Lessons From The Last 10 Years

I don’t buy lottery tickets. Not because I have moral opposition, but because I know I’ll never get this lucky ever again. Ten years ago, we won the internet lottery. We posted a video we titled, “XMAS JAMMIES” and it went viral. 

To be clear, we didn’t intend for millions of people to watch that video.

The goal was to post a silly video dancing in our Christmas Jammies announcing Penn’s job change, in hopes our family and friends would spread the word about our new venture. We were hoping people would hire us to be behind the camera to create videos and social media strategies. If we could get a few gigs out of the deal we wouldn’t have to immediately dip into savings. 

Taking The Leap

Here’s the thing, we didn’t have enough money in our bank account for Penn to comfortably quit his job, but he did anyway.  Penn was working as a news anchor at the local NBC affiliate and I was trying to start a social media marketing and video production company. By nature, I’m not a big risk-taker in life, but we were miserable and something needed to change. 

Penn’s work hours kept him from ever seeing the kids and I was drowning trying to work and handle 90% of the parenting responsibilities. We sat at the kitchen table and calculated how much money we’d need to pay the mortgage, car payments, preschool and groceries. The math equation was tight but we had enough to last almost two months if the gamble didn’t work. 

Looking back now, I can’t believe we took the leap. That video changed everything. 


What We’ve Learned 

We feel deep, deep gratitude for every single person who has ever taken the time to watch even one of our videos. I know what you see of us online makes it seem like our lives are a highlight reel of laughs, but we’ve had our share of stumbles. As always, the community here has the best, most authentic feedback and questions. I went to Instagram to see if you had any questions about that time.

We received hundreds and they all fell within the same lines: 

#1 “Did you realize this could be a job?” 

Absolutely not. That initial video had 17 million views before a kind soul emailed and said, “You know you can turn on a monetization setting and earn money on this, right?” 

We were clueless we could make actual money by posting on the internet. 

#2 “So is this your actual job?” 

Yes. But it took us years to figure out how to make this work. We continued to make videos behind the camera for others for the years that followed the release of Christmas Jammies. In 2016, we made the leap again to see again if this weird career could pay the mortgage by itself.  

If you’re curious, I’ll explain how our finances work: 

When you see an ad pop up in the frame of the video, we earn a small percentage of that revenue. Across Facebook and YouTube, those pennies can add up if a video is watched long enough and by enough people. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram offer much less, but it still adds up. We also have a podcast in which we have advertisements and even this blog has advertising. I think of it like commercials during a football game or my favorite TV show. They are a little annoying, but I love the show so I accept them. 

In addition, we still produce videos for brands behind the scenes and we’ve appeared on camera for brands as well. We’ve published a book (second on the way), a card game (second on the way) and we make apparel with silly sayings. We’ve lost money on ideas we’ve loved and we’ve made money in ways we didn’t predict. Some years have been lean, some have been amazing. Not having a steady paycheck can be panic inducing, but  who does these days? We feel enormously lucky to have the privilege of doing what we love. 

The most common questions we get surround our children… 

#3 “They rarely make appearances anymore. Is that for the sake of privacy or their preference?”

All of the above, but it’s honestly mostly their schedules. Both children are diligent students and athletes. They are busier than we are but they also see this as a career path. Since that very first video we’ve paid them if they ever appeared in videos. They have Coogan accounts,  college savings accounts, and Roth IRAs. 

Their schools offer video production classes and one of them even has a section dedicated to “Making a Living in Video Production”. When you see our kids in videos or posts now, know that they are very willing participants. They both pitch video ideas and blog posts because they know they will earn money. They tell us they WANT to be in them. But, because of their school and athletic schedules they aren’t home until later in the evening and unable to be in many videos. 

We have had conversations about how we had them in that original video when they weren’t old enough to really consent to their image being on the internet. They were 6 and (almost) 4 – and happily danced around because it was a fun thing they were doing with their parents. 

Though we never forced them to appear, can a kid that young really decide? No. We’re aware that this may be our biggest parenting mistake. We talk about it openly but I’m sure, in the years to come, we will find out the real impact. Still as a family, we know one day we will give them the passwords to these accounts. While some children take over their family’s painting company, our kids will be taking over social media pages. (It’s all so weird.)  

#4 “How does working together impact your marriage?”

You know how sometimes you get annoyed with your co-worker then you can leave the office and decompress? Yeah, that can’t happen here. In the beginning it was really, really hard to separate work from real life. We say it on repeat around here, but we’d rather be married than have a social media page. 

We work really hard to put boundaries around talking about work. We try to close our laptops at the end of the day and not speak about work projects until the next morning. It allows us to see each other as spouses instead of co-workers. We also have developed our own hobbies so we can leave the house and socialize with other people. 

A big shift in the right direction came when we hired people smarter than we are to help in the business. We were carrying a lot of stress about every little detail and it felt like everything ended in a fight. Having these wonderful humans helping us has helped the business, but mostly our marriage. 

#5 “If you could go back ten years and get ONE do-over what would it be?”

I try my best not to live in regret. We learn when we fail, right?  But since making those missteps we are more careful in how we proceed. That being said, I have three: 

I wish we knew to calculate shipping before creating a board game on Kickstarter. 

We had dreamed of creating a fun, family game about seven years ago. We launched it on Kickstarter and were lucky enough to get funded. But because we aren’t actual board game designers our packaging was bulky and over-sized. The cost to produce and ship the first version was more than we were charging. We fulfilled the orders at a loss and re-designed the game into what is at Target and Amazon now as Family Faceoff. (Shameless plug: We have another game launching any day now. Sign up for updates here.)

I wish we’d known that TV didn’t need to be the goal.  

Disclaimer: I am fully aware we won a reality television show and we are currently pitching a game show to networks. What I’m typing next may seem disingenuous, but it’s our truth. 

Penn and I came from a TV News background so we were over-the-moon to get offers for television shows. With wonderfully, talented people behind them, some of them even made it to air. But, at the end of the day, they weren’t hits and none of them made sense for our lives. We would pause video production on the channels we were building to accommodate for a television shooting schedule of someone else’s choosing. Also, because we aren’t Chip and Joanna Gaines, the money we were offered was really (really) low. We’d lose money by being offline for weeks at a time. 

We thought TV was the goal, but we love our little corner of the internet. If we do end up on your living room television screen one day, know that it’s a concept we adore and a schedule that fits our family. 

I wish we created work/life boundaries sooner. 

(See marriage question and answer above.)

#6 “Where do you see yourself in ten years?”

I love this question and I love that so many of you asked it. Honestly, I pray we are doing a version of this. As I type these words, Penn is combing over every word and graphic a new book centering on surviving (and sometimes thriving) with ADHD. We have a second game to be released soon. We’ve enjoyed speaking opportunities and taking control of the creative work behind the scenes on productions. I have a google doc full of ideas for novels and TV series. But our happy place is this corner of the internet. As we age and become empty-nesters, so many of you will as well. I imagine there’s so much comedy to be created about figuring out life without having to drive kids to games and practices every single night. Seriously, what will we do if we don’t have to be somewhere to watch a sporting event? I may just show up to watch other people’s children play middle school basketball. 

I wish I had better words to express our overwhelming gratitude for you, the person reading these words. I don’t know what post or video brought us together, but I’m so glad we found each other. We’re all learning and growing and aging together. We feel so lucky to be on this journey with you and we can’t wait to see where the next ten years take all of us. 

With love and gratitude, 

Kim and Penn