YouTube fame is usually measured in hours, days, weeks, or perhaps months if it’s going very well. It doesn’t often extend much further, to years. So the nine-year success of comedians Rhett and Link, whose daily show “Good Mythical Morning” has 17.1 million subscribers, surprises even they themselves.
“When we first started, it was all so unknown,” says 43-year-old Rhett. “We were focused on, ‘How can we keep doing this and provide for our families?
“If you had told us about our current situation 15 years ago, I would have been glad and very relieved,” says Link, also 43. “It was scary. Would we have wanted more support? Absolutely. Would we have wanted someone to take an example from? Definitely.”
Rhett (aka Rhett James McLaughlin) and Link (aka Charles Lincoln Neal III) have already established themselves as grand old men of YouTube and as two of the platform’s most consistently profitable stars, having made Forbes’ list of highest earning youtubers. (They’ve made it every year since we started compiling the rankings in 2015, most recently coming in at No. 4 with $20 million last year.) Over the past few years, they’ve increasingly demonstrated a desire to think bigger than their variety show, and in 2019, they dipped into what remains virtually uncharted territory for YouTubers: MERCURY AND THE WAY. Their Mythical Entertainment, the parent company behind all their endeavors, spent $10 million to acquire SMOSH, a sketch comedy, improv and games channel on YouTube with 25.1 million subscribers.
As a next step, they’d like to become investors, and they set aside $5 million to create their big fund called Mythical Accelerator, using the money to buy ownership stakes in other social media stars’ businesses. “We’ve always been interested in building outside of ourselves, creating significant ventures, hopefully something similar to a studio with other people who have succeeded in creating fandom online,” Brian Flanagan said. He is chief operating officer of Mythical Entertainment, a position he previously held at Demarest Media, which produced such films as the 2016 Oscar-nominated “Hacksaw.” “We think we can invest and then provide people with great experience, advice and guidance on development,” he says. “They’ve built a great fandom, and their fandom is loyal and very active and growing.”
With Flanagan’s help, Rhett and Link aim to become something akin to venture capitalists hastily pouring money into the impact industry — the “creator economy,” if you want to call it that. This group already includes names like Andreessen Horowitz and Seven Seven Six Six Six, the new venture capital fund of Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. The attention paid to this area is markedly different than it was a few years ago, when Instagram and Facebook seemed to dominate social media and Influencers were considered unimportant cousins of Hollywood.
Rhett and Link have already made their first investment: in up-and-coming YouTuber Jarvis Johnson, taking a minority stake in the company he founded as an umbrella over various revenue streams. Additional terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Johnson, 29, is an example of the kind of stars Rhett and Link associate with financing. Above all, like Rhett and Link, Johnson is focused on advertisers (this makes a big difference: Almost all social media stars still get most of their income from ads appearing in their videos or from corporate sponsorships). “I make comedy videos,” he says. “Well, I hope they’re comedy videos.” He’s funny enough to get 1.6 million subscribers following his commentary on Internet culture and other YouTubers, a discussion about “what other people do and what other people talk about,” he says. His most popular video, which has racked up nearly 10 million views, criticizes a YouTube channel called “Five Minute Crafts,” which Johnson calls “ridiculous bait.”
“Whenever I see an inexpensive opportunity to make fun of something but still ask, ‘Hey, why does this exist?’ I find myself in that space,” Johnson says.
Before finding his own Internet fame, Johnson worked as a software engineer at Yelp and Patreon, which offers a simple subscription model for creators and more income. It was at Patreon that he first ran into Flanagan of Mythical Entertainment at a meeting-a fortuitous moment: Johnson wasn’t supposed to be there, and he had to ask a friend to bring him along. (“I was kind of sneaking into meetings I wasn’t supposed to attend,” he admits). At that point, Johnson was already thinking about starting his own YouTube channel, and he and Flanagan kept in touch. (“What I really appreciate about his work is that he has a very keen sense of humor about what’s good and what’s bad about Internet entertainment,” Flanagan says.) Discussions about the deal began late last year and took place mostly by phone and video chat; Johnson has yet to meet Rhett in person and has only met Link once.
In addition to his witticisms, Rhett and Link also liked Johnson’s interest in expanding his brand. In addition to his main YouTube page, he has added five more YouTube channels, a Twitch channel and a podcast he co-hosts with a friend, Sad Boyz. Basically, he plans to use Mythical’s money to hire a few employees to help with production. “For me, the goal of all this is to build a healthy, sustainable business for myself and my employees,” Johnson says.
Rhett and Link have certainly made their relationship enduring. They met in first grade at Buies Creek Elementary School in Harnett County, North Carolina, and then attended North Carolina State University together, where Rhett studied civil engineering and Link studied industrial engineering. For a time, Rhett worked at Black & Veatch, an engineering firm in Kansas City, and Link studied at IBM. In 2012, they got bored and decided to try their hand at YouTube, having earned a spot on the channel in previous years because of their enthusiasm for things like cooking challenges – one time they tried fish bait and another time they guessed where the product came from: Whole Foods or the dollar store. They have since expanded to several podcasts, a subscription fan club (from $5 a month) and a line of merchandise, including beard oil, Mythical-branded aprons and combs, among many other products.
The couple says they will use the Mythical Accelerator fund to invest in influencers on any social platform, not just YouTubers. But they are interested in having potential recipients of the investment showcase the reach of multiple sites — preferably including YouTube, which still offers creators the best way to make money through ad revenue-sharing agreements. They’re still considering how significant a creator’s audience and revenues have to be to merit an investment.
“We want to find other creators who want to walk the same bridges we walked, answer the same questions we did, build a team around them – and build a brand,” Rhett says.