Marques Brownlee is just 20 years old, but there’s arguably no one better on the internet when it comes to explaining new technologies to the average consumer. Even former Google VP Vic Gundotra called him “the best technology reviewer on the planet right now.”
YouTubers have taken notice of the young man: Brownlee’s YouTube channel “MKBHD” has more than 1.5 million subscribers and nearly 130 million total views on his 640-plus videos.
Still, he’s no overnight success: Brownlee has been working tirelessly for more than five years, honing his craft by constantly producing and self-critiquing his videos to make the next ones easier to both make and watch. But despite all of the work involved, “MKBHD” is, was, and will always be a solo effort.
“When I first started making the videos, I didn’t tell anyone about it,” he said in an interview with Business Insider. “Not [my family], not anyone. But after a while it was something that was pretty obvious, since I was making a whole bunch of videos … I just didn’t necessarily feel like telling people about what I was researching.”
Brownlee, a senior at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, said he always had a love for technology. His dad works in technology — information systems and programming, specifically — but Brownlee’s interests were more centered on consumer electronics, starting with computers and some of the old camcorders his parents had around. He said his first computer was a Dell desktop with a “big old 15-inch CRT monitor.”
“It was kind of a background hobby; I didn’t have a reason to tell anyone when I first started making the videos,” he said.
When he entered high school, Brownlee said, he wanted to buy a laptop for school, so he researched various computers and watched tutorials on “how to do cool tricks and customizations.” And simply by watching others’ tutorials, Brownlee felt encouraged to make some tutorials of his own with some simple screencasting software.
Still, it would take a while to build an audience.
“It was super slow. The first few videos, there were no comments and no views,” he told BI. “But eventually, once someone would comment on the video, they asked about other things I could share.”
Brownlee started to gain a small following by answering users’ questions with his own handmade videos. By the time he reached his 100th video, he had only 78 subscribers. But Brownlee’s operation was not what it is today, and still very much a work in progress.
“Back then, it was all one take,” he said. “So when I’d make a video, I’d open the software, press record, talk two or three minutes to explain whatever I needed to explain, and I’d just stop and upload it to YouTube. That was it.
“I could make multiple videos in a day, but now, the videos are much more elaborate.”
Brownlee currently produces several different types of videos. He’s got his reviews, explainers, and impressions, but he’ll also throw in some special features and “advanced projects.” But with every video, a great deal of research is involved before Brownlee ever starts filming.
As with most consumers, he’ll unbox the product and start forming impressions on it. Over the course of a week or so, he’ll jot down various talking points to include in his video. But from the moment he turns on the camera and hits record, “it’s probably less than 48 hours before that video is online.”
These days, Brownlee uses a Sennheiser microphone and a Canon lens, and he edits using the Adobe suite, but he says the list of equipment he uses changes every few months.
“I’m just picky about certain things in the videos, so I’m always switching out things that look or sound better,” he said. “These are things behind the scenes that people may never notice, but it makes the workflow easier.”
According to Google Trends, Brownlee’s videos only recently started gaining traction among the internet faithful — around the time of Gundotra’s G+ post, actually. But when asked about his personal favorite MKBHD video, he said a couple of “milestone” videos stood out, including a video he made for a contest hosted by Wrapsol, in which he won the $1,000 first prize, and his LG G Flex scratch test video, “because it was something I thought of that literally no one else would do. If you got that phone for 30 days to review, you’d never take a knife to it and see if it heals itself. But when I bought the phone I decided immediately I’m going to take a knife to it,” he said with a laugh.
Brownlee’s successful video business keeps growing — he said the money he makes from his YouTube channel, which is powered by Google Adsense, more than makes up for his production costs. But he said
“it’s definitely hard” to balance his various works, with school and his videos and everything in between. This balance was tougher to achieve in high school, which took up most of his time “in terms of pure hours in class.”
While it’s never been easy for Brownlee to find time to make his videos, at least in college, Brownlee has a bit more flexibility in his schedule compared with high school — even as he majors in business and technology with concentrations in marketing and information systems.
When asked about his plans after college, Brownlee said he would “definitely keep making videos as long as they’re fun to make.”
“But having a degree,” he said, “I went so far with school, so I might as well just finish. Getting my degree is something I’ll be really happy about. I’ll wing it from there.”
Watch a video of him highlighting 5 facts about him