March 8, 2012 10:44:19 AM
Looking at Brad Overbey with his gorilla costume and his pet dog dressed like Batman, it's easy to think the Mississippi State student is just goofing around.
In fact, the odd costumes are part of a serious strategy the mechanical engineering major uses to help pay for graduate school at the university. A Greenwood native who received his MSU bachelor's degree last year in the same major, he produces and stars in videos that have garnered a significant online following, as well as significant earnings.
Overbey combines a passion for storytelling with an interest in video games and online community to create an entertainment niche that pays for his MBA. His YouTube channel has more than 65,000 subscribers and more than 6 million combined viewers of his productions.
"I consider myself an entertainer," said Overbey, sitting near one of the computers in his home office. "I really like telling stories."
In 2011, his video-based income exceeded $40,000. However, money isn't the only factor that motivates the 24-year-old to keep recording, editing and posting online.
Now, having generated a video-based income for about two years, he's decided to devote full-time energies to his online audience as he finishes the MSU degree program.
He said the videos range in topics from personal dream narratives to slapstick conversations between him and Ozy, his Shiba Inu, to personal commentaries on cultural issues. Several videos feature him and Ozy--who sometimes also appears in a hot dog costume and is voiced by an online acquaintance via Skype--arguing about videogame strategies.
"A lot of it is lowbrow and slapstick," he said, smiling. "But it's lots of fun."
Overbey's office closet is loaded with a variety of costumes and props. In another part of his home, he records Ozy for different videos, some of which originated with ideas from YouTube subscriber requests.
He said the online audience, half of which are 13- to-24 year-olds, seems to appreciate his storytelling skills. In addition to locations throughout the U.S., he proudly claims viewers in Australia, Holland, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and many other countries.
The idea of making videos came to Overbey a number of years ago from an online friend living in Dubai. With the friend's encouragement, along with teaching videos and websites that provided the technical expertise for creating quality productions, he eventually began working for a California-based video game website. Some of his videos have more than a million views.
"I'd like to say I had some great plan, but I can't tell you how many times I failed at doing this," he said.
Overbey's persistence after many failures is a common characteristic of entrepreneurs. Gerald Nelson, director of the MSU Entrepreneurship Center, said when they first met, the student's desire to succeed initially was masked by his low-key demeanor.
"He's a talented guy in the YouTube area," Nelson said. "If he continues to figure out more about this business, he can do really well."
Overbey credits a Nelson-taught entrepreneurship seminar with helping him learn how to focus on the business side of things. This semester, for instance, he's taking graduate courses in financial accounting, business law and business ethics.
While some self-taught YouTube video producers make six-figure incomes, Overbey still considers himself a "small fry" in the medium. But, he appreciates the invaluable experience his hard work has made possible--and the living expenses it has covered.
"This pays for my school," he said. "It's also helped pay for part of my car."
Looking to the future, Overbey already has ideas about his post-graduate life. Moving into a middle management position or starting his own business are among several options he considers.
"There's always something new," he said.
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