Online entrepreneur: MSU grad student taps worldwide audience and cold cash by carving out a YouTube niche

March 24, 2012 6:11:06 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]




[email protected] 


By day, Brad Overby is a serious graduate student, studying diligently for his master's degree in business administration. A responsible 24-year-old who loves his wife and dog. But by night, or, frankly, any other chance he gets, he's Drift0r -- carving a path through YouTube with oddball costumes, dark humor, fake blood, buddies and, oh yes, the dog. 


"It's really all kind of accidental," he says with a dry laugh, clicking through video clips on his computer at home in Starkville. He just got out of a sweaty gorilla costume. It goes with the territory 


The "accidental" he refers to is the somewhat unexpected YouTube following his self-produced videos have garnered. Not to mention the funds those videos are earning to help him through school. 


"This didn't actually start out as a business, more of a hobby," the Greenwood native said. "But I eventually realized I was making way too much money to classify it as a hobby any more." 


In 2011, his video-based income topped $40,000. To date, 2012 is on track to do as well, he said. 


"Anybody who has videos that are popular enough and draw a lot of views could have adverts (ads) on them," stated Overby. Google advertising handles the details. Each view generates a fraction of a cent, he explained. With several million views, the math adds up. 


While the money is certainly welcome, it's not the only thing that inspires the prolific content being posted by the Starkville resident.  


"I really like telling stories; I consider myself an entertainer," said Overby, whose YouTube channel has more than 65,000 subscribers and more than 6 million combined worldwide viewers of his productions. 


Videos range in topic from personal dream narratives to slapstick conversations between him and Ozy, his Shiba Inu. Ozy, a versatile, happy canine actor, is as adept at portraying a hot dog or bumble bee as he is playing Bat Dog or Dog Vader. 


"Ozy has a voice actor out of New York (via Skype), kind of a young, aggressive voice," Overby explained, stroking the pup lying on his lap. In a background video playing on the computer, the on-screen Ozy is heard to "say," "Do not mock the Bat Dog." 






In the fall of 2011, Drift0r (with a zero, not an "o") looked to expand the team. With tweets and flyers on MSU's campus, he broadcast a call for actors and set about broadening the scope of the videos. 


Austin May, a 23-year-old graphic design major from Jackson, came on board. 


"I hooked up with Brad in September. The first video I did I got my butt kicked," he grinned, lounging against a wall in Overby's house, watching clips of a work-in-progress over his friend's shoulder. "I'm usually the one they have rolling around in glass or getting hit in the head." 


Overby is a zealous gamer. Many of the projects tie in to the video games "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," "Battlefield 3," and "Fallout." 


The action is filmed by Jacques Duet, the group's cinematographer. Duet, 19, is a mechanical engineering major, from Midland, Texas. Electrical engineering major Ryan Henderson, 20, from Katy, Texas, is the "special effects wizard." He's also a pretty good dog whisperer, keeping Ozy's attention focused with treats as Overby and May ad-lib in front of the green screen at the house. 


Overby's wife, Jessica, helps behind the scenes, with costumes and props. 


Actor Evan McPherson isn't present, but the director credits him as being "the guy who usually realizes when something we're doing is getting close to dangerous" and pulls them back.  


The whole crew agrees: a quirky sense of humor comes in handy. Overby notes that not all content is fully appropriate for youngsters. His viewers are mostly between the ages 13 and 21. 


"It's amazing that there are millions and millions of people out there who enjoy watching things like this, but audiences are very young and fickle, and prone to band wagons; you never know... " he observed. 




It's a wide world 


Overby credits Gerald Nelson, director of the MSU Entrepreneurship Center, and a seminar Nelson taught with helping him focus on the business side of things. This semester, he's taking graduate courses in financial accounting, business law and business ethics. 


As the entrepreneur anticipates graduation in December, he also considers his YouTube future.  


"Yes, I plan to continue after I get a real job," he affirms, noting that he labels himself a "small-time player" in the wide world of online producers. 


"We don't know anything compared to people who go to school for this stuff, but it's fun to tell stories -- and it's kinda cool to have fans all over the world," pointing out he's had people he's connected with online from as far away as Dubai and Russia do voice-overs in his videos. "I could probably couch surf in any country I wanted to," he smiles, meaning he could always find a welcome wherever he roamed. 


"The whole thing is just fun," he sums up. "I get to go places I don't normally go and do things I don't normally do. ... There's always something new." 


(Editor's note: The Dispatch thanks Robbie Ward and Mississippi State University Relations for some of the information included in this story.)

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.