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  • 03.29.17

Inside The “Mythical” Minds And Digital Empire Of YouTube Pioneers Rhett & Link

Rhett and Link have been YouTube mainstays for just about as long as the site has been around–and they couldn’t be any more relevant today.

Inside The “Mythical” Minds And Digital Empire Of YouTube Pioneers Rhett & Link
Rhett and Link [Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company] [Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

For as long as Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal have been creating YouTube videos and for all the success they’ve had doing it, they still feel like they’re navigating uncharted territory.

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Since joining YouTube in 2006, Rhett and Link, whose friendship dates back to first grade in North Carolina, have launched three channels with a combined 16.7 million subscribers, a podcast, a YouTube Red original series, and their debut book hits shelves in fall 2017, all of which rolls under their company Mythical Entertainment operated by around 25 employees. They’ve meticulously crafted a digital empire that, coincidentally, is shoring up their brand against the volatility of the platform that created them.

“It still feels very much like the Wild West when you don’t know who’s going to come into town and be the new sheriff,” says Link. “Turns out, it’s some kid who’s playing with toys or it’s some dude unboxing stuff. We learned years ago to not judge anything.”

“We used to ask the question, ‘Why is this popular?’” Rhett adds. “But then you start to understand that if it’s popular, it must make sense to enough people.”

Rhett and Link [Photo: Celine Grouard for Fast Company]

YouTube’s rapidly expanding platform, with one billion hours consumed daily worldwide and around 400 hours of content uploaded per minute, has created a massive stage where there’s a saturation of creators all vying for those all-important views and subscribers. Rhett and Link are in the position of having built their loyal following over the course of 11 years and more than 1,900 videos. But it’s more than just sticking around long enough to gain traction. Rhett and Link have been steadily diversify their offerings to nearly a fault of arbitrariness that has made them one of YouTube’s most-subscribed creators.

Unlike most YouTubers who have clearly defined themes to their channels (gaming, beauty, food, etc.), Rhett and Link fall into a more nebulous area they’ve loosely coined as “internetainment.” They started out with relatively standard fare of skits and comedic songs, which eventually led to videos featuring food and physical challenges, science experiments, myth-busting, factoids, and more. Essentially, Rhett and Link have chiseled their portmanteau into the slightly more tangible branding of “mythicality.”

“The thing that brings it all together is this concept of a mythicality that we have brought some definition to in writing the book [Rhett & Link’s Book of Mythicality: A Field Guide to Curiosity, Creativity, and Tomfoolery]–it’s a combination of curiosity, creativity, and tomfoolery, and we want everything that we do to have that value,” says Rhett. And who else to judge said value than the people watching your content? As with many YouTubers, Rhett and Link have developed a devout community whose comments and feedback are routinely embedded in their creative and business decisions.

Rhett & Link’s Book of Mythicality: A Field Guide to Curiosity, Creativity, and Tomfoolery

“We listen to our artistic voice, we listen to each other, and we listen to our audience,” says Link. “It’s a discipline to comb through comments and find the collective wisdom of people who are impulsive, passive, sometimes negative, but there’s something there that you can always glean that can inform the next thing you do.” Adds Rhett: “That’s taught us not to get too excited about a new idea or a new project until it’s been in front of an audience. So we’ve got this idea. We think we know the Internet pretty well, we know our audience and we know what we like. We find the intersection of all those things, and we put it out there but we make sure that it’s purposely not completely formulated so it will be informed by them.”

By and large, a YouTuber is indeed only as successful as how engaged their audience is with their content. For Rhett and Link, listening to feedback is a priority, but it’s a priority that has to balance out, and sometimes weigh less, than what drives them creatively. With their mission of creating under the banner of mythicality, Rhett and Link are tapping into the frame of mind in which they started YouTube in the first place–a frame of mind that has, and will continue to be, the key to their longevity.

“There’s a constant threat of creating something that expresses what we think is funny and building on something that is working–when you do a daily show like Good Mythical Morning, it’s easy to get in a rut and just do the things that are going to perform,” Link says.

“So it’s something we keep in mind constantly,” Rhett continues. “Even though we do have a business with a team that supports us and we have a schedule that we stick to, we try to maintain the spirit of innovation and originality that characterized our content from the early days and translate that into every project that we’re doing so it doesn’t ever feel like it’s coming from a corporate place.”

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America" where he was the social media producer.

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