Jirard Khalil, aka YouTube’s “The Completionist,” comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Of his three older siblings, two are members of the founding teams at prominent technology startups, and the third is a highly successful small business owner. Khalil’s father is a business owner as well.
When it came time to choose his entrepreneurial path, the youngest Khalil took what at the time was an extremely non-traditional path. He decided to build a content business on YouTube. The Completionist is a rapidly growing video game adventure and review network.
While this would have been unheard of as recently as two or three years ago, today, YouTube is in many ways a viable alternative to building a traditional startup — with its own unique advantages and, of course, disadvantages.
The YouTube platform, and similarly the appetite of its audience for professional independent content, have evolved since its early days. It’s no longer a stretch for a single YouTube entrepreneur to amass millions of loyal subscribers and, in turn, generate billions of video views. Fortunately, the opportunities to monetize these massive audiences have evolved in parallel.
Khalil is a graduate of the film school at USC and sought a way to incorporate the creative and technical skills developed there with his other passions in life: movies, comedy, cooking, and gaming. Working solo at first and eventually bringing aboard partner and co-host Greg Wilmot, Khalil dabbled in each of these different subject matters before finally settling on gaming.
Gaming satisfied two critical criteria: First, it is a subject about which Jirard is passionate and well-informed. Second, core gaming audiences are incredibly hungry for related content and communities built around their hobby.
The premise of “The Completionist” is for Khalil to complete a single video game in its entirety each week and then discuss all all aspects of the game on his weekly show, including secrets and incentives for completion. Fans determine which game he plays next through recommendations and voting.
An average episode requires about six full days of work per week — one to three days to complete the game and record footage, and the other three days to write, record, and edit the video. This reveals one of the biggest downsides to entering the content business: It’s both time consuming and difficult to scale (on the production side). On the distribution side, on the other hand, the YouTube platform provides as much or more leverage as any you could find elsewhere in any other business.
Khalil is a natural in front of the camera. He is just the right mix of charm and intelligence, but at the same time authentic as a gamer. He showed up to our meeting with a month-old, inbetween beard, wearing a tailored blazer over a vintage comic book t-shirt. My first impression was Jack Black in “School of Rock.” When he speaks, not only does he come across credible and knowledgeable about all things video games and video produciton, but he exudes a contagious passion and excitement for how he gets to earn a living. Perhaps most importantly, Khalil is actually capable of completing any video game in a matter of days, sight unseen (or at least he has been thus far).
Wilmot, provides the perfect counterpoint to Khalil, both as a novice gamer and as a comic foil. A performing musician — currently within a Beatles cover-band — Wilmot assumed the persona of “The Mediocre-ist.” He will soon launch a parody show during which he attempts to complete his own games and “hilarity ensues.” The pair have created several other spin-off as well including “Defend It,” a mock trial where good games are defended against bad reviews, various Top Ten lists, and a weekly video podcast titled DLC (“The Downloadable Cast”).
Despite Khalil’s confidence in the premise of “The Completionist” at the outset, the viability of an unproven content creator building a sustainable business on YouTube was no guarantee. He and his entire family continued to harbor lingering doubts.
All of these fears were relieved when his first video generated nearly 45,000 views in less than one day. Shortly thereafter, the budding star was recognized for the first time by a school aged fan in a Los Angeles GameStop retail store. According to Khalil, the ever-increasing positive feedback reinforced his belief that there was a real business to be built on YouTube.
The key questions when comparing YouTube entrepreneurship to that within traditional startups involve startup cost, upside and growth potential, barriers to entry, and likelihood of success. Khalil pegs the upfront cost for producing professional quality YouTube content as approximately $7,500 — assuming one doesn’t already have any of the required hardware or software tools, such as camera equipment, an editing station, data storage, and editing software.
One of Khalil’s more subjective early questions was the relative values of production quality and content quality. He explains his eventual conclusion drawn after months of gathering feedback saying, “There are many other YouTubers out there that have incredible production value, but when it’s all said and done, the views do not reflect the quality because the actual content is not where it should be. The ‘A for effort’ attempt on YouTube does not necessarily work in a business model like this. It ultimately comes down to what makes your content relate able and different from the rest.”
Since launching as a channel in March, “The Completionist” has published 44 total videos and amassed nearly 30,000 subscribers and more than 1.5 million video views. In June, the channel’s viewership grew 100 percent to 500,000 monthly views.
Having demonstrated early success, Khalil and Wilmot have recently signed a marketing and distribution partnership with YouTube network heavyweight Maker Studios’ “Game Station.” The Completionist has also partnered with game blogs such as Screw Attack, Normal Boots, and G2P0 Gaming.
According to Khalil, once he reaches 1 million monthly views, his operation will be “lifestyle profitable” and he can consider bringing on additional staff to increase production rates and drive subscriber growth. At that point, the growth levers he can push are many.
Many of the most successful YouTube stars generate tens of millions of views per month in spaces such as music, comedy, fashion, and gaming. At these levels, a YouTube business even with limited staff and resources can be highly profitable. The greatest successes have been achieved when several such stars have banded together to leverage their combined networks. Examples include now market leaders Maker Studios, Machinima, StyleHaul, and the newly-formed HaulerDeals.
“The Completionist” family of content is unlike most of what is available elsewhere in the gaming space. The chief reason for this is Khalil and Wilmot’s insistence on positivity. In this way, considering the early feedback from his audience, “The Completionist” stands a good chance of building upon its early success.
“The market is saturated with angry video game content,” Khalil says. “There are a lot of videos on the Internet that focus on the negative aspects of what these games have to offer. There’s nothing wrong with being negative with a review, it’s just been reproduced more times than necessary. I always say it’s easier to talk about the bad than to understand the good.”
YouTube may not be the traditional answer to startup entrepreneurship. That said, for those with a popular domain expertise and the ability to authentically connect with an audience, it offers a viable alternative. As the platform continues to mature, and content consumption shifts further online and toward mobile devices, the opportunity to build value on top of this platform will grow as well. For “The Completionist,” this looks like a future of getting paid to do what he loves.