Thousands of teens journeyed to this year’s VidCon conference in Anaheim, Calif., to catch a glimpse of their favorite YouTube stars, and maybe even get a selfie with one of their idols.
Nicole Rose had a different mission in mind. The 16-year-old made the nearly 1,000-mile trek from her home near Portland, Ore., to the Anaheim Convention Center to learn how to become a digital entrepreneur.
Nicole, an aspiring singer who had glittering cat ears perched on her mane of pink hair, attended panels on “Building an Empire” and “How to Stand Out in a Sea of Saturation.” She carried a pink notebook with pages of observations scribbled inside, and handed out business cards and light-purple plastic bracelets emblazoned with the name of her YouTube channel.
“Right now, I think my channel could go any which way as I try to discover my own style and establish my own brand,” she said. “I would love to make this my job.”
For most of the 20,000 fans that flocked to VidCon, the youthful YouTube stars of fashion, music and lifestyle videos may be the big draw. But many of the teenagers here are looking for something else: hardheaded business advice.
VidCon began in 2010 when a mere 1,400 attended to trade tips on how to post YouTube videos, meet new friends and talk about the best digital cameras to use. Since then, it has grown into a serious convention that draws major corporate sponsors and top digital industry executives looking to build their businesses.
YouTube Chief Executive Susan Wojcicki gave the event’s keynote speech to a crowded ballroom on Thursday. Newer competitors like Vessel, an online network that sells subscriptions for access to videos, also made the rounds. The convention wrapped up Saturday.
There were industry-heavy panels to help creators navigate the corporate world, like one on how to decipher a contract or how to work with advertisers to better monetize content. At “Building an Empire,” seasoned content creators advised attendees on how to expand their professional footprint in the industry.
“The best competitive advantage you can have is being super-obsessed about what you do and accepting that other people will call it silly,” VidCon co-founder Hank Green said during the panel. “It’s all about believing in your obsession.”
Green and his brother John, author of popular young adult book, “The Fault in Our Stars,” came up with the idea for the convention after going on a small tour around the U.S. for their YouTube fans. The duo, known for their “VlogBrothers” channel, didn’t realize they had a fervent fan following until about 80 people showed up at a small library in Michigan to see them speak.
Six years later, the conference amassed thousands of attendees, more than 300 creators and 145 speakers.