How Casey Neistat created vlogging, almost failed, and became a cultural legend

It was my favorite ten minutes of each day: The Daily Vlog. Couldn’t miss it. 

I wasn’t alone. Millions tuned into Casey Neistat’s daily vlogs. 

Each day, every day, Casey added to his channel. 

For a remarkable 534 days in a row, Casey created some of the best content on YouTube. 

Didn’t matter where he was, what he was doing, or really anything. Each day, he found inspiration, set up video shots, took drone footage, edited the video, added graphics, sprinkled in some low-fi hip hop, and then uploaded it to YouTube. 

Truly the first of its kind, Casey’s vlog became a huge success, reaching hundreds of millions of viewers, all in the most Casey way possible. 

Casey's Creative Inspiration

Today, he is one of the legends of vlogging and YouTube. But how did he become such a large seemingly overnight success?

His success may stem from the day in March 2015, when he decided to start his daily vlog. The one rule: he had was to publish one video every day for as long as he possibly could. Or his success might originate from the Neistat Brothers show. A uniquely artistic series Casey and his brother Van (aka The Spirited Man) shot for HBO. 

But in truth, Casey’s success and creative genius starts far earlier. Before his viral video about the iPod that changed Apple’s battery policies, even before Casey picked up his first video camera. 

It really begins with Casey as a young, rebellious kid challenging conventions of the way things were done. 

He was kicked out of school at age 15 and proceeded to run away from his Connecticut home to join his older brother Van, a college student in Virginia. Van adopted Casey so that he could legally stay in Virginia, but when Casey discovered that his girlfriend was pregnant, he returned to Connecticut where they lived together in a trailer. He supported his family with odd jobs and dishwashing, but could not escape the hometown whispers of how he was a failure and would never “make it”.

Casey's Move To NYC

In a characteristically defiant move, Casey decided to prove everyone wrong and moved to New York City - the one place where no one could tell him what to do. He had a young son, still washed dishes for a living, and worked on the side for an art dealer. But the moment he stepped foot in the city he knew he was home.

As Casey says

New York City is a place where you can do anything, and be anything because everyone is too damn busy to worry about what anyone else is doing

This attitude of making something from nothing, of turning whatever was holding him back into an asset, allowed Casey to thrive in the beautiful chaos that is New York. Over and over again, Casey took something that annoyed, angered, or frustrated him, and turned it into inspiration for his art. This approach allowed him to find stories that already exist, flip the traditional script, and create something that is both inherently unique and also resonates with viewers on a deeper level. 

The perfect example is in Casey’s first viral video. Annoyed with the battery life of the iPod and the lackluster customer support of Apple, Casey took to his video camera to express his feelings. In an expressive piece of guerilla art, Casey spray-painted Apple advertisements, warning people to know that “iPods irreplaceable battery lasts only 18 months”. The final product, fittingly titled “iPod's Dirty Secret”, went viral, connecting with the viewer’s shared sense of frustration. Shared to millions via email (this was in 2003, years before YouTube launched), it put a bullseye on Apple’s battery replacement policy, which they changed only months later.  

Vlogging, What's That?

During these years, Casey developed his unique vlogging style. Looking to add more personality to his videos, Casey did something revolutionary, he turned the camera around. He wasn’t doing this to show off, or with the aim of creating a new style of video, instead, this was a way for him to express himself - to overcome the barriers holding him back. As Casey has done throughout his career, he created his own reality rather than letting social norms define what he should be doing or what his style should be.  

Despite a few viral videos, it seemed that people were not ready to fully accept Casey and his new style of vlogging. In 2010, Casey and his brother Van released an HBO show called “The Neistat Brothers”. While it received some critical acclaim, the show only lasted one season before being canned due to its low numbers. 

Casey wasn’t going to let this hold him back and instead decided to double down on his unique approach. Rather than letting his audience dictate what his style would be, Casey simply moved to a new medium: YouTube. This exciting new platform allowed him to express himself and connect directly with his fans. 

A perfect example of this goal is what caused Casey’s now-iconic sunglasses fit. He wanted to connect with viewers, to look directly into their eyes when speaking, but struggled to look directly into the camera while making sure his shot was correctly framed. His solution: to put on a pair of sunglasses. That way, he could look to the side of the camera while the viewers still thought he was speaking directly to them. Then in true Casey fashion, he customized his Raybans with spray paint and a large hunting knife

Soon Casey started becoming popular on YouTube. In 2012, Nike asked Casey to make a film about making it count. Instead of using the money for video equipment, special effects, and famous actors, Casey and a buddy decided to travel the world spending it on a vacation until the money ran out. For ten days, they circled the globe, stopping in France, Egypt, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Italy, Thailand, Singapore, and Japan. After missing several deadlines for the edited video and raising the ire of Nike’s executives (he wasn’t wearing Nikes for most of the video!), Casey finally released the video. Today the “Make it Count” has over 31 million views with more than 12 thousand comments. People loved its unique style and storytelling (the clickbait helped too). 

The Beginning of The Daily Vlog

But it wasn’t until Casey began his daily vlog in 2015 that his legacy was truly cemented in the world of YouTube. Every single day he put out another video, keeping the viewers enticed and interested with his content. 

As he became more famous, Casey began experiencing difficulties thanks to his new popularity. 

One problem was that he started receiving hundreds of packages. For each of these deliveries, Marlon, the UPS driver would pull up outside his office and then have to lug the packages up the elevator up to Casey’s office. Instead of viewing these packages as a problem or nuisance, Casey seized the opportunity and started regularly uploading entertaining unboxing videos. Better yet, Casey turned Marlon into a regular on the vlog, resulting in some of the most heartwarming content on the channel. 

Of course, there were other things Casey didn’t like about New York City. One of these was the Subway (I don’t think anyone can fault him). Instead of creating a video complaining about how dirty and hot the subway was, Casey flipped the script. He started taking his bike or boosted board (electric skateboard) to get around the city. Of course, all of this was filmed and turned into exciting action shots and unexpected audience interactions. 

Soon enough Casey received a bike ticket for not riding in the lane. He tried to talk his way out of the fine, but to no avail. Taking this opportunity, Casey created a video exploiting the hypocrisy of New York’s bike laws. Being told that he wasn’t allowed to leave the bike lane while riding, he rode his bike directly into obstacles blocking the bike lane: trucks, scaffolding, traffic cones, taxis, and even a police car. He hurled himself across the pavement multiple times, to the clear horror of onlookers. His video went viral, receiving millions of views and resulting in a change of New York’s bike policy. Casey had once again thwarted the constraints holding him back, connected with his audience, and once again forced change.

In the years following his daily vlog, Casey has received millions of views, scored multiple brand deals, and was awarded the GQ New Media Man of the Year Award. 

All this time, in the most Casey way possible, he has created success by making his own opportunities and refusing to let the rules of society hold him back. He still routinely harnesses his frustration, using it as the impetus for creative masterpieces time and time again.  

Today, a quick scroll through YouTube will show you how Casey has defined and shaped a generation. Thousands of creators have adopted his style of speaking directly to the camera, sharing their emotions with their audiences. Much as Casey was inspired by his favorite film, the Godfather, Casey is the inspiration for our generation. 

Casey's Advice for Creators

This does not mean he found expressing creatively easy, as Casey puts it in his advice to a younger filmmaker:

expressing creativity using the most basic, accessible methods is the hardest thing to do and the purest. **the very best steak houses server their filet on on a plate with nothing else. Shitty franchises cover theirs in sauce and other shit to distract you from the fact that you’re eating dog food.

This advice is clearly demonstrated in Casey’s approach to life and holds true across the board for anyone looking to create content. Don’t let your work hide behind smoke and mirrors aka sauce, instead, if you know that you are making the very best steak, then don’t let what others think or say matter.

Most importantly, if there is any takeaway from the success of Casey, it is to do more, to make it count, and to work harder. There’s a reason why Casey has each of these mottos tattooed on his arm.