Kevin Espiritu never expected to be a gardener. As an accounting student at UC Santa Barbara, he supported himself by playing online poker. “When I graduated,” he said, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” Kevin spent looking at screens, playing professional poker and video games, and realized he needed to do something to “reset” himself. When his brother came home from college, the two decided to spend a summer gardening.
Epic Gardening began as a blog where Kevin shared the cultivation techniques, strategies and tools and he had acquired. And from this garden, Kevin grew a thriving business. At Epic Gardening, he cultivated an enormous social media following, including over 1 million YouTube subscribers. Epic Gardening aims to educate 10 million people worldwide on how to start their gardens right in their backyards. I sat down with Kevin to discuss where his passion came from and how he grew his audience.
When you started gardening, it was hard to find beginner’s information. Was that the problem you were trying to solve?
Without growing up as a gardener, there were two issues I noticed. All the terminology was only for gardeners — if you're trying to learn, that's not helpful — and the good information was buried in semi-inaccessible formats. I thought I'd write it in a blog format, which was the prevailing medium at the time.
How did you turn your garden blog into a successful online business?
There were a lot of ups and downs because I didn't know much about monetization. I knew how to get some traffic and build a little community, so I tested different ways to make money online. I ran display ads and created affiliate links to products that I used. Those are two methods that still exist today in Epic Gardening. I had built websites and done marketing, and still hit a ceiling that I couldn't get past. So I went to work for a publishing company. I thought to myself, “If I can't figure out how to make a viable income on my own, I'll go work for someone who can. Then, once I learn enough, I'll jettison out and do Epic Gardening.” I learned a lot about business there before I dedicated myself to Epic Gardening.
What did you learn at the publisher that allowed you to take your business to the next level?
I learned that it matters what you focus on and the order in which you focus on it.
For example, I added links everywhere and tried to blanket the site with affiliate links wherever it made sense. At the publishing company, I saw how focused and targeted they were. I dug into my Amazon affiliate data, and I asked a few questions: “What are the products I'm selling the most of by volume? What are the products I'm selling the most of by price, and how can I either expand that affiliate coverage by writing about a single piece of expensive equipment? Can I cover those in ways that increase the overall footprints and clicks?"
I wrote a couple of articles on hydroponics on how to keep the reservoir cool. The chiller that I use made a nice commission on Amazon. Those two articles are still ticking away, making a decent amount of affiliate commission. That one activity accounted for a 30% increase in revenue.
How do you decide that 10 million people was the goal?
One thousand came from Kevin Kelly's essay, “One Thousand True Fans.” The idea is that if you have one thousand people who are true fans, they'll buy and support whatever you put out — you can live off that and support yourself doing whatever you like. Then I multiplied that by ten because one thousand is not that many people in the grand scheme of things.
I went to 10,000 when my blog traffic hit one thousand. I went to 100,000when I hit 10,000 subscribers on YouTube and one million once I hit 100,000on YouTube. I went up again, to 100 million, so I should update the website.
How did you clone yourself? You're able to manage multiple social media channels, sell physical products, write a book and travel the world.
I wish I could do that. I was writing probably 12 hours a day for months to get the blog up and running. At a certain point, I had enough stuff on the blog, which wasn’t the best use of my time. I needed people to read it, so I hired my first writer, trained her to do what I was doing and focused on promoting the content. When promotion stopped being the best use of time, I moved over to YouTube. I leave a trail of systems and people in my wake that help me keep everything going.
As we sit here today, you have over 60 million views on YouTube and over one million subscribers. How did you get there?
That was a long journey. I was bad at YouTube and I don't really consider myself a YouTuber. The blog existed already and I asked, "What are the most popular blog articles that I have on a search traffic basis?" Then I made videos to better illustrate those concepts. Next, I started to make videos specifically for that audience. Before, I would only green-light a video if it could make sense within the whole ecosystem of Epic Gardening. If it does, that's a bonus. I try to create every piece of content contextual to the platform it's on and the people that are on it. That makes it a lot harder, but obviously, your results are a lot better.