Interview with John Coogan

Contrarian YouTube advice to hit 300,000+ subscribers

Sup nerds

How do you get to 300,000+ YouTube subscribers?

Last week, I interviewed John Coogan to find out.

Over the past 3 years, John has grown his YouTube to 300,000+ subscribers by making documentary-style videos about tech, startups, and politics. They’re some of the most bingeworthy videos on the internet (seriously, I’ve stayed up until 2 AM multiple times watching them).

And he’s done all of this while working as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Founders Fund. If you’re unfamiliar with Founders Fund, it’s a venture capital fund run by billionaire Peter Thiel, known as the contrarian of Silicon Valley for his unorthodox opinions and beliefs. So it should be of no surprise that John gave some excellent unorthodox advice.

Here’s John Coogan’s contrarian advice for growing on YouTube:

Reminder to read all the way til the end for my thoughts and takeaways.

JASON LEVIN: How did you start making YouTube videos about startups?

JOHN COOGAN: The content has been through a ton of evolutions, and I still don't have a super defined niche—there are way more niche channels that are "I review iPhones and that's what I do when there's a new iPhone, I review it, and that's it"—but I've always just been kind of doing it for fun and kind of exploring what's possible on video.

There's so many different choices from length and whether you're on camera or off camera, whether you're interviewing people or cutting things together, motion graphics. I got started during the pandemic, I wanted to have some fun, put something out on the internet and meet some interesting people and it's definitely worked in that regard. 

[That's how we met, hopefully I count as an interesting person]

As for the evolution in terms of content of what I'm interested in, I mean the early companies I covered were definitely more traditional tech—whatever was trending on Twitter and whatever people were talking about. I think my first video ever was about and then I started doing breakdowns on individual people, like the saga of Naval Ravikant and Chamath Palihapitiya and deep diving into people's careers. I still really enjoy doing that and I try to always focus on a person's story in the videos instead of just an abstract technology concept. I've gone through different eras from defense to the metaverse to AI, I never wanted to be just one thing, so bouncing around was pretty good. 

JASON LEVIN: I respect it. The best niches are your particular interest and the combination of them.

JOHN COOGAN: Yeah, it's not ideal for growth. I'd probably be growing faster if I was just the iPhone review guy or just the metaverse guy or just the AI guy, or just the defense guy because the audience shows up and then the audience is like, oh, I want to see another video and the exact same thing I want to hear the same thing. 

And you can see that with a lot of these really optimized channels, like they kind of wind up saying the same thing again and again and again. And it's just like, oh, really another Top 10 Productivity Tips. Like is it gonna be the same as last time? Probably. And that's just kind of soul-sucking. So I've stayed away from it, but it's the hurt growth of the channel—but I'm not super focused on growth of the channel at this point, so it's been fine.

JASON LEVIN: I mean, the channel has grown to 300,000+ subscribers. That's pretty damn good.

JOHN COOGAN: Yeah, but I mean, there are definitely people that lean into one specific niche and would be at a million easily. 

JASON LEVIN: Yeah. So what have been the biggest levers for growth thus far?

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