Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing.
If you’ve been around the podcast for a while, you’ve met Kat. You know she’s our ops manager at Stratos. Basically, that means she keeps us all in line and keeps the business operating like a well-oiled machine. I joke that if I ever was gonna have a boss again, she’s actually my boss because she tells me what to do. She’s excellent, and we’re so glad to have her on the Stratos team.
This week, we have a special opportunity to listen in to a conversation that she had with her dad. He is a content creator on YouTube, and during this episode, we’re gonna get to hear all about how he funds his hobby through the content creation process. I’m really excited for you guys to listen to this episode. Enjoy!
Kat: Let’s start. So first up, just tell me a little bit about you and the content that you create.
Steven: I go by the moniker RetroCombs. I did air quotes there for people who can’t see it. My name is Steven Combs. I am the father of Kat Combs, who I call Katherine! So occasionally throughout this thing, I’m probably gonna say Katherine instead of Kat. They’re one and the same, just so you guys know.
Kat: That’s understandable.
Steven: And as I like to call it, in my live streams, the paying gig, I am a higher education administrator in the state of Indiana, but I do have a small burgeoning YouTube channel where I focus on retro computing content. For those of you that may not be familiar, because I do understand this might be a little younger demographic, that is anything 1980s and earlier. So everything now is 64-bit computing, I’m talking about 8-bit computing and less. So I focus on the computers that I grew up with in the early 1980s, specifically on a brand called Commodore, which is no longer with us. There’s a lot of really cool history between Commodore and Apple, and how Apple used some of Commodore’s technology, but Apple succeeded with it, Commodore didn’t. So that’s why I kind of have a love for that brand, and it was my very first computer.
Occasionally, I will do what I call prepared content, where I focus on using old technology now, using modern components like adding Arduino or Raspberry Pi to the mix to simulate old equipment that’s hard to get. I kind of focus a little bit on restoration of some of that old computer equipment. That’s prepared video. But then I’ve started to build this community with live streaming, and that’s been different because as you know doing this, when you’re doing that, you’re live and you can make all kinds of mistakes, and I think that’s what my community enjoys the most, is when I mess up. And they have a good time at my expense, which I’m good with that, and we started to build this really small community that just loves when I have time to live stream. I usually do that on a weekend about every other week if I can figure it out in my busy schedule. Sometimes that’s fraught with technical issues too. Like last week, I tried to do it and it didn’t work, and that’s a whole bandwidth thing that I’m working on. But anyway, suffice it to say, which for me, I think this is big, my 4000th subscriber. I did do a check in YouTube that puts me at the top 10%, which when you think about it. You only need 4,000 subscribers to get to like the top 10%, and that tells you where that market is right now. And you have to hang in there, and I know we’re gonna talk about that a little bit later, but that’s kind of my background. I hope I didn’t bloviate too much for you.
Kat: No, that’s awesome! So you talked about how you got into retro computing, obviously, but how did you decide to turn that into a content stream?
Steven: Pandemic was a big part of it. I was looking for something to do during the pandemic, and I had been watching a lot of content around retro computing. So the retro computing community is typically 45 to 58. So it’s a very narrow demographic, and it’s primarily male. I mean, if I look at my stats on YouTube, it is almost 99.9% male, because in that period of time, males were the ones who gravitated towards computer content and early computers. So I remember sitting here in the basement and I’m doing all these Zoom meetings with the paying gig thinking, I need to find something to do because this is just driving me nuts. And I’ve got all this cool stuff, and you know what, there are people out there doing video. I think I can do some better. I don’t know if I’ve done that better, but as you know, I love design. It’s kind of a hobby of mine. I’m a draftsman by trade. So there’s a little bit of design, but I’ve always been interested in graphic design and then video.
And then I learned about a little piece of software called DaVinci Resolve. It was free. I downloaded it and I got hooked on just all the really cool things you can do. So it was a pandemic start. I did a couple of videos, a couple of them really caught on, and I thought, wow, this is kind of cool. And then I learned if you get up to 1,000 subscribers, you can monetize. And I would say I’m not monetizing a lot for sure, but it was just kind of neat to see that you might be able to get a little bit back to help pay for your hobby. And so I’m at the point now where I feel like I’m getting a little bit of money that’s helping to offset. Instead of taking it out of the budget, I can help take some of that money and relieve our budget and just kind of fund it back into the channel. So I tend to buy stuff everywhere. All this equipment.
Kat: So when you monetize, where is that money coming from? Is it YouTube ads? Is it subscribers? Where are you getting that funding?
Steven: When you get to 1,000, you can apply for their AdSense program through YouTube sponsors. So I went ahead and did that. You have to have 1,000 subscribers. And there’s a certain number of watch hours. I wanna think it’s 10,000 watch hours. Don’t quote me on that, but it’s something like a specific number. So I had 1,000 subscribers before I had the watch hours. So I had to wait for that. And then that comes from ad revenue for folks who are either YouTube premium, there’s a portion that comes from that if they watch it, or if they’re just watching the ads themselves and you get a portion of that. And as we like to say, in Kentucky, it ain’t a lot. It’s pennies on the thousands of views it feels like. So if you’re looking early on to make money, unless you hit big, you’re not gonna make money.
This has never been about money for me. It’s been about supporting a hobby, and it is not a financial venture. I don’t claim it on my taxes or anything like that. Well, of course, I have to claim the money that comes in, but what I’ve done for now is I have not accepted any money from Google. You can send that and say, “Don’t pay me until we reach a threshold.” As long as they’re not paying me, I don’t have to pay taxes on it. Eventually, I’ll cash out when I get to a certain threshold, and then I’ll have to pay taxes on it, and report to the IRS that I am doing a little venture, and then they’ll have to determine whether it is a venture or whether it’s a hobby. And I’m pretty sure it’s gonna come up to the hobby stage, which I’m fine with that.
Kat: Great. So it sounds like the money from YouTube is not enough to actually sustain the hobby. So where are you getting the supplies for this hobby?
Steven: That’s the thing. I have tons of it that I’ve had over the years. This room was all set up before the pandemic. This is just my hangout, it’s my man cave, so to speak. I have a 3D printer over here that you can’t see or you wouldn’t be able to see, because we’re on a podcast. I have desks, things are here. And then through time, and you know this, I’m a big Dave Ramsey guy. So we have a budget, and I have a little bit of a budget set up for myself. I wish I could say I stuck to it exclusively perfectly, but I’m pretty good. And then occasionally, what’s nice is I have the Amazon credit card, so whenever we make purchases, we get a little percentage back, and we’ve decided that’s part of what I can use for my stuff, which is good, because that’s not taking out of the regular budget, which is nice. And then just recently, I’ve had a few folks say, “Hey, would you like to share a product in a video?” And so occasionally, I’ll get an offer for something free, and I’ll just focus on it and share that with the world, and they just sponsor the video. I don’t get any money, I just get to keep the product. But that’s really all I need, so I’m good to go. It gives me something new to create content around, which is fun.
Kat: Very cool! What are a couple of standout products that you’ve been sent recently?
Steven: So the Smart typewriter, the Freewrite was probably the biggest gift to the channel that I’ve received. I really went out of my comfort zone on that one and did a video. They gave me this really expensive piece. I needed to do something cool with it. I could do just a standard talking head and talk about it, but I decided to do a little film noir style video with it. They loved it. I actually hoped it would get more traction, and I think they had too. But they were so pleased with it, they were very kind and said, “No, you put a lot of time into this. We really appreciate what you did.” And what’s interesting about that video is it didn’t hit. In the first couple of weeks, it was only 40, 50 watches, if you can believe it, and then lately, it started to pick up. So those old videos that sometimes linger down at the bottom, occasionally start to get more views, and so we’re getting close to about 1,000 views.
Kat: And that makes sense too, right? As Freewrite gets more popular, people are looking on YouTube to say, “Hey, who’s already reviewed this?” They’re looking to buy it. It makes sense for that type of product video that you’d be getting more views later in the life of the video.
Steven: Absolutely! One of the interesting ones, and this just floors me, I did a YouTube short on a stand for an iPad, but I used it in a different way. I was using it with a portable monitor. And that thing is constantly in my top five videos for the month. People are just constantly going and looking at it. And that was something I just purchased myself, and thought, oh, people might wanna know how I’m using this in this way, and it just caught me! Because that’s really, I think, where the videos hit, is when you solve a problem that somebody’s looking for. And the majority of my content really isn’t that, the majority of my content is just something I think is fun to share. Another good example is the head unit or the radio in my Honda wasn’t working, and so I researched it, trying to figure out how I could fix it, and I documented that. Largest views of any video I’ve ever had. It’s 30,000 views or something like that. And it was just a two-minute little thing, here’s how you can fix your radio that’s not working. Pretty cool how it hits!
Kat: We’re a StoryBrand agency, so we’re really into telling a story with your marketing or your content or whatever it is. And so, it makes me think of StoryBrand, and in finding the problem that the audience is facing, and then presenting them with a solution and coming alongside them, being the guide to guide them into success. So it makes total sense that those would be your most most, let’s say, relatable videos. Right?
Steven: Yeah. And most popular. Or maybe not even the most popular, most streamed, right?
Kat: Yeah. Right! You talked a little bit about YouTube shorts. So tell me about the evolution of content creation through your hobbyist career. So you started as a blogger, doing what kind of blogging? And then how has that progressed to now?
Steven: Blogging has probably been almost a 20-year journey. I was a technical writer. I wrote many textbooks as part of my higher education journey. My writing was primarily around AutoCAD 3D studio, those technical programs for creating virtual – either drawings or models. And so I just got interested in general tech because of that. And blogging, like I said, it’s probably been 20 years ago, and just always had a blog. And it’s gone through different iterations. Once it was called Tech Docs, Tech Notes, once it was called Just Tech Notes. And then I said, forget all that, I’m just gonna brand it stevencombs.com, call it a day, because I got tired of branding and logos, and all that business. And so I just had that. And then it morphed into when I did this, you can still go to Steven Combs as a kind of a redirect, but now it’s RetroCombs because people know me as that person now. The blog really isn’t popular. It’s not a lot of design, I wanted something really clean and minimal because I didn’t wanna have to maintain it. The other thing I do is my blog is free. I host it on GitHub pages. I didn’t want to pay for it. So as part of this whole ‘I do this as a hobby’, I don’t wanna pay a lot of money, and I’m cheap as you know, or frugal as we like to say around here.
I didn’t wanna pay for that. And GitHub allowed me to host a simple webpage that has categories, and I could do a little bit of design behind it. But I’ve been with them probably for 10, 15 years. Started out as a blogger, and then moved it over to the GitHub pages. I think I’m on about year 10 with them.
Kat: And as far as the different content platforms, I guess, what do you prefer? Do you prefer short form video, long form video, writing? Somewhere in between?
Steven: I love all of them! I wish I had time to do them exclusively so I could do more. If you’d asked me that before the pandemic, I would’ve said writing. I still enjoy technical writing. I love it. As I like to say, the problem with writing is I’m my world’s own worst editor. I cannot edit my own stuff, I need another set of eyes, and nobody wants to read my stuff before it goes out. I do have a perpetual license to ProWritingAid, which has been great to kind of help just kinda look over my head. It won’t catch everything, but at least it catches the big things and causes you to go back in there. So I’ve been doing that. I won’t lie, I’ve also been exploring Chat GPT to help write video descriptions. It has made things faster for me. And actually, I say Chat GPT, but I’m actually leaning more towards Bard, which is Google’s tool. Google.com, you can join their beta. I kind of like where they’re headed because they’re really trying to make their tool dedicated to content creators. And plus Bard will understand the algorithm, I think, better than a Chat GPT will. So I’m using them to write some video descriptions. So that’s kind of the writing piece.
But post pandemic, I love video editing! I’m probably one of those geeks who can sit here and edit a video for days and not get tired of it. Occasionally, I’ll get frustrated with something, because I know there’s an easier way to do it than what I’m doing. So that will frustrate me, but I love to just sit and try and put some creative around that. And to your other question too, primarily, horizontal video. Vertical video is driving me nuts!
Kat: And why is that?
Steven: Because I feel like I’m looking down a little slit. Every time I look at a vertical video, a lot of people don’t do it well. What I’m learning is, you can do vertical video and you can do it well. And I’m figuring that out, when I repurpose some of my content now, it’s not just putting it in a vertical format. It’s actually cropping a piece of it, maybe putting it on top, maybe putting something down at the bottom and trying to reframe it in that, or record in that format from the get go. That’s the best way. And that’s what I’m learning. There’s so much less frustration if you just do that. So it has been driving me crazy. I have been playing a little bit with it. And as you know, I’ve got some shorts that I’ve played with. But shorts don’t really help me, is what I’m noticing. I don’t get subscribers from shorts typically. My viewers, I think, want the longer form content. For me, it’s just, hey, I am out here, and I wouldn’t say I don’t get any subscribers. I’ve got probably four or five from the shorts I’ve produced, and maybe they’re just bad shorts. Who knows?
Kat: And are you posting to other platforms, or is it really mainly to YouTube?
Steven: YouTube is my primary platform. I did do where I posted 5, 6, 7, 8 things to TikTok. I hated it. I hate TikTok. TikTok is not my generation. I don’t like the algorithm of TikTok because it throws things at me that I sit there and I go, “I don’t wanna see this.” YouTube seems to be better for me. Youtube shorts, the algorithm seems to be better, knows what I’m looking for or what I would wanna look at, and I don’t spend a lot of time in shorts either. But I tried some stuff, and every once in a while still put something up there just to see if it’s changed. Because I still think you need to be interested in that. But I have been playing with reels. My demographic is Facebook. So Instagram reels and Facebook reels, which as I’m learning, are kind of combined. I’m starting to get a little interested in that just because a 40 to 50, 60-year-old is probably there more than they’re in TikTok.
Kat: And that makes a lot of sense. We hear from a lot of people that they’re not really sure what platform to be on because they’re not sure where their users are. Whereas you, you know where your users are because it’s where you are. Your audience is like you, and so it makes a lot of sense that if you don’t like TikTok, you can safely assume that your audience doesn’t like TikTok.
Steven: And they tell me!
Kat: Okay. Great!
Steven: I don’t want you on TikTok.
Kat: Whereas for us, we can’t make that assumption. We just don’t know. We have a less niched audience.
Kat: Cool! What do you enjoy most about content creation?
Steven: I have a day job where I have to do a lot of administrative things. I’m an introvert by nature, which I know is surprising for a lot of people when they meet me or they see my channel. Yes, I’m an introvert, so I like the process. At the end of the day, I go for a run. That’s what I do to get away from everybody. Video editing is a lot like that. It’s just me working on something I want to create. So it gives me two things; it gives me some alone time, because I usually have headphones on when I’m editing, and it also gives me a way to get my creative outlet going. And there’s some creative parts of my job just because of what I do, but the majority of it is administrative type thing. So I get to try and be creative, try and learn new things around visual communications, video. I love watching DaVinci Resolve videos and going, “Oh my gosh, I can do that!” And how can I integrate that in such a way it doesn’t look hackmid, where I’m just throwing it in because I’ve learned how to do that. And that’s why I really enjoyed that film noir thing. I really got to play with some filters and transitions.
Kat: Which we’re for sure gonna link that in the show notes so everybody can go watch it, because it’s a lot of fun to watch.
Steven: It was so different. And I’m out outdoors in the middle of the winter with a selfie stick filming myself, which I’ve never done anything like that before, and I’m sure the neighbors are going, “Oh boy, what’s he up to?” I think that’s the process I enjoy the most about it, just me getting to do something different. Honestly, when I was teaching graphic design, I felt a lot like I was in the design field. And I kind of miss that as an administrator. So having that opportunity to kinda get back into it and call the shots myself is kind of fun too. Being my own boss is fun too!
Kat: Would you say that you have always considered yourself creative?
Steven: And so I can say this; if you ask grandma, or my mom, she will say destructive may have been a better word because I used to tear electronics down growing up to find out how they worked. I’ve hooked DC motors up to AC circuits, which you should never do. So I’ve always tried to hack things or figure things out. And that’s part of being creative too, is to figure things out, how they work so that you can learn and do more with them. I would draw in class, I would get in trouble for drawing in class, for not paying attention. I’d go to church on Sunday, the first thing I’d ask for when the preacher started was a piece of paper and a pencil. And even to this day, I have to have paper and pencil in front of me to keep me engaged in a conversation. It’s how I take notes. And I’ve just learned all about bullet journaling and how to better take notes. And I’m 58 for heaven’s sakes, I wish I’d learned that years ago. So I would say I’ve always been creative. I think I’m especially proud that you took that bent with your career and had a chance to roll with it, because It’s fun to see you actually really dig into that career. It’s really cool to see you doing that too.
Kat: Well, and I think that the industry, but that’s not really the right word, has really redefined what creativity is recently. Like we’ve agreed, okay, people who are deconstructing things, they’re also creative. People who are making things are also creative. People who are creative problem solving, that’s another style or genre of creativity. So I’m really appreciative to be working in a time where my unique skill set is especially appreciated. And of course, to have parents who built me up in that as a kid. Like you were the one telling me like, “Oh, you should really look into graphic design.” And I was like, “I don’t know. That doesn’t really sound like me.” And then that’s where I ended up.
Steven: For our audience, I’m really gonna go down the rabbit hole family here, but we had you when you were six, seven programming Lego robotics. You didn’t have a choice but to have something in the creative engineering kind of STEM fields. We just kind of took you down that path, and you kind of gravitated towards it and enjoyed it, and then you just kind of built upon it as you became your own self, thinking, oh, I kinda like that stuff. And you took the more artistic side.
Kat: Some of my earliest memories were sitting upstairs in the bonus room in our house and watching drawing tutorials and teaching classes, but via video, about how to draw, and just soaking it all in and perspective. So you’re right, I was absolutely indoctrinated in it.
Steven: I’m glad to do that for you.
Kat: I didn’t have a choice. I was gonna end up this way! We have talked a lot about your career or your hobbyist career and the direction in which it’s taken. What would you say to people who are starting out where you were 20 years ago?
Steven: So as a hobby or as a profession? Because they’re different as a hobby.
Kat: As a hobby. Because I think there’s a lot of people who want to do these things, but they don’t want the pressure of my entire livelihood on the financial revenue of this hobby. So what would you tell people who just wanna do the thing for fun? They just wanna have a hobby.
Steven: Then I would say, don’t follow the numbers. Leave the numbers. And I think that’s what I did early on, I just said I just want to do this and document it. Because as part of being a draftsman and a technical writer, part of what I always did was I documented how to do something. So I just said, let me try that with video, I’d like to see how that works. And I really didn’t get uptight about the numbers ever. I will just say it’s probably only recently that I’m starting to look at numbers in a way that I go, “Ooh, there’s something happening here.” But I just let everything just happen organically. If you follow the numbers, if you’re online, you’re watching all these YouTube videos – I love Think Media, I watch Sean Cannell’s stuff. I don’t know if you all have seen any of his stuff. But he’s big in trying to help YouTubers become successful.
But he goes for the big prize at the end. And I’m not for the big prize at the end right now. I’m just kind of, I just wanna have some fun. But they also have great tips about how to streamline your video editing and equipment, tools, all those types of things. So I love that. But just don’t take it seriously! Just do it because you want to do it and it’s fun. What happens from that is what I’ve noticed. And it’s really fun! I have subscribers from all around the world, primarily in Europe and Eastern Europe, where my other subscribers are, besides the United States. And they found me because they wanted a community to get around to talk about these things. So we get in the Discord and we have a conversation. We’re in the live stream, we’re having a conversation, and that community’s just building organically, and they’re telling people. So it’ll happen if there’s a group looking for your stuff. And there just happened to be a group looking for my stuff.
So again, I think summing all that up, because I think I’ve obviated way too much. But if you’re gonna start this as a hobby, just have fun with it. Do the stuff that you want to do, and don’t be going after what you think they want. Just do the stuff you wanna do.
Kat: Yeah. I love that! And it sounds like for you at least, and probably for a lot of industries or hobbies, the community’s gonna find you, like they are also looking for somebody who’s doing the thing that they love, and so your people are gonna find you.
Steven: There are tons of retro computing channels, and there are tons that are a lot more popular, but the ones that I watch, none of them really focus on just being a user, having fun, it’s always this really geeky high-tech stuff and redoing it. And occasionally, I’ll do something like that, but it’s really about, hey, let’s just play some games this weekend and see what it was like to play games back in the ‘80s. When we featured you in the video, it was all about you experiencing the ‘80s computer for the first time, and trying to remind people what that was like. And so I focus on the culture and experience, not necessarily the hardcore programming. Yeah, we’ll do some basic programming or something, but I don’t focus on that. It’s like, what can we do? And then also, what are some of the real modern things that are out that makes that hobby even more fun when it was frustrating back in the ‘80s as a user? So I’m really focused on the user, not the engineer, programmer side of it.
Kat: Yeah, very cool! Any final thoughts? Anything else you wanna leave our users with?
Steven: So I think my question for myself, and I think for everybody else, is how do you balance all these different platforms? And so kind of pulling this full circle, this is kind of why I’m just focused on YouTube right now. I think I’m just gonna stay there. I’m getting really tired of trying to figure out all these other things. And YouTube is the second largest search engine online. Google’s first, Youtube is second. And Google is really starting to do some fun things with community pages. So you can make community posts, I can put pictures there, I do get subscribers from those where I don’t the other. So I think for me, I’m probably gonna start to bounce off some of those other platforms other than announcing a video. So Twitter, I’ll definitely announce a video, and that’ll go on my Facebook page. Not my personal one, but my RetroCombs.
I’m also in Mastodon. Mastodon has been interesting for me because that’s where my peeps hang out.
Kat: I don’t even know this one.
Steven: Mastodon is a federated universe. Actually, you’ve heard of Facebook’s new Threads. Threads is going to be a federated platform as well. So it’ll be able to connect to Mastodon. So Mastodon is Twitter without the Twitter-backed infrastructure. And you can create a federated instance on a specific server. Those servers are typically servers that house folks who have your same interest as opposed to Twitter just being all over, and then you join.
Kat: So it sounds like Reddit.
Steven: No, it’s not as contained as that. It’s still like Twitter in the sense that you have 288 characters you post, you can add an image. You can’t do a lot of video because it’s a very small band or a small file storage, but it gets federated. In other words, that post goes out, and then people toot it, is what they call it. And as that grows and people become more aware of it, and I don’t know the technical, but it seems a little bit different. And a lot of people who abandoned Twitter because of Elon, decided that they were gonna go to Mastodon. So I decided, well, I’ll follow them over there too. Now, I did not give up Twitter because I’ve got a large following on Twitter I don’t wanna lose, but I am over there. So if I do a video, I will post on Mastodon, Twitter, Facebook, that that video is available or that live stream’s coming up.
And then I think the other thing that’s really been impactful for me is Discord. Discord is a feature of membership for my channel. So if somebody joins my channel and Buy Me a Coffee, or as a YouTube member, then they get access to the Discord along with a bunch of other fun stuff. I like to think they’re fun stuff. And I give them stickers and some other things. But Discord has been probably one of the biggest ways for me to build a community. So people join the Discord, but I’m a member of other Discords that are similar in content. They know me in there as RetroCombs. I was asked two weekends ago to host an international live stream on the MEGA65, which we won’t get into that.
Kat: Very cool!
Steven: Which was really cool. And so I had nine folks that I hosted, and we talked about the MEGA65 and what it could do. We called it MEGA Vision, we’re gonna keep doing those. We hope to do a live one in Germany eventually. So I’m glad to be a part of that community, and that brings in awareness. So if you put yourself out there and agree to do other things, then subscribers will come your way too. That’s a lot!
Kat: So cool! Well, that’s it! I guess at this point we’ll transition into some sort of outro.
Steven: All right! RetroCombs out!
Kat: Oh, yeah! We should do that. Retro Kat out.
Steven: That’s right. Yeah!
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also, thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys.
Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too.