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Maker Interview: Mike of Modern Builds

Hey guys, I’m Jenn from House One, and I’m here with Mike from Modern Builds. Can you tell us a little about you channel?

Mike: Modern Builds is DIY and woodworking projects geared towards people in their first, I would say, 15 projects—or at least that’s what I’ve designed for people to get introduced to my channel. I started my channel when I’d been building for maybe a year-and-a-half, so I wasn’t going to pretend that I’m this huge wealth of knowledge, and that I should be teaching everybody, because I didn’t know better. That’s the whole thing, people get to learn along with me. Hopefully as my projects increase in difficulty, people will be more comfortable tackling that for themselves too—And working with different materials too.

What are you best known for?

Mike: A lot of furniture pieces. The things that everybody has in their home are what I like to focus on. Those are usually the better-performing videos as well—maybe beds, coffee tables, dining tables. The unique things also have the opportunity to do really well, but they also have the opportunity to really flop. I like to stick to the basics and the essentials because I think the majority of times someone is interested in woodworking, their wanting to maybe go to West Elm and buy a coffee table, but then they realize they’re going to spend a hundred and fifty bucks. And it’s like, “I could buy a circular saw for $150 and build this myself over the weekend.” That’s how I think most people kind of start out. So I’m hopefully there for them to maybe help them build their first coffee table, or at least the first or second one.

How did you get started?

Mike: My grandpa was kind of a home-builder/carpenter. My parents, when I was young, maybe about 12-years-old, built their house with my grandpa as well. So I got that growing up—the whole do-it-yourself mentality— just grab life by the horns and dig it. And so I always saw people building things, and I always had accessibility to miter saws and table saws. When I wanted to build my mom a planter for Christmas, when I was 12, I was able to go to the shop, and do that. And so I was able get a little bit of confidence from seeing them do it, and then be able to try it from a young age. I’m 22 now, and I was 19 when I started the channel. I was in a pretty unique situation to be kind of, I hate to say the word “millennial”, but to be in that age group, when everyone else in the space, the Jimmy Diresta and the Bob Clagett’s of the world—who I took a lot of inspiration from—were coming at it from a 20-years-older perspective. I had different interests and different style that I liked, and I was able to incorporate that pretty well.

Jenn: And I think that’s something that sets you apart, your style. It’s something that you seem like you have really good vision for what you want to build, and that it follows a certain aesthetic.

Mike: One hundred percent. And I attribute that a lot to how I was able to get the channel moving from the start. I always had a big interest in mid-century modern things. I was looking for a way to separate my content from the 99% of other woodworking stuff to try and be successful, and I noticed that there was a lot of search traffic, and a lot of interest in mid-century modern projects, but it just wasn’t really being fulfilled. I was looking for an underserved part of the market, and tried to build-up audience around that.

What is your favorite project?

Mike: It’s funny, I never had that “banger”—That video that was just like; two weeks, million-and-a-half views, I just jumped a hundred thousand subscribers. It was a grind. I was going to college for music production, and realize that I didn’t necessarily want to work with musicians at a professional capacity for the next 45 years of my life. I was seeing, once again, people like Bob, and Ben Uyeda, and Jimmy, finding success on YouTube. Thinking, yeah their special, and they’re smart, but ya know I’m smart too, and I can figure out how to make this work. And they’re doing something different than I am, or at least I’ll be doing something different than they are. Or at least I can contribute something new. I had basically four or five videos that were all really feeding each other a lot. One person would watch my mid-century coffee table, and then the next suggested video would be a mid-century console table that I built. So I was able to provide a interesting feedback loop that focused on, instead of getting traffic from other related videos, I was trying to, once somebody got to one of my videos, they would stick around and kind of binge for a little while until I could finally convince them to subscribe.

What is your best advice for new DIY’ers?

Mike: One, is just, be safe. Be safe.

Jenn: These are quotes to live by:)

Mike: But no, find something that you’re going to use everyday. Nothing is worse than building something that you bring out every Christmas. Eleven and a half months go by, and you don’t even think about what you just built. But if do your first project—I’m just going to go back to a coffee table or dining table—If you’re looking at it, using it, and gaining value from what you built, if it’s your first few projects, than it’s going to really reinforce that this is cool and rewarding and I get to show it off too. It’s in my house all the time.

Jenn: You get hooked.

Mike: Exactly, you get hooked. So build what’s useful.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’d definitely say Ben Uyeda, which has been really awesome, and kind of becoming a mentor to me. We do a podcast together now, and we’ve really been able to mesh minds pretty well.

Jenn: What is your podcast called?

Mike: Modern Maker Podcast. It’s all centered around the same thing. There’s obviously the YouTube talk because that’s what we do for 60 hours a week—it’s hard to avoid it. But it’s all about budding designers and trying to get them confident, and sharing what’s worked for us, and what hasn’t worked for us. I feel like that’s almost as valuable as sharing what does work, is explaining your failures and how you could have avoided it. But Ben had a really great format. He, unlike most project videos where it was either a style of: watch me work, no voiceover, just you’re in the shop with me basically, listening to the shop noise. Me being young, knowing that I have a short attention span, I want to make things snappy, I want people to learn things quick and get value quick. I saw Ben doing that—that was his thing. And talking to him, he always says, “If I can’s explain a step in 10 seconds, then I need to refigure how I’m building something, or I need to figure out how I’m trying to explain it better.” So I took that approach, but trying to add a little bit of the Casey Neistat, Vlog, interesting shots, just a little bit, to break-up the time-lapse and the voice over a little bit—to give somebody the entertainment value to come back for more videos rather than just watching something they’re interested in building.

Jenn: I like that. It add personality to your work. I think people like to get to know you—the person behind these projects.

Mike: Being able to inject my personality, being able to be on a camera and say, “Hey, why don’t you go ahead and Like, Comment and Subscribe.” I’m able to remind that to people. And not to mention, I think they can connect to me almost. My videos fit a format of, design inception, start the project, then inevitably I’m going to mess up in the process. That’s a big part of my channel—people are learning with me. I’m always trying to push myself into a new joinery method, a new material, or a bigger project than I should probably be taking on at this point. If I’m able to share a downfall and help someone else avoid it, I think people get a lot of value from that. Any way you can add value in the online space is really important.

Jenn: Thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it. And if you want to see more from Mike, you can check out Modern Builds. We appreciate you being here.

Jenn Largesse
By Jenn Largesse
Jenn Largesse is the editor and creator of House One. As the daughter of a carpenter and an english teacher, she has been honing her love for woodworking and writing her entire life. After nearly a decade as a writer and producer for This Old House, she bought her first home in rural New England and launched her blog, Build Basic.

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