More than 12 million people follow Casey Neistat on YouTube. His unique film-making style has inspired a whole generation of content creators. His thriving media company also creates engaging videos for brands.
But it was not always that way. In many ways, Casey is an unlikely success story, according to Guy Raz's feature of the celebrity and entrepreneur on NPR’s How I Built This.
As a young man, Casey was often told he was a loser. He dropped out of high school at 16. Just a year later, he had his first child. For a while, he washed dishes in a restaurant to make a living. His young family lived in a trailer.
Is Casey Neistat just lucky?
To come from his beginnings to arrive to where he is now, you could think Casey is just one lucky guy. In fact, he thinks that himself. He tells Guy that over 90% of his success is because of luck.
Ramon Ray disagrees.
“I credit persistence and a can-do attitude for much of it,” he says. “Opportunity is all around us, but it's how we take advantage of that opportunity that helps us succeed.”
In fact, entrepreneurs can learn several lessons from Casey’s journey.
Saying yes to everything
Casey Neistat is the embodiment of saying yes to everything. He is excited about every opportunity. He then leverages these it into something else.
Take for example how he and his brother Van got their start. As an artist assistant in New York, he was introduced to an art collector who wanted to make a birthday video for his husband. For that video, Casey and Van had to interview prominent people, including Bill Clinton.
For their first commissioned video, Casey and his brother interviewed a former president. And they got him to go along with a joke they wrote.
From that birthday video, they gained a reputation in New York. They built a business that catered to art galleries and other clients.
Pursue what you want to do
The breakthrough came when Casey Neistat realized he could effectively tell stories that people wanted to know.
His first viral hit was a video about his broken iPod. Apple wouldn’t replace the battery, so he made a film out of it. Casey hustled to get the video attention. In a matter of days, it racked up millions of views at a time when there was no YouTube.
From the notoriety, Casey and his brother got more interesting projects. But even if things weren’t interesting, they still go ahead.
Casey says that he and his brother never said no to anything that involved showing up with a camera. Opportunity is all over the place, so just say yes.
By working on things that came his way, Casey got closer to doing what he wanted to do. He always knew he crafts stories that people want to see. While he was not afraid to work on other stuff, he never lost sight of what he wanted to do. He always pursued what he wanted from life.
Be confident in who you are
One thing that also stands out from the stories Casey Neistat tells is that he’s been so sure of himself, even from the get-go.
When his life was completely changed because his first son, he kept telling himself that life can only get better.
After September 11 happened while he was settling in New York, he stuck to his plan and kept making videos.
Faced with prominent people in unfamiliar projects, he maintained his composure and made the videos he was supposed to make.
He tells Guy that he and his brother never really thought they were amateurs. They were world-class filmmakers. The world just didn’t know them yet. He called himself a filmmaker even before the world called him that.
Fast forward, the work the brothers did got them introduced to people like Andy Spade and Kate Spade. These connections eventually resulted in the brothers being financed by Tom Scott of Nantucket Nectars.
The videos they made while they were financed by Tom included The Neistat Brothers, which was picked up by HBO.
Consequently, all the years of making videos prepared Casey. He was prepared to build a massive following on YouTube. He was prepared to build a successful media company.
Lessons from Casey Neistat
Casey's journey shows us three things to prepare for your viral moment.
- Say yes to everything. All the work you do will prepare you for what you want to do. They will also lead to connections that will help get you where you want to be.
- Pursue what you want to do. Even if you’re a bit sidelined, never lose sight of your end goal and always move toward it.
- Be confident in who you are. If you don’t believe in who you are, why would others believe in your ability and what you can offer to the world?
“We small business owners can wait to be picked, wait to be chosen or we can just go out and build whatever it is we're building and get stuff done,” Ramon says.
“You can't build a thriving business or get a solid book of customers on day one. No. You've got to build steadily towards it.”