Matt D'Avella is one of the most entertaining YouTubers I've found in a long time—seriously, I'm fanboying pretty hard right now. His videos are engaging and his storytelling is brilliant—he's also the director of the 2015 documentary film Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. I'm so stoked I was able to get him on the show!
In this episode, Matt starts at the beginning and unpacks how he was able to go from $97k in student loans to debt-free with a thriving YouTube channel. He explains how he found his voice in front of the camera, his process for creating videos with tons of views, and why he launched his new course platform, Slow Growth Academy.
Whether you're a YouTuber yourself or just want a peek behind the curtain at someone who's doing it really, really right, this one's for you. Let's kick it off!
Matt D'Avella a documentary filmmaker & YouTuber that explores how to live a good life. He is known for shooting and directing Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (2015).
What You'll Learn
- How Matt D'Avella built his freelance business out of college, paid off $97k in student debt, and made his first feature-length documentary
- The struggles Matt had to overcome as the on-camera subject of his YouTube channel
- How Matt found his voice and groove on YouTube and created his first million-view video
- What it takes to have great storytelling on a platform like YouTube
- How Matt “batches” some of his filmmaking to save time and create content faster
- The intentionality behind Matt's new course platform, Slow Growth Academy
- The principle of hedonic adaptation: why having more followers (on any platform) won't make you happier
- How Matt chooses topics that resonate with his audience
- The three most important parts of a compelling YouTube video, and how Matt thinks about each
Yo-ho, I cannot believe this interview happened.
I was able to nab one of the fastest growing YouTubers, one of the most loved YouTubers, and one of the most entertaining YouTubers I've found in a while. In fact, I've been completely obsessed with his videos. We're talking today with none other than Matt D'Avella. His videos are magic, they are so encapsulating, his storytelling is brilliant, and I wanted to bring him on the show, not just because we got to meet recently and he's awesome—and he really likes what I do, I love what he's doing, that's kind of how these things work, and here we are today—but more so because he's doing some amazing things within his brand, and I wanted to unpack his story as well, how he's got to this point, how this growth really happened, because he is as hardworking as many of us.
So, what was it about Matt D'Avella that helped him get to where he's at? So, make sure to pay attention to this show because he is going to bring all the goods, and even just remembering this interview after just makes me so happy, because again, not just the connection, but all the wisdom that he pours out, very honest, very authentic, he's just incredible. Matt D'Avella, you can find him on YouTube, you can also check out a recent thing that he launched: SlowGrowth.com. And we're going to talk about why that exists, why he's creating courses, how he's launching courses to his audience who has known for free content on YouTube, so many things and more today with Matt D'Avella, it's going to be awesome. Okay, I'm done fanboying, okay, here we go.
Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it's all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host—he's not so great at keeping houseplants alive—Pat Flynn.
Yo, what's up everybody, thank you so much for joining me in this episode of the Smart Passive Income Podcast, we're in 447. This is a big one, because we got a big, big person, YouTuber on the show, Matt D'Avella, to give us some inspiration. We're just going to dive right in, because he's got a lot of great things to say, and we don't need to listen to me anymore, let's get into it. Here we go.
Matt, welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, thanks for being here, my man.
Pat, so excited to be here.
I have so many questions to ask you, because in just the recent couple years, you've rose to YouTube stardom and fandom, and your videos are beautiful, I want to know how you do it all. But before that, I definitely want to ask you about your origin story, and kind of how did you get started: what was your first foray into content creation, like when did this all begin for you?
Yeah, it's a long story, so I'll try not to bore you with all the details, but I'll certainly do my best here. I mean, I've always been interested in filmmaking, it was the one thing that really, from my high school days I was really drawn to. It was the one subject that you didn't have to force me to do, I'd be like spending my lunchtime and my study hall hours working on videos, and so that just carried through from high school to college. I started really working on some freelance video projects early on in college, probably my sophomore to junior year I started picking up some really low paying freelance work.
I worked with some clothing brands, I worked with . . . I did a lot of weddings, and bar mitzvahs, local TV commercials. It really started small, and humbly, and I was making maybe $100 for a video that would take me 30 to 40 hours to edit, but I was just so stoked to be able to get paid to do something that I loved. So, I just ran with it, and it was like those early little feedback signs that somebody was willing to pay for my work, that I could potentially turn this into a career kept me going in the beginning.
So, I started to build my freelance business, I moved back home to live with my parents in 2010 right after college with $97,000 in student debt, and I knew . . . I was buried in debt, I had no money in my bank account, but I knew that I wanted to turn this into a full-time thing, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, and so moving back in with my parents kind of gave me the ability to say yes to the things that I really cared about. I started to just find more and more work that lined up with what I wanted to do, I worked with a lot of tech companies and startup companies, that was really exciting and fun. And then eventually I got to the point where I paid off a good amount of my debt and I was able to take one of the biggest risks and biggest leaps of my career to make my first feature-length documentary.
So, this was probably about six to eight years after I started freelancing, and after a lifetime of making videos, and sketch comedy videos, and all this stuff ever since high school, that I decided to drop everything, hit the road with these two guys, Josh and Ryan, who had a website called The Minimalists, and make a documentary about this thing that had impacted my life and changed my life so much, which was a movement and a lifestyle called minimalism. So, we went around the country interviewing people about their experiences downsizing their stuff, living with 100 items, or living with six family members, but trying to reduce the amount of stuff that they own in their house.
What ended up coming out of that was . . . and by the way, this is just me, and Josh, and Ryan, a really small, humble crew. We ended up putting together this film that we really cared about that really meant something to us and then we tried to get it sold. We tried to find a home for it online, and eventually through these many winding turns we were able to get it on Netflix, and then that was kind of a huge . .. I mean, not kind of, it was a huge moment for me it was . . . to have the film there, and then also to see it trend, and then to see people all over the world be impacted by the message of the film changed my perspective and my outlook.
At the time I had zero follower . . . maybe I had 200 followers on Twitter, it was mostly family and friends, but then that was like the moment where I was like, "Okay, making my own original films feels amazing." I was able to make an impact, and then I thought, "Can I then turn this into something where I can create any films that I want and reach and connect with an audience?" I think it was like minimalism got me to believe that it was possible, and then started the journey of the podcasting, YouTube, and all that stuff that I do today.
That's so cool. John and Ryan, in fact, have been here on the show before to talk about The Minimalists, I don't know when in this timeline this was, but I didn't even know that you were behind that documentary, which was so beautifully filmed, and very well done—congrats on the Netflix run. It's like, okay, you've had success there, why not more of that? Or was there something about that that was not exciting, and it made you want to go down the YouTube content creator route instead?
I think there's always been something about being a content creator and an entrepreneur that has excited me. I mean, I've always been a fan of Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, so many of these people inspired me early on, Chris Guillebeau, The Minimalists. And just seeing that, I've always been a guy to start a blog 100 times and then stop posting, and I think the reason why was that I wasn't necessarily passionate about writing, and so I didn't find my thing. I think it was finishing the film . . . I could've continued to make feature-length films and I would've been completely happy, but I saw the self-reliance of creating your own audience, because I think that if I continued down the path I was on I would've had to continue to partner up with other people who have a platform, and who have an audience.
So, what I saw was if I could create my own audience, and people who were really interested in the same things that I was—self-development, filmmaking, creativity, minimalism—then I would be able to create any films that I wanted to, I could create a feature film, and I would have an audience that was really excited and willing to pay for something like that. And so while I thought . . . I saw it as like a very risky short-term decision because I could've end up wasting two to three years of my life trying to build something that eventually turns into nothing, but in the long run I thought if it would work out the possibilities would be limitless, and I would have the self-reliance of creating my own audience that I would really be able to create whatever I wanted.
There's a big difference between working on somebody else's film—you're behind the camera, you're producing it—and then getting on camera yourself. Had that been something that you've always been naturally great at—because you just seem to have this amazing sort of relationship with the viewer on the end. Tell me about what it was like to get behind the . . . or, to get on the camera, in front of the camera for the first time and actually put yourself out there on—
Yeah, well first, with Minimalism, I mean, I think that I truly enjoy making films much more than I enjoy being on camera. I just enjoy the tactile experience of working with cameras, capturing a shot, and then pulling it in and editing it, and really trying to figure out how to weave together a story that really makes sense. There's so much problem solving in that, that I find fulfilling.
The being on camera was kind of one of those things where you have to do it if you want to be a YouTuber, in some regard, and now there's so many different people that do it in different ways. I love to point at Mango Street as some of my favorite YouTubers, because I feel like they inspired me a lot early on because their storytelling was so unique, and they are quite shy like I am.
So, a lot of people see the Casey Neistats, and they see the vlogging style, and that was very big on YouTube for a long time. And you could feel like you have to have this big personality, the Gary Vee personality, to be on camera. And I found that that wasn't really me. I mean, I certainly tried that, and you could painfully watch some of my early videos to see me be on camera trying to be Gary Vee, or try to be Casey Neistat, and I just struggled so much with that and I didn't enjoy it as much.
So, I started to continue to experiment, and tinker, and think, "Okay, well, how can I really enjoy this? How could I love this? How could I make better videos and better films on YouTube?" So, I started planning out my videos, I started to write a lot more, and shoot higher quality B-roll, and use more voiceovers to my advantage to help interweave these stories, and I think that's where you started to see my style of filmmaking.
Where I started to come into my own on YouTube was when I stopped trying to copy other people, and I started to say, "All right, let me lean on my strengths and what I do really well, and let me focus on that more, and also what I enjoy to do. Because I didn't really enjoy turning on the camera and trying to riff and try to come up with something great, because it was the final product to me wasn't as exciting, and the process wasn't as enjoyable.
How long after you started your YouTube channel being in front of the camera until you felt like you found your voice and your groove?
I think it's certainly a process, and it doesn't happen overnight, and you have to continue to experiment, and I still think to this day, I continue to experiment and not try to find myself just locked into one particular style. But when I really started to feel like things were clicking . . . Well, I'll tell you, I mean, in terms of at least the response, it was probably a year to a year and half of making YouTube videos.
Again, that sounds like a short period of time, but I was a filmmaker for eight years, 10 years before that, and so it really wasn't . . . even, I think, a year and a half is insane to be able to start to build the momentum that I did. But that was the first time I had a hit video, and it was a video called My Minimalist Apartment. In that video . . . I think it was from me seeing other people doing similar videos and getting lots of views, and just being like, "Oh, I could do that, but I could do it in my own way, in my own style, I could add humor." And so that's what I did, I cinematically shot beautiful shots of my apartment.
If you think about it at the time, most people that did apartment tour videos would just be like, "Hey, guys, welcome to my apartment," and then they would just vlog through it, or their wife or husband would hold the camera, and they would just walk through pointing at things in their apartment. I was like, "Well, if I was going to do this in my way . . . kind of like as I would shoot it for a client project, I set up the tripod, I set up some lights, and I just did some simple movements. I had me walking in making coffee in slow motion, and I started adding some self-deprecating humor, and some jokes, and things to kind of add levity to it, and then do a nice color grade.
The video was only three minutes long, but that video I released within a week had 20,000 views, and that was the first video that I released on my channel that broke 20,000, and then it kept going up and up, and eventually got over . . . my first video to hit a million views. I said, "Oh, this is what I need to do." So, that was like the wake up call like, "This is the style I need to lean into, I got to lean into the humor, the creativity, and the filmmaking, and that's what going to stand apart."
So, at that point, I hit the ground running, and I made a video . . . I think from that point I started making two videos a week, which is a lot for the amount of thought and planning and cinematography that goes into the videos I make. It wasn't sustainable, but it was like, "Oh, people are starting to find out who I am for the first time, and I'm starting to build that audience for the first time. I want them to get super familiar with me." And so my thinking at the time was, "I'll make two videos every week for the next couple months, and then eventually slow down to one video a week." So, that was kind of the beginnings of what my YouTube channel is now.
That was around the time when this first video came out that popped for you that I found you, and I really started to fall in love with the way that you share your content, and the way that you are yourself, and I think that's what's really inspiring about you for me, and in fact is . . . I am not a crazy personality like Gary Vee or Casey Neistat, yet through the way that you . . . and you've mentioned this keyword like five times already in the last two minutes: storytelling. The way that you interweave and tell these stories is so beautiful, it allows me to connect with you and see the real you.
We met for the first time not too long ago, and I already felt like we were friends, because of the way that you showed up in your videos in this way. And it's hard, especially for me as a creator myself on YouTube who's trying to teach stuff, it's like, well, there's all these styles of videos where it's like, "Five ways to do this," and it's literally just a list of five things, and then zoom in, zoom out, I'm on the left side, I'm on the right side. It's like there's only so much connection you can have with a person, and then your videos come out, and they're so stylized, and just the way you tell stories. I'd love to unpack your process for . . . or even have your definition of what makes a great story on a platform like YouTube?
Yeah, I think a lot of people when they talk about writing they say that it's more about rewriting than the actual initial writing that you do, and I think that's . . . if there's one thing that I probably do best with my videos, even though I don't blog and I lean into the filmmaking, I write a lot, and I plan a lot. My process has evolved from being kind of scrappy, and just running around just trying to piece shots together, and come up with the story while I'm shooting a video, to thinking about, "Okay, how do I want this video to go? How do I want to plan this out?"
Now, I have to say, it depends what kind of video I'm making. If I'm doing an experiment video like I woke up at 5:00 every day for 30 days, or I quit caffeine for 30 days, I try in those specific videos to do a little bit of both. So, I will vlog the experience to have just my natural reactions throughout to cut into it, and then I'll also take notes during that in terms of like how I'm feeling, what I'm going through, and then usually at the end of the 30 days I plan out . . . I'll kind of just write through my entire experience, and I will oftentimes plan, okay, where do I want to be speaking on camera . . .
A lot of times it's like in terms of the technical side of it, I'm doing these things because it's much easier for me to say a certain thing on camera than for me to show it visually. And that's a very practical way to look at it, but as a filmmaker, you're trying to tell that story, and piece together these puzzle pieces that are really difficult to sort through. So, if I'm talking about waking up at 5:00 a.m., it's very easy for me to just show a shot of me getting out of bed, and it makes sense, and it helps to tie that story together and push it forward. But if I'm talking about something that's a little bit abstract about my feelings about what I was going through, I'll probably want to talk about that experience, and share how I feel through that.
So, there's a lot of planning. In these days . . . so I'd say at the end of that 30-day experiment I'll then shoot all this really beautiful cinematic footage to help tie that story together. So, if it's about quitting caffeine, it's like it doesn't matter if it was on day one that I filmed this beautiful slow motion shot of me pouring coffee, I can use those shots throughout. So, that's one way where I'm like, "All right, the next two days I'm shooting nothing but B-roll that's going to really help to tie this story together." I mix that with my voiceover and my A-roll, and really do my best to tell the most compelling story I can using all these tools and resources that I have.
Like I said in beginning, it's really about the rewriting. So, I have an idea of what the video's going to feel like and sound like, and I have an idea of what jokes I think are going to be funny, but then once I'm editing it, and once I pull all this footage together and sit down and start to go through it, that's when I really find the story, and I find what's working and what's not, and I realize, "Oh, that joke is maybe offensive, or that joke just isn't funny. So, I shouldn't actually . . ." My wife, I ask her all the time, I'm like, "Am I crossing the line here?" and she almost always says, "No." She's always like, "Just go for it. Say something if you think it's going to be weird or a little bit edgy it's probably going to be worth it."
I rarely ever cross the line, I don't think. At least, I haven't gotten canceled yet—it's mostly just inappropriate potty humor. But I find that when I'm editing, that's when I really find whether it's good, and that's where your gut comes in and your experience comes in, and that's where it wasn't just the one year of YouTube, it was the eight to 10 years of telling stories through weddings and bar mitzvahs, and all this stuff where you can start to sense how somebody is going to interpret this, how they're going to watch this, and how they're going to feel as they watch it. I just get this . . . it's just like an internal clock where you're like, "Ugh, that's not right. That doesn't feel right," and so then I have to keep editing, and keep figuring out the right pieces to make it feel right for me.
How much do you plan ahead? Are you planning shot for shot ahead of time, and then how much do you kind of veer off of the original plan while filming?
Yeah, so again, it obviously depends upon which video I'm making. These days though I do plan out quite a bit in terms of shot for shot, or at least . . . So, I'll have like a shot list planned out, especially if I want to do it like really high quality, and a lot of times . . . this doesn't happen every time, again, every video that I make is just a little bit different, but if . . . I remember just recently I was really trying to step every single thing up, and a lot of times I'll just shoot with the natural light in the apartment and I'm not going to be fussy about it, but I planned out my shots by room.
So like, all right, I'm going to shoot . . . especially with this course that I just made where I was shooting . . . essentially making 18 videos at the same time, which was just an insane amount of work, and I had all this new footage that I wanted to shoot. So, it was a whole spreadsheet with about 150 to 200 shots, and I planned it out per room. So, it was like, "All right, I need all these shots in the bedroom of me waking up, and me taking clothes out of my dresser, and then I have all these shots in the bathroom, and then I have all these shots in my office, and then in the kitchen, in the living room."
And also it was super detailed. And this was also where some of the doc experience helps, like working on bigger production crews, I got to see how those shot lists were created that to then create it for a YouTube video, which I understand that most people don't go through this kind of effort for YouTube videos or for courses. But I went through, and then I was able to . . . because it's physically demanding work to . . . and it's also just me by myself.
So, I'm dragging around these lights and these cameras from room to room, but I don't want to have to . . . if I was shooting each video in this particular case, or I'm shooting 18 videos back to back, what a pain in the butt if I were to shoot it video to video, because then I'm dragging this light all around my apartment, these cameras all around my apartment, only to do it again. So, there are things like that that you can do to really batch how you create and how you shoot from a practical level that really help to tell the story and to actually get it done a lot quicker than you would have otherwise.
Cool, that makes sense. And I'm curious, because you had mentioned a few times that you go in and edit these videos afterwards—are you the one editing all your videos still?
Yeah, yeah. I played around with hiring another editor, and it wasn't quite working out. I think the one thing that's difficult about my videos is that they are so often found in the edit, and I think that in terms of where I've spent my time over the past 10 to 15 years, editing is the one place where I think I'm fastest, and that's where my skills are the best. So, I've certainly put in over 10,000 hours of editing, and for me, I can usually . . . I can edit a 10 minute YouTube video now in probably a day, where for a lot of other people, and especially . . . I think that's the one thing it's like, if I'm going to hire an editor or an entry level editor, it might take them two weeks to do that same thing, or a week, and it's not going to always be the same vision.
So, for me to be able to get my vision across, and what I want across, and to do it as quickly as I can I often have to do it myself. I've also found that scaling up and having a really big team, and having editors and all this other stuff takes some of the joy out of the process for me, and that was one thing that I had to learn when I gave up the editing. I realized, "Oh, I actually love the editing, it's one of my favorite things that I do." So, it's kind of like Wozniak, it's like he likes to code and program, and so why give up something that you love so that you can scale up and become a manager when that's not actually what you love doing?
That's really cool. I actually appreciate that, and it makes me feel even more connected to the videos, because I know that that edit was something you chose to do in that certain way, and I think that's really neat. That's not for everybody, obviously, and especially when it comes to time and where time should be spent, especially with people with families and kids, it's like you got to sacrifice sometimes, but I love that you just know that that's something you absolutely love to do, and kind of don't ever want to give that up. You have help elsewhere however, not editing, but you have a team at all.
Yeah, and so, I mean, this was one of the things where I initially started out not doing any kind of advertising on my YouTube channel, and stuck with Patreon as my primary source of income. I did that for probably about a year, year and a half, and then eventually I was just like, "I do want to start to do bigger, more ambitious projects, and that requires budget, it requires hiring people." And so that's when I really decided to make the jump and to start doing advertising, and to start bringing in brands and sponsors that really aligned with my values, things that I really enjoyed, and products that I really get a lot of value from. So, from that point on I was able then to start to hire people.
I mean, the one thing that I'm most proud of over the past five years is being able to hire my brother, who is my head of operations now. We just built a course platform called Slow Growth Academy, and that's really . . . it sounds like something super big, but it's super intimate, and right now it's just one course. We're going super intentional with it, and doing one or two courses every year about filmmaking, creativity, business, and all that fun stuff, self-development.
I hired my brother to help build that, so he programmed the whole site. Now he does customer support on that, and he handles everything else I throw at him. He does accounting, and like basically as you know, Pat, as an entrepreneur, business owner, you wear about 100 different hats, so Mark now wears about 50 of those hats for me, which is really nice, which allows me to really focus on the filmmaking, the creativity.
I have an assistant editor, Taiga, who . . . again, he does a lot of different things for me. He prepares and does a lot of the assistant editing on feature documentaries, and he also did the assistant editing on the most interesting course that we did, which basically took about 4,000 clips from my YouTube channel and just kind of sorted them creating favorites, and selects, and organizing them in a way that once it comes to me, I'm able to go through much quicker and find the exact clips I need to edit the videos.
That's really . . . I'm exciting for you and the course, congrats on that. I know that's been something you've been planning for a long time. As you know, I've been doing a lot of online courses, it's been absolutely huge for me, I know it's going to be huge for you as well. Might you be able to tell us where can we see it, if anybody's interested?
Yeah, and I do need to take you up, I know you said that you'd be happy to chat and kind of dive into this stuff separately, so I definitely want to take up on that, because I know that you have so much experience with that. Yeah, so we built . . . I mean, honestly, I have to give so much credit to my wife, Natalie. She's like the other part of the team that isn't an official part, but she's a brand strategist, and she's got her own business called Kimchi Creative. She is basically like . . . provides so much value that most people don't realize in terms of the stuff that I create, and so she's there through most big ideas. With this one, it was like for the longest time I wanted to create a habits course, and it was—the past three years I've been talking about it, and finally with Covid and everything, working from home, our wedding in Italy got canceled, and so many other travel plans got canceled, and we were like, "All right, well, what can we do with this time that would feel productive, that would feel like we're building something special for the future?"
So, instead of creating just one course and putting it on my personal website, she was like, "What if you create a platform that holds all of your courses?" And it's been done, lots of people have done this before, but we really wanted to try to make something special. So, the name was Slow Growth Academy. We were able to get the domain SlowGrowth.com, and we got the handle on Instagram @slowgrowth, both of them were . . . lots of negotiation, they were both taken, and I know that you know, this can be one of the most frustrating things as a creative to find the names that you want. And so when we were able to get the domain name and the Instagram handle we were like in heaven. We're like, "Oh, my God, this is perfect. We don't have to put any hyphens, or any underscores in our name."
So, that was super exciting, having a name that we believed in, a name that for a lot of people, people probably won't get it, like Slow Growth, it's like, "Oh, that sounds . . . why would I want slow growth? I want fast results," and that's kind of the messages that we often get, that things happen overnight. And as you know, that's certainly not the case. It takes a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to really build something special. So, the idea was, pace yourself, go towards the path of slow growth instead of burnout, and that's kind of the message that's backed behind it.
What's been great is, having just launched the course recently, we're starting to see people take it, and they're saying, "Hey, I'm really inspired to pace myself with this course where normally I'd pick up a book, or I'd pick up a course, and I feel like I want to binge it and just fly through it as quick as I can." People are saying, "All right, I'm going to spread this out over the course of 30 days and take my time with it to help it keep me accountable as, in this particular case, build a habit." So, I think that has been a really cool experience, to see people really taking that to heart as they begin to even take the course.
I love that, I love the idea, and now that I know kind of what's behind Slow Growth, it almost reminds me of James Clear's book, Atomic Habits, like the one percent incremental improvements every single day that can stack up. As you know, an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and it takes a little bit of slow start and some high leverage, and then once it gets going things can start to speed up after that, which I'm sure will happen for a lot of your students, too. So, SlowGrowth.com, awesome.
Now that you've experienced, and continue to experience, quite honestly, massive success on YouTube with millions of subscribers, and tons of comments, engagement, and recognition on all these different platforms: what has it been like for you? I'm just curious to get inside your head about how you are experiencing and dealing with the success, because oftentimes it can derail people, especially if it comes so suddenly, but how are you managing it, what are your thoughts? You're successful; how are you feeling about it?
Can I get that in a quote? I'm going to frame that, Pat Flynn says, "Matt D'Avella is successful." It feels good to hear that coming from you. I think that I was lucky in that I found success slowly over time. I mean, at 30 years old was when I started to gain followers and recognition for my films and YouTube videos, and so I think I was pretty levelheaded at that point. I think having embraced minimalism at such a young age got me to figure out my priorities and what I really care about in life, and where I want to spend my time and energy.
I knew that now that I'm making more money, and I have more followers, I'm not running out and buying a nicer apartment, nicer house, bigger car, whatever. I have almost all the same stuff I used to have. The only thing that I really invest in now that I have more money is camera gear. And even then I'm like hyper aware of every purchase make, and I'm like, "Am I really sure I'm going to get value from this thing?" So, that certainly helps because, one, it allows me to put that money where I can make a greater impact. One, through donating, two, through hiring people, helping my family, bringing my brother on board. That is one of the biggest benefits to making money that I could possibly ask for.
And then the other thing that I would say for anybody who's kind of thinking about going down this road, or who wants to build an audience of their own, and think that that's going to make them happy, it certainly won't. I mean, there's no . . . sometimes you look at somebody who has a big following online, you see three million subscribers, or two million followers on Instagram, and you think that . . . for whatever reason you see that number on a screen and you think that your feeling about them changes, but your feeling inside never changes based upon the number of followers you have, or the number of zeros in your bank account. So, I think knowing that having more followers or more money after your basic needs obviously when it comes to money, is not going to make you happier.
I think it also deserves saying that there will be times when you kind of have to remind yourself of that. So, hedonic adaptation is real, the idea that as you get something new you feel really great about it for a little bit. Whether it's a new car or a new house, there's that new exciting feeling of having this thing, and then—the same thing with gaining followers online, it's really exciting in the beginning, but then eventually that plateaus and it becomes a new normal. It's kind of bizarre to think that at one point in time I would've been blown away to have 10,000 views on a video, and now if a video doesn't get 300,000 views in X amount of time, then all of a sudden I'm like, "Ugh, I screwed that one up. Or, I guess my favorability's going down, people don't like my videos anymore."
You just have to check yourself and say, "Dude, this is amazing." At one point in time I couldn't have dreamed of this kind of response and these kind of views on my videos. So, I think that it's a constant practice to be grateful for what you have and to not show up for the views, but to show up because you love what you do, and you love the videos that you make, or you love the art that you're creating. I think that's the one thing that I've learned throughout this whole process.
You do anything in particular to practice that gratefulness? Anything sort of regular that maybe we could pull inspiration from?
I journal from time to time, especially . . . I'm not somebody who likes having a journal in practice of every day. I have experimented with that in the past, but I find that whenever I'm starting to feel doubt creep in, whenever I feel like I'm getting pulled in that direction of comparison, or of looking at numbers and metrics, and, "Oh, this person has more views than me, or this person has more subscribers than me," I just kind of journal and I let those thoughts become real, put them on the page, and so then that way I'm not becoming delusional about it, I'm not lying to myself in my head. I think when I acknowledge those feelings, I can start to let them go. So, I think having a journaling practice like that, whether it's daily, or once a month, or once a quarter, can certainly help you to reprioritize and get those thoughts out of your head.
Thanks for that, Matt. A couple more questions to finish up here about your creative process, if that's cool. I want to know: how do you choose what to create videos about? You could create a story about anything; what gets you excited, and how do you choose what to create a story about, and then share with us on YouTube?
So, I like to think that my passion really is filmmaking, and so everything channels through that. And then when it comes to the topics that I talk about on my channel, I focus on my interests, the things that are exciting to me, the things that I think will be fun. I've done a lot of experiment videos in the past. So, just trying different aspects of self-development that I think that maybe I had been neglecting or putting off, or that I think might help me, sometimes it comes from a selfish angle. It oftentimes does where it's like, "Well, if I'm interested in this, I'm sure other people will be interested in it as well." And then I just like to add variety to it, and so you won't see me make a video about minimalism for five videos in a row, or a video about waking up early five days in a row. So, I try to stagger them and vary them.
I try not to . . . For one, I never make the same video twice. There are oftentimes where there's themes, and topics, and ideas, and whatever—that stuff is always going to repeat itself in some way or another. I like to think of creativity as looking at the same thing in a different way. And so I can continue to revisit these ideas like self-development, or waking up early, or building a morning routine, but I can have a new creative spin on it, a new way of coming about it. So, I like to add some variety, which helps my audience, but also just helps me, because if I just had to make five videos back to back about the same thing I might get bored. So, it's like: what do I think that's interesting?
There's obviously, especially now with Covid, there's certain constraints that we have where I can't go running around outside shooting all this . . . I had a couple big ideas planned that I thought were going to be exciting and fun, but now I just can't do them. I know my friends at Yes Theory are under the same constraints, so every video that they put out was like these epic, big travel videos, and now they're so severely restricted in terms of what they can do, they've got to apply that creativity to figure out, "Okay, how does Yes Theory look like now that we're not running around the world?" So, I think that's a big thing to think about.
I have a very selfish question to ask you. Myself as a YouTube creator, I've been struggling a little bit with, because I have so much variety on my channel—it's interesting that you mention that to be the thing that people actually enjoy, because my struggle is people will come and they'll subscribe because they're learning about how to start a podcast, cool, they subscribe. My next video's about creating an online course, but they didn't actually want to do that, or another video about how to create awesome PowerPoint presentations, and then another one about going live for 165 days straight. It's just such a mix of things. How have you been able to have every person essentially drool every time they see that notification come in, and there's a new Matt D'Avella video, despite you talking about all those different topics. What is that people, do you feel, are continuously coming back for?
For one, I will say that I do know that there is still some constraint on what I can talk about, and I think I will start to open that up a little bit in the future, but if I came out with a video about how to build a course, or how to start a podcast, I can guarantee that those videos would plateau in terms of views, and they just wouldn't reach . . . at least maybe that's an assumption that's wrong about me, but at least my experience in the last three years, I have a pretty good idea of what my audience is looking for in terms of self-development and those aspects. So, if I lean into creativity, or if I lean into business, or finding a job, or whatever it is, I will probably see those views go down.
So, I think I have a pretty good intuition there, but I'm still kind of constrained at least a little bit in terms of the topics that I talk about. That is if all I cared about was views, and so that would also go to your point as well. So, it depends on what your goal is. If your goal is just to get as many views as you can on each video, or to kind of retain that over time, then you may have to figure out, narrowing in on the specific category that most resonates across the board.
I also find that . . . I mean, for YouTube, getting views or getting attention is obviously really important. I don't spend most of my time on that. The three areas, if you're trying to get more views and more traffic on your videos, the first is the title, the second is the thumbnail, and the third is the actual content itself.
So, for the titles, I go through so many different title options, like 15 or 20 titles per video. Sometimes it comes to me right away. A lot of times I won't start a video until I have at least a decent idea of what the video's going to be titled. It's kind of like the elevator pitch: you wouldn't start a business, or pitch a business to somebody without figuring out how to tell it in a really concise amount of time and space. So, if I'm going to spend 40 hours working on a video, I want to at least have an idea of what the title is going to be, that's going to be interesting and compelling.
The thumbnail for me, I try to tell stories in my thumbnails, which is not something that everybody does, but I think it you look at a lot of the filmmaker YouTubers, they tend to do this well. Even a lot of my self-development guys in the community do this as well, but where you're thinking about, "All right, let me take a specific photo just for this video." Maybe it consolidates a bunch of things, like my morning routine. All right, it's me in bed, I've got a food platter next to me, and a cup of coffee in my hand. It's not a scene from the video, but it consolidates all these ideas to tell a story in a image that's super high quality, that's raw, that I can color grade, and crop, and do everything I need to, to make it compelling to see.
Those two things are going to be the most effective in terms of getting people to click, and then obviously though, if you want to build . . . that's like the short-term. The long-term is that people watch the video, they love it, they subscribe, and then they watch every other video that you come out with. So, this is the one that most people overlook, but it's really paying attention, and really working on the craft of filmmaking, and storytelling, and getting as good as you possibly can at that. And then that's how you end up getting long-term results, is just focusing on creating really great quality content.
Thank you, Matt, that's super helpful. Finally, what are your goals? You had mentioned it's not really for the views, I know it's not about the number of subscribers, although that's a nice metric to continually gain, why do you do what you do?
I've been fortunate to be in a position over the past few years where I could ask those questions. I think after I finished Minimalism, I was able to make my initial investment of money back, and then also it created a runway for me, like however much expenses paid for the next year or so where I could really pause, take a step back and say, "All right, well, what do I want to do with my life now?" I was really lucky that I was like, "Oh, actually, I still want to keep making films, because I really love doing this." So, that's why I do it, because I love filmmaking.
I think the one thing that I want to continue to do is build and create videos and a platform at my own pace. So I, like everybody else, have been caught up in that hustle mindset, and overworking yourself, and pushing myself too hard at times, and putting too much on my plate for some reason. Dude, I always happen to get into this where I'm like, "All right, I'm going to take it nice and slow.", and then all of a sudden I'm working on a feature documentary, building a course platform, and trying to create YouTube videos at the same time, which actually just happened over the past couple months.
And then you go through those experiences, and you're like, "No, this is too much. I've seen that boundary. I've seen where that line is. I don't want to go across it again." So, in the future, I'm going to continue at my own pace, and so I'm not going to say, "All right, I need to make a video every single week." I'm going to make a video as often as I'm happy to make them, and enjoy the process of making them. If I find myself working too late, or feeling stressed out, I have to realize, and everybody who creates in this way online needs to realize that you make those decisions. You're the one that has to say . . . you are your own boss. So, again, just taking my own medicine, slowing down, pacing myself, and just enjoying the ride is what I'm planning on doing form here on out.
Matt, thank you for that, and we appreciate all the work that you put into what it is that you do. Slow Growth Academy, Matt D'Avella on YouTube. Might there be any place else that you'd like to point people toward?
No, I think that's it. I think if you're not familiar with my videos, that's probably the first place to go check out, watch a couple of them. I do my best, I don't hold anything back on YouTube in terms of what I create, and I'm super proud of what I've been able to build over there.
Thank you. And any clues as to other videos you may be working on right now that we could look forward to? This will come out in November, so they might be out already by the time this goes live, but can you give us any clues or hints?
Last year I did 11 30-day experiments, and I'm starting to think of new experiments to do this year that are more in alignment with our lockdown isolation. One specifically that I do plan on doing is giving up my phone for an extended period of time. Just realizing that the phone was designed to go with you when you leave the house, and yet now we're at home on our phones for two, three hours a day. So, I'm certainly . . . I mean, those kind of things I do for myself, but I also think other people can gain something from them as well.
I think specifically for your audience, I'm also going to be doing courses on creativity and filmmaking itself. So, I'm excited to delve into those, because it's something that, again, we talked about, it's not necessarily something that the core of my audience resonates with on YouTube, but I know that there is a lot of creators out there. For me to be able to break down my process, and what I do, and how I make my videos, and how I write for them is something that I'm excited in terms of as a creative myself, just diving into that, because I love geeking out, and one of the reasons why I wanted to do this podcast just was because I love talking about that stuff.
Well, thank you for your time today on the podcast, and can't wait to dive into more of your filmmaking, and just, Matt, keep doing what you're doing. We appreciate you, I'm a big fan. We'll chat soon.
Thanks, brother, that means a lot. Appreciate it.
All right, I hope you enjoyed that episode with Matt D'Avella. Again, all the links and stuff are going to be on the show notes page at SmartPassiveIncome.com/session447, once again, SmartPassiveIncome.com/session447. There you can get the links to everything we talked about, including his amazing YouTube channel, his courses at Slow Growth Academy, and just, Matt, thank you so much for coming on today, I appreciate you, thank you so, so much for the inspiration, and thank you all for listening, and inspiring me to continue to expand outside of my own comfort zone, and reach out to people who I wouldn't have normally thought I would've been able to get access to as well.
I'm right in this with you, I appreciate you so much for the support, and I look forward to serving you in next week's episode as well. Make sure you hit subscribe if you haven't already, and if you'd like to check out my YouTube channel, it's not quite as big as Matt's but hopefully just as great, you can check it out at YouTube.com/patflynn, and I look forward to serving you there, too. So, anyway, thanks so much, I appreciate you, and as always, Team Flynn for the win. Peace out.
Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at www.SmartPassiveIncome.com.
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