Hailed as “the best technology reviewer on the planet” by former Google SVP Vic Gundotra, 21-year-old Marques Brownlee (aka MKBHD) is a YouTube phenom who has amassed 2.3 million followers and whose channel has become one of the fastest-growing tech channels on the platform. The New Jersey–based web personality began uploading tech reviews six years ago while still in high school, and as his audience grew, so did his credibility. On his recent birthday, he test-drove the BMW i8 hybrid car at the company’s HQ, and he got his hands on the rumored, elusive iPhone 6 sapphire glass for a stress test–long before the public discovered that it was too expensive for Apple to manufacture. While the college student won’t disclose his advertising earnings, the statistics website Social Blade estimates that he makes, at minimum, $3,600 per month.
Fast Company: You’ve been known to get a few exclusives. How do those come about?
MB: Networks and companies now are looking at the viewer numbers, and are trying to get their products more eyes from a wider audience. Before, YouTube didn’t get taken that seriously, but you can’t really ignore it anymore. So in the past couple of years a lot of YouTubers have been getting products beforehand to share with their audiences.
What made you decide to start reviewing tech products?
When I was in high school, I was researching what type of laptop I should buy and watched all of these YouTube reviews. When I finally bought mine, I wanted to go back and add to that, so when other people find themselves in that situation, they have more to choose from to help them make a better decision.
How do you decide what you’re going to review next?
It’s usually what’s hot. There are tons of new phones that come out that I’m dying to take a look at, or new speakers or new headphones that are a sequel to something that I’ve already reviewed and people are curious about how my opinions may have changed.
Walk us through your process.
As I’m unboxing, I’m crafting the videos in my head. I’ll start a Google Keep document. I might notice, “This really squeaks when I twist it this way,” so I’ll write it down really quickly. When I’ve decided that I’ve used it long enough, I’ll put all the notes together into bullet points and just talk through it and get all of the shots–all the B-roll, the classic angles. Then it’s the editing work, the coloring, and it all comes together in the video.
So how long do you typically spend with a device before reviewing it?
With the iPhone 6 Plus, it was about a week. Some are longer because they have more features, or a new operating system. There are other things that are less about the experience and more about the function, like a camera. I might need only two or three days of shooting to decide whether I like it or not. My latest video was on a new pair of headphones, and it was literally just sitting down and listening. I edited a video with them, so I’m using them as reference monitors. I listened to some high-quality stuff. I’m putting them through the paces so that like five or six days later, I really know what they’re good for.
Have you been approached to take your reviews to TV?
Yeah, especially in the past year. TV is obviously a really different medium. It’s easier for me right now to just keep doing what I’m doing, to just keep offering my perspective.
Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?
By watching a lot of other stuff that other people make. Most recently, because I’m taking a motion graphics class, I’ve been interested in motion graphics work, because you have so little to work with but you can tell so much of a story with little animations and little shapes. That’s been inspiring lately.
What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?
How long it takes to make the videos. A lot of people look at a 5-minute video and assume that it took 5-10 minutes to make. They don’t really consider the thought process or any of the work that goes into production. I think that would surprise people the most. For instance, it could take me anywhere from 4-8 hours just shooting stuff.
What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?
Madeon. He’s a young artist who does music and he’s been on a roll lately bringing out some awesome music and graphics and new videos lately. So I’ve been loving that and following that. It’s inspiring stuff. He’s my age and makes really incredible music and I’m inspired by how detailed and impressive his work is.
Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?
My dad. He’s a hard worker and one of the most patient people I’ve ever met. I’m glad I met him.