YouTube fame tends to be counted in hours, days, weeks or, possibly, months if all goes really right. It doesn’t often stretch much further—into something delineated by years. Which makes the ongoing nine-year run by comedians Rhett and Link, whose daily show, Good Mythical Morning, counts 17.1 million subscribers, surprising even to them.
“It was all so unknown when we were first getting started,” says Rhett, 43. “We were very much just focused on, ‘How can we keep doing this and providing for our families?’”
“If you had told us about our current situation 15 years ago, I would’ve been elated and extremely relieved,” says Link, also 43. “It’s been scary. Would we have liked more support? Absolutely. Would we have liked to have someone we could have emulated? Definitely.”
Rhett (a.k.a. Rhett James McLaughlin) and Link (a.k.a. Charles Lincoln Neal III) have already established themselves as YouTube’s grand old men and as two of the platform’s most consistently lucrative stars, staples of Forbes’ top-earning YouTubers list. (They’ve made it every year since we started the ranking in 2015, most recently landing at No. 4 with $20 million last year.) Over the last few years, they’ve increasingly displayed a desire to think bigger than their variety show, and in 2019, they dipped their toes into what remains largely uncharted territory for YouTubers: M&A. Their Mythical Entertainment, the parent company encompassing all their endeavors, spent $10 million to acquire SMOSH, a sketch comedy, improv and gaming YouTube channel with 25.1 million subscribers today.
For their next act, they’d like to be investors, too, and they’ve put aside $5 million to start their grandly named Mythical Accelerator fund, using the money to acquire ownership stakes in other social media stars’ businesses. “We’ve always been interested in building outside of ourselves, building significant enterprises, hopefully, something that looks like a studio with other people who’ve succeeded in building fandom on the internet,” says Brian Flanagan. He’s Mythical Entertainment’s chief operating officer, a role he held previously at Demarest Media, which produced things like 2016’s Oscar-nominated Hacksaw Ridge. “We think we can invest and then deploy a lot of expertise, advice and growth guidance to people,” he says. “They have developed a major fandom, and their fandom is loyal, highly engaged and growing.”
With Flanagan’s help, Rhett and Link aim to be something akin to the venture capitalists who’ve been hurriedly shoveling money into the influencer industry—the “creator economy,” if you want to call it that—for the better part of a year, a group already including names like Andreessen Horowitz and Seven Seven Six, the new VC fund from Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian. The attention newly spent on the space is a distinct change from several years ago when Instagram and Facebook seemed to dominate social media, and influencers were seen as Hollywood’s insubstantial cousins.
Rhett and Link have already made their first investment: in up-and-coming YouTuber Jarvis Johnson, taking a minority stake in the company he founded as the umbrella over his various revenue streams. Additional terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.
Johnson, 29, is exemplary of the type of stars Rhett and Link would link to finance. First and foremost, like Rhett and Link, Johnson is advertiser friendly. (This matters a lot: Almost every social media star still makes the majority of their earnings through ads appearing on their videos or some other type of corporate sponsorship.) “I make comedy videos,” he says. “Well, I hope they’re comedy videos.” He’s funny enough to get 1.6 million subscribers following his commentary on internet culture and other YouTubers, a discussion about “what other people are making and what other people are talking about,” he says. His most popular one video, which has almost 10 million views, critiques a YouTube channel called “Five Minute Crafts,” a series Johnson dismisses as peddling “ridiculous clickbait.”
“Whenever I see a low-stakes opportunity to goof on something—but also ask, ‘Hey, why does this exist?’—that’s the space that I find myself in,” Johnson says.
Before seeking out his own internet fame, Johnson worked as a software engineer at Yelp and Patreon, which offers an easy subscription model for creators to use and generate greater revenue. It was at Patreon where he first ran into Mythical Entertainment’s Flanagan in a meeting, a happenstantial moment: Johnson wasn’t supposed to be there and had needed to ask a friend to tag along. (“I was kind of, like, sneaking into meetings that I wasn’t supposed to be at,” he admits.) At that point, Johnson was already mulling over whether he should start his own YouTube channel, and he and Flanagan stayed in touch. (“The thing that I really value about his work is that he has got a very wry sense of humor about what’s both good and bad with internet entertainment,” Flanagan says.) The deal discussions kicked up late last year and were carried out mostly over telephone and video chat; Johnson has yet to meet Rhett in person and has met Link only once face-to-face.
Beyond his wisecracks, Rhett and Link also liked Johnson’s interest in extending his brand. In addition to his main YouTube page, he has added five more YouTube channels, a Twitch stream and a podcast he cohosts with a friend, Sad Boyz. He mainly plans to use Mythical’s money to hire a handful of staff to help with production. “For me, the goal with all of this is to build a healthy, sustainable business for myself and for my employees,” Johnson says.
Rhett and Link have certainly made their own relationship endure. The pair met in the first grade at Buies Creek Elementary School in Harnett County, North Carolina, and later roomed together at North Carolina State, where Rhett studied civil engineering, Link industrial engineering. For a time, Rhett worked at Black & Veatch, a Kansas City engineering firm, while Link went to IBM. They grew bored and decided to gamble on YouTube in 2012, securing a place for themselves there in the preceding years with an enthusiasm for bits like their food challenges—a fish-bait taste-off one day, a game guessing whether an item came from Whole Foods or a dollar store on another. They’ve since expanded to several podcasts; a subscription-based fan club (starting at $5 a month); and a merchandise line that includes Mythical-branded beard oil, aprons and combs, among many other items.
The pair say they’ll use the Mythical Accelerator fund to invest in influencers based on any social platform, not just YouTubers. But they are keen to see potential recipients displaying a reach across several sites—hopefully including YouTube, which still offers creators the best avenue to earning money through ad revenue sharing agreements. They’re still considering exactly how sizable a creator’s audience and revenue should be to merit an investment.
“We want to find the other creators out there who want to cross the same bridges we’ve crossed, answer the same questions we have, build teams around themselves—and build a brand,” Rhett says.