Interview with DetroitBORG – Jan 2, 2017

v_wqk57bMichael Kukielka, also known as DetroitBORG, is a tech reviewer on YouTube. (His YouTube channel:, Twitter: @DetroitBORG) Currently his YouTube channel has 985K subscribers. I did an interview with him via email.Me: How did you start to do tech reviews on YouTube?Michael: Before I started making videos, I was a viewer like everybody else. And like many of my viewers today, I watched unboxing and review videos to do my research on products I wanted to buy. Around 2009 I wanted to buy my first Mac so I started watching videos to learn more about them. I also watched these unboxing videos to live vicariously through others and to help motivate me to make the big expensive leap into the Mac universe which was no small expense to me at the time. Once I had the tools to create videos thanks to my 2009 iMac, I found myself interested in sharing my passion with others, it was more of a social outlet and today that still remains my main motivator. My early videos were absolute garbage, the worst you’ve ever seen from any other tech YouTuber, but the audience reaction was enough to plant the seed that turned into what you see today. It has always been some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done because of the overwhelmingly positive audience reaction.Me: One major characteristic of your channel is that your videos are extremely detailed. What prompted you to include all these details in your videos?Michael: The reason my videos are so in-depth is for few reasons. When I started the tech YouTube scene was in its infancy and I wasn’t seeing the in-depth details I wanted to know from those other videos. I was always the kind of geek that would read a manual cover to cover and intentionally use every function just so I know what it was capable of, that discovery was always a tremendous amount of fun but it also helped me to get the most out of my purchases. So essentially, I wanted my videos to be the user manual for every device. The other reason is because I simply don’t know what to edit out, you never know what will be interesting to others. Over time I’ve learned to cut quite a bit out while preserving the most interesting and fundamental details, but ultimately I want to create a very dense and informative video that isn’t boring. As always, it comes down to creating video I want to watch and assuming others will want to watch them to.Me: How do you prepare for you videos? What’s the whole process of making these videos?Michael: I think people might be surprised by how much time I spend on a video and it tends to be different for every video. But ever product needs to be researched extensively so I always start with the manufacture’s website or PR kit so I have the facts and language for the review. I tend to read early reviews as a reference point so I know what the audience is also reading or watching so I can anticipate their questions. I learned long ago however to NEVER assume other people have their facts right and rely entirely on my own research and experience, I find I always have a different perspective on everything. I usually avoid watching other Tech YouTubers since it can cause unintentional cross pollination of ideas and formats, originality has always been important to me. Since I combine my unboxing and review videos, I have to shoot the unboxing video which may happen, days, weeks or months in advance. In some cases, I’ll do a marathon unboxing day where I do nothing but shoot b-roll for unboxing segments. The next thing I need to do is use and test the device. Sometimes it’s as rushed as 24 hours, in other cases it’s weeks or months. Once I’ve thoroughly tested something, I know what b-roll I need to shoot and will spend hours doing nothing but setting up the camera and lights and filming silent b-roll shots. If it’s a phone review or software walkthrough, I will get behind the camera and microphone and just do a hands-on demo which can take hours or days of filming or reshoots to get completely done. The rest of the audio is done in-front of a microphone at my computer. Typically I have some notes but most of the time I’m speaking off the cuff with no script at all. Although I occasionally write scripts, I usually don’t speak it word for word since my voice sounds very different when I’m reading. The rest is editing and it’s not uncommon for me to have 3+ Hour of total footage to cut through. My in-depth reviews are extremely labor intensive because of the amount of content I create for just one video. Some of my videos can have hundreds of cuts and segments. And the last piece is always the video description and thumbnail, and everybody on Twitter knows how much I involve them in the selection of my video thumbnails, it’s such an important thing to get right and I tend to be overly obsessive about it. I actually build a gallery of video thumbnail just to compare and review, often resizing them to thumbnail size to see if it is simple, personal, and bold enough to get people to click on it. It’s insane but it’s important.Me: What roles do you think a tech reviewer plays in the tech domain?Michael: This is a very good question, but it’s a complicated one to answer. Some Tech YouTubers are genuine ‘influencers’ because they are consistent and trusted or they have a distinct cultural impact because of their personality or style. So their opinion, depending on how definitive it is, can make or break a product. But the audience for these Youtube videos is still relatively small compared to the consumer space at large and even fewer of those viewers actually have real buying power. So you really need to be a large tech YouTuber to make any sort of mainstream impact among all consumers. But it’s clear, as it always has been, that the collective of tech reviewers across all forms of media do make a huge impact on sales and they are usually influenced by each other. Personally, my reviews are formulated to be fair and balanced. I want to give the viewers the info they need to pass judgement on the product for themselves with a little room for my own perspective, always reinforcing that this represents my personal perspective. As a tech reviewer, I think we all have a responsibility to be considerate of the audience and the intent of the developers and to not treat our personal experience as the only truth.Me: What requirements do you have for yourself when making your videos?Michael: I have a very strict formula for my videos and I’ve always felt consistency and quality is key. So my videos need to be shot carefully, voiced smoothly, and edited in a way that makes them easy to watch despite their density.Me: What do you do with the products after you review them?Michael: I have a fairly large tech hoard at any given time but I typically only retain the most current devices and resell everything else. This is important to the sustainability of my business because I spend a small fortune on the products I review. The only exception I make to that rule are iPhones, iPods, iPads, Apple Watches, Apple TVs, and Apple Accessories which occasionally come in handy as props for future reviews. Apple is really the only manufacturer that has a consistent line of succession among all of its products. I don’t keep any of the previous Macs simply because they are too large and expensive to just sit on a shelf. If I wasn’t a YouTuber, I would be fairly ruthless about getting rid of everything that is outdated or not being used, I don’t like having stuff sitting around especially when all of it has such a short shelf-life. If you watch my Setup Tours, you’ll see how meticulous I am about organizing and displaying some of these things in my studio. I should have a new tour coming up soon but its around this time of year that I begin weeding out the collection.Me: Have you ever encountered any challenges making your videos?Michael: Most of the challenges we all face are usual personal ones. For me it always comes down to feeling like I’m not good enough to compare with the outstanding production value or big on-camera personalities. The other big challenge I face is just how much longer and more complicated the production process has gotten for my reviews which limits how much content I can produce. The rest is in YouTube’s hands for better or worse, but I feel very fortunate to have been doing this for so long while maintaining my uniqueness in this segment.Me: Are there any perks or downsides being a tech reviewer?Michael: The Perks are numerous, but I would never really say the perks come down to getting free stuff which is what I think most people expect us to say. Everything I get free comes with a tremendous amount of work and like anything else you work for, sometimes you want to use that time on something else. But the biggest Perks really comes down to sharing this community of viewers and creators, it has always been the main reason I do this and I love living and sharing my passion with others every day. Which makes the next point a little contradictory, which is to say that the downside to being a Tech YouTuber is that it can be isolating. Like any job you’re doing at home, the lack of real interpersonal contact can be a challenge. One of my favorite YouTubers actually did a great video explaining this weird existence and it’s really the best expression of this I’ve ever seen and I don’t think it’s acknowledged enough.  Social Isolation of YouTube – YouTube  It’s also hard to know when the job begins and ends, it’s pretty easy to work constantly and not have a clear boundary between work and home when it all exists in the same place. It’s one of those things you slowly begin to adapt to but initially it was very challenging when YouTube became my full-time job about 3 years ago. The other downside are abusive people who take the battle between the tech companies to such a personal level in the comments, but for the most part the viewers are very respectful and supportive.Me: What are your favorite tech products right now (they don’t have to be hardware products)? What about your favorite products of all time?Michael: My favorite tech product is never what people expect it to be, but it’s always my car [note by author: Michael has confirmed that it’s a 2016 Lincoln MKX]. It’s the biggest, most complicated, and most expensive piece of tech I have and it gives me the most joy when I’m using it. But my favorite piece of consumer tech is always going to be my first (2009) 24” iMac, even-though I don’t have it anymore and I have no interest in owning another one, it really changed my life by giving me the tools I needed to become the Tech YouTuber I am today. But on a daily basis, the only tech I find absolutely essential is my iPhone 7 Plus and my 5K iMac…the rest are just luxuries.Me: What are your favorite products to review?Michael: I like to review anything that is a little different or challenging, something that doesn’t fall into my typical routine such as drones or smart home products.Me: Are you earning income from your videos? If yes, how?Michael: I earn income on my videos through YouTube adsense, so essentially I get cut of the ad revenue that YouTube places on my videos. Less frequently I earn ad revenue from sponsored videos which you’ll always see indicated in the description or in the video.Me: What new products (or improvements to existing products) are you hoping to see in the near future?Michael: I am really looking forward to the point at which OLED panels have the capability and scalability to be used everywhere, including laptops and desktop monitors.Me: What are you passionate about besides your YouTube channel?Michael: I have several passions, but cars are probably my biggest. And anybody who watches my videos knows I like to keep a nice yard and in a previous life I wanted to be a landscape architect. What people don’t know is that I have a near encyclopedic knowledge of plants and trees. I’m also passionate about dogs and their welfare around the world. If I could devote my life to one thing, that would be it.Me: What plans do you have for the future of your YouTube channel? What other tech related plans do you have?Michael: My plans for my channel are to produce more videos this year and to bring more of my personality into the videos.