Chris Sutherland is a former collegiate Physics professor turned full-time content creator. Chris began posting videos to TikTok in January 2020, quickly going viral and building an audience of more than 2 million followers.
Chris Sutherland is a former collegiate Physics professor turned full-time content creator. Chris began posting videos to TikTok in January 2020, quickly going viral and building an audience of more than 2 million followers.
Chris parlayed that audience into 144K+ Instagram followers, 60K YouTube subscribers, and 30K followers on Twitter too.
Today, Chris is building a new TikTok profile focused on crypto and building an online course too.
In this episode, we talk about Chris’s path to becoming a collegiate professor, how Humor helped him grow his TikTok audience so quickly, the differences from Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, why he left academia, and what’s next for him.
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Chris Sutherland 0:00
The third one I made like caught the algorithm. And it got hundreds of 1000s of views. And that's what TikTok is like it's it's universal content distribution. Like it doesn't matter who you are, where you're from. If you make a good video, it'll catch just just, that's just the way TikTok works.
Jay Clouse 0:17
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show. Hello, my friend. Welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements. I want to give a quick shout out here to Ranana_M who recently left a review for the show on Apple podcasts titled This is my go-to podcast. They wrote I feel like I go through seasons of podcasts, and this is my go to now as I explore creative endeavors, practical conversations around pain points with great guests. Simple, motivating and useful. Thank you for the podcast! Well, thank you Renana_M for taking the time to leave a review. It means a lot to me personally, and it goes a long way to help the show grow as well. So if you haven't left a review on Apple podcasts, please consider doing so and it may get read here on the show. All right. This week, we are finally doing it. We are finally venturing into the realm of TikTok a platform I know next to nothing about today I'm talking with Chris Sutherland. Chris has 2 million followers on TikTok, 60,000 YouTube subscribers, 144,000 Instagram followers, and he's built that up since just January 2020. That is insane growth. And you may wonder what was this guy doing before creating content? Well, that's interesting too, because probably not what you'd expect. Before Chris was a full time content creator, he was a physics professor at USC, the University of Southern California. He even has a 4.9 out of five star rating on ratemyprofessors.com. And even though it may seem hard to connect the dots between professor and creator, there's actually more in common than you think.
Chris Sutherland 2:13
Like I'm in front of these students for like an hour three times a week, just up there like in front of this audience. And so it's, it's very much like a performance.
Jay Clouse 2:24
As you probably already guessed, that is Chris will get more from him here in a second. But the one thing I do know about TikTok is that it's on the cutting edge of the culture. Trends seem like they start on TikTok so you really need to be up to speed on what's trending so you can be relevant on the platform. And apparently that wasn't a challenge for Chris.
Chris Sutherland 2:43
I think it was very natural because academia is just, it just never really feels like a real job. I feel like getting a real job is part of what takes you away from that kind of youth culture. And because I never really got into that I was just naturally looking at the same Instagram meme pages in the same type of stuff on TikTok . Like I did that all through grad school and I just teaching a bunch of Gen Z kids didn't feel like I had to grow up or anything. So I just kept doing what I was doing.
Jay Clouse 3:14
I met Chris through a program I participated in with Maven, the Maven team are building a marketplace platform for cohort based courses, online courses that are taught live by the instructors. I build a course with former podcast guests Pat Flynn and Matt Gartland. on how to build an online course, which is very meta I know. And full disclosure, I'm actually an investor in Maven. We were some of the first instructors ever on the platform. And Chris was building a course at the same time. I got to know him a little bit and couldn't believe how quickly he built such a large audience.
Chris Sutherland 3:45
I started making TikTok videos in like January 2020. I think I got on TikTok only a couple months before I started creating but like after like maybe a week of just like filtering my for you page to get rid of like the dancing and other stuff that like I just wasn't interested in. I was like, totally hooked, like by far the most addictive thing I've ever done or used. And this is when I was starting to get a bit tired of the typical teacher thing. And I just thought, Okay, I'm gonna start making videos. I think the main focus I had was YouTube, and I was like, Okay, I'll do TikTok too because one of my students was like, Oh, you should do TikTok like that's where it's at. TikTok picked up really quick.
Jay Clouse 4:24
So in this episode, we talked about Chris's path to becoming a collegiate professor. How humor helped him grow his TikTok audience so quickly, the differences between TikTok and Instagram reels and YouTube shorts, why Chris left academia. And what's next for him now that he's a full time creator. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this episode. As you listen, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram @JayClouse tag me say hello and let me know that you're listening. But now, let's talk with Chris.
Chris Sutherland 4:55
So, in reality, I always liked math and I kinda thought I wanted, like, just do math when I was like in high school, but I didn't really know that you could just do that, like neither my parents went to college like, so. Then I was then I found out about physics. And I was like, Okay, this is like math, but like, useful, in some sense. So and then at the same time, I also knew like, I despised lab work, like with my hands, I was awful. I was just such a klutz. And so I knew I didn't want to do engineering, like I knew I didn't actually want to build anything. But physics seemed like good application of math. And so I'm like, I like that.
Jay Clouse 5:37
What are the options for somebody who wants to pursue physics? What is the typical set of like career paths?
Chris Sutherland 5:44
A lot of times, people don't end up in physics after the degree, usually, like just looking back where my friends ended up. A lot of them are in software jobs, like full stack development, a lot of them ended up doing machine learning or data science, just because that kind of a lot of times those companies will, will hire physics grads, because they got the kind of right quantitative mindset. And they just sometimes they got to do like a programming bootcamp or something like that. Sometimes in finance, a lot of physics grads, go to grad school. And then they usually filter out after grad school, and they can't find a spot like permanently in academia. And they might, they might do some research work for like, a government lab. Maybe that's pretty much where people go.
Jay Clouse 6:32
Why did you decide to pursue your PhD?
Chris Sutherland 6:35
Yeah, so again, in high school, I feel like cuz I was always really into like, video games. And I was always like, playing competitive like, like multiplayer games, and getting a PhD just seemed like the way this seemed like the final, like the way you would like win academia. And I feel like in high school, I just decided, like, I want to, I want to win high academia, I'm going to get a PhD. And I just fall off track, like I did really like physics. And when I kind of got into it, and undergrad, like I did a research internship and stuff is like, I was pretty into it. So I just decided to keep following that. That kind of goal I set for myself in high school, which is not the right way to do it. By the way but that what I do.
Jay Clouse 7:21
Just take the goals you have for yourself as a 16 year old, never revisit them, just keep doing them. At what point did you did you think that academia was going to be the follow on to getting a PhD? Because teaching itself seems like you know, a very different career path than physics typically sets you out on?
Chris Sutherland 7:40
Yeah, well, I always love teaching and tutoring and stuff. Like I loved explaining things to people. Like I feel like a decent at math and decent at physics, but like compared to some of the people I met, I wasn't great. So I did have to put in the effort to learn. And so making it easier for other people I was liked. And I kind of realized during my PhD that I was not going to be a I'm not going to be able to be a researcher. Like it's so just I just wasn't good enough. not that interested. So yeah, I was like, Okay, I would love to just get a straight teaching position. And that's what I did after the after the PhD one became available, they're usually pretty rare just to get a straight teaching position to not have to go into a postdoc and be like a star in your research field. So yeah, I was happy about that.
Jay Clouse 8:25
Can you talk about that a little bit like I'm sure this just comes down to basic supply and demand. But I hear from people all the time that actually getting a job in academia as just a professor without doing research is really tough. Why is that?
Chris Sutherland 8:36
Yeah, well, it's tough. Whether you're doing research or not, it's, it's tough all across the board. Like there's just, I mean, the basic thing is, there's like, you know, one or two physics professor jobs that will open up at a at each college per year. And that's some sometimes there's 0, 1, or 2, and that, but then you look at a college like MIT, MIT will spit out at least 10 physics PhDs per year. So there's a clear discrepancy there. Right? And not only that, that's just MIT. So like, the people that MIT PhD grads that stay in academia and try and get that can't get jobs at the MIT level schools, then they'll try and get jobs at the lower level schools. Well, then what about the people that got PhDs at the lower level schools, they'll try and go lower and lower, and there's just this, this huge supply and demand problem. And that's why there's just not a lot of jobs. And there's, there's a lot of people with PhDs.
Jay Clouse 9:34
It seems like people who get the job, keep it like forever.
Chris Sutherland 9:38
Yeah, there's that too. Like, there's just so many old profs that honestly suck, that you have tenure, which means you basically can't get fired anymore. You have total academic freedom, and you're good. So this is already like 10 years after the PhD. And once you get tenure, so it's a very long arduous road to get tenure. And so people kind of expect once you get tenure, that's for life.
Jay Clouse 10:00
Well, you got your PhD and you got one of these rare roles as a lecturer. That was in 2018. How did that feel to get one of those few jobs?
Chris Sutherland 10:10
It was awesome. And yeah, this job was not the tenure track route. It was the teaching track route. Only some schools hire just pure teachers to teach at their college. And the USC was one of them. Yeah, I was really happy because even those are very, also in, a lot of people want it. And I was just kind of lucky that they kind of knew me, and that I had teaching experience and stuff like that. And I was super excited, cuz this was kind of my end goal. Like when I got the PhD. I another goal that I wrote down for myself when I was like, pretty young was like, I would love to teach a class, like a college classroom of physics. So I was pumped, it was a lot of work, but I was pumped.
Jay Clouse 10:51
Is this one of the big lectures? Or is this one of the freshmen or sophomore classes that everybody takes? You have hundreds of kids in there?
Chris Sutherland 10:58
Yep. That's right.
Jay Clouse 10:59
Talk to me about your first couple of years teaching before this most recent year, which I assume was mostly Zoom based talk to me about that experience.
Chris Sutherland 11:06
I mean, I've always felt comfortable like in front of crowds and stuff like I've done like theater and things like that I was always loved it. So that portion was that was like fun. It's kind of like a performance. And I loved the office hours, students would come would come to the office hours a lot, and we'd I'd get to meet them. And I feel like this is kind of where I developed the knowledge of like, what Gen Z was like, and where I was able to kind of build that like familiarity that helped me on on TikTok later, it was great. meeting them like I was living in LA wasn't from there originally. It was great to meet these students and like interact with them. As some of them I'm, I'm, I'm friends with now, especially in the classes that had like mostly older students.
Jay Clouse 11:54
You said one hour class three times a week? Did you only have like one class? Or how many classes were you having hour long classes with three times a week?
Chris Sutherland 12:01
It was like two to three classes per semester. And then there's like all the other time where you're like making the assignments and making the lectures and coordinating the TA is and office hours and all that extra time as well. But actually live yeah.
Jay Clouse 12:18
I'm trying to back this into what I'm going to ask questions about of like how you spend your time, because at first, when you're just a teacher, you know, you have your I'm sorry to understand you have your lectures, you have office hours, you have coordinating otas, you have grading, what other things that you have to spend significant amount of time on in that role?
Chris Sutherland 12:36
Preparing the lectures, like putting all the contents. Luckily, I had older professors in the department that were that were really keen on teaching share their material with me. But that's usually like the first year of teaching is a huge amount of work compared to the next year. Because the way teaching in academia works, right, especially physics that's been the same for 100 years is you just teach the almost the exact same thing again. And if you're good, you'll update your methods or whatever. But so once you've done it once that first year was a ton of work. But in my last year, for example, I didn't have to spend much time outside the classroom besides just like all the stuff was already prepared. And so I would just the lecture time and the TA coordinating time and office hours and whatever faculty meetings and stuff that was kind of it.
Jay Clouse 13:22
So first year ton of work, but exciting because you got this gig and this is what you wanted to do second year, a little bit less work on the preparation side, still enjoying the the role itself?
Chris Sutherland 13:33
Yeah there was always like some problems that I had with it. But in general, yeah.
Jay Clouse 13:38
You mentioned in these office hours, you were starting to connect with Gen Z and learn a little bit more about that culture. What were some of the things that you learned that were either counter to your expectations, or you just wouldn't have expected?
Chris Sutherland 13:50
I wouldn't say I had met much expectations going in, they were kind of it's kind of what I expected, I guess, I guess one thing, um, maybe Gen Z gets a bad rap for being too much like on their phones all the time or something like that. But from what I experienced, like, they're also like, they're extremely hard working, at least people at the school I taught at were and very, very smart. I wouldn't say there was too much that that was outside my expectations. They seemed very grown up, I guess.
Jay Clouse 14:20
I feel like that's kind of what we hear. Anytime someone gets to know the younger generation more. They're like, actually, they're more smart and applied than we expect.
Chris Sutherland 14:28
Jay Clouse 14:29
They're just different from us in some way. And that's why sometimes like we other a different generation.
Chris Sutherland 14:35
Yeah, I don't even feel different than them at this point. Like I feel like those those first three years, like, those three years, where I just became like, because part of being a good teacher is being like relatable, right? Or like, you need to kind of step down to level or not even step down, just just enter their level. And because I was always focused on being a good teacher, yeah, I just feel like it's totally a part of me now. Some I am Gen Z lives within me.
Jay Clouse 15:02
After a quick break, Chris and I talked about how he built his audience on TikTok so quickly, and later we talk about Instagram reels, YouTube shorts and more. So stick around, and we'll be right back. Hey, welcome back. Chris got started on TikTok in just January of 2020. But almost immediately, literally with his third video, his account took off and received millions of views. So I wondered if it was just pure dumb luck, where if Chris had spent some time thinking about his approach before he began posting videos,
Chris Sutherland 15:34
The first two videos didn't get that much, but because like, I was connected to all my former students on like Instagram and other stuff like that, and so when I made that first video, I shared it there. And so it got like an okay amount of views like in the 1000s. But it didn't really pick up and then just the third one, the third one I made, like caught the algorithm. And it got hundreds of 1000s of views. And that's what TikTok is like, it's it's universal content distribution. Like it doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, if you make a good video, it'll catch just just that's just the way TikTok works. And so that one did and then, yeah, I remember like, I was so strange to me as someone that's never had something go popular on social media, I was totally blown away by it. And I responded to every comment on on it. It was like 1000s of comments. I was up all night responding to every single one. And from there on, then it was just like, okay, so TikTok is kind of working so, and then it just almost every other video after that worked, and obviously, I got better at knowing what worked.
Jay Clouse 16:38
That's insane. There's like no creator I've ever talked to that's like, yeah, the first two things weren't good. But then from the third one on like, it just worked. Like, you got to say more like, how did you even take the input of like, Okay, this video works. How did you know how to do the next one and the next one,
Chris Sutherland 16:53
I actually read these interesting books. Before I was before I decided to start doing YouTube and TikTok, like I read influence. And I read, um, some some other old marketing books that were super interesting. And I think that was kind of sitting around in my subconscious, like, and I was also a bit neurotic about it. Like, when the third video did well, I kind of studied it. And I was like, What did I do in this video, and I just, like, copied a lot of the things. That's where this red shirt came from, was, I was wearing a red shirt in that video. And I was like, Okay, well, I want people to recognize that person that had that particular video again. So I'm going to wear the exact same thing, I'm going to use the same color text, I am going to just try and use the same type of I just tried to copy that video, but make it slightly different because that video did well. So let me just not overthink it. Let me just copy and I you know, I wasn't trying to be like too algorithmic about or anything but like, I had at that point decided that I wanted to make content and have it be, like popular. So I did want to try and at least game the algorithm like a little bit.
Jay Clouse 17:59
Why did you make the decision that you wanted to make content and you wanted it to be popular?
Chris Sutherland 18:03
I think, as I was getting tired of the teaching thing, I was like, this is not the future. You can't you can't change things from within the system. It sucks. I need to. But this is like where my whole career has been. So how do I transition into something where I can make money, as well and also be part of something that is like, it's mainly like, how do I be part of the future of education, but at the same time, make money. So that's like, that's why I decide, okay, YouTube videos and TikTok. And then why do I want to be popular? Well, I want to be able to make a living off this eventually. So it just seemed like and I was reading a bunch of stuff too like, I was reading like creative economy stuff. And I was just fascinated by the whole thing. I'm like, this is so cool. And I want to be a part of it.
Jay Clouse 18:49
Well, and the other reason that, you know, I'm really excited to talk to you about this is most of the people we have on this show broke through years ago, like the reason they're popular today is because they've been doing it for 10 years. And you started this January of 2020 like we're just beyond a year here. And it's important people know that like these models exist and it's still open.
Chris Sutherland 19:08
Jay Clouse 19:08
So January 2020. Was that the beginning of your third year or the end of your second year?
Chris Sutherland 19:14
End of my second year, but that's a that's a great point because I remember before I started that's why I was so amazed when that first video did well because I just I just I guess I had this like underlying assumption that video was like you couldn't break into it now like it was already that there was popular YouTubers and you weren't one of them and you never will be but even my YouTube blew up just randomly like I was making videos that I didn't even think they were that good and all of a sudden I had 50,000 subscribers and it all happened very quickly. So even YouTube, which takes more, I would say is not as universally distributed as as TikTok is still early days in all video stuff.
Jay Clouse 19:57
Was that driven by one two videos that had a breakout too.
Chris Sutherland 20:02
I think, here's the way I think YouTube works. And I kind of know I took like a little course from a guy that kind of knows about it as well, not not quite a course. So I just kind of talked to a guy that kind of knows about how the algorithm works, he runs like 20 YouTube channels. So TikTok is like you make one video. And if it's good, it'll catch and you can get more followers than that. And then it's likely your other videos will do slightly better, but they still have to be good videos. If they if you really want them to do well. And then YouTube, YouTube is like us kind of a slow burn you make you make a bunch of videos. And if you keep doing that, after a while, yeah, an old one can blow up out of nowhere. And that never happens on TikTok. Like, you'll never have an old video blow up out of nowhere. But if you build like this catalogue of YouTube content, it's like your flat for a long time and then all of a sudden, it'll it'll pick up whereas TikTok it can be much more like you could you could pick up right at the beginning. At least it's like that for now. Maybe it's just because this new platform I don't know.
Jay Clouse 21:04
So where does YouTube play in your strategy now because your your Twitter has a huge following your Instagram has a huge following even post on Instagram and months though and YouTube, it seems like you've slowed down to so how are you prioritizing these platforms where any one of those platforms in the following you have a lot of people listen to the show would say just like, give me that if I had that I would have it.
Chris Sutherland 21:23
Yeah, yeah, right. That's true. So I guess as I continue to make content, like I kind of realized like, what I actually like doing and what I don't like doing and so I'm a bit in this in this phase where I'm trying to figure out what it is I really want to do because when like this ties back good to the PhD thing you know, I decided to get a PhD when I was in high school and just blindly followed that for 10 years my life. Now I want to be a bit more intentional with what I'm with what I'm building and now not just I guess I was just kind of focused on blind growth on TikTok for a while now but as you might have noticed, like I'm like I decided to take a hiatus on @sutherlandphys and now I'm posting posting on @sutherlandcrypto, I'm trying to be a bit more thinking about what I want to do long term. So I don't know if I want to continue making YouTube videos even I could I think I could and I think I could sustain myself from it. There's a lot about making YouTube videos I don't like though. I feel like sometimes they don't have the attention span. I love like they're making the short videos. I love making a lot of short videos.
Jay Clouse 22:28
Help me understand that time commitment, like what does it look like to create a video for TikTok?
Chris Sutherland 22:32
so for TikTok for me, like TikTok creators are different. But for me, sometimes it's like, I'll just be watching TikTok and be like, Oh, that's a great thing. I know, I can make my own spin on that very easy, you know, take me 30 seconds, boom, post it. And sometimes those literally like 30 seconds to a minute videos will get millions of views. And then other times, like I have a notepad that where I have all my TikTok ideas. It has like 600 ideas that I still haven't used, and that are just constantly updating, where I'll hear sound and so that's kind of a bit of work, but I don't know, it's hard to put a time on that. And then when I'm making daily vids, at least when I wasn't selling and physically like, okay, at least want to make a couple videos a day. So I'll I'll just grab my phone and and look through my idea pads and sometimes they'll make take an hour to do a video sometimes it's a bit more of a struggle trying to get it right. Sometimes it's more effortless. Just be like five minutes just to get it all perfectly right. So like couple hours a day when I was making TikTok a lot plus all the research. I'm doing air quotes. I'm putting stuff into my notepad every so often watching a lot of TikTok though I wouldn't really call that work, but it did help.
Jay Clouse 23:44
You mentioned like, you'll be flipping through the feed and you'll see Oh, I can make a fun spin off of that. For people who aren't familiar with TikTok like what how does that work? Why do you decide what videos you do to remix or spin off?
Chris Sutherland 23:57
Yeah. So okay, on TikTok, there's, I would say there's a couple ways that I do content. There's stuff where I'll just literally sit in front of the camera and talk and that's not really based off anything. That's just pure personality. And those videos will will commonly do well, I think because it's kind of like, you know, an intimate conversation, especially during the pandemic. I don't know if you guys have experienced this because you're young, little bakos. But when someone like went to Harvard or MIT and they talk about their college years would be like, oh, when I was in college in Boston, or when I was like, Yeah, I went to college in Boston. To see you went to Harvard, bro to see you went to MIT. Just shut up.
The other one is there's always trends on TikTok. And it's not always the trends that are listed on like the front page of TikTok like some it's just by watching TikTok you'll see a lot of creators play off a certain sound that there's like a template it's basically like everyone's using the same template for the for a video. I can't think of any examples of I have I'm sure if you if you've been On TikTok , you know what I'm talking about. And they'll be like, oh my, my physics professor content, I have a perfect idea that fits into this template in this sound. So I'll just do my spin of that. It's like people almost expect it when when a trend starts going around TikTok with a certain sound and a certain trend. It's like you expect each creator that does their own, that has their own thing to do their interpretation of that trend. So that's what I would do. And then other times, there's just sounds that I love, like they're either so hilarious or so funny that like, I'll have a completely new idea to do with it. Professor, how is this useful in real life? It's not.
Why do you think of somebody help me? So it's kind of like those who think sometimes just be talking to the camera, about some random thing that's like, kind of funny, or maybe it's like a bit of a meme. And then the other ones like just doing just, which I think is the main TikTok thing, like doing a trend. hopping on one of these trends. Sometimes you could do add or stitch people do that sometimes. And then the third thing is like, I just find so many of the sounds on there, like hilarious, or I just feel like I have my own new idea to work on.
Jay Clouse 26:13
How does Instagram reels compare? I get when it went launch people like oh, this is just TikTok but like, Is it really?
Chris Sutherland 26:19
It sucks so bad. Instagram reels YouTube shorts suck so bad. And this is not just like for someone that maybe I'm biased, obviously. I'm biased, right. But yeah, they just they don't realize that the main the the lifeblood of TikTok are the trends and the sounds and the way you can use sounds other people are using the way you copy trends from other people the way you can do it and stitch people. And the comments like the comments are 50% of the experience on TikTok, because they're so funny. And Instagram and YouTube shorts, just completely lack that, like, the last thing I want to do is go on YouTube shorts and make a make a video just doesn't. It's not it doesn't work. It's not flawless. And the algorithms suck, compared to TikTok like TikTok algorithm is like, it is incredible. Yeah, it's so addicting. It's crazy. And now when I try and go on YouTube and watch a video, I'm just like, these videos, this, this website is recommending me it's like garbage, like these engineers need to step up your game.
Jay Clouse 27:24
I've watched my fiance tried to do an Instagram reel. And it took her like, an hour to do a very basic thing. Like she knew what she wanted to do. And it took like an hour to let the tool like for the tool to let her do what she was trying to do. So I was wondering, like the creation was easier on TikTok.
Chris Sutherland 27:39
What they're good for is for creators that make TikTok finding further distribution, like I stopped doing this. But when I was uploading just straight from TikTok even with the watermarks, and everything to Instagram reels, my Instagram page is blowing up, just copy pasting. Same on YouTube shorts.
Jay Clouse 27:55
Why did you stop doing that?
Chris Sutherland 27:56
I just got lazy. Um, I just ended this was also when I was kind of thinking like, I was trying to be more intentional about was doing like, do I want to just keep growing on Instagram for no reason. Do I want to just keep becoming more popular, just straight based off my personality, like there are certain trade offs with that, like, if you keep doing that there are going to be some things you can't do. You will get bigger brand deals and stuff. And you can do things like that. But you might not be able to cultivate, like an interesting discussion around a specific thing that you find interesting, because that's not what it's about. It's about you. There's like a fame element to like, if you get super big and stuff like, like, I got recognized in public couple times, like I don't want to have to me personally, though I love I love it when people reach out and be like, thank you so much for your videos, like I love that. I don't want to have to worry about like, where I'm living and like, where I'm going and being worried about things like that if you just keep growing without thinking about things like that. And any and you tailor all your content just for pure growth. That's what's gonna happen and you're gonna have to live with that.
Jay Clouse 29:06
So interesting that you're protecting future optionality at the expense of near term growth that you know you could have. Because it's not necessarily what you want long term. That's it.
Chris Sutherland 29:15
And I think every creator, that becomes a thing eventually, especially if they're making, if you start off as like a pure real estate creator, that's like, then you probably won't worry about that. But if if there's a lot of personality in your videos, which Tiktok is huge on personality, like shines through there. That's something you're gonna have to deal with. And yeah, I'm trying, like I said, trying to be a bit more intentional than like young Chris was instead of just blindly following. It's like, what do I really want out of life, etc.
Jay Clouse 29:48
When we come back, I asked Chris, if he ever got in trouble with his employer for being a viral TikTok creator, and we dig a little bit deeper into the economics of making money on TikTok right after this.
Welcome back to my conversation with Chris Sutherland. In preparing for this interview, I watched a lot of Chris's TikTok videos. In one video, he says that the Dean of the College found his TikTok, and I had to know if that actually happened.
Chris Sutherland 30:14
No, it ever happened. Strange, so I quit now. Yeah, I've quit now. And so I can like talk about this more like, okay, there, they did contact me once, but it was it was I'll talk about that in a bit. But literally, no one talked to me about it. Like, only my students, none of my colleagues brought it up. Not that I talked to my colleagues that much, because we were everything was remote, basically, once I started and there was faculty meetings that I didn't go to, and no one higher up ever talked to you about. I think the USC athletics account reached out to me once, it was like, hey, do you want to do a collab?
Jay Clouse 30:48
Oh my gosh,
Chris Sutherland 30:49
And I was I was just too lazy. I was like, No, I don't really want to do anything. I just like kind of making my own videos. But there was one time, I think I made a video about this, where on my syllabus, I made a joke like his own syllabus, you always as a professor, you list like, where you be contact where you can be contacted in your office hours and stuff and, and I guess a joke I listed like office hours, you know, office room, and then I would list all my social medias. And then at the end, I listed like, only fans. And then I said upon request, like, if you want my only thing you can ask me for. And then I got an email from from someone. I don't want to get into trouble, right? They actually there. He was super nice about it. Like he was very understanding. He was like, Yeah, can you take that off, because we don't want like parents seeing that and getting the wrong idea. And I was like, he was like, I actually studied comedy. So I understand comedy of like, the to me is like he studied comedy. You probably don't understand anything about it. But but he was like, I get that it was a joke and and everything else like so he was super nice. But yeah, that's the only interaction otherwise, it was just complete silence. I can't believe that. I don't know if they're probably. I wonder what they were doing. Like where they're just waiting for me to slip up or like, were they? Like, we don't want to touch this with like a 10 foot pole like,
Jay Clouse 32:03
Had to have known. But I mean, you have.
Chris Sutherland 32:05
They definitely knew there's no way they didn't know.
Jay Clouse 32:08
They're probably waiting for your rate my professor to go below like a four, six. And then this would have been this would have been the straw.
Chris Sutherland 32:15
Yeah, I mean, I guess they just didn't know what to do. Like, I don't think they want to reach out because I did have a bit of like an adversarial, like aspect to my tech talk about the college. And I guess there was no reason for me to stop me. Even though maybe there's one or two videos that were a bit on the edge like the so they just let it run its course.
Jay Clouse 32:34
But I had to have felt like a risk at the time. I'm sure other people listening to this right now. Like, they may think that their content is a risk to their job as well. So how did you weigh that risk?
Chris Sutherland 32:43
Totally. It did. It did feel I remember, I kind of forget now. But I remember when I was first starting, it did feel like a huge risk. And I just it was like, I just did a risk analysis like what are the potential upsides of this. And potential upside is I can have a career doing something much better than teaching at a college and the potential downsides is I get fired, but I still have a PhD. So I was kind of thinking I was thinking that like that. But near the beginning, I was more careful with it. But what it what it was basically like, the more I grew, the more I took more risks because I was like, Okay, if something really bad does happen here, then I have at least something to look at the TikTok creator fund was paying out and YouTube was paying out like I have something there.
Jay Clouse 33:28
What's the TikTok creator fund.
Chris Sutherland 33:30
So TikTok, I think committed to giving out something like a billion dollars to its creators over the next three years, something like that. Wow. And you just get paid for how many views you get.
Jay Clouse 33:43
So and as non advertising. They're just saying like, we're actually gonna incentivize creators to make really great content without feeling like they need to use advertising in any way. And we got to pay them for that.
Chris Sutherland 33:54
That's right. I wouldn't say it's that much. But Yep, that's right. And I love that model, by the way, it could it could use some work for sure. But I that model was really attractive to me, especially compared to what YouTube does. Another aspect of that model that's interesting is the fact that it didn't matter what content you were making, like it just which can also be bad like because then you just get like stupid prank videos and like bad stuff, getting a lot of using enhanced money. But like on YouTube, the CPM is dependent on like, if you're a finance creator, you'll make way more per 1000 views and you would as an as prank video,
Jay Clouse 34:28
can you give any type of estimate for if I want to become a TikTok creator and get paid from the creator fund? At what level? Do I have to be for that to be meaningful? You know, like, what was like 500 bucks a month or 1000 bucks a month?
Chris Sutherland 34:40
Yeah, just to get in you have to have a certain I think only 10,000 it's pretty easy to get it and just 10,000 followers or I think, which seems like a lot but on TikTok. It's, it's really, it's much easier to get there than it is on other platforms. And you need something a certain I think like 100,000 views in the past 30 days or something which also seems like A lot. But again, it's much easier to get that on TikTok than it is like on YouTube. So there's that, when it was really going good. I think like a million views was like 30 bucks, which doesn't seem like a lot. So you would need you could make like, if you're doing like, if you're like a TikTok creator, like me, I was making a lot of content, you get like a million views a day. So you could do the math. It's going down, though, because as more creators enter the program, I think because it's only just a fixed pool,
Jay Clouse 35:29
Chris Sutherland 35:29
Of money, it's getting distributed more. So you're gonna have to be pretty damn popular getting million views a day is you're going to be need to getting millions of views a day to make a living off it.
Jay Clouse 35:44
What is what is the typical path for monetization for TikToker's outside of that, because like I'm coming from the standpoint of a lot of people I look at, they're doing information products, things like that, and 15 second, or 60 second videos don't necessarily lend to that pathway.
Chris Sutherland 36:03
Brand deals, pay a lot on TikTok so you can get a you can you can do a 30 second video. And for like, a brand, I'll pay 5000 bucks if you have over a million followers. So that's a if you play your cards, right, so that's one way a lot of creators do it. There's the creator fund. A lot of TikTok is trying to filter their audience to YouTube, because YouTube is easier to make money is better for making money. I wouldn't say easier. It's better for making money though. So yeah, on TikTok is basically a brand deals and the creator fun brand deals can be a huge part of it. You could you could just live off like you could do very well, which is brand deals on TikTok.
Jay Clouse 36:43
What's your plan, you now have two TikTok channels, I'd love to hear why you forked into a second channel as opposed to going forward or just the one. But what's your strategy?
Chris Sutherland 36:52
Yeah, so my plan is @sutherlandphys kind of became like 99% personality like 1% educational like is really just about, it was very much about me, which was fun, like 15 seconds of fame was great. And maybe I got my start making videos again there. But it's like, I'm really interested in crypto. And I kind of want to make the transition from physics, from education into crypto. I find it fascinating. I've been interested in it for a while. I love it. A lot of things I've been reading recently, like I've read a lot of finance books over the past two years, things about stock market crashes. And a lot of businesses get interested in finance because there's lots of cool math like quant quantitative analysts do like lots of cool things, a lot of physicists end up working in that field. And so I guess I was kind of interested in it, not from my perspective to make a lot of money, but just like the structure of it, and all the bad things about it. Like if you look at my content on @sutherlandphys, a lot of its talking about how bad the education system is, well, this is very true for a lot of systems in our society and find finances one of them for sure. I feel like that's what kind of attracted me to it. And crypto to me is a solution that has tons of problems right now as well for sure. Like it's producing a lot of problems. But ultimately, I genuinely see crypto as a solution in the same way I see edge new educational tech platforms a solution to traditional education. So I want to kind of that's where I'm at, like if I was I'm kind of, I feel like I'm making another 10 year decision in my life. And that is I want to spend the next 10 years in crypto and and education and whatever combination I can do with them. And it was hard to do that in @sutherlandphys because the fact is a lot of people don't care about crypto there and .
Jay Clouse 38:37
Did you test it? Did you do some crypto videos
Chris Sutherland 38:39
I tested it a little a little bit but the thing is because it's it's so heavily about me the comments section, it becomes something that's not really productive. And it's too hard to filter at that point because I've so many and it's not even like a water filter. Like it's it was built around something totally different. And so I wanted to kind of respect the people that followed me for a certain reason and watched me and said, Hey, if you're interested, I'm going to be over here now. And the people that are interested can go and the people that aren't cannot go and I feel bad. I know some of them like I got all these super heartfelt messages. I was making these videos over the past year like even people like dying on their on like, like on their deathbed. So they're like thank you so much for making these videos. The only thing is making me laugh these days, like, like really heart touching stuff that made me feel bad. Quitting, but at the same time, like you kind of want to stop before it gets old. Right? I've been cut. I was making the same educational like jokes and stuff like that as a professor like for a year straight. I was making like three videos a day a lot. And I was just feeling a bit like maybe it's you know, it's better to just kind of, and especially quitting as a professor. It's kind of a natural end point. And maybe it'll come back as like a season two, and things will be different in some way. But yeah, that's where I'm at crypto. I'm teaching a course on Maven maven.com as you know, on crypto 101. So a lot of my times going into that I've been really interested in crypto, crypto venture. I'm talking with some people like talking to some some venture capital people that are really into crypto. So I'm interested in that. Maybe I can help somewhere with my @sutherlandcrypto account, teach people how to liquidity provide on uniswap with short little TikTok. Anyways, that's a long winded answer.
Jay Clouse 40:27
Well, the new account @sutherlandcrypto has I think it's over 100,000 followers already. And obviously, pushing some from the @sutherlandphys helps a lot but someone listening to this who's not on TikTok yet, and they're saying, This guy blew up in two years. What would you recommend they do if they're just getting started to give themselves the best shot?
Chris Sutherland 40:45
Find like the niche feel like that's the most like common advice. But I feel like a big reason why I blew up was because I was an actual Professor making funny videos, right? Like those a huge part of my appeal. The fact that this actual professor was making this content that you just don't see professors make. So if you could do something like that, like it like what, like if you're gonna know there's something interesting about you, like go off to that and read read? Uh, yeah, read some, like old marketing books like read influence, read, um, has this other book I read, selling the invisible. There's a couple others I read that were like, just, they were so interesting, like, from a psychological perspective, and you'll start to understand, like, why certain content does well, and what what the whole kind of underlying thing about it is, but if you only read one read that book influenced because it's really good. It was a buy, I'm sure you know,
Jay Clouse 41:41
Chris Sutherland 41:42
Yeah. Yeah, that one's really good. And yeah, just have fun with it. I mean, I've also like, as time has gone on, I've had like, old high school friends reached out to me, they're like, Yo, I seen your TikTok like, congrats, man, like, and then some of them were like, yo, how do I do this and be like, yo, just start making videos like playing these trends. And for some of them, it doesn't work out. And I feel like, it's not for everyone. Like you don't have to. Oh, one of my friends was like, men. We're friends. That means like, you've been making TikTok's. Before TikTok was even a thing like it was it was felt like a very natural fit to my personality have always been like a class clown. I've always loved drama and theater and stuff like that. So if it doesn't feel like fun to you don't do it. It's TikTok. It was like incredibly an incredibly fun to me. It was so much fun. So yeah, there's other things you can do. Like maybe you can make more serious long YouTube videos. Like that's not for me, though. Maybe it's for you.
Jay Clouse 42:43
Well, I don't know if TikTok is in my future. But I certainly feel more comfortable with how I would get started if I wanted to. I can't get over just how quickly Chris built his audience onTikTok over just the last year and a half. This universal content distribution method of TikTok that he mentioned seems like it makes for a much more inviting platform than most. And even though $30 per 1 million views from the creator fund doesn't sound like much. If Chris was hitting 1 million views per day, that's $210 per week, and $840 per month, just from doing what he was already doing. And if you double that or triple that you're talking about pretty meaningful revenue pretty quickly. If you will learn more about Chris you can follow him at @sutherlandcrypto on TikTok, or at @sutherlandphys on Twitter. Links to both are in the show notes. Thanks to Chris for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making the artwork this episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and Brian Skeel for creating our music. You may not know that I send an email every week with each episode to tell the story of how I booked that guest. People seem to really like it. And you can get that email by subscribing to my newsletter at Jay clouse.com/emails. And link to that is also in the show notes. If you liked this episode, you can tweet @JayClouse and let me know if you really want to say thank you. Please leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.