Kraig Adams

Kraig is a YouTuber and content creator with video topics spanning NYC vlogs to cinematic hiking films
April 8, 2021

I'm an influencer, I create content. I am in the process of shifting away from creating content for other people and businesses and brands, and just documenting my life, and my life is becoming the product, the show, the movie that I am documenting, processing, presenting to people, and then monetising that.

So exactly in line with the community that you're trying to build; I am making a full-time income just doing the things that I love to do.

So what is that? It's hiking for the last couple of years, travel has always been a part of that. Before that I did a big binge on just travel videos. Before then I was a newcomer to New York City, so I was really excited to just make Casey Neistat-style daily vlogs. Before that I was a college student trying to make money, but also do video things, so I was doing freelance, I was doing crew work in the camera department, but then also shooting weddings. And then YouTube was a great outlet for all of this. And it's strange working backwards, usually I work forwards.

How did you start to consider and prepare for full-time YouTube while working freelance?

So video was a focus of mine coming out of high school, 100%. I went to college in Buffalo for television and film arts, and did that. I got most of the benefit and the learning from side projects, side films, writing scripts with friends, starting a club for people who wanted to actually make films and not just learn about cinema. And then freelance was just me taking as many video and photo related jobs that I could.

Coming out of Buffalo there wasn't that many, and that's why I shifted into weddings and really doubled down on that, because it was a moneymaker, and residual because people always get married. I just wasn't smart enough to start any referral base and connect with the right people to get enough income and high end paying jobs from freelance in Buffalo.

Going to New York, though, a big city, lots of potential for content creators, little did I know. Definitely did more freelance, just taking everything I can just to scrape money together. I would much rather work a 10 hour shift just offloading camera footage for a crew then making more money doing something else, like a 9-5, so I just scraped by and did as much freelance as I could. Kraigslist.

What was the crossover period between freelance work and full-time YouTube like, do you remember the jump point?

I did an internship at MTV and Viacom in Times Square, and that was the traditional internship that I was supposed to do out of college. And then as soon as I graduated college and fully moved to New York City it was definitely a point, a fork in the road.

I did apply and got interviews, successful interviews with an agency for book publishers and authors. It's pretty much a creative agency for creating content for authors, and I had to choose between doing that 9-5 career path in marketing versus going full-time with weddings.

And this coincided with a lot of success I was starting to have with a channel called Wedding Film School on YouTube, which was just creating tutorials and reviews, teaching people how to shoot weddings. And that started to make enough money where I was justified in going with that full-time, and I'm definitely glad the path that I chose. I would have been working right off of Bryant Park, every time I go to that park and walk by I do look at that building and think what if I went down that path? And yeah, I think that was 2014.


Wow, so you've been doing this for a while now.


Yeah. I'm 30, I'm no spring chicken anymore.

Your video style and subjects have changed so much during your time on YouTube. Has this been intentional, or a more organic flow following your own passions?

Yeah, I think it would make a lot more sense if I dedicated myself to one topic, one interest, and then just kept building that community. And eventually after I've maxed out what I can do, I would start to promote other people who are shooting better weddings, other people who are shooting better travel videos, other hiking videos. So that's the natural progression, once you saturate yourself within a topic, share all you can, and then have enough influence to just raise the ships around you, instead of just focusing on yourself. So more community building.

That's where I was heading with the weddings. I was making more money documenting how to shoot weddings and promoting how other people shoot weddings than actually shooting the weddings themselves, and I just saw the future going down.

I had an entire business plan that I wrote up about the next five years, and integrating different shows, and a whole photo aspect, and then I was just like, I'd rather go do something else.

So that success inspired me to just start over somewhere else that was just a little closer to the middle of the equilibrium of me just sharing whatever I wanted to do. Because it's a weird thing, you're successful in one thing, and that just gives you enough runway to jump and fly over to the next Island, I guess. I don't know, that's not the best metaphor, I'm sure there's a better one out there.


No, it makes perfect sense, yeah, you take the learnings, and experience, the momentum from one transition to the next.


Yeah, because it's just me following my passion, and just trying to monetise whatever I'm interested in. And if I'm just not as interested in weddings, I'm going to go to the next thing. And that's how I've ended up at hiking.

And corona, the pandemic, things have shifted and I've not been able to travel as much, so I'm in the midst of another shift that's more online community focused, like streaming and Twitch and podcast and whatnot. But hiking has been fun, and once I'm able to travel a lot more, I'm going to get back to that. Still a lot to do, I still really enjoy it, getting out there.

And it's interesting you caught me in the minimalist era of my life. I was definitely going through some growing pains of feeling constricted and wanting to get out and see the world and have more freedom, so minimalism was just a tool that I adopted to help me have more freedom and to shoot more hiking videos, and to just be free.

How did the hiking videos come about?

I was traveling to different cities and shooting travel films based on just what I had seen other travel YouTubers shooting in that city, like in Bangkok and just around Bali, and New York, just around the States and whatnot. I was just getting frustrated because I felt like I was just copying, making worse versions of other things that I'd seen, and I just felt a little crazy around the people. So I went into nature, went into the mountains, way fewer people, and I was able to just document the relaxing aspect of getting away from the city into the mountains. And I was a new hiker. Two years ago I had never hiked alone before.

So you can absolutely see the progression of learning how to do things, and carrying less and less stuff. My pack gets a lot smarter, I get faster, I get more ambitious with the hikes that I do. Because there is a danger aspects, but there's also an efficiency aspect. You want to carry the fewest amount of things to have the best experience, and yeah. It's this beautiful, once again, equilibrium, this balance of minimising the friction to have the best experience. That was fascinating to me.


Yeah, me too, especially for a couple of levels, from my perspective. One, I don't often see what hiking in the States is like, it's, in the literal sense of the word, it's a foreign landscape to me, so I really enjoy seeing, especially your US-based hiking videos. But also I'm not a hiker, so it is quite educational for me to see how you approach this, what do you pack, how do you go about these things? It's a really good little series of videos.


Yeah, so much of it has been providing value in the form of education. I don't generate enough interest inbound to simply just document what I'm up to with no regard for helping people to do it themselves, so that'll probably balance out a little bit more in the future. Definitely with my trips, it's hard. You just get so much interest when you try to actually legitimately add value and help people to travel better and smarter. I can see the goal of just sharing my life without trying to help anyone, and it just helps people verse me making tutorials, reviews, do this hike, this is how you do it, this is what you pack.


No, I think you're combining the two quite well. You have a video that is just what you're doing, but within that, it's educational, within that you're teaching, and that comes across a lot more. I don't know, it's an organic way of doing it, it just happens naturally.


But the goal is to just be. And just share myself without trying to package it as uphill to help someone.

So that's the aspiration of probably my next two years.

What's the best thing about being self-employed?

I'm definitely spoiled in the amount of time that I have to just do whatever I want. It's tough to take the veneer off to realise what life is like for my brothers, my sisters, people with responsibilities. Having kids would be insane. But just being here in New York City, doing what I'm doing, it's awesome. I have unlimited freedom of mobility, of time, of choice. Yeah, I just have ultimate freedom. I've just gotten over this threshold of, I can go down any avenue. If I wanted to start a YouTube channel of just golfing, I have enough runway. What do they call it in startups?


Exactly that, yeah.


It's runway. Yeah, so I have enough runway. If I had to just eat into my savings and just burn money dedicating like all of my time, 30 days a month, or whatever, for an entire year, I could probably just dedicate an entire year to making a golf channel, and it would be successful probably within a month, generating income.

So I'm definitely over a threshold, and it's making me realise, what is the purpose? What is this all for? Growth is not it. You can't just say, what do you want to do with everything that you're building and creating? And you can't just say, I just want to be bigger and better. That's cancerous. There has to be something more. And I'm starting to analyse that and think and ask smart people about how they face this problem themselves, and it comes with getting older, and I want to give back and help community and be more than just a person who's influencing people.


That is so interesting. You're right, if your goal for so long is a certain goal and you achieve that, what next? What do you do? What do you think about? I'm curious, what conclusions have you come to, or what are you exploring at the moment? You have the growth you want, you have the audience you want, and like you said, the runway to just create whatever you want to create. What do you think at this point?


We see movies, we see news, we see this rich successful person, and then we hear the common story, they've made it, but they're unhappy, why? Will that happened to me? That was the big question that I've been asking myself the last five years. At what point do you have enough money to just take care of yourself, take care of the people around you, and at what point, how much money do you need to just have complete freedom to have all the choices in front of you to go in any direction, to have enough runway to do that successfully, and then even once you satisfy that, what's the next goal? It can't be just, I want 2 million followers on Instagram, I want 5 million subs, that's just growth at any cost, and there's definitely negative effects to that. I'm definitely just trying to find the purpose, and yeah, I will.

What's the hardest thing about being self-employed?

A lot of my friends have left the city, and I was living out of a backpack and traveling nonstop and made this big hurrah about leaving New York City, and I'm finally gone, I'm going to travel the world, goodbye New York City, goodbye all my friends. And I'm back here just because of the circumstance, and yeah, it's hard to hang out with anybody in person, regardless of the pandemic or not.

I've been trying to reach out and make online social circles, and I feel like people just don't trust my word with promises that I try to put out there in the world, and I just don't think my prediction model is as attuned as I think it is, I don't think people respect and believe that I will follow through with things that I say, and that is core to the social connection. People have to know that they can trust you, whether it's, I'll say, I'll do this project, I'll do this video, I'll leave this city, I will do this in this amount of time, and then if you just don't hit those goals, people aren't going to trust the next one that you try to make.


Do you think that is a function of the medium, because it's through online, is there less genuine connection if it's through a screen, or is that caused by something else at the moment?


Yeah, so I've been looking into who were my friends, how did we meet, under what circumstance do they grow or fade? And a lot of influencers will become friends with other influencers because there's a mutual exchange of value, cross-promotion of audiences. This person's helping me, so I'll help them, it's very transactional within the influencer community when you're just making friends with other people who are doing what you're doing. And I think not having friends and family who don't.

You have to have friends who aren't influencers when you're an influencer because they'll talk to you out of the kindness of their heart, they want to help you, regardless of the number of likes you might bring them if you tag them in a photo. And I think having that is important, you can't have just 100% transactional relationships.

A couple of my friends have had more success in terms of growing their audience, and just metrics on YouTube and Instagram and Twitter and whatnot. And it's interesting, I try to put everything back on myself and analyse what I'm doing differently to not accomplish the things that I'm trying to accomplish as far as reaching out to them, not getting a response, sometimes getting a response, asking to, "Let's hang out, let's do this." "I can't," or maybe we can maybe, but then the last minute they'll cancel. So it's a good exercise to look at the situation from their perspective, and sometimes that's hard because you don't fully know what's going on, you can only see what they post.

And then it's this transactional social relationship where you do the weird thing of reverse engineering, like how you can get enough value, leverage to get them to want to hang out with you, and it shouldn't be that hard. Maybe that's just the way things go when the stakes get higher, but it's weird. I've never reverse engineered trying to get someone to hang out for coffee before, but I find myself doing that these last six months and I'm like, is it worth it? Do I do with this to other people? It's a shitty feeling.


Is there the flip side, the positive side to it? You say a lot of, in the influencer world, friendships can be quite transactional, and you meet people through an exchange, you meet people through a collaboration, you meet people through a job. Are you also able to bond with people because you share a common life experience, you have the same type of work, you have the same struggles and the same successes. Is the flip side as positive?


Yeah, I would say I have a lot more friendships, and then some of them are good friendships through social media, through just connecting over creating content and doing what we do. And I think there is a mutual understanding when you have maybe a significant other who is in media and gets it. My girlfriend right now is a lawyer, and she has never really posted for attention before, and it's a new thing that we discussed, and I think it's really working because she's just not what I am, and I'm not what she is. And there's a beautiful realisation that you don't have to always be with someone who is the exact same as you.

Because we get the benefit of putting everyone on a spectrum of how much value they bring us, and we should dedicate time to people at the top and less at the bottom. It makes sense mathematically, and it's efficient for growing a following, but there's just something about it that doesn't lead to happiness. It's like you have to have genuine people. I would say that's love, unconditional, it's loving someone regardless of what value they bring you, and it extends past your significant other to your entire social circle. You can't just have transactional relationships.

And like I said, it makes me analyse how I treat people, and I guess this loops back to, if I would travel around, posts on Instagram, and then agree to meet up with maybe one or two people based on the number of followers they had, or the number of DMs that I see throughout our entire time of them following me, I would meet up with someone I trust more, who's sent me a lot of messages that I understand, versus someone who's reaching out for the first time. So it's tough because you have to put people in a spectrum to make your time valuable. But then again, the more you rely on this spectrum of quantifying people's importance, it's not it, it's not the full picture, you have to have this under this other social circle on top of that of not always doing stuff to get something. It's a selfish nature.

So one of the beautiful things about New York City is how diverse it is. You have the rich, the poor, the fortunate, the unfortunate, all mixed into one crazy soup. People from all over walking next to each other, and that's why I'm attracted to the city. But on top of it, you can see the opposite of people who create content helping each other and hanging out with each other just because it will further their career, and it's a weird juxtaposition of those two worldviews, I guess.

So that leads me to, how do I solve the problem of feeling like I am lacking trust, and people don't believe me? So authenticity and transparency is something that I'm really digging into, learning a lot from smarter people, taking notes, making an outline for my approach. And it goes back to this idea of, as a society, are we moving towards more sharing our personal data? I think we are, and it's causing more discussion about encryption and data ownership, and how companies are using the data that we give away for free, or trade for services or utilities. Google, who should we date? Where should I work? What should I do tonight? We just give our data for those answers.

And I think we're moving towards a society where we're sharing more, but I don't know, it's really weird because I'll play it out, I'll game it out in my head, what if I shared every single phone call I ever have? What if I stream every time I use a screen on my computer? What if I have a stream, a timeline, of every single piece of content I produce or consume? What if I make reaction videos, or quick text summaries, or review every piece of content I consume, YouTube video, song, everything. Why do I have secrets? If I have a secret, am I hiding it because I feel subconscious, am I scared that people will know? Why am I scared that someone will know this? If I play a video game for 10 hours on a binge, why would I hide that? What do I feel if someone might know that. Finances, why do I hide how much I make? What do I spend my money on? How much did I pay in taxes?

Why is all of this private, what benefit would come from breaking the stigma of sharing these things? And if I go backwards in time, I can remember a time when just sharing a video of a vlog of your personal life on YouTube was blasphemy. I remember my family being like, "Don't share any videos of your nieces or nephews, don't. Why would you ever do that? That's so dangerous." So we're completely shifting in the direction of share everything, and I'm just trying to analyse the pros and cons of that, and I think there's a lot of pros, to be honest.


I think we're going to see the biggest shift with that as more and more generations grow up with easy access to the internet. I mean, I'm the same age as you, I'm 30, and I think we lived through what you just said. YouTube was, it was weird to share just your life online for a long time, and then I think the iPhone came out when I was 18, 17, something like that. So we had that process of having a camera with us at all times. We grew up with that. We remember a time when that was not there, and now we have this now. The next generation grew up with cameras with them from the get go.


Even more.


There is no before and after for them, it's just, oh yeah, people share things online, that's just what everyone does. And even looking at the difference in content style between what we post on Instagram and YouTube versus TikTok, TikTok is unpolished, it's more raw, it's just what people put out and they edit, they didn't polish these photos or videos, they don't try to make it look too premium because it's more just real life, it's more just natural for them just to film and post, and who knows what's going to be after that. I think you're right, the more and more this goes on, the more natural it's going to be to live a large portion of your life online.


Yeah. I did not consume TikTok, and I've been, the past couple of weeks, just meeting with as many people that I know that do consume and produce on TikTok, And I would say the language that, you can't just take YouTube style, or Instagram style and just upload it to TikTok. People smell that, it's very apparent. I would say the language of TikTok is vulnerability.

So the idea that you can dance, you can be cringy, You can be acting in a situation that should just be natural and social, is the language of TikTok, and I think that's a natural shift. And I'm seeing the comparison of people, like my older brother or sister, compared to me on YouTube, they might look at what I do on YouTube with my vlogs back in 2015 and be like, "Yeah, that's cringy. Why would you eat on camera and put that on YouTube?" It's the same thing, just with a different flavour.

What does your typical work day look like?

Things have been weird without traveling. So there was a hard shift from trying to research the next hike, go, execute, document, and then just spend a couple of days milling about cafes, editing, uploading, distributing, creating micro content, reacting to the feedback to it, and then shifting my idea of how I can do the next one bigger and better. So that was just nonstop for probably about a year following Iceland and Tour du Mont Blanc in Switzerland. That was pretty good, that was a grind. And I was traveling and living out of a backpack because it just helped me to see more places and produce more content easier. So back here in New York City, I am in my studio apartment. I got a one bedroom, very minimalist. I've been promising a tour, but I don't know. I don't want to make another minimalist apartment tour. That'd be too close to home cringe throwback.

Yeah, so I'm just focusing on consuming content from smarter people, processing it, taking notes, analysing it, thinking through what's important, and then repackaging that information and those thoughts, those ideas, in the form of video, audio, and text. So Twitter, Clubhouse, podcast, streaming.

Haven't been making too many YouTube videos just because my content has become so niche for hiking audience, so when I'm not out there traveling, hiking, it doesn't make sense to publish in those channels. So like I said, I've been pretty successful, monetary wise, with the hiking stuff, so I've got enough runway to just at least go through the winter and just focus on consuming cool things, thinking about what's important, and then curating that to my own audience.

I've been trying to grow my channels as far as communication, first and foremost. I just miss having good conversations with people, and just sharing that with my audience. Less so helping with a specific topic, like solving a problem in their life compared to, how do you hike? How do you do this thing efficiently? How do you travel? How do you pack? To more just me living the life that I want here in New York City, and just documenting and sharing it. I guess the problem I'm solving for my audience right now is just how do you live like I live? So I'm just sharing pretty much a stream of tutorials and reviews of my own life, which is weird. I guess that's an influencer, right?

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do what you do?

Yeah, I get this question a lot, and it's hard to say it over and over and over and over again. It's also hard to distill a decades worth of knowledge into a one minute answer. So a lot of my process for sharing and helping people efficiently live the life that I'm living, and follow in my own footsteps, is to automate that process in the form of videos, mainly videos, photo, text, audio, so I'm answering those questions. If you get questions like what gear do you have? What camera, what microphone do you use? I could answer that every single time I get the question, or I could automate it in the form of making, which is a gear grid of all of my current gear, and with links for affiliate, so people can answer that question themselves.

And in the same way it's like, how do you live this way? It's like I'm trying to just make a stream of tutorials and reviews for people to follow in real time. It's a bit harder to go back and discover what you should consume. It's this hard problem of, it's not enough to make great stuff that helps. The other side of the problem is to get that in front of the right person at the right time, and I would call that marketing. So you can have a great shoe, that perfectly solves the problem of someone who is ready to spend that money at that price point, but if they never ever see the shoe in the first place, it just doesn't work. I'm analysing the balance, the equilibrium, the back and forth of creating the content, but then also marketing it within my own content in different ways through people, and whatnot, to just get it in front of the right person.

It's just a lot, and I never, ever ceased to be amazed at just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Every single question that you answer reveals two more. It is fractal, it is never ending, and it's a bit frustrating sometimes. In the same way of growth at any cost, it's like, just be happy, just chill, stop trying to just know everything and just accept that you can't always be in control, and you can't know everything, and you can't be 100% free. It's a weird balance, you can't just be floating in the cosmic soup of just letting anything happen to you without making plans and executing them. But then again, you can't be a rock, you got to float.

What's next for you?

Monetising play exploration and connection. So that's exploration is traveling, and I put within that category exercise and athletics, so that's hiking, running, making content and sharing that with my audience, and also helping people to be motivated to do the same thing. Play is just social connection, playing games online with people. Yeah, yeah. It's fun to play games with people online, I feel people, it's just a different kind of connection. And then social connection is just chatting, so I want to have discussions. I sometimes get frustrated when I have something to say, and I sometimes just can't express it in an elegant way. So it's something that I've been putting a lot of effort into. And that's why I'm always constantly taking notes and trying to build upon it, and having conversations like this really helps me. And I think my girlfriend goes a little crazy because I'll have what I call a one-on-one podcast with her where I just flush out all of my ideas and what I want to talk, and sometimes she's just like, "Yes, yes, yes, I don't care."

So yeah, building out the podcast to have more conversations with people, I'm excited about Clubhouse, really excited about streaming and Twitch. It's just same thing, different flavour, it's all email lists, making a promise, keeping a promise, as far as the content that you're going to distribute. But as far as hiking, it's going to take some time, so a couple of months, but I'm definitely going to make more hiking videos. I have a list that's like 100 hikes to do.

Alright, I'm starving. This was good.


Yeah, this was really fun. Thanks for taking the time, I really appreciate it.

Kraig Adams

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