We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet.
This week, we spoke with Vy Qwaint and Chad Wild Clay, a YouTube duo and married couple who have been making content together since 2010. Clay and Qwaint have a combined YouTube following of over 26 million subscribers.
Qwaint got her start on YouTube as a beauty and lifestyle vlogger, and Clay got his start with comedy videos. Both have evolved their style over the years, venturing into musical parodies, roasts, pranks, challenges, and dramatized videos.
In 2018, Qwaint and Clay co-founded Spyninjas, a fictional YouTube series following a group of martial arts “experts” who fight a “hacker” organization called “Project Zorgo.” Qwaint and Clay told Passionfruit they hired creators Regina Ginera, Daniel Gizmo, and Melvin “PZ9” to assist with the project and act as on-screen talent. The Spyninjas fanbase is largely made up of kids, demonstrated by its drops of spy and ninja-themed toys. The team also launched a Spyninjas gaming mobile app and a merch line.
Clay and Qwaint told Passionfruit the idea for Spyninjas came about during the YouTube “adpocalypse.” As previously covered by Passionfruit, the adpocalypse is a term first coined in 2016 when a number of companies pulled out from advertising on YouTube after learning their brands were being put next to extremist or inappropriate content on the platform. YouTube soon added content rules and restrictions for videos with ads to appease advertisers, leading many creators with adult-themed content to be demonetized.
Clay said in the aftermath of the adpocalypse he experimented with family-friendly content, like toy and gadget reviews. Clay then started reviewing ninja “gadgets” and launched a video series based on the popular Fruit Ninja video game—where he tested how real-life ninja weapons worked against real fruit. Clay and Qwaint also said they noticed stories of fellow YouTubers like Markiplier getting hacked around this time, and decided in response to develop a story of their content getting deleted by fictional hackers.
In an interview with Passionfruit, the duo discussed handling the responsibility of having a young audience, shared advice for building a team, emphasized the importance of adapting, gave tips for buying gear, spoke about their monetization strategy, and more.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What led to the premise behind Spyninjas?
Chad: We did a Fruit Ninja series which did really well and was kind of the precursor of the Spyninjas. It was a series where we would unbox popular ninja gadgets. … Some might call them weapons. But due to YouTube’s monetization policy, we started calling them Ninja gadgets. … This was right after the adpocalypse happened on YouTube. I dunno if you remember that back in the day. There were a lot of creators talking about how if you take down some of your older videos that are maybe a little edgier or not necessarily family-friendly that your channel might start to perform better. .. [But] we were like, ‘Ah, but some of those videos have lots of views.’
Vy: Like 20 million views.
Chad: Yeah. So we were like, ‘Why don’t we create a story around that? At least if we’re gonna delete it, let’s get something off deleting it.’ … So we came up with this hacker storyline about how these videos were going to be deleted, and that just really resonated with people, I think, and took off. And it did seem like it’s a genuine thing that could happen. And there have been other YouTubers who have been hacked. Like, Markiplier got hacked, I think back in 2016 or ‘17, and all of his revenue was leaked out.
Vy: Yeah. I think hacking is something that everybody can relate to, and you’re always afraid of it. You know that they’re out there, but you don’t really know when you’re gonna be targeted. And [when] your favorite YouTuber gets targeted, it feels really personal. … We can bring our audience into this journey with us and tell a really cool storyline around it, but in a very unique way where it’s like reality TV. … And instead of telling a story at them, we’re bringing them along on our journey.
Since your audience includes a lot of kids, how do you communicate with them, manage their expectations, or create a healthy environment for them? Is that something you strategically think about?
Chad: We do. We do take a lot of responsibility for what we’re doing on screen because we know that people might be trying to emulate it or copy it, or at the very least are being influenced by it. So we certainly never swear in our videos. And we try to be good role models. … I’ll give an example. One of the first fight scenes we did. We did a martial arts kind of Power Rangers-style fight scene where we battled the hacker. Well, we kicked his butt, I guess. And afterward, we paused to stop and bend down and be like, “Hey man, are you okay?” And he was like, “Yeah, yeah, I’m okay. All right, let’s go.” Which is kind of comedic, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show do that. Like, to make sure the bad guy’s okay after you kick his butt.
Vy: Yeah, and we definitely keep that in mind while planning everything. Even in a battle royale where the bad guys are clearly bad and the good guys are clearly good, we still always [say], ‘Well, we can never throw the first punch ever in a battle.’ And we look to the camera and we talk to them: ‘Guys. Never start a fight. … Our skills are only for defense.’ So the hackers in our videos are always the first punch thrower, the problem starter. And we always try to end it on a good note and then always make sure that they’re okay.
How did you meet up with the Spyninjas team? Do you have any tips for other creators looking to find people to collaborate with?
Chad: Essentially what we did is we posted job postings where we were looking for editors. In fact, at the very beginning we called the role “channel manager,” which was just, like, a catch-all term. … You’re gonna handle a lot of the editing, you’re gonna handle a lot of the thumbnails, you’re gonna handle operating the camera, you’re going to be on set and help come up with ideas, things like that.
That’s how we found Daniel and Regina. … Then we slowly started to add them in on camera as well. And it was interesting because they didn’t know that [part of the job was going to be] appearing on camera. And there was even a little bit of hesitation. … I mean it’s scary. Like, ‘What you want me to appear on camera? I don’t have any onscreen experience.’ But you know, we got them slowly easing into it, and they kept getting better and better, and now they are so good at being on camera.
Melvin, interestingly enough, we met him at a gas station as we were moving to Las Vegas. He said, ‘Chad Wild Clay, hey, I know who you are. I watch your stuff. … I do some video editing and I throw some kicks too.’ So, I got his phone number at the gas station, ended up calling him maybe a month later saying, ‘Hey, we’re filming a video today. You want to be in it?’ … That’s how we met him and started filming with him. And he started editing for us as well and started appearing on screen. So, for us it wasn’t really collaborating, it was more hiring people to the team and making them part of the story and making them characters essentially.
What were some of the qualities you were looking for in people to work with?
Chad: That is one of the hardest things to figure out, especially if you’re new at it. … I think we got really lucky with our hires. I think one of [the key things was] they were all very much YouTube fans. … They had a true passion for YouTube. So we did not go the traditional route of, like, we need to hire editors who’ve worked on TV shows or movies or anything like that. They were true YouTube fans. That was, like, the number one thing we were looking for. So really part of our interview process was, “Who are your favorite YouTubers? Who do you watch? Why do you like them? What do you like about them?”
Vy: Yeah, I think when we did the interview process we talked way more about the YouTube space, the culture. “What did you guys grow up with? What video games did you play?” … I guess more real people who just enjoy the content and they already know this world. We don’t have to teach them about the YouTube world, because editing for YouTube is very different than editing for a TV show. So we just wanted to hire people that [were] already living the culture of YouTube.
Chad: Yeah. I think that’s way more important than skills early on. … I’d rather have the person who has the passion than the skills at first. We can teach the skills, we can’t teach the passion.
Vy: Yes, and we definitely have hired both. And the more successful ones, the ones that have stayed with us longer, are the ones that were inexperienced in the skill but had a passion for YouTube. The other way around, they couldn’t last long.
How have you evolved alongside YouTube since joining in 2010?
Chad: Our phrase we always say to ourselves with YouTube is, ‘Adapt or die.’ We feel like everybody who’s really survived YouTube for many, many years has been willing to change their content and just adapt with it. … You have to be willing to update your content, try new things, even change to completely new formats.
Vy: Yeah. And I doubled down on that because I was doing beauty and lifestyle content, putting on makeup and doing hair and styling for petite girls. And then all of a sudden, I turn a hard pivot to fighting hackers. … I understood the importance of reinventing yourself and changing with the YouTube culture and atmosphere. We took a risk, and we did a hard pivot, and it paid off. And Chad and I have done that multiple times before. The Chad Wild Clay Channel started out with just Vy and Chad. We always worked together. But yeah, we went from making music parodies, weird Al Yankovic style, and then hard pivoted to Fruit Ninja. … I feel like every two years we reinvent ourselves in some way or another.
What is your favorite video creation tool? What advice would you give a creator just starting out buying their content creation gear?
Chad: I would probably say getting a good microphone. Audio quality is far more important than video quality generally. … The audience doesn’t even notice if the video camera is maybe not the sharpest image or has the best color or doesn’t look the best, I think people are willing to accept that. But if you can’t hear very well what’s happening and it’s hard to understand, they’re gonna click away. What we use is we just use the Rode VideoMic Pro+ and we just, we throw it on top of a GH5 camera. I think it’s a $300 microphone, so it’s a little pricey, but it’s battery-operated and it just picks up audio so well. And it gets rid of a lot of background noise as well because it tends to only pick up what it’s being pointed at the person who’s talking.
For new creators, I don’t want to emphasize too much about the equipment, because it really isn’t about the equipment. It’s more about the personality and the storytelling and the topic.
Vy: Yes. I agree with that. I think budding creators often zone in on getting a camera with the best lens, learning how to use an operated camera, and learning how to use the Adobe editing software. I really feel like that’s not really important. The important thing is to make the videos. … I struggled with that at the beginning, maybe because I started out with beauty, so I wanted the lighting to be perfect. I wanted the lens. I wanted all these things, but it prevented me from actually making the video and uploading it to YouTube. … Use your phone camera and start making videos because that’s the fastest way to learn and the fastest way to grow, is actually putting content out. Don’t wait for perfection.
How do you decide which monetization options to pursue?
Chad: I would advise to not lose focus on the core of your business, which probably is YouTube content. Even with everything we got going on, YouTube is still the number one revenue source and it’s actually the revenue driver of all those other sources. … As far as how we decide what to go with, we try to measure, “Does it fit organically with what we’re doing on YouTube?” Like the app [Spy Ninja Network]. We can build that into the storyline and our viewers can help us in the story. … It’s a fun thing.
Vy: It’s interactive. It stays in the Spyninjas world. … I think the audience actually really resonated with it because it got over 10 million downloads. … And I think because they believe that this is true to who Chad and Vy is, and they are helping us.
Chad: We certainly get reached out to for a lot of opportunities, your standard ad reads and things like that that you see. And most of it just doesn’t make sense for us. Like … Squarespace or something like that. Our viewers, they’re not gonna be building a website anytime soon, so we don’t need to do a promo for a website builder. So we try to just do what can be inserted organically into the story and make sense.
Thank you, Vy and Chad, for talking with us!
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