The rapid rise of “All Gas No Brakes”


November 22, 2020

How an Instagram memelord and a rogue reporter created one of 2020’s breakout video series — by documenting America’s absurdities.
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‘All Gas No Brakes’: The inside story of the internet’s favorite interview series

How an Instagram memelord and a rogue reporter created one of 2020’s breakout video series — by documenting America’s absurdities.

BY Trung T. Phan

You may not know the name Andrew Callaghan, but you’ve probably seen one of his videos.

Perennially adorned in an ill-fitting suit, the gangly, curly-haired 23-year-old has spent the past year on the road, poking a microphone into the oft-shocking subcultures of America for his show, “All Gas No Brakes.”

Callaghan has interviewed protestors, porn stars, Proud Boys, and Bigfoot hunters. He’s braved the crowds at Border Security Expos and Burning Man. He’s lent an ear to flat-earthers, alien truthers, psychonauts, and intoxicated partygoers.

(Clockwise from top left) Callaghan at: the Minnesota riots; Burning Man; Border Security Expo; 3 conventions (flat-earthers, foot fetish, alien)

His shtick: To let them speak — without judgment or interjection — in their own words.

Since launching in August 2019, “All Gas No Brakes” has amassed 3m+ fans on Instagram and YouTube. In getting there, Callaghan has had the help of Doing Things Media (DTM), a digital media company that runs a network of 25+ brands with an audience of 60m+ across platforms.

The Hustle recently spoke with Doing Things co-founder and CEO Reid Hailey about how “All Gas No Brakes” was created, and how the network plans to leverage its Instagram empire into a 21st-century IP factory.

The story begins with a hitchhike across America 

Born in Seattle in the mid-1990s, Andrew Callaghan’s interest in journalism began in high school.

Not yet of drinking age, Callaghan began to embed himself into non-mainstream communities, living in tent cities with Occupy Wall Street protesters and tracking down drug dealers on Silk Road.

In 2016, Callaghan took a gap year before studying journalism at Loyola University in New Orleans and embarked on a 70-day hitchhiking trip across America.

The stories from that hitchhiking adventure formed the basis of his memoir-zine, All Gas No Brakes: A Hitchhiker’s Diary.

In late 2018, back from the road, Callaghan teamed up with a videographer and hit the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter, where he began interviewing the many colorful — and highly intoxicated — people roaming around outside the bars.

The interview series, called Quarter Confessions, showcased Callaghan’s trademark move: being very nonjudgmental while giving people the space to speak.

Callaghan cutting his teeth in the French Quarter of New Orleans (Quarter Confessions)

“I always describe our content as ‘highbrow-lowbrow,’” he told Loyola University’s The Maroon last year. “Like, there’s something that appeals to smart people about it, and also something that appeals to really dumb people, like crass humor, that goes viral.”

‘This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen’ 

Around the same time, in Los Angeles, a college dropout named Reid Hailey was busy running his burgeoning Instagram empire, Doing Things Media.

He’d started out in 2014 with a single meme account (@shitheadsteve), and had found a network of other like-minded folks interested in the art of the meme.  In 2017, Hailey teamed up with Derek Lucas to build Doing Things; at the time, the pair had a combined ~10m followers across their meme accounts.

“We had a group chat called the Meme Illuminati where we’d exchange memes and coordinate promoting each other’s accounts,” he tells The Hustle. “As it got more popular, we even had people like John Mayer in the chat.”

By 2019, Hailey and his co-founder, Derek Lucas, built Doing Things into a network of 20 uber-popular Instagram accounts with ~40m collective followers. Among them:

Early that year, Doing Things was looking to leverage its Instagram network to move into other media channels — and Callaghan’s work caught his eye.

“Derek sent me a few of these New Orleans videos and was like ‘this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,’” Hailey remembers. “We knew we wanted to expand outside of memes and into original shows.”

With Callaghan, the two found just the opportunity.

A meeting of the minds 

In the summer of 2019, Hailey got in contact with Callaghan.

Callaghan had heard of Doing Things and expressed interest in a potential partnership. Over a bowl of pho in New York City, the two discussed what a collaboration might look like.

The idea was to export Callaghan’s unique interviewing style outside of New Orleans and across America.

“He told us he needed an RV,” Hailey recalls of the discussion.

Callaghan with his RV (Doing Things Media)

In addition to the vehicle, Doing Things would lay out money for camera equipment, a videographer, and a production manager — an upfront cost of around $50k.

Two of Callaghan’s best friends (Nic and Evan) were signed on as partners on the show, and tasked with scheduling, shooting, editing, and getting clearances for people in the interviews.

The deal — which includes a salary as well as a percentage of profits from merch sales and other revenue — keeps the trio “super incentivized,” says Hailey.

Named after Callaghan’s hitchhiking memoirs, “All Gas No Brakes” launched its first episode — a series of interviews with Burning Man attendees — in the first week of September 2019.

“Andrew’s a creator, so we wanted to put him in a situation where he can create,” says Hailey. “He does interviews, edits videos, and uploads to the platforms. We do everything else: funding, audience growth, monetization, merchandise, and partnerships.”

Growing and monetizing ‘All Gas No Brakes’ 

While onboarding Callaghan’s show was a new challenge, Doing Things was able to apply its Instagram growth hacking knowledge to the process.

Prior to the “All Gas No Brakes” deal, Doing Things had bought and integrated 5 Instagram accounts into its network (e.g., Middle Class Fancy, Cats Doing Things). The playbook for a new account was to heavily promote it across the rest of the network.

To encourage cross-pollination, “All Gas No Brakes” interview clips were cut and memed across Doing Things’ entire network of accounts.

This strategy grew the account from 0 to 1m followers in just 4 months.

 

The other challenge was monetization. “All Gas No Brakes” didn’t lend itself easily to an ad business model.

Per Hailey:

  • The format isn’t ad friendly: “The videos are quickly edited, so where do you even put an ad?”
  • Content is risky: “The type of comedy is risky for a lot of advertisers.”

Without ads, the other option was subscriptions. Doing Things had experience with paywalled content for its Drunk People Doing Things brand, so they launched a Patreon for “All Gas No Brakes.

The Hustle

For $5 a month, Patreon subscribers get early access to the team’s videos, behind-the-scenes content, and first dibs at merch drops.

This has worked out extraordinarily well: The “All Gas No Brakes” account is now the 6th-most-supported Patreon, with 19k+ supporters collectively chipping in ~$95k per month.

A strange year for the show 

Of course, the “drive around the country and interview people” plan hit a snag with the pandemic.

“Some of our best content has come from music festivals,” says Hailey. “There are a lot of characters at festivals — but with quarantine, that’s obviously been harder to do.”

But fortunately for the team (and unfortunately for society), 2020 has had no shortage of large public gatherings. This year, Callaghan has made appearances at a wide range of events, including:

  • Summer protests following George Floyd’s murder
  • Non-socially-distant Independence Day parties
  • The LA Lakers post-championship celebrations

In a mini-pivot, Doing Things spent $20k to soup up Callaghan’s RV and turn it into a podcast studio parked in LA. With the pandemic still raging, Callaghan is transitioning more of his work into the podcast space.

Chilling with Nathan “Doggface” Apodaca, the lip-syncing and skateboarding TikTok legend (Instagram)

“Getting guests for the podcast hasn’t been hard,” says Hailey. “People are huge fans of ‘All Gas No Brakes’ and are happy to talk. Andrew and the team now fly all around the country to get the best content, while also having great LA access for getting guests.”

In addition, “All Gas No Brakes” has signed a development deal with Abso Lutely Productions, which has extensive experience producing TV content.

Creating a new business model for the 2020s

Even before launching “All Gas No Brakes,” Hailey and Lucas were determined to diversify the business. “The ad market is so volatile,” says Hailey. “With ecommerce, specifically merch, you are more in control of your destiny.”

Doing Things’ revenue is almost at $10m for 2020 — 3x its haul from 2019. That’s partly been buoyed by merch.

“About half of Doing Things’ revenue is branded content,” says Hailey. “The other half is a mix of (mostly) merchandise, subscription, platform, and video licensing.”

With all of these moves, Doing Things Media is building out the playbook for what prominent business writer Web Smith calls linear commerce, whereby the lines between media and commerce are blurring.

In a previous world, a company would build a product and then go find an audience to market to. Today, those who wield a sizable audience have a better sense of what products can sell — and they’re poised to go out and make them. This approach greatly reduces customer acquisition costs.

The crew, left to right: Evan and Nic (best buds), Max (adviser), Andrew, and Reid (Doing Things Media)

“We are always thinking about how to turn our social presence into a product,” says Hailey. “Can we make a game? Can we make a beverage? The beauty is that we can launch with zero marketing costs so even if we take 100 shots, it’s fine if only one works.”

What’s next for Doing Things Media? 

Reid tells us he’s reading Disney’s Chairman Bob Iger’s memoir Ride of a Lifetime. The story — particularly how Disney became an IP factory (think Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars) — lays out a great road map for Doing Things.

Hailey and Lucas plan to stay disciplined, though.

To Hailey, “relevant” means content that can be launched across the existing network — something that people will want to share with a friend.

“Doing Things is actively looking for other creative properties,” says Hailey. “We’re always looking to launch or acquire brands that make us die laughing.”

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