Mark Rober is the exception to nearly every rule when it comes to social media.
While many creators upload videos daily, Rober amassed 20M subscribers by only posting videos once per month. While most creators get a few years in the limelight, Rober has been at it for ten years. Perhaps most impressive of all: he did it while juggling jobs at NASA and Apple to make videos like the World’s Largest Jello Pool and World’s First Automatic Strike Bowling Ball.
This month, Rober teamed up with fellow YouTuber Mr.Beast on another audacious challenge: fundraise $30M to clean the oceans as part of their #TeamSeas campaign. It’s the sequel to their #TeamTrees campaign from 2019 which raised over $23 million dollars to plant 23 million trees across the world. So how does Rober do it?
How did he become a top YouTuber while having demanding jobs at blue chip companies? What are his tips to avoiding burnout? And how exactly is he planning to fundraise $30 million for #TeamSeas? I sat down with him at VidSummit to chat about these questions and here’s what I learned.
1) Embrace “The Super Mario Effect”
In 2018, Rober gave a TED talk after conducting a fascinating study on 50,000 of his followers. He split them up into two groups and had each complete a simple programming exercise. The first group was told they could try again if they failed. No repercussions. The second group, however, was told that they’d lost five points every time they failed the game. Of course, these points were completely meaningless. Or as a Rober put it: “no-value-in-the-real-world, no-one-will-ever-see-these, completely meaningless, fake internet points.”
Nonetheless, there was a shocking difference between the two groups. Namely, 16% more of the non-penalized group successfully completed the game – simply because there was no real “loss” associated with losing. Rober calls this “The Super Mario Effect.” He explained that “We don’t let losing at video games, like Super Mario, discourage us from playing again. Rather, we take the loss as a way of learning so we get closer to completing the level.”
“You get a bad grade on a test. You don’t get the promotion you wanted. And we immediately tell ourselves, ‘We’re not good enough. We’re losers.’ We internalize it. But you don’t do that for a video game,” Rober continued. “So don’t do that for your own life. Get back on your feet.”
This is how Rober views his career as a YouTuber. He told me, “I’’ll try to stack the dice in my favor, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean I always hit the ball out of the park. When I don’t, what can I learn from it? Boom. Okay. Let’s do it again. Let’s pivot. Let’s move on. Let’s figure it out.”
2) Create “Concreted Nuggets of Coolness”
For Rober, less is more. During our interview, I was stunned to hear how long he spends scripting every second of his videos.
“I will spend a half an hour getting five sentences down to like four and a quarter sentences. I try and state everything as succinctly and directly as possible,” Rober said. “TV is a lot more passive. You just watch. You’re on your couch. But with YouTube, you’re on your devices. Tons of options. I have to make it engaging the whole time.”
Rober has learned to do that to a tee. For his squirrel obstacle course video, he had to condense a year’s worth of footage down to 15 minutes. For his “liquid sand” hot tub video, Rober searched hundreds of patent drawings and made 25 prototypes to find a way to make the video.
“I think there’s something that comes from just laser-focusing on a thing,” Rober explained. “You don’t spread yourself thin. [Am I better off] if I split an idea into four videos that each gets a million views, or if I just put that in one video, that gets 20 million views? I just have these concentrated nuggets of coolness that I try to put out every month.”
3) Slow Down Your Treadmill
Many people preach the old adage “life is a marathon, not a sprint” but few actually follow it. Again, Rober is the exception. For him, life is more like a treadmill.
“You could go at a sprinting pace – do the book, do the podcast, launch the merch line, go on tour,” he said. “But what inevitably happens is that dopamine hit wears off, and you’re still sprinting on this treadmill.”
Rober doesn’t let himself burn out. He puts out a single video every month. But here’s the thing: slow doesn’t mean lazy. Rober works his rear end off making jaw-dropping, quality content. He spends months setting up his projects, going through iterations (for his elephant’s toothpaste video, he told me, “we scaled up from a desktop version to a 4-foot version to a 10-foot version so that we could do the 20-foot version. And each time we were learning more and more.” Mark Rober’s videos take a lot of work, but the end result pays off for it.
“I’ve been very protective of my treadmill speed and I’ve just kept it at a jogging pace,” Rober told me, completing his analogy. But slow doesn’t mean lazy. Rober says, “I just frickin’ laser-focus on my monthly videos, and I swing for the fences every month. And I just put all my effort into that.” Clearly, it pays off.
4) Create Characters To Tell More Powerful Stories
There are a lot of people who made videos about squirrels in their backyard before me,” Mark Rober told me. “But none of them named the squirrels like that.”
In one of his most popular videos, Rober created a “squirrel obstacle course” and presented the four squirrels who come to get the walnuts as “contenders.” It feels almost like a game-show. Rober gave each of the four squirrels a name and backstory so we can relate to them more: Rick, Marty, Frank, and Phat Gus.
“When you can buy into the character,” Rober says, “It just resonates with people so much more. And they’re so much more likely to share the video.”
5) Rally Your Community To Make An Even Bigger Impact
In 2019, MrBeast and Rober attempted the impossible by trying to raise $20M and plant 20M trees for their #TeamTrees initiative.
Impossible? Not for these guys. “We got billionaires who got into like a pissing match,” Rober explained to me. “The CEO of Shopify did a million bucks. Elon Musk, I think, like a million dollars…We got 23 million trees. We raised $23 million – which is bonkers in two months! It’s amazing, when everyone comes together, what can be done.”
But what’s remarkable is how many top YouTubers they got to help raise money and awareness for the cause. Everyone from The Try Guys to Destin Sandlin uploaded videos about #TeamTrees to reach their $20M goal. This month, Rober and MrBeast have taken it up a notch with #TeamSeas: an attempt to raise $30M to remove 30M pounds of trash from the ocean.
“Some of the challenges we face won’t be solved in our lifetime, but this is one that we can solve,” Rober said. “The Great Pacific garbage patch is big, but in 10 years, with the right funding, we can remove that out of the ocean. And this is something that, I think, everyone can agree on. We shouldn’t have plastic in the ocean.”
But even with this higher fundraising goal, Rober hasn’t burnt out. He hasn’t resorted to sprinting on his “creator treadmill.” Instead, he’s gotten better at rallying the creator community to help make an even bigger impact.
The coordination, attention-to-detail, and execution of the #TeamSeas campaign has been really impressive to see. After interviewing Rober, I was contacted by Matt Fitzgerald, #TeamSeas Campaign Director, who shared an organized list of talking points, video ideas, and a full package assets for myself and many other creators to use in our social videos. The results speak for themselves: in about a week, they’ve raised over $14M and videos from top creators such as Ryan Trahan, Game Theory, and Dental Dentist have amassed millions of views.
It goes to show how Rober has scaled his impact by leaning on his community. He admits that he never would’ve envision this all happening when he first started on YouTube ten years ago. “If that me [from ten years ago] could see me today doing this interview, I’d be like, ‘You’re crazy.’ But that’s just incrementally keeping that treadmill on jog.”
Mark Rober is proof that slow and steady really does win the race, especially when you have a community supporting you.
To watch the full interview with Mark, see here. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for weekly interviews with top creators & celebrities.