Most of us were ready to let go of 2020, but for Eric Decker, better known as the up-and-coming YouTube sensation, Airrack, it was a celebration like no other. He’d just spent eight days on an abandoned island off the coast of Florida, live streaming his epic and unexpected rise to one million subscribers.
Eric had set out the year to grow his YouTube channel from scratch to one million subscribers this year. He had no idea where chasing this goal would lead him, or that a global pandemic would put a wrench in these plans, but what unfolded for the 23-year-old is the stuff dreams are made of.
He was born to be a content creator.
Eric picked up his first camera when he was just 9-years-old, and instantly fell in love with it. He became obsessed with the simple concept that you could create something all on your own, and then upload it to the internet for others to see.
“When I was in 5th grade I remember spending the whole night figuring out how to download the footage from a floppy disc to my computer and going through the editing process. That’s when I knew I wanted to do YouTube.”
Growing up in Atlanta, Eric tested out all sorts of ideas for YouTube channels from trampoline backflips to lighting things on fire. But it wasn’t until 2015 that he developed the idea for Airrack (pronounced air – rack)— the project would become an experimental hub for him to unleash his creativity.
Distracted by school and other business endeavors, the idea for Airrack sat on the back burner. But in 2020 that all changed…
Airrack finally came to fruition with an aggressive growth strategy for the channel.
In January 2020, Eric set the goal to grow his Airrack channel from zero to over one million subscribers in 2020 alone. If that sounds like an audacious goal, it’s because it was. Reaching that milestone given despite fickle algorithms would put him in the hall of fame of YouTube greats.
With a fire burning under him and the clock ticking, Eric began executing. He quickly adopted a “do what it takes mentality”— which meant lots of travel, coffee, and late-night editing, reinvesting all his cash into the videos, and eventually even moving across the country in the middle of a pandemic.
Eric’s strategy from the start for growing his channel was to mix crazy drive and work ethic with a theory he calls “social hacking.” He says social hacking is “when a creator takes an idea that is popular in pop culture right now, and puts their own spin on it.”
Add a bit of calculated risk (spending lots of time and money on an idea that might not work out), and you’ve got all the elements of a classic Airrack episode.
When it works out, it pays off big. And when it doesn’t? Well that can get pretty messy.
One of Eric’s claims to fame is when the creator bought $90,000 Mercedes Benz couches off YouTuber, Logan Paul. He took out a loan from a bank to pay for them, flew to Los Angeles, rented a U-Haul, and picked up the couches.
Eric turned his newly purchased couches into a four-episode series, where he skydived with, surfed with, and traded in the couches for a car. The “Couch Series” has since amassed over 8.4 million views, led to increases in hundreds of thousands of subscribers, and paid back the big price tag.
Other great examples from this year were trying to crash Justin Bieber’s wedding, sneaking into a Mike Tyson fight, delivering the world’s largest pizza to the Hype House on a crane, and many more.
But the epic fails and big-time struggles proved just as huge as the wins. In one of his first major videos of the year, the viral star documented sneaking into one of Dan Bilzerian’s infamous parties. The video quickly gained hundreds of thousands of views, and it didn’t take long for Bilzerian’s team to catch on, contact him, and threaten to sue for an undisclosed 6 figure sum if he didn’t take the video down in three days. Eric obliged, and looking back on it now he says, “It was a huge mistake, no one should sneak into someone’s personal residence uninvited. It was my mistake and I own it.”
Another crazy and unexpected hiccup happened in early-September when the creator got stuck on an island off the coast of Florida while shooting a video.
He says, “it ended up being one of the scariest moments of my life. It also ended up being my most expensive video. I had to max out around $20,000 dollars on my credit cards to make it happen and get a plane back to the U.S.”
Not all of us can stomach something like that, but Eric knows it’s the game he’s playing.
He may have hit his subscriber goal, but Eric’s not slowing down any time soon.
After some initial success, and realizing he wasn’t going to be able to build the channel alone, Eric began the search to start building a team. He was clear on the fact that the only way to scale was for him to focus more on what he was great at— coming up with ideas and executing them— while empowering others to do the same.
A lot of the channel’s success in 2020 can be attributed to Mack Hopkins, a 19-year-old videographer and editor from North Carolina who dropped out of film school to join the rocketship. He’s to credit for the signature Airrack graphics and fast-paced storytelling.
“Mack was in a very prestigious film school, and ended up calling me after one of my early videos, saying he was inspired. Shortly after he joined the team and history was made,” explains Eric. Mack is now a central character in Airrack episodes, bringing in all sorts of comic relief.
The creator also decided to bring on One Day Entertainment as his exclusive management. Zack Honarvar, the founder of ODE, is one of the rising stars in digital management, and has proved a major asset in solidifying partnerships and building the business behind the channel. “Signing with One Day really took a lot of work off my back, and gave me more time to focus on creating,” Eric says.
The growing team jokingly refers to themselves as “Airrack and Associates.”
So what’s next?
Eric’s remarkable year boils down to never giving up. Starting the year at zero internet presence, flat broke, living in a closet, and sleeping on a bed without a box spring, he was completely uncertain if he really had the chops to make it as a YouTuber.
The days in-between were filled with bumps, bruises, and the occasional triumph. And as the new year approached, still 250K subscribers shy of his goal, Eric did what his followers expected him to do— he doubled down.
With only a few weeks left in the year, Eric and his team launched an affiliate tool with the team over at Stir, a creator finance business that just raised a $4M seed round from big names in the viral space like Jack Conte, Casey Neistat, and Homebrew. The tool generates unique links for fans to track subscribers referred in exchange for prizes, and already had over 100K sign-ups.
Eric and Mack (purposefully) stranded themselves on a remote island off the coast of Florida with a 24/7 livestream running off hot spots. The pitch was “we aren’t leaving this island until we hit a million.” So, for back-to-back-to-back days, they called subscribers, played games, did pushups, and tried not to lose their minds all while on a livestream.
On December 27th, after a year of sleepless nights and crazy bets, it finally happened. The Airrack channel crossed the one million subscriber mark. The two left the island and closed off the livestream the same way they end all of their videos— by staring into the camera with their fan-favorite tagline:
“That’s pretty much it — I’m leaving.”
So, what does this all mean for the new year? Are they gone for good? Will they be back for more?
Eric and the team are currently on a 2 week (much-deserved) “content break.” But don’t worry, the channel will be back in full force sometime later this month. One million was just the first milestone, certainly not the last.
And when we ask Eric what his fans should expect from him in 2021, he says matter-of-factly: “I can’t say much, but if you thought this year was big, oh man, next year will be even bigger.”
If this year was any hint, well then we can’t wait to see what he has in store.