CORMORANT, Minn. - From drag racing to snowmobiling in the summer to just hanging out in their shop cracking jokes and playing pranks, a group of guys from Minnesota's lake country have built up quite a following on YouTube.
“A lot of what we do is recreational, outdoorsy-type filming,” says Ben Roth, one of the seven guys who has helped create CBoysTV, the channel that has gained 342,000-plus subscribers after just two years online.
The guys, Roth, CJ Lotzer, Jake Sherbrooke, Ryan Iwerks, Ken Matthees, Micah Sandman, and Justin Hanson are all different ages (between 19 and 23), but they all grew up together. They’ve been riding dirt bikes, snowmobiles, four-wheelers, go karts, and the like in the area since they were kids. Then, one day, a couple years ago, the guys from Cormorant, just south of Detroit Lakes, decided to start filming their adventures and posting them to YouTube.
The first video they ever filmed was a 300-foot slip n’ slide party with a bunch of their friends, a tradition the boys had done for years. Roth says those first videos would get 1,000 views, if they were lucky — and then they did get lucky. One of their videos did really well and the channel’s popularity snowballed.
“One of the first videos that went viral, you could say, it’s got, like, 2 million views, was just us going to pick up a shifter kart,” Roth says. “I don’t think there was anything like it on YouTube at the time. We just kind of incorporated our personalities into it ... we kind of took that and ran with it.”
Concerned about getting “put into a box,” the guys vowed to keep their content fresh by continually switching up what they did. They moved on to record some snowmobile videos while travelling out west. They came back to Minnesota and showed themselves living the lake life, boating, wakeboarding, even skipping a snowmobile over the bay of a lake in the middle of the summer.
“Over that first year, we showed that we weren’t just a group of guys that did one thing,” Roth says.
And their strategy worked. After a little more than a year they had over 100,000 subscribers and there was no hint that interest in their channel was slowing down.
“We were getting, like, thousands of subscribers a day,” Roth says.
Just being themselves
At this point, with nearly 350,000 subscribers, the guys say their channel hasn’t really affected their lives. They aren’t constantly getting stopped on the street by fans who ask them for a photo and an autograph, though they say that does happen from time to time, particularly when they go to events like the X Games or collaborate with other YouTubers.
They said the biggest question they get is people asking them how they became such popular YouTubers. Lotzer said there’s luck that goes into it, but it’s also a lot of work.
“Compared to what people see online, where it just seems like all we’re doing is just messing around and having fun, there’s so much more of a business behind it,” he said.
Roth, Lotzer, and Sandman edit their content, sometimes cutting down hours of footage into the more concise, 20-minute video that goes online.
“On average, it takes me 14 hours to edit a video,” says Lotzer, adding that he stayed up until 6 a.m. editing one of their most recent videos. “We definitely sacrifice a lot.”
A million subscribers
Roth and Lotzer say they love taking every opportunity they find to tell people they can be popular YouTubers — or whatever they want to be — they just need to go for it no matter what.
“You would not believe what we started with,” said Roth. “If we would have told ourselves when we were just starting out, ‘We’re small-town, Cormorant boys. We can’t have this big following’ ... it would have totally changed the path of everything that we’ve done in the last two years."
Lotzer says they knew nothing about creating videos or editing them when they started. When they began, they were filming with an iPhone that had a broken screen and using free editing software to create their content, but nothing stopped them. They slowly invested in better equipment and learned better editing techniques as they went along.
“Our goal is to get to a million subscribers. That will be huge. Not very many YouTubers can say that they hit a million subscribers, and I think it would be a shame if we gave up now,” said Roth.
Most of the CBoys are on board, starting to think of YouTube as their full-time gig. A couple have their sights set on other jobs. Hanson has a full-time job as an electrical engineer lined up, and Sherbrooke plans to be a full-time turfer at the family business Sherbrooke Turf. That doesn’t mean they’re going to disappear from the videos for good, though.
As for the other guys, the plan is to keep making content until it’s not fun anymore.
“It’s not uncommon for people to make a living off of just this,” says Lotzer.
And the CBoys are well on their way. Between their merch sales and sponsorships from companies like 509 and Doc X, the guys have been able to fund giveaways and host events. So far they have given away a dirt bike and a four-wheeler for charity, and there’s plans for more.
“Once we started creating revenue, the very first Christmas since then, we’ve done this thing where we’ll go and we’ll buy — we like toys, if you haven’t noticed — so for Christmas, we’’ll go and buy a bunch of toys, as well as snow jackets and other things people need, and we’ll donate them,” said Lotzer.
Last year, the guys donated through the Lakes Area Crisis Center and a few of the Detroit Lakes schools. This year, they’re donating to Jesse’s Toy Box, a fund set up by the parents of a little boy who passed away, Jesse Haberman, who’s last wish was that every kid get a toy for Christmas.
“We like being able to give back and getting to do these things,” said Roth. “We’re kind of living out ... our childhood dreams.”