YouTubers have taken notice of the young man: Brownlee’s YouTube channel “MKBHD” has more than 1.5 million subscribers and nearly 130 million total views on his 640-plus videos.
Still, he’s no overnight success: Brownlee has been working tirelessly for more than five years, honing his craft by constantly producing and self-critiquing his videos to make the next ones easier to both make and watch.
But despite all of the work involved, “MKBHD” is, was, and will always be a solo effort.
“When I first started making the videos, I didn’t tell anyone about it,” he said in an interview with Business Insider. “Not [my family], not anyone. But after a while it was something that was pretty obvious, since I was making a whole bunch of videos … I just didn’t necessarily feel like telling people about what I was researching.”
Brownlee, a senior at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, said he always had a love for technology. His dad works in technology — information systems and programming, specifically — but Brownlee’s interests were more centered on consumer electronics, starting with computers and some of the old camcorders his parents had around. He said his first computer was a Dell desktop with a “big old 15-inch CRT monitor.”
“It was kind of a background hobby; I didn’t have a reason to tell anyone when I first started making the videos,” he said.
When he entered high school, Brownlee said, he wanted to buy a laptop for school, so he researched various computers and watched tutorials on “how to do cool tricks and customizations.” And simply by watching others’ tutorials, Brownlee felt encouraged to make some tutorials of his own with some simple screencasting software.
Still, it would take a while to build an audience.
“It was super slow. The first few videos, there were no comments and no views,” he told BI. “But eventually, once someone would comment on the video, they asked about other things I could share.”
Brownlee started to gain a small following by answering users’ questions with his own handmade videos. By the time he reached his 100th video, he had only 78 subscribers. But Brownlee’s operation was not what it is today, and still very much a work in progress.
“Back then, it was all one take,” he said. “So when I’d make a video, I’d open the software, press record, talk two or three minutes to explain whatever I needed to explain, and I’d just stop and upload it to YouTube. That was it.
“I could make multiple videos in a day, but now, the videos are much more elaborate.”
Brownlee currently produces several different types of videos. He’s got his reviews, explainers, and impressions, but he’ll also throw in some special features and “advanced projects.” But with every video, a great deal of research is involved before Brownlee ever starts filming.