The week of June 7, 2015

Dude Perfect’s life after trick shots

By Rae Votta

Dude Perfect is a crew of Texas A&M roommates who’ve parlayed their basketball trick shot videos into viral success, appearances on morning talk shows, and a YouTube fanbase of 5.5 million subscribers. Chances are you’ve seen them in YouTube’s latest round of creator-focused ads, gracing billboards in Los Angeles and lining subway platforms in New York City, or caught a clip of a seemingly impossible basketball shot on a friend’s Facebook feed. In fact, their own videos have been seen over 648 million times—not including the assorted brand work they’ve done for outlets like the ESPYs and the Olympics over the years.

Now the dudes—Coby and Cory Cotton, Garrett Hilbert, Cody Jones, and Tyler Toney—are ready to make a name for themselves beyond seemingly impossible hoop shots. While on a press tour in New York City, Toney explained how the dudes are evolving.

Why trick shots?

It’s kind of something that we’ve always done. I feel like everybody’s always done it in some way, at least guys who are into sports. Most people just didn’t have a camera 20 years ago to film it or a platform to release that content on. That’s one of the reasons that it’s taken off so much, because it’s so relatable to all these guys in offices that are like, “Man I used to do that with my friends all the time.” I think that’s one of the reasons that people enjoy it so much.

Are there defining moments as you progressed where you realized this YouTube channel was changing your lives?

We have one or two of those things every year happen to us. I remember being at the Olympics over in London a few years ago; I don’t even think we had a million subscribers back then, and we saw these guys with 3 or 4 million and thought, “I don’t think we’ll ever get to that level.” I know my wife gets so tired of me telling her, “We gotta go to this, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing”—but our lives are filled with once-in-a-lifetime things. Every video we do now it seems like it’s something that’s we’ve always wanted to do, and people that we’ve always looked up to. It’s an incredible place to be in.

“Always in the back of our minds, we don’t want to be 40-year-olds on YouTube doing basketball shots.”

How did the YouTube ad campaign come about?

We’ve always had a great relationship with YouTube. We knew that we wanted to be featured, and we were honored when they asked us to be a part of it. We were thrilled. We probably started talking about this more than six months ago. It’s been a long process, but it’s been awesome.

With all your YouTube success, how do you see the Dude Perfect brand evolving?

If you asked us three years ago, we wouldn’t have thought we’d be in New York doing this with YouTube. Always in the back of our minds, we don’t want to be 40-year-olds on YouTube doing basketball shots. We always knew we wanted to have a career being some type of entertainers, making some type of content. Whether that stays specifically online, we’ll see. We’re getting very close to having our TV show deal all wrapped up and finalized. We’ve been working on that for a long time. We really had people start approaching us in 2009, back when Yahoo only featured three to five stories a day, and it was a huge deal to be on the home page. That was our first real big, blow-up story.

Did television feel “too soon” for you when you guys started to get popular in 2009?

We had all these TV shows approaching us then, but we weren’t ready. We didn’t have what that would look like; we didn’t have an audience to move to a traditional media outlet and help with that. We said no, and I think that’s really beneficial for us in the end, because I think now we’re set up to have a really successful mainstream media TV show.

What else is next?

I think branching out (within YouTube) is going to be big for us too. When we did the very first Stereotypes videos—which has been our most popular series, even more so than trick shots—people kind of started seeing us more so as entertainers than, “Oh those are the guys that started out doing basketball trick shots.” I think that took us to another level because that opened us up to more of a broad audience and made us more relatable to a lot of different people. You’ll see us branching out more in the future.

Your faith is a big part of your brand, and YouTube is a big place with a lot of different types of people and viewpoints. Is reconciling your faith with your career ever an issue for you?

For us, growing up, especially in Texas, that was just a part of who we were. You got up and went to church on Sundays and there was no other option because your mom was dragging you there. That’s just played a huge role in us growing up, and that’s always been a part of who we were. For us to model our business decisions and the way we conduct ourselves… that wasn’t really out of the ordinary for us.

“We just didn’t feel comfortable being alcohol ambassadors. It didn’t fit what we stood for.”

Somewhat that’s kind of contributed to the success that we’ve had. I know we get emails all the time from parents and kids. Kids are usually saying they can’t wait to watch the video today, but they’re not allowed to watch until their mom and dad get home because that’s their family time. That’s really cool to hear, that we’re bringing families together and they want to watch our content together.

There’s definitely challenges and difficulties. I remember the first brand deal that really approached us was an alcohol company. I wasn’t even 21 yet; I was still in school. They wanted to give us some amount of money to promote this alcohol. We just didn’t feel comfortable promoting that, especially at that time our audience was probably 80 to 90 percent 10-year-old boys. We just didn’t feel comfortable being alcohol ambassadors. It didn’t fit what we stood for.

What’s it been like to go from doing this on the weekends to devoting all your time to Dude Perfect?

it wasn’t until a year and a half ago that we all went full-time. For the most part, all of us were doing other jobs, and Dude Perfect would come on a Saturday when we had time. We used to tell brands that we were so busy with Dude Perfect during the week that we only had Saturday [laughs]. Now we can focus on Dude Perfect during the week and have a little more control of our schedules.

Now that there are billboards with your faces on them, do your family and friends truly get your life as YouTubers?

I think now pretty much everybody gets it. I think everybody understands that digital advertising is getting more and more popular. … Me, Kody, and Garrett are all married; the twins are not married yet. I remember talking to our wives (then girlfriends) about how this was something we were going to pursue, and their families were like, “Are you sure you’re going to make a living on YouTube?”

GIF by J. Longo