Everyday Empires: Dave Dillon of Chase the Summit
Dad of 4 and ultra runner, Dave shares how he transformed a secret YouTube hobby into his full-time job and mini empire.
Welcome back to Everyday Empires, your weekly interview series spotlighting everyday founders.
Dave’s been a YouTuber since 2018 and recently quit his job as a mechanical engineer to go full-time on YouTube this year. On his channel he reviews gear for fitness and the outdoors, and posts the occasional trail run vlog (which I personally am a big fan of, Dave!).
We chatted about his state of mind when he first started on YouTube, his doubts along the way, how his channel grew to become his full-time job, the advice he’d give himself if he could start over, and how his kids think he’s cool.
My big takeaways:
Don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back. Even Dave still struggles with it!
Follow your personal interests and passions. Otherwise you might lose interest before you ever give your channel time to grow.
“Someday” = never. If you want to build a venture of your own you have to make the time for it. Dave has 4 kids, and managed to publish weekly with a full-time job AND training for ultras.
When the going gets tough, keep going. Just like in an ultra, when everything hurts and your body wants to shut down. Just. Keep. Moving. Dave has been consistently posting weekly for 5 years and openly shared how he’s struggled with doubt along the way.
Hey Dave, thanks for being on Everyday Empires! To kick us off, I’d like to take us back to 2018. You’re posting your first videos to YouTube. What’s going through your head? Why are you doing it? Are you second guessing yourself?
Thanks for having me Ken! 2018… Man that feels like a lifetime ago. If you dig back on my channel far enough you’ll see that I wasn’t very consistent in 2018 and just used YouTube to share random ice climbing and hiking videos.
I started to post more consistently in 2019 when I started to train for my first 100 mile ultramarathon at the Vermont 100 Endurance Race. For the first time I decided to put my face in front of the camera and share my story about what it was like to train for an ultra while being a dad and having all of the responsibilities that came with that. I thought maybe if I shared my story I could somehow inspire other moms and dads out there to get outside of their comfort zone and try something new.
Funny thing is, I didn’t even tell anyone I was making these videos including my wife, kids, family… no one. I was sort of embarrassed by it but I did enjoy the process of making videos and the creative outlet it offered me so I continued to keep making them. I constantly second guessed myself, had a heavy sense of imposter syndrome (still do!) but I continued to push into that discomfort because I wanted to try something new.
Funny thing is, I didn’t even tell anyone I was making these videos including my wife, kids, family… no one. I was sort of embarrassed by it but I did enjoy the process of making videos and the creative outlet it offered me so I continued to keep making them.
Later, in 2019 I think I posted my first GPS Watch review. That’s when things shifted because that single video got THOUSANDS of views compared to only a couple of hundred on my training diary vlogs. I always had a technical mindset and it turns out that lends itself to doing tech reviews which seems to have translated into people liking the videos. That’s when I started to focus on the gear side of things and posting more consistently (1-3 times per week). The numbers kept going up, brands started reaching out, and here I am 3 years later!
Did you have a vision from the outset about what you wanted your channel to be? How’d you come to that decision?
Great question, early on I always envisioned Chase the Summit as being a source of inspiration and a way for me to share my story. The channel name itself “Chase the Summit” comes from a lofty goal I had years ago to climb Mt. Rainier in Washington State. I was “chasing the summit” in terms of training and getting myself in shape by quitting cigarettes (yes really!) and overall improving my health. I never did climb that mountain!
The vision has evolved since then though and now I pride myself in being a source of information AND inspiration in a way. The channel is a direct reflection of how my mind works. If I find it interesting, I’ll share it. I try not to over think it and hope like-minded people will be drawn to this style. The channel sort of wears two hats. In some sense it’s journalistic with news coverage in fitness tech realm, and of course product reviews. But I also share my race videos and vlogs as well. I have plans to diversify even more in the near future into more camping/hiking topics as well!
Have there been any low points along the way? Any moments where you’ve thought about quitting? Or maybe even just pivoting? Or has it been smooth sailing?
Yup, lots of low points. It’s probably hard to see from the outside but I’m my own worst critic. I always have a sense of imposter syndrome or the thought of “why would anyone care about what I have to say?” and since I work alone for the most part I can end up in an echo chamber.
Thankfully my wife is very supportive and is a great feedback loop.
The other low points come from doing this as a “real job” where money is a thing. I need to support my family, pay the mortgage, keep food on the table, etc… and unlike a traditional job YouTube revenue is VERY volatile and hard to predict which can be VERY stressful.
When did you first realize you might be able to make real money with this?
I think it was during the pandemic times in 2020 that I had a couple of videos really pop off into the near-million view territory. When I saw the numbers that generated it sort of clicked like “Whoa, I get how people can make a living doing this now”.
This is your first year where being a YouTuber is your full-time job, right? Can you give us an idea of a day in your life? And, how does that compare to when YouTube was a side gig and you had to balance it with a full-time 9-5?
Yup! First year, it’s funny though. When I was working as a mechanical engineer 9-5 every day along with doing YouTube I used to daydream about how much free time I’d have once I could do YouTube full time.
Unfortunately, that daydream hasn’t really become a reality yet lol!
Once I quit my “real job” I had to form a real business with an LLC, hire an accountant, do all those business things. I think that’s the side of content creation a lot of people don’t see. When you do this for a living you’re a one man show. You’re the tax person, the business person, the PR rep, the HR department, the on-screen talent, the editor, etc…
A day in my life… Let’s see. I typically wake up around 5AM. My wife runs/works out early morning so I get the kids up and out of bed. We have four kids ages ranging from 2 to 11 so they have varying needs of getting dressed, packing for school, getting dropped at daycare, etc… Once I get everyone on the bus and out the door I typically sit in front of the computer for a few hours either writing emails, typing up scripts or review notes, or responding to YouTube comments or instagram DM’s. I try to engage with comments as much as possible as it seems people really appreciate that!
Editor’s note: I just have to say, “Bravo!” 4 kids? Ages 2 to 11? I have two toddlers and man, the morning routine is challenging enough with two. I’m so inspired by how Dave managed all this and made time to consistently post to YouTube with a full-time job. No excuses, y’all! If you want it, make the time for it.
Now to touch on financials. Can you give us an idea of your income breakdown across adsense, sponsorships, etc. with whatever level of transparency you’re comfortable with?
Sure, I can’t share everything due to contracts and NDA’s but I did share what YouTube itself pays me in a recent video. In 2023, the channel brought in nearly 9 million views, and that converted to about $50,000 in YouTube adsense payments.
If you live in the USA, that doesn’t sound like a lot and that’s A LOT less than I used to make at my engineering job. Fortunately, that’s not my total income. Like you said, I also rely on affiliate deals and sponsorships. YouTube adsense probably makes up around 40-50% of my total income but again it’s not easy to track since it can vary so much month to month. I’m hoping for more growth this year!
Working as a full-time YouTuber with 120K+ subscribers and making trail running related content seems like a dream job to me. Is it?
Ha! Let me start this by saying YES, I have the best job in the world. I’m my own boss, I get to do creative things and play with the coolest tech on the market. My kids think I’m super cool because of it (which goes a long way lol) and my time is flexible which allows me to be a much more present and engaged parent.
That said, I think you’ll hear this a lot from people who seem like they have “dream jobs” like pro sports, actors, etc... Even a dream job is still a job. I spend a lot of time doing book keeping, taxes, writing emails, and all of that boring stuff. Some day’s I’m not in the mood to put my face in front of a camera or I’m sick and look terrible but I have a deadline for a product embargo lift and I HAVE to have a video ready.
There’s been countless nights where I’ve had to work editing straight through the night to have a video ready to post in the morning. And, of course there’s just general burn out from grinding so hard for years. I won’t complain though, I’d much rather be doing this than sitting in a cubical or pointless meeting!
If you could go back to 2018 when you were just starting out, and give yourself any advice, what would it be?
Great question. I’d probably say “Be yourself and find your own path”. I think early on I tried to copy or emulate the YouTubers I idolized. After doing this for a couple of years I notice the more I lean into my insecurities and the more vulnerable I make myself the more people seem to engage or relate to the content.
After doing this for a couple of years I notice the more I lean into my insecurities and the more vulnerable I make myself the more people seem to engage or relate to the content.
I’ve been thinking about starting my own channel. Having a hard time deciding whether to focus on tech or outdoors, and what my unique approach would be. If I lived somewhere with closer access to mountains, I’d probably make fast-packing and overnight adventure type videos. But, I live in the suburbs of Austin. Have any advice or things I can consider to help make a decision and take action?
I had similar issues early on. I always wanted my videos to be EPIC with big hikes or trail runs in the mountains or ice climbing videos. Truth is, I live 2-3 hours from the Mountains in New Hampshire and it was impossible to post consistently with that kind of stuff because I too live in the suburbs outside of Boston.
I think in your situation you should lean into the challenges you face. Maybe post videos about how to pack for a weekend trip, what your “every day carry” is, what emergency stuff you keep in your car for road trips or camping, how to dress/layer, etc… If you like tech, sure post about that too! And when you finally make it to the mountains or a camping trip include that as well.
Your youtube channel should reflect what you are personally passionate about otherwise your channel likely won’t survive!
Lastly, where should readers follow you if they want to keep up with you?
All the things! @chasethesummit on Threads, Instagram, YouTube, Tiktok. Oh! And I recently started taking my podcast a bit more seriously where you can listen to me rant for hours on end called the “Chase the Summit Trail Talk” (get it on Apple Podcasts and Spotify).
Thanks for the fun chat! Hope I didn’t talk too much!
That’s a wrap
No, Dave, you talked just the right amount! Here’s a massive thank you for sharing your time with us 🏼
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