“I just bought my dream car, an Audi A5.” Milan Knol is sitting on a big office chair in his home-studio from which he runs his business. The windows offer a stellar view over the river the Waal, which flows right beside the apartment building where he lives. The 25-year-old is one of the first Dutch YouTube-pioneers. On the site, he runs two channels, DitIsMilan and DagelijksHaaDee, at the moment good for a combined total of about 450 million views. Milan offers a few reasons for his success. Perhaps surprisingly, helping others get more popular is one of them.
Milan started his YouTube career in 2010 when he created his first channel DitIsMilan. “I didn’t really have a goal when I started, it was more out of boredom.” He started making videos by following the example of American YouTube stars like Ray William Johnson. He copied the popular concept of taking funny videos and making jokes about them. Noticing that his videos were attracting a lot of views, he decided to take YouTube more seriously in a time when barely anyone did, and he started earning his first bit of pocket money through the site.
After moving around a lot, Milan ended up in Groningen in 2013, where he moved in with two friends he knew from elementary school. “It was at this moment that I said to myself: now it has to happen, now I want to make money, now I want to be able to do YouTube full time.” Having no job and a lot of bills to pay, he lived on a day-to-day basis, scrounging up money wherever he could. The income from his YouTube channel only covered half his rent. He supplemented his income by placing ads on his social media.
“I had about 100,000 followers on Twitter and I knew that had to be worth something,” he said, the total of which didn’t amount to much but was enough to do groceries. He also relied on his family during this time, his grandmother supporting him financially with a 50 euro stipend on a monthly basis.
It was at this time he switched his focus from DitIsMilan to a gaming-channel called DagelijksHaaDee. A big collaborative role-play project in the game Minecraft called “the Kingdom” exploded in popularity. The project was initiated by Milan’s friend David from DusDavidGames, the biggest gaming channel in the Netherlands at the time, and featured practically all the well-known Dutch gaming YouTubers. This popularity was noticed by Divimove, a Multi-Channel Network (MCN), which teamed up with Milan and helped him get his first sponsors. Through this successful cooperation his income rose exponentially, “because of those sponsors I could pay my rent with one of those videos, which was lovely.”
After a year in Groningen, Milan decided to move to Hilversum, the media capital of the Netherlands. In Hilversum he lived with two other YouTubers, establishing a sort of “YouTube-house.” The decision to live with other big YouTubers was easy to make, he explains, “because it [YouTube] is such a niche, it is just really nice not to have to explain everything about how you make money, how you do what you do.”
Here he lived quite comfortably, and started helping out other talent to gain popularity on the platform he loves. In Groningen he had already started a concept for guest roles to appear on his channel called “Goedgekeurd”. Other aspiring YouTubers would send him a video, which he critiqued and then uploaded. “A win-win situation,” as he describes it, gaining him more views on his channel and the others a shout-out on a popular channel. The concept worked so well that he wanted to expand it outside of the online sphere.
Don Plevier, better known by his handle Gamemeneer, was one of the first big investments of Milan’s time and energy in his role as a talent scout. Don moved in with him when one of Milan’s house mates left. Milan offered to pay his first three months’ rent, and in exchange Don had to focus fully on his YouTube channel. The investment was very successful. After the three months were up, Don was able to pay his own rent. “His success made me feel incredible. To help someone from nothing to something gave me a lot of self-confidence.” Milan knew that this was something he wanted to do more often, and has done so on numerous occasions.
His biggest success was undoubtedly his little brother, Enzo Knol. “It took me over a year to get him to do something with YouTube,” Milan says. He recognized that his brother had no idea what he wanted to do, “he wasn’t in school, nothing. He was just gaming, going to bed late in the evening and so on.” Finally, Enzo came over and asked him for help, to teach him how everything works. He ended up staying with Milan for a couple of months, learning all the tricks of the trade. Through the help of his brother, Enzo was catapulted to success on YouTube. This jump start and his hard work and dedication has made him one of the most successful YouTubers in the Netherlands, becoming the most popular vlogger of the country.
The trend that had started with “Goedgekeurd” in Groningen and continued through his apprenticeships in Hilversum, still exists today. Milan emphasises that he does look for a win-win situation, “don’t get me wrong, it might seem like I’m this huge good guy, but I am making a profit off of them.” The people he works with make content for his own channel through which he makes money for which the trade-off is that they get exposure for their own channels. “I support them with the advice I can give them, as well as financially, because I know that in the long-term, they will make it back for me.”
Working together and helping others has been a big factor in Milan’s success. Throughout his career, he has always been working with other likeminded people, from big projects as the Kingdom, to the tutelage of individuals in whom he saw talent. He only realised quite late that he had created a group of successful people on which he could rely and that would help each other when they needed it. The other channels he helped get big are not competition, instead he sees them as something positive: “You get bigger together.”