How Zack Nelson made it big on YouTube by testing phones, shooting a Tesla and jerry-rigging everything
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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series EastIdahoNews.com is calling “Social Media Stars.” Every day this week, we’ll be speaking with average Americans who made it big on YouTube and Facebook.
IDAHO FALLS — Zack Nelson fixes everything.
From Jeeps to motorcycles to cell phones – you name it, and this Utah native will likely take it apart and repair it.
Nelson has been working with his hands for years. He did construction in high school and built computers as a side job before college.
Those skills have paid off in a massive way as Nelson’s YouTube channel, Jerry Rig Everything, has nearly 4.3 million subscribers, and his videos have been viewed over 730 million times.
It all started seven years ago when his Jeep broke down.
“They wanted $1,000 to fix it, and I could do it myself for $80, so I ended up making a video and doing my first major car repair all at the same time,” Nelson tells EastIdahoNews.com.
He shot the video with his cell phone and posted it on YouTube. Then he kept shooting and sharing, even though he wasn’t making any money, and not a lot of people were watching.
“It was a slow, steady chug for the first couple years. I think I had 2,000 subscribers after making 100 videos,” Nelson recalls.
He was producing the videos on the side while attending school full time and working at a cell phone store 40 hours a week.
Two years after launching his channel, the phone store closed and gave Nelson four months of severance pay.
“So I threw myself at YouTube super hard, and by the end of that four months, when my severance package was up, I realized (YouTube) was viable. It could be a legit business,” he says.
Jerry Rig Everything has evolved over the years. Nelson has done everything from shooting a bulletproof Tesla to experimenting with smart locks, but one feature his viewers love is his cell phone “systematic durability test.”
He’s performed rigorous tests on dozens of cell phones, including scratching, dropping, burning and doing everything imaginable to see just what a phone can withstand. His most-watched video of all time, with more than 16 million views, is the iPhone 7 scratch test.
“I realized not everyone is going to be fixing their phone, but everybody has a phone and wants to see if it’s strong or not,” Nelson says. “When I started the systematic durability test, I saw an even bigger jump in my viewership.”
He admits it can be hard for him to take a break and not think about his business.
“I can for a couple hours at a time, but eventually there are so many balls rolling that I have to keep rolling; otherwise the whole thing will stop,” Nelson says. “People always say, ‘You run your own business; you can choose your own hours.’ You can as long as it’s all of them.”
Nelson says he learned early on to inject his personality into his videos and he got really personal last year when he introduced the world to his girlfriend, Cambry Kaylor.
Kaylor became paralyzed at age 18 when she suffered an accident while vaulting. Nelson surprised her earlier this year with an off-road electric wheelchair he had made. The video has been viewed over 12 million times on Facebook and has nearly 5 million YouTube views.
“One of her big things is she wants to bring awareness to people in wheelchairs, people with a disability,” Nelson says.
One of Nelson’s favorite videos is when he and Kaylor spent 17 hours building a massive Lego set. And a few weeks ago, he posted a video of himself installing a wheelchair-accessible elevator in his house. It exploded online.
“Neither of us were expecting it to take off, and I think now it’s like one of the top five on my channel,” he says.
Just days ago, Nelson and Kaylor tied the knot. She’ll be appearing in more videos, and they’re preparing to build to another electric wheelchair, which he says is “miles beyond the previous one.”
Nelson says he’s always coming up with ideas for new videos and has some advice for those hoping to make it big on YouTube or Facebook.
“The biggest thing…is consistency. There are a lot people who make one video or even 10 videos, and they’re like, ‘OK. That was fun. I only got a couple subscribers. I’m going to bounce out,'” Nelson says. “But in reality, those 10 videos are not a big enough net to capture viewers online. Once you have 100 videos or 200 videos, you start to gain an audience. That’s when people start to care about what you’re doing. You just have to be consistent.”