It might be odd to think of a YouTube star as popular as Danny Duncan as “underrated.” After all, over the past eight years, Duncan has racked up over 7 million subscribers and 1.6 billion views. Even so, few know just how many businesses he’s started, lives he’s changed, and the millions of products he’s sold in the process.
Don’t let Duncan’s “bad-boy” persona throw you off. He has built an empire turning one-liner jokes into multi-million dollar merch lines. In fact, before Walmart stocked Logan Paul’s Prime and before MrBeast Burger opened shop, Duncan was crashing Zumiez’ website and selling out Tillys and Spencer’s with his popular “Virginity Rocks” merchandise.
His journey to get here is as rare as his approach. “Money is great, but I like respect,” Duncan said. “I want to do it the right way.”
For Duncan, the “right way” meant saying no to millions of dollars of sponsorships that he didn’t feel were authentic to his brand. It’s meant not always following YouTube’s monetization guidelines. It’s meant using copyright music simply because he likes the song enough to include in his videos.
In the short term, that approach certainly cost Duncan. But in the long term, it’s the reason why he’s built a rabid fanbase and now estimates his net worth to be north of $20 million.
I had the chance to spend a few days with Duncan — whose videos feel like a cross between Jackass and Casey Neistat — visiting the $3.69 million 94-acre land he bought in his hometown of Englewood, Florida.
Raised by a single mother battling alcoholism, Duncan had no choice but to grow up fast. “I just always wanted to give my mom back everything that she tried to give us. That was pretty much the motivation, I’d say for everything. Every time I was struggling, I would always think about my mom.”
That motivation lit a fire in Duncan to make a name for himself. He started his career as a personal trainer and saw an opportunity to work with skateboarders who needed his help.
Soon enough, Duncan saved money to buy flights to Los Angeles, a central hub of the skate world, to book more clients. But he still couldn’t afford hotels. So Duncan would rotate between nights at YouTuber Chris Chann’s house, apartments of girls he met on Tinder, and even public buses and trains.
That all changed when skateboarder-turned-actor Jason Lee, known for his role in My Name Is Earl, hired Duncan as his personal trainer. During their sessions, the two would humorously riff back and forth. Eventually, Lee encouraged Duncan to try acting — and mentioned that YouTube could be a great way to get more acting roles. So Duncan took his advice, started uploading, and the rest is history.
Content Over Cash
Duncan’s videos range from crashing his sister’s car into a lake — only to surprise her with a new one — to hitch-hiking across America and his most viral video to date, “Falling With 30,000 Pennies.” His videos are a one-of-a-kind cocktail of pranks, vlogs, stunts and a general sense of comedically timed chaos. While Duncan’s YouTube tenure has earned him over 1.6 billion views, many of his videos are not eligible for monetization due to violating content guidelines or including copyrighted music.
“I wanted to be myself,” Duncan said.” I didn’t want to have to hold back and filter every word I say or filter any thought I had.”
This choice has meant Duncan giving up millions of dollars in potential revenue, but at the same time, it’s given him complete creative freedom. Duncan doesn’t worry about using Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” or Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” in his videos. He doesn’t care as much about the consequences of crashing golf carts into trees or staging a tag-team WWE-style wrestling match.
Leaving money behind for nearly 1.6 billion views may seem baffling to some, but it’s led to a core audience that knows Duncan won’t change in the limelight. It’s also the reason why Duncan doesn’t need to care about the perfect thumbnail, title, or even his subscriber count.
“I don’t care how big someone is, I’m gonna outsell them,” Duncan said when discussing creators who may have more subscribers. “If [I] did a meet and greet, I’m gonna have more people show up. If we sold a merch collab, I’m gonna have more sales.”
Be Walmart, Not Supreme
“[People were] trying to be like Supreme, like sell out of everything. And I was always like I just want to be like Walmart. Walmart makes way more than Supreme,” Duncan said.
These days, more brands are running limited-edition drops to sell their products. But not Duncan. His merch isn’t dropped in limited quantities to create a sense of scarcity. Rather, his designs are restocked annually with funny one-liners and jokes that speak to a market beyond Duncan’s followers.
It’s a big reason why, in 2019, Duncan paved the way for creators to sell their merchandise at retail locations with his Zumiez debut. Smaller creators have even reached out to Duncan to thank him, saying without him their path to retail distribution would be non-existent.
Duncan’s manager Stefan Toler was instrumental in making the Zumiez partnership possible. “The first weekend we crashed the site,” Toler said when reflecting on their first weekend in Zumiez in 2019. “We launched on a Friday and on Monday the executives were like ‘What the hell just happened?’ And that’s when we started seeing a lot more traction.”
Since then, Duncan’s retail presence has expanded rapidly into nearly 2,000 physical locations, now including Tilly’s, Spencer’s and even a collaboration with Hooters. To date, they’ve estimated gross product sales over $150 million with Duncan and Toler showing no signs of slowing down.
Finding The Right Partners
Many creators claim to put their fans first, but how many would turn down a $2 million brand deal because it doesn’t align with their values? That story is all too common when it comes to Duncan.
“I just didn’t want [my fans] to think I was scamming. So I was like no,” Duncan said.
Duncan has been able to say no to brands that don’t align with his values by saying yes to the business partners who do.
In addition to working closely with Toler, Duncan has partnered with cartoonist Harry Hambley to build a family-friendly comic series called Ketnipz.
“He is a great artist. One of the most talented people I’ve ever met,” Duncan said of Hambley who he discovered on Instagram when Hambly had less than 10,000 followers.”“The cool thing about [Ketnipz] is that it’s very brand friendly,” Duncan continued. “We did a deal with Hot Wheels and Samsung…We’re trying to get a TV show.”
In building out his portfolio of brands, Duncan also partnered with the entrepreneurs behind Crossnet — Chris Meade, Gregory Meade, and Mike Delpapa — to launch a new outdoor sports brand called Good Sport.
“I have a 92% male audience with 7 million subscribers and they all want to be active and have fun,” Duncan said of why he partnered with Good Sport to create products like Backyard Pong (think giant, outdoor “beer pong”). “It’s just easy for me. If something feels forced, I don’t wanna do it.”
I spoke with Good Sport co-founder Chris Meade who shared more details on the partnership. “We launched late last year with three games SmashNet, Backyard Pong and Bubble Bash. SmashNet is quickly becoming one of the most popular backyard games in the country, selling hundreds a day, and now available at Scheels, Dillards, and Wegmans,” Meade explained. “SmashNet rolls out to 200+ Walmart’s the first week of June for $69.99 and we could not be more excited.”
Another example is 16 Handles, a popular frozen yogurt chain, which Duncan bought with franchisee Neil Hershman. The duo has ambitious plans to scale the company to compete with the likes of Pinkberry to become one of the country’s top dessert shops. To date, they have over 35 locations with their most recent 16 Handles opening in Naples, Florida.
“He’s just different. He’s a genius,” Duncan said of Hershman. “I don’t have that ability, but he does. So me and him together, I think it’s a great mix.”
It’s a rare combination: Duncan seems to have both the self-awareness to know his strengths and the ability to recruit partners who balance his weaknesses. In doing so, Duncan frees himself to focus on making the videos that fuels his many ventures. Looking ahead, Duncan also plans to launch a new energy shot called Matador in partnership with Night Labs.
As my few days with Duncan in Englewood came to a close, I no longer thought of Duncan as the quintessential “bad boy” we see on YouTube. Of course, that’s not to say he doesn’t love his fair share of pranks. He did, after all, show me how to blow up a toilet in the middle of touring his studio. But he’s surprisingly more of a down-to-earth “momma’s boy” than a too-cool-for-school “bad boy.”
His mother has — and continues to be — a big source of motivation. Duncan said one of his major life goals was to buy his mom a house. He wanted it so bad that he changed his phone and laptop backgrounds to show photos of the house he hoped to buy, which served as a daily reminder. Then in 2017, Duncan saved up enough to make that dream a reality.
“I didn’t have $400,000 and I couldn’t get a loan,” Duncan said, referring to the price of his mom’s home. “I remember I put $150,000 down on that house and I got a private loan at a 10% interest rate…[then] I just paid 30 grand a month for ten months until it was paid off.”
Nowadays, Duncan isn’t just trying to buy a home. He’s trying to buy his hometown — or at least, become one of its largest land owners. His recent 94-acre purchase of undeveloped land was originally zoned for 320 houses — until Duncan outbid other buyers, not wanting to see another swathe of Florida’s nature destroyed.
“I have a lot of ideas,” Duncan says about his plans to develop the land. “I want to have a nice little farm here and my warehouse here. I want to build a dirt bike track…This is where I want to live the rest of my life.”
Of all of Duncan’s purchases, however, none may be more symbolic than when he bought the former Englewood Sun newspaper building for $508,000. It’s a metaphor for how influence is shifting from traditional media outlets like the Englewood Sun to digital media stars like Duncan, who plans to use the land to start his own mini-golf chain.
Luckily for Englewood, Duncan is largely using his influence for good when it comes to his hometown. When Hurricane Ian devastated Englewood in September of last year, Duncan flew back from Los Angeles instantly. Driving in from Georgia, Duncan purchased packs of bottled water, generators, and emergency supplies. The next day was spent working with first responders to distribute supplies and clear debris.
All in all, Duncan is proving that creators aren’t just limited to online merch drops, brand deals, and viral videos. Creators can sell out retail stores and launch wildly successful businesses — all while wearing a shirt boasting “Virginity Rocks.”
Special thank you to everyone who helped bring this story together, especially Danny Duncan and Stefan Toler for sharing their stories and showing us around Englewood, Florida. Jacob Mills, Joshua McLendon, Stephen Lehman, Elías Gutierrez Mandiola, Juan Rojas and team who filmed and edited our videos, and Chloe Ginsberg, Jansen Baier, and Amanda Marcovitch who helped research and produce.
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