers?
It’s super important that companies know the value of their creators. Overall, I think YouTube has done a great job with that, giving creators the tools they need to succeed. They have YouTube Space and you can use their cameras and computers for editing. YouTube has personal managers to help guide you and give you advice. They understood that they need us creators to survive.
At first, Facebook didn’t have that at all. You’re on your own. In the past year, Facebook has definitely stepped up. They have the Facebook Creator app which gives you more analytics. They’ve started to see that they need creators. Facebook also has a support inbox. If you have a question, you can go on there.
11. Take us through the process of making your show for Facebook Watch.
Before we started the show, we had a list of 30 different topics. A lot of research goes into the show. I have to make sure the facts we say in the video are correct. Since Mexican culture’s so huge, what we learned growing up might be different from what the actual truth is. What my mom told me, might be different from what everyone else’s mom says.
We’ll survey our friends, since most are Mexican, about what they grew up being taught. We’ll say, “This is what we were taught. So John, What did your mom teach you?” If he says the same thing as us, then we ask someone else. If they say the same thing it’s a consensus that our mom’s all taught us the same thing.
At the same time, if different things are said it’s not that we’re wrong, but that there are different variations of the story. I’ll go to Google and look up what people are saying on the internet. If most people are saying what he said, then when we create the script what he said will be the main thing the actor says. But then we’ll throw in our side of the story as a side tidbit.
The series is not only humorous but also educational. It’s really important we get these facts correct.
12. How does your merch line (Vezcos) support your content?
We knew we wanted to create a merch line that we knew about and related to. For creators, we want to wear something that our audience can relate to too. When creators create merch, it’s only relatable to their audience. It’s a slogan that they say in their videos or an item they always show in their videos. It’s cool, but it kind of restricts your merch to your audience.
We wanted to create merch that expands beyond your audience. We don’t want someone to buy the shirt because “I love The Crazy Gorilla!” Instead, “Yeah I like The Crazy Gorilla, but I also like the shirt.” Or it could be, “I just like the shirt; I don’t know who The Crazy Gorilla is but I saw the shirt online, and I liked it so I bought it.” We need to make sure it’s relatable and people like it.
Everyone loves Mexican food, everyone loves Mexican culture, and we know Mexican culture like the back of our hand. My cousin came up with the Elote idea—corn and mayo and stuff. We actually created the Elote shirt first, a couple months before Vezcos launched on a Teespring campaign. It did really good, we sold a lot of shirts.
We thought, people like this concept of a food item on a shirt. Let’s do more. We came up with the taco idea, the churro. The whole reason we created Vezcos different from The Crazy Gorilla was so they could work on their own.
We were going to use the name of a Mexican food or represented food, but then what if later down the line we wanted to expand past food? That’s when we made up the name, Vezcos. The made-up name allows us to do whatever.
13. What are struggles often not talked about around being a creator? What is the most rewarding part of being a creator?
From the outside, people that don’t know YouTubers, they think that YouTube is super easy. “It’s the best job in the world, you guys are so lucky you can just create videos and get rich off of it, get paid.”
No one realizes being a YouTuber is a 24/7 job. It’s not, you post a video and that’s it you’re done. You have to brainstorm, shoot, edit. Then even after all that, you upload the video, engage with your fans, share the video, make sure the videos doing good. It’s a constant process. They just see the money side, the side creators show on vlogs — I bought a new car or I’m on vacation. There’s way more to it. There’s a lot of hard work people don’t value.
Before we started blowing up on Facebook, 2014-2016, that was the lowest point where I wanted to quit. On YouTube you can’t take breaks; there are no vacations on Youtube. If you take a month off from creating videos you’re irrelevant, you’re off the map. You’re only as relevant as your last video.
You have to constantly push content. If you want to take a month-long vacation to Thailand, you better have a backlog of videos scheduled to upload on Sunday. And you better be engaging with those fans while you’re on your vacation. It’s a constant process.
When I was in college, we were creating videos the same time we were going to school full-time, I also had a job. We were going to school, working, and after that, we would spend our only free time creating videos, and we weren’t succeeding. We weren’t plateauing, we just weren’t growing fast at all. I definitely had thoughts like, “Why am I doing this? Maybe this isn’t what I’m cut out for. Maybe I just need to focus on school, go into the field I’m getting my degree in” (which was accounting).
What kept me going was the passion for it.
I’ve been doing it since 2011 and we barely started making money until this past year. Even if I had a full-time job right now making millions, I’d still be creating videos. That’s all I know in my life right now. Yeah we’re not big right now, but I enjoy doing it, why not just keep doing it. So we kept creating videos and eventually, the viral videos came along and that pumped up my morale again.
14. Are there ups and downs?
That comes down to your passion. Even at that point when I had my downs, overall I was still pretty positive. I thought I enjoy doing it, why don’t I just keep doing it?
15. What advice would you share towards those aspiring to make a show for Facebook Watch?
Prove yourself first, Facebook isn’t going to hit up any random videographer. I think they saw our past videos and thought, okay these guys are capable of creating a series, let’s give them a chance.
16. What are your thoughts on YouTube multi-channel networks (MCNs)?
Before we signed with Univision, we hated MCNs. When you’re a YouTuber you get approached every day by MCNs. We were super-scared of MCNs before Univision, of getting screwed over, we heard so many horror stories. They all say the same pitch.
Most networks have thousands of creators and we’re just another pea in the pod. Unless you’re a top 100 creator, they won’t care about you. Then when Univision launched, they had a limited number of creators and they signed a lot of our friends.
For some reason, many YouTubers put MCNs on a pedestal. Like, “Oh, I’m signed by so-and-so.” Well cool, what’s that doing for you? Nothing.
As Hispanic kids growing up, our mom watched Univision, our abuela [grandmother] watched Univision. That might have been a big reason why a lot of our YouTube friends signed with them. I think a lot of MCNs are now starting to realize you can’t work with 10,000 people and YouTubers are realizing they don’t need an MCN.
Our friends said they loved it, everything Univision did for them. So we were like, “Alright.” We were super cautious and eventually settled and signed with them. They were great our first year. They got us deals, especially the Facebook deal which was huge for us.
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This interview has been edited for clarity.