How An Ex-NASA Engineer Turned YouTube’s Coolest Science Trainer—And Is Saving The Ocean

Mark Rober & Mr Beast

Mark Rober is the exception to almost every rule when it comes to social media.

While many YouTubers upload videos on a daily basis, Rober has gained 20 million subscribers by posting videos just once a month. While most creators have been in the spotlight for a couple of years, Rober has been around for a decade. Perhaps most impressive of all, he did it while juggling jobs at NASA and Apple to shoot videos like the world’s largest jello pool and the world’s first automatic punch bowling ball.

This month, Rober teamed up with fellow YouTuber Mr Beast to take on yet another daring challenge: raise $ 30 million to clean up the oceans as part of their #TeamSeas campaign. It’s the continuation of their 2019 # TeamTrees campaign that raised over $ 23 million to plant 23 million trees around the world. How does Rober do it?

How did he become a top YouTuber while doing demanding jobs at blue chip companies? What are his tips to avoid burnout? And how exactly is he planning to raise $ 30 million for #TeamSeas? I sat down with him at VidSummit to talk about these questions, and here’s what I learned.

Interview with Mark Rober

Dimyana Marie

1) Embrace the “Super Mario Effect”

In 2018, Rober held a TED talk after doing a fascinating study of 50,000 of his followers. He divided them into two groups and had each one complete a simple programming exercise. The first group was told they could try again if they failed. No consequences. However, the second group was told that every time they missed the game they had lost five points. Of course, these points were completely meaningless. Or as one Rober put it: “No value in the real world, nobody will ever see these completely meaningless, fake Internet points.”

Still, there was a terrifying difference between the two groups. In fact, 16% more of the non-punished group successfully completed the game – simply because there was no real “loss” associated with losing. Rober calls this the “Super Mario Effect”. He said, “We’re not going to let that stop us from losing on video games like Super Mario, from playing again. Rather, we take the loss as a learning method so that we can get closer to completing the level. “

“You get a bad grade on an exam. You are not getting the promotion you want. And we immediately say to ourselves: ‘We are not good enough. We are losers. ‘ We internalize it. But you don’t do that for a video game, ”continued Rober. “So don’t do this for your own life. Get back on your feet. “

This is how Rober sees 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 that doesn’t mean I’ll always knock the ball out of the park. If I don’t, what can I learn from it? Boom. OK. Let’s do that again. Let’s pan. Let us continue. Let’s find out. “

2) create “concrete nuggets of coolness”

For Rober, less is more. During our interview, I was stunned to hear how long he spends every second of his videos on the script.

“I’m going to spend half an hour reducing five sentences to four quarters of a sentence. I try to be as concise and direct as possible, ”said Rober. “Television is much more passive. Just watch. You are on your couch But with YouTube, you’re on your devices. Tons of options. I have to keep it exciting all the time. “

Rober learned this down to the smallest detail. For his video about the squirrel obstacle course, he had to condense one year’s footage to 15 minutes. For his “Liquid Sand” whirlpool video, Rober searched hundreds of patent drawings and made 25 prototypes to find a way to make the video.

“I think there is something that just comes out of laser focusing on one thing,” explained Rober. “You don’t make yourself thin. [Am I better off] if I split an idea into four videos that get 1 million views each, or if I just merge them into one video that gets 20 million views? I only have these nuggets of coolness that I try to bring out every month. “

3) Slow down your treadmill

Many people preach the old saying, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint,” but few actually follow it. Here, too, Rober is the exception. For him, life is more of a treadmill.

“You could go at a sprint pace – do the book, do the podcast, launch the merch line, go on tour,” he said. “But what inevitably happens is the dopamine hit wears off and you are still sprinting on that treadmill.”

Rober won’t burn out. He publishes a single video every month. But here’s the thing: slow doesn’t mean lazy. Rober works with his bum to create stunning, high quality content. He spends months setting up and iterating his projects (for his elephant toothpaste video, he told me, “We scaled from a desktop version to a 4-foot version to a 10-foot version to accommodate the 20th – And we’ve learned more every time. ”Mark Rober’s videos are a lot of work, but the end result pays off.

“I was very careful with my treadmill speed and just kept it jogging,” Rober told me to complete his analogy. But slow doesn’t mean lazy. Says Rober, “I just focus on my monthly videos and hit the fences every month. And I just put all my effort into it. ”Sure, it pays off.

4) Create characters to tell more powerful stories

There are a lot of people who have made videos about squirrels in their garden before me, ”Mark Rober told me. “But none of them called the squirrels that.”

In one of his most popular videos, Rober created a “squirrel obstacle course” and introduced the four squirrels who come to fetch the walnuts as “contenders”. It almost feels like a game show. Rober gave each of the four squirrels a name and a backstory so we could better identify with them: Rick, Marty, Frank, and Phat Gus.

“If you can put yourself in the shoes of the character,” says Rober, “people just like it a lot more. And they’re much more likely to share the video. “

As Mark called the “characters” in his squirrel maze video

Mark Rober

5) Gather your community to make an even bigger impact

In 2019, Mr. Beast and Rober tried the impossible by attempting to raise $ 20 million and planting 20 million trees for their #TeamTrees initiative.

Not possible? Not for these guys. “We have billionaires who got tangled up like a piss match,” Rober told me. “The Shopify CEO made a million dollars. Elon Musk, I think a million dollars … We have 23 million trees. We raised $ 23 million – that’s insane in two months! It’s amazing what is possible when everyone comes together. “

What is remarkable, however, is how many top YouTubers they have to raise funds and raise awareness for the cause. Everyone from The Try Guys to Destin Sandlin uploaded videos through #TeamTrees in an effort to meet their $ 20 million goal. This month, Rober and Mr. Beast took #TeamSeas up a notch: an attempt to raise $ 30 million to clear 30 million pounds of trash from the ocean.

In 2019, Rober and Mr. Beast raised over $ 23 million for #TeamTrees

Mark Rober

“Some of the challenges we face we will not be able to solve in our lifetime, but we can solve them,” said Rober. “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is big, but in 10 years we can remove it from the ocean with the right funding. And I think everyone can agree on that. We shouldn’t have plastic in the sea. “

But even with this higher fundraising goal, Rober didn’t burn out. He did not resort to sprinting on his “creator treadmill”. Instead, he’s gotten better at engaging the creator community to make an even bigger impact.

The coordination, attention to detail and implementation of the # TeamSeas campaign is really impressive. After the interview with Rober, I was contacted by Matt Fitzgerald, #TeamSeas Campaign Director. The results speak for themselves: in about a week they raised over $ 14 million and videos from top creators like Ryan Trahan, Game Theory, and Dental Dentist have garnered millions of views.

It shows how Rober has scaled his influence by relying on his community. He admits he never imagined it all when he first started on YouTube ten years ago. “If that’s me [from ten years ago] If I could see me doing this interview today, I would say, ‘You’re crazy.’ But that only keeps the treadmill running gradually. “

Mark Rober is proof that slow and steady the race really does win, especially when you have a community to support you.

You can find the full interview with Mark here. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for weekly interviews with top creators and celebrities.

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