After Skool: How to Thrive Despite YouTube’s Algorithms

11 Jan, 2020

Interview by Karlo Krznaric

In a movie-like story of success, a determined artist got his first subscribers by “pestering people on the street”. He reinvented his channel to withstand YouTube’s changes in algorithms and grew a channel of over 800k subscribers.

Not without reason, whiteboard explainer channels have been all over YouTube in the recent years. However, in the sea of channels that pack knowledge into cute animations set to upbeat music, there is one that covers deeper philosophical as well as practical issues through hand-drawn animation. After Skool features videos on life topics that school might not have prepared us for: purpose in life, building good habits, finances or even dealing with death – just to name a few.

Mark Wooding has been an artist since he was a kid. He started drawing quite early and turned out to be very talented. 

“Still, there’s only a limited number of people who can see a painting on a wall in a museum. I wanted to leave a bigger mark on the world” 

(to this day we’re unclear if the pun was intended or not)

After doing some explainer videos in college, Mark launched his YouTube channel, After Skool, in 2016. His videos feature either his own narration or audio of an author, philosopher, or scientist. Among others, his videos include Joe Rogan, Alan Watts, Jordan Peterson, and Tony Robbins. He reaches out to every author whose content he uses and this is one of the coolest parts of his work: “You know, I wake up in the morning and my inbox is filled with people that I like. I can’t even believe they’re emailing me. I’m emailing with Graham Hancock right now. He’s one of my heroes.”

Understandably, After Skool hasn`t always been this big. When he started, Mark gave himself one year to reach 100k subscribers. His earliest marketing was somewhat unorthodox:

“I actually got my first thousand subscribers by literally pestering people on the street to get their phone out and subscribe. If I went to a bar on Saturday night, I’d ask everyone if they have a YouTube account, and tell them to subscribe.” 

He even threw a party at his place once and made everyone subscribe with all their Gmail accounts in order to get in. 

“When you’re doing this kind of thing alone, you’re a one-man army. Nobody’s going to promote you but you.” 

Getting traffic to the channel was a big challenge: “It turned out, with Google Ads it would cost me $10 to get one subscriber, which was not worth it, but it was a good learning experience. Eventually, slowly but surely some organic traffic started coming in and then I hit my first big video – Millennials in the Workforce, a Generation of Weakness.”

For a time, he says, it seemed like he couldn’t do anything wrong and the channel grew fast. It had taken him eight months to get to a thousand subscribers and then “all of a sudden, the last couple of months were like a rocket taking off.” But the flight was soon interrupted. YouTube changed algorithms and After Skool’s views (and revenue) dropped by about 80%. 

“It was tough, and a lot of YouTubers were leaving the platform. But my attitude was like, ‘While everybody else is quitting, I’m going to work harder.’ I asked my subscribers for feedback, put out a few polls, and that gave me some good insights. It turned out my audience didn’t want to see these cute 2-minute videos. They wanted videos that go deeper into a topic. I reinvented myself.”

This determined Mark’s new frequency of posting. Instead of posting every week, he switched to longer videos that came out less frequently. 

He said it’s never wise to count on the ad revenue to pay your bills. “It’s very inconsistent – it can vary from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, so I personally only look at it as a bonus.” Sponsorships is where the big bucks are made. “There’s a lot of companies that are eager to get into your video, but it’s important to pick the right sponsors.” He also uses platforms where fans can support creators. “I felt a bit guilty asking people for money, but you never know who’s a big fan of yours and wants to support you.”

Mark turned his most successful video, “Why Don’t Country Flags Use the Color Purple?”, into a printed children’s book available on Amazon! “I always loved those hardcover Dr Seuss books and couldn’t find a publisher that would make a book of that high quality, so I published it myself. I’m not planning to make a ton of money with it. All I want is the people to have the book, spread the After Skool name and keep making an impact.”

Throughout my interview with Mark, I was more and more amazed; not only by Mark’s work, but also by Mark himself. On the surface a laid-back guy in a tank top who loves getting some sun on his porch, but on the inside, I felt a great depth. The longer he spoke, the more the impression I got by watching his videos was confirmed: His mission is much larger than achieving some numbers. He is not in it for the views or ad revenues. Mark is in it to make a change, and whether After Skool is already his Magnum Opus or if it’s only coming, he certainly impacted us more than many other, even bigger channels.

Check out more After Skool’s Videos and don’t forget to subscribe:

Karlo Krznaric

Karlo is a public speaking and communication coach and author of the book "Joy of Public Speaking". He is also the master of ceremony at Smartlike