Hunger, hustle and the keys to success
Casey Niestat is now grappling with something that’s contrary to everything he’s done up to this point: comfort.
Niestat’s one of the prime examples of a generation of creative people who have used vlogging on YouTube as a slingshot to fame and fortune.
His vlogs and short films have gained him a following of more than 7.7 million on YouTube, 1.4 million Twitter followers, and close to a million followers on Facebook.
His career and life has been characterised by hustle, a singular focus on a dream and stopping at nothing to make that happen.
The company he’s been building in the background, Beme, was sold to CNN for a reported $20 milion late last year – meaning he’s now well resourced and backed to chase his dream.
It’s something of an existential crisis for Niestat, going from a hustling artist to working with one of the biggest media companies in the world.
“For the first time in a really long time I’m standing at the bottom of a mountain which is probably bigger than any other mountain I’ve looked up at, trying to figure out what the f**k to do,” he said at HustleCon this year.
“All of a sudden we have tremendous resources and an unbelievable team. We have all the resources…we have all these eyeballs looking at us and asking ‘what are you going to do now?’.”
All of a sudden, a career built on the hustle borne of being a starving artist now has corporate support (and oversight).
“When I look at it and try to figure out how to build a really successful company and build it under such scrutiny, I don’t entirely know how to do it,” said Niestat.
“But I know what the number one ingredient is in making it happen and that ingredient is the hustle.”
Niestat is often held up as ‘the hustle’ personified, having gone from high school dropout to what he is today.
In fact, for the first three years of his working life he lived in a trailer park and worked as a dish washer.
While he was miserable, he thought about what ‘hustle’ actually meant.
“I was the f***ing best dish washer that restaurant I ever had, because it was the first time I understood that the more hustle I poured into that job, the more I got back,” said Neistat.
He then moved to New York to chase his dream of being a filmmaker – despite having no formal training and no money.
At one point during his New York days he was in such a small room that he couldn’t lay his futon flat, meaning he slept on a bed that was upright.
“[That period] is super easy and fun to romantacise, but it was absolutely miserable,” said Neistat.
Not that he would change that, necessarily.
“I was able to look around in New York City…and I saw people who were doing everything they could to chase down everything they wanted,” said Niestat.
“People live there because they want to, and they pour that want into their hustle. If they relax, they get chased out of that.”
He eventually managed to turn work as a bike messenger, to being an artist’s assistant, to creating birthday videos, to finally creating award-winning art videos.
Even as he was being feted as an emerging artist in festivals in Brazil, there were still tough times.
“The unromantic part of the hustle, which is so easy to gloss over when telling a story…is that it was omnipresent.” said Niestat.
“I still struggled each week to come up with $110, which was the cost of a round trip to Connecticut where my kid Owen was going to school, and I would stay in the attic of my dad’s coffee shop there.
“Literally, in one week I’m in Sao Paolo…and the very next week I’m asleep in the attic of a coffee shop with a baby.”
The recipe for success
Niestat said that staying hungry and hustling was the key to success.
“[Hustle] is about looking at that and saying ‘well, what are the priorities here – what do I want?’” he said.
He said as long as you stayed hungry (hopefully not literally) and chased your dream with a relentless passion, you were a success.
“The beauty of hustle and work is that it will never let you down. The guaranteed recipe of success is to dedicate your life to something,” said Niestat.
“Either one of two things will happen…you either achieve that something or you would have died trying.
“Obviously one’s slightly better than the other, but it’s a guaranteed path to ensuring a kind of focus on what you want.”