As founder and CEO of Hacksmith Entertainment Ltd., James Hobson runs one of the largest tech-based YouTube channels in the world called, The Hacksmith. In their Make It Real video series, they turn fictional ideas from movies, comics, and video games into real working prototypes as a way to inspire youth around the world into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Make It Real began as a glimmer of an idea inspired by a pair of metal Wolverine claws he built for a Halloween costume in 2009, and is now a company on fire—with over 9 million subscribers enthusiastically fanning its flames. For James, this is an engineer’s dream come true. “Our work inspires hundreds of thousands of youth around the world into STEM fields, as we show how cool it is to be an engineer.”
Based in his hometown of Kitchener, Ontario—also known as the Creative Capital of Canada—James founded the company in 2016, when he quit his full-time job as an engineer to pursue YouTube full-time. Today, the company has a 13,000 sq. ft facility with over a dozen full-time employees; receives millions of views a day on YouTube; offers an international internship program and works with Fortune 500 companies creating unique one-of-a-kind advertising opportunities.
However, before launching his brainchild, James’ career was similar to most engineers—as an employee for someone else’s company. He joined Athena Automation in 2012 as a mechanical designer after graduating with a Bachelor of Mechanical Systems Engineering from Conestoga College. In 2014, he moved to Christie Digital Systems, where for over a year he designed and tested digital projectors as a product developer. During most of this time, he juggled his full-time job with a part-time job as a writer for Hack a Day, all while making YouTube videos on the side.
That all changed in 2014, with an idea that would ignite the YouTube torch and capture the attention of the masses. Armed with a single-car garage full of tools, the creative mind of an inventor, and an entrepreneurial spirit, James built an exoskeleton similar to the one worn by Matt Damon in the movie, Elysium (2013). The video series grew his YouTube subscribers to 70,000 and gave James the confidence to quit his job the following year to pursue YouTube full-time. His long-time friend Ian Hillier joined him as a business partner that summer, and they released their first “truly-viral” video about an electromagnetic Captain America shield that could be recalled to the user's arm from short distances. The video coincided with the release of a blockbuster Marvel movie, resulting in mega-viral views online, and the channel grew from 100,000 to 500,000 subscribers in less than a month! Since then the channel has produced hundreds of Make It Real episodes and the business has enjoyed near exponential growth, doubling year after year in almost every metric, from views, subscribers, revenues, and even employees.
James attributes the growth to treating the platform as both a YouTube channel and a business from the start. “With the internet, you can have exponential growth, your 15 minutes of fame, but if you don’t have an entrepreneurial mindset and treat it like a business, the opportunity can vanish,” he explains. “We’re different from most other YouTube channels in that we knew that reinvesting everything back into the channel was a key to success. Because we treat it like a business, we succeed where others may not.”
While the prototypes that James and his team create are usually not commercially viable to produce at scale, he believes in the value of bringing all ideas to life. “We believe that all ideas are worth prototyping for the sake of innovation and pushing the envelope -- inspiring millions around the world on the way.”
Founder and CEO — Hacksmith Entertainment, Ltd.
Download the Top 100 Canadian Professionals magazine and check out James' feature on page 95.