From U.S. Olympian to "The MrBeast of Fitness"

Nick Symmonds on reinvesting for growth, big checks from Facebook, and being more accessible than MrBeast

The Creator: Nick Symmonds

We are YouTubers!

That mantra is posted in the front room of Nick Symmonds’ production studio, lest anyone on his team - most of all, him - forget.

It’s not an impossibility. After all, Nick is a 7x NCAA track champion and 2x US Olympian, as well as the founder of athletic performance chewing gum brand, Run Gum. He could be forgiven for adding a few commas to his identity statement.

These days, though, he’s better known for being “the MrBeast of Fitness”. His YouTube channel’s tagline is “It pays to be fit!”, and he leverages big-dollar prizes to inspire and chronicle everyday peoples’ feats of fitness.

Nick didn’t go straight from the track to the screen. First, he founded Run Gum, a D2C chewing gum brand designed to enhance athletic performance. He needed a way to leverage his fame as an Olympian, so he became a creator to drive traffic to Run Gum. Eventually, he replaced himself as CEO and went full-time as a Creator.

Nick’s business is robust, and his approach, disciplined. There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get into it!

Thanks to Chas Lacaillade and Bottle Rocket Management for the introduction to Nick! Chas is one of the best managers in the Creator space; my favorite truism of his is:

The best business is repeat business.

Chas Lacaillade

The Business

There’s a million ways to make money doing this.

Nick Symmonds

Breakdown

Links

Observations

Nick’s mantra - “We Are YouTubers!” - is an appropriate one given how much of his revenue YouTube is responsible for. It drives all of his most meaningful revenue sources.

Meanwhile, his 2nd largest source of audience, TikTok, is effectively worthless to him. I was a little surprised by this, given how other Creators seem to get meaningful brand business against their TikTok audience, but he has a strong point of view on it.

I could see us doing brand deals on TikTok eventually, but even with a million followers on TikTok, those brand deals are going to be a small fraction of what we could get on YouTube. A million subscribers on YouTube is worth a thousand times what a million subscribers on TikTok is worth, literally. I mean, I really believe that. It’s unbelievable.

Chas, Nick’s manager and founder of Bottle Rocket Management, is outspoken about how much more valuable YouTube is for Creator x brand partnerships than any other platform. Given how brands seem to be prioritizing Nick’s YouTube over his other channels, he seems to be on to something.

Chas will tell you the money's in YouTube, right? You know, that's what we are - we are YouTubers first and foremost, and everything else is a small advertisement for YouTube.

As for TikTok’s Creator Fund and revshare…

I'm appalled at how poorly TikTok pays.

Enough said.

Instagram is also losing ground in his business, which is even more surprising to me.

Instagram is 4%-5%, but it used to be 50% and then for some reason, brands just stopped doing Instagram deals with me. I don't know if that's a macroscopic trend or if that's just my channel.

I know Instagrammers with millions of followers, and they're doing great - like they're making a ton of money. Maybe it's just that brands see how focused I am on YouTube.

I suspect Nick is right - a meaningful YouTube audience is so powerful that brands would much rather make offers on YouTube content partnerships than other platforms - even Instagram, which is interesting since it’s generally considered to be the best influencer marketing platform.

Nick has other frustrations with Instagram, though:

One thing I'll say, and I hear this from creators a lot, is Instagram as a platform has just been so frustrating because it seems as though Instagram doesn't know who or what they want to be. Like when the CEO came out and said:

“We're no longer a photo sharing platform, we're a video sharing platform!”

You know some people threw up their arms.

I said “Great!”

I'm a video content creator. That's great for us, and yet, as I began to make that shift, we didn't see a ton of traction like you see on YouTube. I feel like YouTube genuinely wants to build me an audience, and I feel like Instagram wants me to feed my base but doesn't want to help me build it organically.

So we're trying our best to to give Instagram what they want, but they don't really tell us what they want, if that makes sense. YouTube's obvious, I know exactly what YouTube wants - if I go into my Creator dashboard I can see: CTR, engagement, average watch time…the amount of data that YouTube gives me to be a great Creator helps me give them exactly what they want.

I get jack-squat from Instagram, in terms of what they want me to be as a Creator.

While Nick isn’t seeing much value out of one of Meta’s businesses, another - Facebook - is yielding a ton of revenue.

Facebook checks are sometimes bigger than our YouTube checks, and we're splitting that 50/50 with Wild Vision. That's that's a big check! These are big checks that Facebook is writing, but I don't know why they haven't taken that same policy and transferred it over to Instagram yet.

Me neither, Nick. Me neither.

One big growth opportunity Nick sees is in his merch business. While it only accounted for 1.5% of 2022 revenue, he expects that to increase dramatically in 2023 thanks to a new partnership with Invisible Narratives.

Merch for us has been a big play this year, we just partnered with Invisible Narratives, and they're gonna run our merch store way better - way better merch, way better experience for the customer. That’ll launch in about three months, and I could see merch next year being 10% of gross.

Nick’s membership app isn’t a big driver of the business, and it doesn’t seem like it’s likely to become one - but he loves it anyway, because it’s a community of his biggest fans.

The premium, the most personalized content is behind this paywall. It also allows me to do some of my challenges digitally. I’ve got about three hundred people paying $15 a month.

One of the perks is they get to 1:1 DM with me any time, 24/7. I respond to them within 24 hours, so there is a certain superfan cohort of that 300 that just want to be like:

“Hey Nick, here's a video of me sprinting, can you give me some critiques or coaching?” and then some of it's people who just want to be part of the challenges, other people who just want access to behind the scenes stuff that we post there.

…I love these kids, I love answering their questions, I really love coaching. I'm helping them deal with pre-race nerves, or get a new bench press personal best…I mean, I'm here for that. I got lots of time for that. I don't find that I get spammed a lot. It's a pretty good, cool group of kids.

He genuinely wants to spend time with his fans, and he believes this is one of his biggest competitive advantages - even against the megacreator he is often compared to.

Maybe I'm not MrBeast, but good luck tracking MrBeast down. I tell you where I'm going to be every single day, I'm like “Hey guys, I'm going to be here at this time.”

If you want to come hang out with me, come lift with me, or come run with me, I post where I'm going to do my workouts. If you want to just come join me…there's not a lot of content creators with a million subscribers that genuinely want to spend time with their subscribers in person.

We’ll talk more about Wild Vision, Invisible Narratives, Bottle Rocket Management, and Nick’s other partners in The Stack - subscribe now for free trial access.

For anyone to really take full advantage of the audience that they have, they have to create a business that can be acquired right? And every single day I'm telling myself “Nick, you need to build something that can be acquired.”

If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, I couldn't be the onscreen talent. This revenue is going to fall off a cliff real fast, and there's nothing that I can really sell except maybe my back catalog - but a company that can be acquired like Run Gum….

One of my favorite creators is Nick Bare, and his company Bare Performance Nutrition is worth tens of millions of dollars, and was built by his content.

In the Creator Economy, we talk a lot about “Creator brands” - specifically, how Creators who build a passionate audience can leverage that potential customer base to launch the next generation of consumer brand.

Nick went in the opposite direction. He actually launched a brand - Run Gum, a high-performance chewing gum for athletes - after retiring from running, and then became a Creator to help promote it.

While unconventional, his path worked:

I was the number one source of traffic to rungum.com for 5 years.

The model he used as both CEO and content partner is super interesting:

  • He raised money from investors to launch and run Run Gum

  • He started producing YouTube and social media content, and used it to promote Run Gum

  • He paid his content business a license fee of $10,000 a month out Run Gum’s operating budget, which allowed him to invest in building and growing the content business

  • The content business became Run Gum’s #1 source of site traffic

  • Eventually, Nick hired a CEO for Run Gum and went full-time as a Creator

It's a lot easier, and cheaper for that matter, to hire a great CEO than to hire a bunch of content creators. So I found a great CEO…and I’m all in on content creation.

Nick realized that he had to choose between being the CEO and the main content creator, and that he’d ultimately serve the business better as the lead content creator. It takes a lot of humility, self-awareness, and discipline to make a call like that, and I’m sure it will serve both him and the company well in the long term!

Lightening Round

#1 tool to save time and money?

I would say Notes on my iPhone. Every single thing I do is in there, like video ideas, my workout programs.

My wife thinks I'm a crazy person because every single day, I put down what I'm going to do for that day, and I start with:

“Coffee, Poop, Hot Tub, Gym”.

And she's like: “You do the exact same thing every single day! You really think you're going to forget to poop because you didn't put in the phone?”

I'm like: “You don't understand, you don't understand, I can't think straight unless it's in Notes.”

So if somebody ever stole my phone, they would know everything about my life from the Notes app.

With free money, who would you hire?

I would love to steal an editor from Mr. Beast's team. I don't even care if it's his right hand guy or like the guy on the bottom of the totem pole. I just would love somebody to come here and be like “Well that's how MrBeast does it” or “This is what we learned while we were working for MrBeast.”

I think we make great content. I think we edit it really well. But there is a style of editing that MrBeast has, and Airrack, and a couple of these other Creators have figured out. It really targets that like ADHD style of telling the story that Gen Z loves… like I love Trahan because for my boomer brain, it unfolds over a nice arc, but that's not necessarily what works on YouTube. I mean, it works for them, but MrBeast has said this before: he feels like he misses out on being able to tell a great story because he has to be action, action, action, action, action and I'd love to find a nice hybrid between the storytelling of Trahan and the action of MrBeast.

Biggest risk to the business?

I'll tell you it's the inconsistencies of the platforms. So last month, Facebook decided to demonetize my channel. They did not give me a reason why, they did not tell me how to fix it. They just said “Oh you're demonetized” and Wild Vision and I panicked and scrambled for a month to get it fixed. They still, to this day, never told us why it happened or what we did but that cost me dollars in that month, probably 30% or 40% of my gross revenue. So if I'm really heavily leveraged, if I'm spending everything I've got coming in on this content, and I take a 30% - 40% revenue hit, that's scary.

There are things that I can control - how hard we work, how fast we hire, how much we spend on a video - but the things that are out of my control, like somebody sitting in Silicon Valley that just toggles off the monetization to my channel - that's a huge threat to my channel, and they're a huge threat to my business.

Contributing most to your growth?

In this moment, it’s being willing to reinvest everything that comes in Last year, I paid myself a bunch of money, like a lot of money. I made more money last year than I ever made by a factor of 2 when I was running professionally. Like, Oh my God, I made all this money and I immediately wrote 50% of it to the government, which like - what's the point of doing that? And I felt sad that I robbed my business of what it needed, which was cash.

So basically, at the end of 2023, I just felt kind of a depression. Like, why did I do that? Why did I pay myself all that money? I don't need the money. I don't really want the money. I'm a pretty simple guy, I don't have a desire for a ton of material things. I just felt like I like robbed my baby - my business - of what it needed, which was cash, and so I said “Okay, in 2023 I'm going to pay myself the absolute minimum I need to pay all my bills, and then every single penny is going to go into growing the business.”

And that's really what's driving our growth right now.

It's scary and this whole thing could come crashing down tomorrow…but I think that if you really want to build a solid base, a solid business with multiple revenue streams, you got to take chances and you’ve got to plow a bunch of money into something like Fit App, and then you plow a bunch of money into merch, and then you plow a bunch of money into building out a fantasy factory… and then three years later, two of those have failed, but one of those is gone to the moon, and you're like “Oh my gosh, I'm so glad I invested all that money there.”

It's kind of how I felt about YouTube early on - my channel lost a lot of money in the first two years, but then it just turned profitable, and we reinvested some of it, and now it drives everything.

So you really do have to be willing to reinvest to to grow.

My mission is to enable millions of people to benefit from the emergence of the Creator Economy. I believe that the more successful both Creators and the companies that serve Creators are, the better off humankind will be.

If you’d like to work with me directly, book a session.

The Stack

The Stack is absolutely stacked this week! We dig into:

  • Why Nick went with Wild Vision over industry heavyweight Jellysmack

  • How he picked Invisible Narratives as his merch partner

  • The reasons he signed with a manager despite loving to negotiate his own deals

And a ton more!

Subscribe now for a two-week free trial to keep reading.

The Stack

Content Creation

Video - $5,000 Sony cameras + $3,000 Drones + GoPros

Audio - Lav Mics

Editing and Design - $5,000 MacBooks + Adobe Suite

All said and done, in the last six months, I've probably put $30 grand into camera equipment and $20 grand into computers. So, $50,000 tech spend - but that was long overdue! I was renting or leasing from my chief camera guy, who had a bunch of gear, and finally, at the end of 2022, I'm like “Listen, I have the revenue now, let me just buy all our own here.”

Asset Management - DropBox + their own server + fiber

This house has fiber - I spent $14 grand bringing fiber to the house.

We have our own server, but we also have Dropbox, so we have a redundant storage between the server and Dropbox. So if we lost Dropbox, we have it on our server, and if we lost our server, we have it on Dropbox.

Story time - I once was working on content distribution for a Creator, and we got them a deal to distribute their YouTube content onto Snap. This was a few years ago, and not so easy to do. I went to them to tell them the news and ask for access to their assets, and the told me “I don’t have my old videos. I just delete them once I put them on YouTube to keep my hard drive clear.”

Needless to say, we didn’t end up distributing that Creator’s content.

I’m thrilled that Creators like Nick understand the value of their content assets, and are investing in keeping them protected!

Project Management - Text, Email, Notes, Whiteboard

I told my team I wouldn't download any new apps. I have them email me - I don't want text, I just want emails. When you need something, I'm on my email 12 hours a day, just managing everything. I’m kind of old school that way.

Video Distribution - Wild Vision

  • Repurposes his YouTube videos for Snapchat and Facebook

  • He has been with them for about a year and is happy so far

  • Some of his Facebook checks have been bigger than his YouTube checks, even AFTER Wild Vision’s cut!

I was actually talking to Jellysmack, Atmosfarm, and Wild Vision all at the same time, and I just liked the back and forth that I was having with Wild Vision. They were a little more laid back. Their contract was much simpler.

The Jellysmack contract had a few “Gotcha!” clauses that I said I would never sign, and I read all my own contracts, I don't hand them off to a lawyer. I've spent a lot of time reading contracts - that was something I did as a pro runner for 12 years, so I can tell when a contract reads fair and when it doesn't, and Wild Vision had a really simple, really fair contract.

It's really important to me that contracts don't need to be complicated. They really are just, you know, 2 or 3 points that are up for discussion, then a bunch of boilerplate. When I see a 45 page contract come my way, and I'm not saying anybody sent that, but I've seen some 45 page contracts come my way and I'm like “This is not necessary” and it's a huge red flag.

Other Content Distribution - His wife

  • TikTok, Instagram, Fit App

We find that everybody is so good at their thing, but they're so bad at understanding the whole thing. I wouldn't even know where to begin on TikTok, but my wife consumes a lot of TikTok content. She knows what works there. I'm not a big fan of Instagram, she knows exactly what's going to work on Instagram. I do know what's going to work on YouTube, so I just stay in my lane, and I would say with Wild Vision, though they can do those things, I just think that the scope of work we originally discussed was their specialty - which was Facebook and Snapchat. I just prefer to keep some things in-house and outsource others. I think they could probably do Instagram and TikTok, but not as affordably as my wife can, and I also love to keep it in house when I can. She's great!

App - Playbook

It's kind of like - I don't want to say the word superfan, but like really committed people that want one on one interaction with me.

I would say it's almost like Patreon, but way better than Patreon.

Where Patreon sometimes feels like it's more charity-based, this is straight up like “Hey, the premium, the most personalized content, is behind this paywall.”

It also allows me to do some of my challenges digitally.

Having a white-labeled app or website for membership can feel a lot better to many Creators, Nick included.

That said, I do wonder if he’d have more people paying for a subscription if he used a well-known platform like Patreon. There’s something to be said about the trust - and pre-existing credit card info - people have in known platforms.

Nick’s perception of Patreon as charity is a common one, and probably the biggest monkey they need to get off their back.

Merch - Invisible Narratives

Nick’s partnership with Invisible Narratives is super interesting to me because it represents a meaningful pivot by that company.

Invisible Narratives was started by Adam Goodman, a Hollywood superproducer and former President of Paramount Pictures responsible for shepherding franchises like G.I. Joe, Mission Impossible, and the Star Trek reboots.

Their original premise was to partner with top Creators to launch and incubate new IP, written by Hollywood writers and embedded into the Creators’ YouTube channels, that could then be exploited off-platform (presumably in traditional media).

Although the model wasn’t quite as flawed as, say, Quibi, the economics of YouTube were never really going to work in their favor. That said, it was nice to see another entertainment power player take an interest in the space.

I’m very interested to see how his merch line with them does, and his logic for partnering with them makes a lot of sense:

I really really believe in storytelling. You probably wouldn’t notice it watching my content, because we're pretty much action-focused and not so much storytelling-focused…but you watch somebody like Trahan or you watch somebody like Mark Rober - it’s just incredible storytelling getting tens of millions of views per video, and there's something to that, right?

I think when it comes down to merch, I want to have that story and making somebody feel like they're part of that story - and really like it's a more intimate relationship with the audience than just action action action. I think you'll see my some of my content transition more towards storytelling, and when Invisible Narratives came and said that all of their merch sales are based on this underlying idea of storytelling and invisible narrative - I mean there's a reason they call themselves that. That just resonated so loudly with the Creator that I'm aspiring to become, and I thought “We are aligned in what we want to do.”

So we're currently working on our first merch drop together. I have a good story for merch, you know, like - two-time-Olympian-turn-Creator. I wasn't the person you would expect to be a distance runner, an Olympic distance runner, and so we're gonna kind of lean into that pretty heavily.

But they also, from what I've seen, are very good at Shopify in a very crowded space, and so I'm excited to work with them on this campaign.

I’m rooting for both Nick and Adam (who is a super charismatic, sharp guy) and I’m excited to see what this partnership yields!

Team

Representation - Bottle Rocket Management

I'd had half a dozen managers approach me, including Night Media, saying “Hey, we want to work with you!” and I'm just like “No, I don't want to split my revenue, like I don't want to give you 20% of anything, let alone everything.”

Some of those managers were saying “We're going to take 20% of your entire pie.” I'm like “But you didn't do anything to help me build this! Why would I give you 20% of that?” So that was a non-starter for me, and also, I love doing brand deals! I love negotiating them myself. It's something a lot of creators hate, but I genuinely enjoy the process of negotiating the brand deals and I didn't want to give that up.

A really good friend, a mutual friend of Chas and mine…he's like “Hey, I was talking to this guy Chas, and he's a manager of YouTubers, and he just wanted to pick your brain for 10 minutes.”

I’m like “Oh God, here comes the pitch!”

I love Chas’ charisma and I love how honest he is, and right off the bat - I think he appreciates that I'm a straight shooter, I'm not trying to waste anyone's time - I said “Listen, if you want 20% of everything, don't waste your time, I'm not your creator.”

He goes “I don't want 20% of anything except the brand deals.”

So he got past my litmus test of - are you trying to take everything or not?

And then I said “All right, you want 20% of brand deals. Well, I'm telling you, this is how much I'm doing right now.” And I was pretty good at getting market rate. So I wasn't looking for a manager to help me get market rate. I was looking for a manager to help me stabilize deal flow, because Q4 was so heavy, Q1 was pretty good. Q2 and Q3 were kind of really slow for me.

In my vetting process, I talked to a couple of Creators that he worked with, and they said “Yeah, Chas has been great. He stabilized the deal flow for us. No complaints.”

So I told Chas I was in.

He called me like 10 times before I finally signed the contract. I said “I know I seem like this prospect that's scared to go on a first date with you.” I said, “Let's try it for three months. It'll be Q4, it's the juiciest quarter for brand deals. Let's try it for three months and see how it goes.” And it was great!

Obviously, we continued our relationship into Q1 2023, and I have no reason not to work with him. I love talking to him. I appreciate all the brand deals they bring. Although I do still miss the brand negotiations, it has freed my time up quite a bit to go back and focus on building revenue out elsewhere, which is really what I should be doing.

So now I know that sometimes, I have to give up stuff even if I like it, to focus on other stuff that's going to drive the business.

Content Production and Distribution - His wife, Tiana + 2 shooter-editors + himself + looking to hire a producer

My team is actually pretty small. Two video shooters, they double up - Trevor and Ryan, they they can shoot, they can edit, they can do it all. Tiana, my wife, we've talked about, and then me.

I'm mostly on-camera talent producer, and I write the checks. So I managed the business, and the four of us, we operate out of a house in Coburg Oregon.

Nick’s team’s process for brainstorming and producing content is pretty unique - it reminds me of my days at a 4-person startup, sitting around a whiteboard and ideating.

First and foremost, these are what I would call “Certified Bangers”. They're like videos that are guaranteed to get a million views that I'm working on producing.

We're really kind of moving into this this space where it's quality over quantity. I was making one video a week for the last four years, and now you'll see about 2 videos a month coming from us - but they're going to be much much bigger productions.

I'll come up with an idea, or Trevor or Ryan will come up with an idea, and we'll just sit around and talk about it. Sometimes the the idea comes in pretty raw, and then we'll workshop it. Title, thumbnail concept… if we can get all 3 of those, and if at the end of the conversation we're all like smiling at each other, we're like “Oh my gosh, this is it certified banger.”

We have to have all 3 thumbs up for us to say “Yes, this is this is a good certified banger.” Like MrBeast has that in his own gut because he's been doing it for so long. We, between the 3 of us, we are not on that level. But between the 3 of us, if we sit and workshop it, and we all get on the same page, then it's a 90% chance that we got it.

Sometimes they still flop, but it's very rare when all 3 of us are excited about the video, the title. the thumbnail that the concept doesn’t go.

He also feels very strongly about keeping his shooter-editors in-house.

I hate contracted employees for that particular role, because maybe I need them on this very specific date because I finally got access to shoot and they're like “Oh, I'm sorry, I'm booked with so and so over here.”

We are so reactionary in the sense that we're planning 6 different videos at once, and when I need to shoot something, maybe a brand deal comes in last minute for tens of thousands of dollars but they need it by Friday, I needmy guys on call to react to whatever great opportunity comes our way.

So I got them on full-time salaries. We've got a retirement plan with 3% matching. We've got healthcare. We've got fifteen days PTO. I pay for all their travel. I mean we've got a really really nice package for people that want to work full time here.

For those who are interested - he’s hiring a producer!

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