Ben Carlin '12
Five years ago, a YouTube video made by brothers Ben ’12 and Jonathan “J” Carlin became a viral phenomenon.
In modern parlance, they “broke the internet.”
The video, titled “The Pixar Theory,” expounded upon an idea first posited by writer Jon Negroni. The theory proposes that every film released by Pixar Animation Studios (makers of 20 feature films, including “Cars” and “Finding Nemo”) occurs on the same timeline, or in a “shared universe.” The video, first posted in July 2013, has nearly 10 million views.
“Our channel is what you would call fandom-based,” Ben explains. Fandom videos tend to focus on specific elements of pop culture, such as Disney films or Harry Potter. “When ‘The Pixar Theory’ video went viral it essentially launched our channel.”
That channel – SuperCarlinBrothers – has nearly two million subscribers and has garnered over 400 million views. Ben uploads his videos every Thursday while J uploads every Tuesday.
“At the beginning, we were uploading videos five days a week,” Ben says. “We then changed it to twice per week. There’s no way we could keep up with five uploads a week unless we wanted to lose family and friends.”
How does one become one of YouTube’s premier content creators? For Ben, it started at a pet shop.
“Growing up, my dad was a television newscaster, but I wasn’t passionate about being a reporter,” he explains. “I began working at Petland in Roanoke when I turned 16. I thought I would be a marine biologist when I grew up. As my future began coming into focus I decided that maybe business would be a better choice for me.”
Ben enrolled at Radford University as it “felt like home” to him and began taking business classes.
“Radford’s business program was great,” he says. “I had people around me to encourage me. In every business class I attended I picked up knowledge that I could apply in real life.” It was at this time that Ben would take his business acumen and combine it with his interest in marine life, opening a business specializing in aquarium supplies and marine livestock.
“As a student at Radford I was running my own business, Ultimate Aquariums, in Botetourt County,” Ben continues. “Once I graduated I kept the venture going and began working with a company that was building aquariums around the country.”
As Ben’s aquarium business was growing, J was starting a business of his own.
“My brother had experience with his own YouTube channel, and he asked me to do a project with him,” Ben says. “At the time I desperately need a roommate – so I didn't have to move back in with mom and dad! – he agreed to split the rent and I agreed to launch a channel with him.”
In April 2012, the SuperCarlinBrothers channel was born.
In the channel’s infancy, the brothers struggled to gain consistent views. “When the channel began, our focus was mostly on daily commentary, but those videos weren’t getting the views,” Ben explains. “Over time we slowly integrated fandom videos, but we fought with the idea of going to that format full time. After things exploded over the course of 10 months, we made the switch.
“It was the greatest decision we ever made.”
As the channel grew, so did the desire to turn the channel into a full-time job.
“My brother made the leap to full time first,” explains Ben. “By October of 2016 I decided to do YouTube full time. I hired some people to run the aquarium business. My brother and I hired a videographer, rented an office and the channel became a 9 to 5 business.”
The channel continued to grow, necessitating the employment of a second employee, a “Jane-of-all-trades,” as Ben puts it.
Ben says his time at Radford University was a key to his success.
“I didn’t consider myself a great student,” he says. “I found, though, once I began taking business classes that everything changed. I gained confidence that I had something to offer the world. I felt that I could run a business.”
The fact that the channel is managed like a business is unique to SuperCarlinBrothers.
“Most YouTubers are more artist than business person,” Ben says. “We have a 401K and health benefits. In this business, you need to understand how to pivot, how to read the YouTube algorithm, how to build relationships.
“It’s strange how much traditional business practices come into play in such a progressive industry.”
Ben continues, “My confidence in business bled into our YouTube channel. Jay brought the creative energy and I was able to help grow the channel into a business. Thanks to Radford University, I had a skillset that we could rely upon.”