In a room full of white-haired men at one of the rotary club meetings, I met him for the first time. Calm, not the typical figure of a superhero, in a simple black t-shirt, nothing fancy, until he started to talk and refer to the video clip playing on the white screen. I heard the audience gasping ‘wow’ when he used what looked like replicas of gadgets from super-hero movies, and performed real-life stunts with them, bringing fictional fantasies to reality.
– James, welcome to Corporita Magazine, we so thrilled talking to you and I believe our readers will get amazing insights from you and your team. Let’s start with the early beginnings. How the Hacksmith began?
Ever since I was a teen, I’ve loved making things. I fell in love with engineering in high school and ended up getting a bachelors degree in engineering from Conestoga College. I’ve been collecting tools and learning new techniques ever since.
While I’ve been on YouTube for over 11 years ago, it was actually in the final few months of college that I started producing engineering style videos. The reason? YouTube had opened the floodgates to its partner program, allowing anyone with an internet connection to create videos — and share in the profit from ad revenue. I thought it would be super cool to make a living off of making videos.
The following year, I came up with the name “the Hacksmith”. It’s a throwback to the past — the blacksmith of the village was the engineer, the armourer, the toolmaker, the weapon maker — the fixer of all things. Hacksmith is just kind of a 21st-century spin on it — a jack of all trades. And no, I don’t know how to do blacksmithing — though I’d love to try!
I continued to produce videos for a few years, without gaining much traction. I’m honestly not sure what kept me going. I changed jobs — twice — working as a mechanical designer designing injection moulding machines for Athena Automation in Vaughan and then as a product developer, designing high-end digital projectors for Christie Digital here in Kitchener.
It was in the fall of 2014 that I had my first YouTube success — my exoskeleton project had caught the eye of global media and was somewhat a viral success, and I made more money from ad revenue in days, compared to the years leading up to it. I saw the possibility — If I could recreate this success — I could make a living off YouTube a reality.
It took another year for me to double the size of the channel, up to around 70,000 subscribers. At that point, I was burning the candle at both ends working my day job and doing YouTube at night. I had to make a change. I quit Christie and flung myself headfirst into doing YouTube full-time. I withdrew my RRSP savings, and borrowed some money from family — I needed a runway. I needed to focus all my attention on growing the channel.
A few months after I quit, my best friend from high school & college, Ian Hillier, joined me. We rolled over 100,000 subscribers sometime in March. In the summer of 2016, we had our first real internet hit. Our Captain America shield project went mega-viral, netting well over 100 million views across social platforms. The channel ballooned. In just one month, we were at 500,000 subscribers. Since then it’s been a near linear growth of almost 1 million per year. And the gamble had paid off!!
Today, we have five people working for us, a handful of high school co-ops, and a network of local volunteers. By the time this article is published, we will have over two million subscribers, putting us in the top 45 YouTube channels in all of Canada, and in the top 2000 worldwide.