How a South African lifestyle channel reached 57K subscribers & $5K/mo

Apr 16 2024
Case Studies

Sibu Mpanza Overview

Sibu Mpanza is the creator behind a 57K+ subscriber YouTube channel focused on what life is like in South Africa. He’s been on YouTube for 10+ years and makes up to $5K/month from AdSense, sponsorships and TV/media appearances.

Key Takeaways

  • Pivot - especially if the right opportunity arises. Sibu started off making comedy videos but then found most of his early success making videos on social issues during a radical time in South Africa.
  • Competitions can be a great way to grow. Much of Sibu's early growth came from two competitions (one of which he won). The competitions allowed him to rally his audience around a shared mission.
  • It took Sibu 21 months to get his first 1,000 subscribers and 76 months to get his first 50,000 subscribers
  • "You’re not the same person you were two years ago so you can’t be creating the same type of content you created two years ago. Even if you feel like people might not understand, you just have to push through"
  • Sibu earns $1-5K per month from AdSense, sponsorships and TV/media appearances. Sponsorships make up most of his revenue while TV/media appearances give him more exposure leading to more sponsorships.

Why did you start this channel?

School wasn't my thing; I was never really good at it. I was bunking my classes and felt this huge imposter syndrome. I started spending a lot of my time in the computer labs watching YouTube videos.

I’m at one of the top universities in Africa [University of Cape Town] and there’s just no way I should be here with the rest of these people. 

Eventually, I stumbled upon a guy called Caspar Lee who, at the time, was the biggest creator in Africa. I watched his collab videos with other creators and I realised there’s a massive ecosystem of YouTubers making videos together.

Sibu Mpanza 1

I had been incredibly depressed at university and I noticed how happy I was when watching the videos and how much fun they were having in videos.

Two weeks later, I started my YouTube channel. I was like “Let me use my time doing this since I’m not using it to write essays”. It honestly just came out of a need for a creative outlet and the need to feel useful.

How did you get started?

I didn’t have a camera so I asked my friend for her camera (an entry-level Canon 500D). I didn’t know what a tripod was so I used a Game of Thrones book, a Bible and a keyboard as my tripod.

I watched a lot of YouTube videos on what to do first and everybody said to introduce yourself. So, if you go way back, you'll see that I [introduced myself and talked about university] but it was such a mess. 

Sibu Mpanza 2

I didn't know how to edit and I really wanted music in the background of my videos so I played music using a speaker in the back of the room. And every time I had a funny punchline, I remember I’d go back to the speaker and pause the music. I promise you, for the first 3 months of me learning how to edit, it took me 8 hours to edit a 5-minute video.

I remember publishing my first video and how I kept refreshing to see if it got any views. Then I saw one view but realised it was just me watching my own video. 

So I walked around the computer labs and told everyone about my video. I remember getting my first views from begging people in the computer labs to watch my videos. 

How did you get your first subscribers and grow your channel to where it is today?

First 1000 subscribers (21 months)

Early on, I was making YouTube videos I thought were funny (based on watching Caspar Lee’s and others’ videos). But at the time (2015), things were getting radical on campus (like the Rhodes Must Fall Movement). So I started to shift my content to talking about social issues and my experiences being a young black kid in South Africa. 

Most of my life from the 1st to 12th grade was being a minority at school so I had a lot of racial experiences to talk about. 

People were really into that kind of content and so I started leaning into that quite a lot. I think that's when people started noticing me as “this kid from this university in Cape Town who makes videos about his life/current affairs”. 

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In 2015, there was this competition called Social Star where you had to make a video and the more views you got the higher your chances were of winning. I entered the week before the six-month competition was supposed to finish. 

I went from like 350th to the top 10 in a week and eventually ended up winning. Nobody could believe it. By the end of it, I had 34,000 views and 570 subscribers. I would say more than anything, that growth was from building a community around my channel.  

I begged people to watch my entry video and rallied my online community quite a lot to ask them to help me win. A big overarching theme of my career is how I've had to get people to rally behind me which I think is 80% of the reason why I'm still around 10 years later.

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In 2016, there was another Competition called “Break The Net” which was almost the same as “Social Star”. I used the same strategy of rallying people around my content. 

It was incredible; I ended up getting into the top three but losing out on number one. By the end of it, I had over 2,700 subscribers and 174,000 views. 

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First 10,000 subscribers

By the end of 2017 (my first full year during this full-time), I had 8,000 subscribers and 500,000 views.  

At this point, I had a community of people who not only just watched me but were actively helping me grow. I was like their little baby in a way. Everybody had tried [to help me win competitions] and they had failed with me. 

Later, I started speaking less about social issues because it wasn’t great for my mental health; I was getting a lot of backlash and I decided to start the More Mpanza channel which became an animal of its own. I started vlogging, showing what life was like as a young person living in Johannesburg and creating travel content.

On my 23rd birthday, I did a video on my “23 Tips For 23”. And in June 2018, I got invited by a news TV channel in China to travel for a month around the country with the TV crew.

Sibu Mpanza 6

When I came back from China, I started pushing into very couple-related content. I made a video called “Girlfriend Meets My Mom” and it got 200,000 views off the block. I also made a video on “Who said I love you first?” that did really well. We also went to Greece and made 7-8 travel vlogs and they blew up.

As we're doing this, because I created a bank of content, people were still finding out about us. New subscribers would have 30 to 50 videos minimum to binge-watch.

First 50,000 subscribers (76 months)

During COVID, we kept creating couples' content and weren’t shy to share our real lives during the pandemic. 

A big thing at the time was live videos. I think people really enjoyed getting to see someone face-to-face. It felt like you were right there with us.

Since COVID, things have slowed down and growth has been more steady.

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How much money are you making? 

Sibu Mpanza Channel Income Report

I can make anything from $1K - $5K+ USD per month from brand deals, AdSense and traditional media.

AdSense would be the least because I don’t get many views month-to-month. I’m sort of cruising from all of my older videos.

I do a few TV and commercial shoots a couple of weeks every year. That would probably be the second least because it’s a big lump sum once every (maybe) six months. 

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75% of my income comes from brand deals. Brands know I’ve been around for 10 years and know what I’m doing. Since I’ve worked with brands for multiple years, there’s confidence that I’ll give them quality content and get the message across the way they want.

It's an ecosystem. I'll be seen on TV and then brands will find out that I’m actually a YouTuber. That means they can buy ad space on my channel. It all kind of feeds Into each other. 

What are the key lessons you’ve learned from your journey?

ğŸ›ž Pivot. You’re not the same person you were two years ago so you can’t be creating the same type of content you created two years ago. Even if you feel like people might not understand, you just have to push through. 

I think after every two years, you need to really look at yourself and ask “Am I enjoying this? Does this bring value not just to other people but for me?

Then ask yourself, “What do I enjoy right now? What do I enjoy talking to my family/friends about?”. That's what you should talk about. 

👥 Build a community. I know it’s a massive cliche but the only way I’ve survived and grown is because of my community. I didn’t know when I was asking people to vote for me in those competitions that I was building a community.

😓 Don’t be scared to show people the bad stuff because it makes the good stuff so much sweeter.

I showed people my ugly beat-up car so when I was able to buy my first car, everybody was like “We get why you’re so excited. We know where you came from”. And so when the high points come, you get to celebrate with everyone.

📈 Just don’t give up (if you actually enjoy it). It's been 10 years of uploading regularly but I just never stopped. There were hundreds of people starting channels in those first few years that I started. But they all just called it a day and I didn’t.

Where can we find out more about you? And is there anything else you’d like to add?

Keep up with my videos on YouTube (@SibuMpanza and @MoreMpanza). 

I’m going to do this thing until I’m 50-60 years old. I want people to grow with me.

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