From Near Death To YouTube Stardom, A Startup Story




A version of this article previously appeared on Forbes.

Mike Falzone nearly died twice in a two-week period, during which he was also fired from his job. On the way home from the hospital, he vowed that he would never work for anyone again.

Since that day, Mike has written a successful book and toured nationally as a musician and comedian. With nearly 70,000 subscribers to his BestFriendmenship YouTube channel and 6 million video views, Mike is an emerging YouTube star.



If you haven't already subscribed yet,
subscribe now for free weekly Infochachkie articles!

You can watch/listen to our 12-minute discussion below:

Like a lot of YouTubers, Mike began making videos as a way to promote his musical career. According to Mike, “I got onsite (in) 2006. Just because I was a musician, I'd been a musician for... ten, twelve years. I still very much consider myself a musician. You have dream when you're little and kinda want to be a pop star and then you start playing shows. (Then) there's this journey from working harder to smarter. And I think (YouTube) was at least a small step in that process, trying to figure out a way to get yourself out there, in a way that not a lot of people were taking advantage of.”

Mike gained some notoriety early in his career with some humorous covers, including, Rebecca Black's Friday. His deadpanned delivery of the banal lyrics is simultaneously painful and hilarious. Mike soon evolved from recording covers to doing "walkie talkie" vlogging in which he records a humorous, quick-cut monologue while walking through his neighborhood. Paraphrasing Mike, many of his videos involve, "advice you wish someone would have given you when you were young, even though you wouldn't have listened to them at the time." In this way, Mike acts as a hip, surrogate big brother to his fans.

In keeping with his advice-oriented videos, I asked Mike what career tips he would give himself if he could go back to 2006 when he began his YouTube career. "Well, first, if I could see that kid I'd be like, 'Shave the goatee, because... you look like Jay Buhner.’[LAUGHS] Back then... I had no plan. I just wanted to make something."

In addition to facial hair recommendations, Mike would also school his younger self regarding the importance of learning all the aspects of the music, comedy and video industries. He now realizes that it is not enough to simply be a performer. In Mike's words, "That's where a lot of people run into problems, as they keep (focusing on) grandiose (ideas)and they don't learn what holds their ideas up. The more you learn about everybody's jobs, (the better). Take music, for example. You (should) learn the recording technicians (job)...what promoters do (and) specifically what promoters don't do... why people come to shows, how people find music. The more you know about all these different avenues, the more grounded your footing is gonna be for whatever you wanna do."

Performers Are Entrepreneurs

Mike was surprised when I identified him as an entrepreneur. However, the title is apt. Just like tech entrepreneurs, performers must create something from nothing and then package, position, promote and distribute their product to their fans. “It's funny that you say the word 'entrepreneur' and I'm just trying to make money to eat and have an apartment. I guess I never thought about it like that, I always think of entrepreneurs as (people who) have all their paperwork in a row and... (their) taxes all figured out.[LAUGHS] It's kind of comforting, in the way that you call me an entrepreneur. It's either, you get it and you see how much work goes into this stuff, or (you think I am just)a dude that makes videos on the Internet, like everyone else does in the world. But it is a thing that takes so much work and as crazy as it may sound, I have 300 or whatever videos... I would consider it a body of work and not just a bunch of stuff I shot and uploaded."

Mike's entrepreneurial activities go beyond YouTube. In 2011 he leveraged Kickstarter to publish a book entitled, Never Stop Shutting Up. His campaign elicited the support of 364 backers and exceeded his fundraising goal of $10,000. He also tours as a musician and comedian and spends his spare time designing T-shirts (my personal favorite is I've Never Been A Lifeguard).

Life Lessons From Not Dying

If it sounds like Mike is in a bit of a hurry, it may have something to do with his successful battle with a life-threatening intestinal illness.“I was having horrible pains one day, and turns out I needed an emergency appendectomy. I went to the walk-in... way late cuz I was drinking the night before and there was a wedding and I had sushi. (I'm thinking)'I screwed my body. I get it.' So I didn't go to the hospital until way late. My appendix exploded on the operating table.

So that got sorted out and then I went home for a week (and) got fired from a job that I had just gotten because of the week of work that I missed. Then I started having chest pains when I was breathing and I called the hospital cuz, at that point, they were on my speed dial because I'd been back and forth so many times. [LAUGHS] I had kidney stones, twice, during these two weeks and I had a pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot that ends in your lungs. So, that was the second thing that could have killed me.”

I concluded our talk by asking Mike an obvious question: "How did your multi-near death experiences change your view on life?" “...the thing that taught me was (that) we're not here forever. In a couple of years, I might be back there (in the hospital), and I might not walk out this time. So, with everything that I make, I keep in mind that these people are giving me some of their time. The people that watch my videos, they're giving me, like three, five minutes of their time that they'll never be able to get back.

So whether it's a show... a video, (or) a podcast, I want to make everything as good as possible because I want it to be worth it. I want it to be worth that person's time.(I'm) 26 years old and...(I) had a doctor tell me how close to death I was. So, like why would you not do just whatever you want for the rest of your life? [LAUGHS] I pretty much told my mom on the way home, I'm never gonna have a boss. I'm just gonna do whatever I want."

Follow my startup-oriented Twitter feed here: @johngreathouse. I promise I will never Tweet about cute kitten YouTube videos or that killer burrito I just ate.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

Get real world advice from John Greathouse, Subscribe Today.