Get Acquainted with Jeff Harmon
We’re so excited for you to meet Jeff Harmon and to learn from his Lemonade Stand Story! The podcast below with Jeff is just absolute gold. There’s no other way to put it. Listen below to find out why.
Who Is Jeff Harmon?
Jeff Harmon is a business and advertising professional who has a knack for turning taboo subjects into relatable and viral material.
His business endeavors started at the early age of 12 when he decided he wanted to attend a local private school instead of a public school. He has eight siblings, so he knew the cost of the tuition was going to be the biggest drawback. He lived in Idaho on a potato farm, so he devised a business plan to overcome this obstacle: sell their potatoes in Utah.
He loaded the family car with all the potatoes it could fit, wrote a sales pitch, and got his dad to agree to drive him to Utah. Once in Utah, he was faced with making his very first sales pitch all on his own. He started by reading the sales pitch verbatim but was able to gain confidence as he continued. By the end of that day, he had earned over $100 towards his tuition costs.
From his humble beginnings selling potatoes out of the family car, he has learned how to market and sell a wide range of products both for himself and for others.
The Harmon Brothers
Jeff Harmon is one of the founders of the Harmon Brothers, which is made up of Jeff Harmon and three of his brothers. They create video ads for clients that have been viewed over 1.4 billion times and that have sales revenue climbing over $350 million.
They have worked with many major brands, including Poo-Pourri, Fiber Fix, Squatty Potty, Chatbooks, and Purple. They take their job seriously and immerse themselves in the products they promote to make sure their ads are real and informative. They also add a comedic spin on their ads which makes them popular on the internet.
One of their most well-known advertisements was with the Squatty Potty. This was a difficult product for anyone to market, as it is a stool that sits at the bottom of the toilet, which is used to elevate your feet and make going to the bathroom easier.
Previous advertising strategies had failed, so the company hired the Harmon Brothers to give it a shot. They turned the ad into a long YouTube video with the star of the ad being an animated unicorn whose bodily functions create rainbow ice cream.
Somehow, transporting the talk of bodily functions to a fantasy land is what the public wanted, and the ad has well over 100 million views on YouTube. They have done similar things with Poo-Pourri, which is a spray to use before going to the bathroom to eliminate odors. Ads for natural deodorant and bad-breath-reducing tongue scrapers show what a knack these brothers have for turning gross or taboo hygiene subjects into advertising gold.
They have a podcast and Harmon Brothers University, which helps people take their basic advertising techniques and apply them to their own business. You can also sign up for an email list to get weekly insights about business, marketing, and a dose of humor.
Background on VidAngel
The Harmon Brothers are also the creators of VidAngel, which is a streaming service that allows the user to filter out undesirable content from movies and TV shows. Creating an account gives you access to many movies and shows, and then you can set the filters for what you want to see and what you would like removed. Filters include taking out things like strong language, nudity, and graphic violence. These settings are all customizable, so it gives the user complete control over which words they want to hear and what level of violence or sexuality they are comfortable viewing with their families.
There was some controversy and lawsuits over copyright law infringement a few years ago. VidAngel was found to be violating some copyright laws and was ordered to pay fines as retribution. Their policies and procedures have now been updated to ensure all laws are being followed, and the filtering services can still be accessed for a limited number of movies and TV shows.
What Is Dry Bar Comedy
The Harmon Brothers also started creating their own original content in 2017 called Dry Bar Comedy. These videos are performed by lesser-known comedians and offer clean humor that is appropriate for the whole family. While these videos may be clean humor, they are far from boring. It started as a small series of stand-up routines but has since grown to include a large YouTube following and even has toured across the United States.
Jeff Harmon Interview Transcript
Charan: All right, guys. I’m rolling. I’m rolling with my good friend, Jeff Harmon. Man, I’ve never met a guy that looks better in a hoodie. Not in a hoodie, a … I don’t even know what you call those things anymore.
Jeff: Yeah. I just wear it when I haven’t— I always shave my head, like every week. But if I haven’t shaved my head in a while, then I put on my hoodie more. Or if it’s cold; today is cold.
Charan: I don’t understand. Apparently tomorrow it’s supposed to snow. By the way, if you guys are watching this, I am posting it in a week, but it’s actually April 15th when I’m filming this.
Jeff: If it’s really warm …
Charan: Just know that it’s freezing when we did this. That’s why my heater is going on. Jeff and I, we’ve been friends for a little while. We worked on a— I actually met Jeff on an Orabrush project years and years ago actually. We lost touch and then reconnected during the days of VidAngel. We’ve been doing that. We’ll get into all that stuff. Jeff is pretty much a legend, you guys. He’s pretty much a legend. If you don’t know this already, you should now. He has done all kinds of stuff in the world of marketing, helping Orabrush grow big. He was a founder of the Harmon Brothers, which—if you’ve seen any of those commercials for Poo-Pourri, Squatty Potty—all of them are Harmon Brothers. Then Jeff went on to create VidAngel with his brother Neil. Am I lying on any of these things, Jeff?
Jeff: No, they’re all right. I just think it’s funny that the only ones you can remember are the poop ones.
Charan: Those made a huge impression on me. I’m just kidding. It’s been awesome. I really got to see— and it’s been cool working with you, Jeff, because we’ve been working on a project.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s right.
Charan: As we have been [crosstalk 00:03:32], I’ve noticed your brain, the way it works, and the way it works regarding marketing and stuff is unbelievable. I’ve loved learning from you because I make movies and TV shows. I feel like I know how to do that. I know how to produce and create content. But when it comes to marketing, I don’t know anything, or distribution. I feel like such a novice. Even in those initial meetings, when we were talking about how VidAngel was formed, and how you market, and what you guys do to market, I was just blown away. Because a lot of filmmakers, I feel, are kind of in the same boat. They may make an awesome piece of content and all that stuff, and they put it in a trailer on Facebook, which is what I tend to do.
Charan: It might get, like, a couple hundred views, maybe a few likes here and there. That’s the extent. Then it’s like, well, I guess we’re releasing it on Apple or iTunes or something like that. Hopefully, people buy it. Well, that doesn’t work. It’s sad, because so many filmmakers I know raise money—by so many people I know, I’m one of them; I’m trying to get through this—raise money, go make a project, don’t really know how to market the project. I know I personally have been screwed over by distribution companies in the past. As a result, no money came back and we were a little hosed.
Charan: I’ve always felt like you guys have figured out that formula, the key ingredient to help you succeed. As a result, so many companies you’ve marketed for have made millions and millions of dollars. VidAngel is thriving right now, which is amazing. We’ll talk about that. Jeff, let’s talk about your journey and how you got into marketing and all that stuff, because you’re a BYU student, correct? Or you were a BYU student.
Jeff: That’s right. I graduated from BYU.
Jeff: I didn’t ever expect to be in the video film production word, film production and distribution. I grew up in Idaho. Our nearest neighbor was a quarter of a mile away. I’m the middle of nine kids.
Charan: Wow, okay.
Jeff: We grew up super, super poor. I saw the wealthier people in the neighborhood were dentists, and doctors, and lawyers. I thought maybe I’d be an attorney or something. Now that I’ve spent a lot of time in courtrooms, I’m glad I didn’t become an attorney. I’m really glad. We then came from that background. To give you an idea of the culture of the family—and I think this is important for today, because right now we’re moving into a global recession like we’ve never seen; the numbers are uncharted territory, even by Great Depression standards and stuff, the number of people getting laid off, the number of people—
Charan: Are you talking about worldwide, or are you talking about US alone?
Jeff: US alone. The numbers that are going to come out are unheard of, the ones that will be reported here shortly. It’s all so unheard of, the way it happened. It’s very artificial. We just shut down.
Charan: Yeah, it’s very weird.
Jeff: Hopefully, we can recover at least somewhat. Because otherwise this is going to be pretty rough. One thing that I have been thinking about is what our family did. We have very close ties as brothers and sisters, the nine kids. In 2008 or sometime around there, we met together and did a family council. We said, “Okay, who has toxic debt in the family? Who has been totally messed up by this to the point where you owe money on something that has no value anymore?” We had some family members that had issues go on with properties they had owned or businesses.
Jeff: We got together as a family and said, “All right, how do we join together to pay off the toxic debts?” Then we did what we called a mercy fund, the different siblings, when there was no expectation that you had to pay into it. It was nothing. There was no expectation that you get anything out; you just put money in, and it gets paid towards debts that are toxic—
Jeff: It took a few years, but we got everybody out of the hole and got into a better position. That’s something to be thinking about, I guess maybe, as people are going through some pretty rough times. The key was that there were no expectations whatsoever. It had to be a non-selfish motivation. During that period, I was finishing up school at BYU. My last day of my last class at school, I met this guy named Dr. Bob. He created a tongue cleaner. Essentially what it is, is it scrapes your tongue and cleans the bad breath off your tongue, because that’s where the bad breath comes from, your tongue.
Jeff: I thought it was an interesting product. The people that were doing the research on it, the team and the class—I didn’t know Dr. Bob yet—they got up and they were like, “Ninety-two percent of people wouldn’t even buy this unless it’s inside a store. You need to go make a deal with Procter & Gamble or something like that.” There was just something about that that intrigued me. I started saying, “Eight percent is still millions of people. I don’t know why you wouldn’t just focus online still.”
Charan: At this point, have there ever been huge marketing campaigns online?
Jeff: There had never been one on YouTube.
Charan: There had never been?
Jeff: I went and tried to sell it with AdWords. I tried to sell it with all kinds of ideas, but I had a roommate who was in the film program at BYU, Devin Graham, who is DevinSuperTramp—
Charan: He’s a buddy, he’s great.
Jeff: Yeah. He introduced me to the film world. My path switched because of Devin.
Charan: Wow, okay.
Jeff: We went and we made a commercial for this tongue cleaner. Devin, Joel Ackerman and I did this commercial, and Austin Craig.
Charan: Austin Craig.
Jeff: Yeah, a lot of people know all those names. We shot it in a pool room, and we shot this commercial for $800 to sell this tongue cleaner. Then YouTube came out, within a very short period of time, they came out with their ad system to buy ads on YouTube. They had never done ads before, because they just did it on a bid at the beginning; it was like less than a penny per view.
Charan: Wow, okay.
Jeff: I jumped on there. Nobody was adopting their system. We jumped on there, and we were getting these views for nothing. Suddenly, we could spend money and we would make money back, probably just because it was so freaking cheap to buy ads. We started buying up everything. I learned later that YouTube made it so that no buyer can buy more than 60% of the inventory on YouTube because of us, because we were buying too much inventory.
Charan: That’s amazing [crosstalk 00:11:47]
Jeff: We were being seen everywhere. We were selling millions of dollars of these tongue cleaners. That launched my world into video marketing. We built a web series called “Diary of a Dirty Tongue.” It was the very first of its kind, way before its time. It got millions and millions of viewers, hundreds of thousands of followers. Dave and Joel were the writers, and Dave was the tongue. It was a daily vlog from this tongue talking about his life. It had a loose connection to Orabrush because the character is a giant, dirty tongue.
Jeff: He’s the spokesperson for Orabrush, but he lives in a grungy apartment, basement apartment, and clearly doesn’t get paid. He’s the mascot for our company. Anyway, that series is still very good. You can go find it on YouTube. It’s got some really classic moments. That series was probably done better than almost any brand series out there on this concept of doing a web series around the brand. It was almost a decade before the ones that came out more recently.
Charan: That basically really started off that company, correct? Orabrush?
Jeff: Yeah, that web series and our ad buying—the two, the organic and the other. We got into Walmart. We got into Boots in the UK. We got into, like, 20 different countries.
Jeff: That company became pretty big. During that, also, another roommate of mine, Ricky Ray Butler, who does Brand Entertainment Network, he jumped in the 15-passenger van I rented from a friend. We drove down to VidCon. We rented this van for like $800 or— I don’t remember how much it was. We put the entire marketing team inside the van. Ricky said, “Can I come along?” He came down, and we were roommates. It was after that trip that he started what he’s doing today, which is Brand Entertainment Network, which was bought by Bill Gates. He works down in L.A. They run this gigantic influencer company.
Charan: [crosstalk 00:14:11] with that company right now.
Jeff: Yeah, so lots of connections. We met when we were at Orabrush. I think it was probably a casting call, maybe. I’m trying to remember.
Charan: Well, I think I actually shot something with you guys. I don’t even know if it came out or something.
Jeff: You may have been—
Charan: I wasn’t inside the tongue. I don’t think that was me, but I think I was interacting with him.
Jeff: Yes. You were interacting with the tongue, yeah.
Charan: Yeah, I think Devin hit me up. He’s like, “Hey, can you come in?”
Jeff: Devin or Jake Schwarz, maybe.
Charan: Yeah, it was one of those guys.
Jeff: Jake Schwarz, he also was the producer and the VP on it. Then with Orabrush, there was myself, my brother Neil. I pulled him in. I pulled my brother Daniel in, who was working at ad agencies out in Chicago. After Orabrush, we decided that— We had a very small share in Orabrush. It really launched our career, but we weren’t that big of owners. We decided to move on. We went and started Harmon Brothers, which is an ad agency. The name “Harmon Brothers” is not intentional. It sounds like a car dealership.
Charan: Or a grocery store.
Jeff: Yeah, or a grocery store. The way that happened is, Poo-Pourri had contacted us.
Jeff: We signed a deal with them right as we were leaving Orabrush. We wanted that deal to be there. Then they were like, “Hey, we need to send you this big check. Where do we send it?” We’re like, “We don’t have a …” [crosstalk 00:15:58] Because we had signed an agreement, a verbal agreement.
Jeff: We had this letter of intent, but we didn’t have a company name or anything. We’re up late at night and we’re like, “What do we call the company? Because we need to take a check into a bank account.” We called it Harmon Brothers. I was thinking, well, I’ve gotten all of the attention from Orabrush. If we called it Harmon Brothers, maybe it would divert a little bit of the attention from me and show that we work together on these projects. But it wasn’t intended to be a long-term name. Then Poo-Pourri, six weeks later, relaunched it and took six weeks from writing to creation. We launched Poo-Pourri, and it exploded. We started winning bunches of awards.
Jeff: They just said, “Harmon Brothers ad agency wins this award.” And “Harmon Brothers ad agency wins this award.” I was like, “Okay, well, I guess we’re Harmon Brothers.” That’s where the name comes from. We always feel a little bit embarrassed about how narcissistic it appears, like it’s a law firm or a car dealership or something. The nice thing is, I’m one of six brothers. Now I can just swap everybody else.
Charan: Yeah, swap brothers. Everyone is adopted.
Jeff: Now everybody, the team members and stuff, they call themselves Harmon sisters and Harmon brothers. Everybody is just adopted into the family. That was an accident, but then we created Poo-Pourri. I remember we did Squatty Potty with the pooping unicorn. Then there was a lady around the time we did a Purple Mattress commercial, the big one with Goldilocks that got like a bazillion views.
Charan: Yeah, it’s huge.
Jeff: With Malory and the glass dropping. We did that one. This lady calls me from “The Washington Post Magazine.” She’s interviewing me and she’s like, “How is it that your team is able to hit these really, really sensitive topics and not go over the line?” That was the question. She interviewed me, she interviewed my siblings, she interviewed Dr. Bob. It was, like, a two-week research project she did, really good reporter.
Jeff: She made a statement in her final article that was really interesting where she said, “Perhaps in order to know the boundaries of society, to be able to ride those boundaries, you need to be acutely aware of where they are.” She’s like, “These guys are Latter-day-Saint brothers from Idaho, farm boys. They know where the lines are. They know where the lines are of appropriate and not appropriate.” She’s like, “If you live on the other side of the line, that line is so far behind you that you don’t know where it is anymore. You don’t know how to ride it.”
Jeff: She’s like, “But if you live on the side of the line that you don’t cross it, then you know exactly where it is.”
Charan: It’s like the edge of the cliff.
Charan: Don’t jump off, but where can you go?
Jeff: Yeah, you know where the line is, which allows you to ride there. She said, “It’s allowed them to make edgier commercials than the guys on Madison Avenue, meaning they’re truly edgier. They get to the edge, while everybody else who is making commercials about this type of stuff just jumps right off a cliff.”
Charan: Jumps right off, yeah. They don’t hit.
Jeff: Yeah, everybody has seen that. I thought this was really interesting, which is then another question people ask. Why do we keep our ad agency—which is one of the hottest ad agencies in the world right now—why do we keep it in Utah? Part of that is because we want to hire people that know where those lines are, because we do content that we’ll be proud of. We built the ad agency. Then shortly after that, we had this … well, we had the idea quite a bit before. When we were building the ad agency, actually, Neil and I had this great list of companies that we thought were good opportunities and interesting to us that we had thought of over the years. We went through them all and ranked them. We had two, an ad agency and this other concept at the top. Have you ever read the book “The User Method?’
Charan: I haven’t, no.
Jeff: It’s a really good book. I can’t remember the author’s name right now. It’s really good on Audible, actually, but “The User Method.” Basically, the concept is, as you just said, most of the billion-dollar brands you’ve seen were started by people that were just solving a problem for themselves. The Airbnb founders desperately needed to pay rent. A conference came into town. They blew up some air mattresses and rented their floor. They made a bunch of money on it. Then they were like, “Maybe we can …” They were solving a problem for themselves by getting extra cash with the space in their house at a conference. Then they went around to conferences.
Jeff: Zuckerberg just wanted to be more socially included. He figured out how to do that with technology. There are so many. Steve Wozniak created the Apple computer. He just created the computer of his dreams. That’s what he was doing. He was like, “This is the computer I want.” Then he built that in their garage. If you build a product that’s just perfect for what you need, then you’re likely building a product that’s perfect for many, many people.
Charan: That’s so interesting. I love that.
Jeff Harmon Talks About the Genesis of VidAngel
Jeff: Actually, more often than not, the most successful companies come out of these methods. That book goes through and proves it, “The User Method.” We’re just looking at it and saying— We were on YouTube. We realize that when our kids are around, we can’t watch the stuff we watch because there’s just so much profanity. There are so many words that we don’t want our kids saying. With movies, we were like, same thing there. There’s just stuff that we don’t want to expose our kids to. We were like, “What if we create a system that just goes through and skips all the parts that we don’t want?” It’s like a parental control system, like a remote. This had been done. The TV Guardian kind of started this. Then there’s a company called ClearPlay that did it pretty badly, but they tried it too. We went and realized that every single company that’s ever tried this has been sued by the studios.
Charan: You knew beforehand already.
Jeff: Yeah. There’s, like, 18 companies that have tried it, and every single one has been sued. We’re looking at it and we’re like, “Do we do this? Do we try to go and figure out a way?” Because the question was, can we skip content in streaming? We don’t want to do DVDs and Blu-rays and broadcasts like TV Guardian and ClearPlay. We want to do streaming.
Jeff: We figured out how to technically solve the problems. We even figured out how to do it for Chromecast. The Chromecast was brand new, and we built a system that would skip, but then it got blocked. Then we got cease and desist letters immediately from Google. Then this chain of events where every single thing we do to try to filter is blocked.
Jeff: It’s always blocked for a different reason. It’s not about skipping, it’s about some other thing. What it comes down to is they are like, “We’ll do airline edits because we get to decide. But if you let the family decide what they’re skipping, we’re not okay with that.”
Charan: It’s like they were threatened by the fact that you were giving the power to the people, in a sense.
Jeff: That’s right. VidAngel is just a big remote. It’s a high-powered remote. Our concept, our philosophy is, if you have paid for the content and you have the content, you’ve bought it, then you have the right to stream it to yourself filtered or skipped.
Charan: Rather than saying, “Hey, I’m going to fast-forward the content that I already purchased because I don’t want you guys watching this.” It already does it for you in a sense.
Jeff: Yes, and this is a hotly debated thing because there’s a lot of artists that believe that this is not okay. They think it’s their moral right. Don’t watch their content “if you’re not going to watch it the way we say.” Yeah, that applies to a small group of people who want to do that. But as a whole, very few people go to the kind of restaurant where they have to eat exactly what they put in front of you.
Charan: That’s true.
Jeff: That’s exciting sometimes, to go to a really nice Michelin Star restaurant in France, and you just eat whatever they give you. But that’s not something you do on a daily basis.
Jeff: You only give certain people that privilege.
Charan: For sure, absolutely.
Jeff: We got into this world. We probably wouldn’t have gotten into the world if we realized how rough it was going to be. It started growing very quickly. In 2016, we got sued by Disney and Warner Bros., and 20th Century Fox. They’re spending tens of millions of dollars, estimated, on people, on attorneys in that world. I estimate that’s the kind of money they’ve put in.
Jeff: The irony here is that we showed them— We said, “Hey, look. We’re buying your movies. Here’s all the data. You’re making more money with us than you would if we didn’t exist.” They don’t care. They don’t care. They go through … Go ahead.
Charan: What is their reasoning behind not caring? Why are they so threatened by what you guys are doing?
Jeff: Well, there’s two different groups, I think. There’s the artist group, and then there’s Disney, who is a different animal. It was very confusing for us at first, why Disney was the one who sued us. Then we realized, oh .. They have the corner on family-friendly content.
Jeff: If suddenly all other content becomes more family-friendly because skipping becomes a thing, that dilutes their market. It may expand the whole film market, meaning it actually increases everybody’s revenue. But if it becomes a really big thing, it could potentially dilute Disney’s market.
Charan: I see.
Jeff: We think that’s the financial incentive for why they’re fighting so hard on this.
Jeff: Their narrative was, we’re just pirates, we want to steal their money and we don’t want to ask permission, yada yada yada. And that— it’s their choice. Our argument is, every single person who has ever tried this has been sued. It doesn’t matter what they say the issue is, because they say it’s all different kinds of stuff rather than addressing it on its nose. It’s clear, when we’re working in our best faith to make this work, and trying to negotiate, and trying to get settlements, in the end, that the core issue is that they’re fundamentally opposed to a concept of a family being able to choose what to skip in their own home automatically. This is because we’ve gone through I don’t know how many systems now. A whole bunch of systems.
Jeff: Changing the technology to match what the studio said. Previously, they said, “We don’t like the first technology because of this.” We changed it to address that. “We don’t like that technology because of this.” We changed it to address that. We’ve done that over and over and over again, and they just keep fighting. There is no end to it. We’re now into this three or four years or something, and they’re still just fighting tooth and nail on every single thing we come up with.
Jeff: It doesn’t matter if they get paid or not. The fundamental issue is, if you don’t have permission—it doesn’t matter if you pay us—if you don’t have permission to skip that content from us, then you can’t have it. It’s permission that they don’t give. That’s the issue. Unless they’re giving enough permission to create a diversion to pretend like they’re solving the problem. It’s complicated. It’s messy. We’ve been fighting that battle. A lot of people that are listening to this are going to say, “I disagree with Jeff. He’s just wrong.” There’s other people that are agreeing with me, and it’s fine. In the end, we’ll figure out how to live together.
Jeff: VidAngel. We get that started. We go through this monster lawsuit. We get a judgment of $62.3 million for copyright infringement, which is the biggest copyright infringement ruling of its kind, judgment. Meaning bigger than pirates. These are for guys that made the studios money and tried to follow the law. We’re appealing that right now. In addition to that, we have built a whole other business on the side. It’s big enough that the $62.3 million is still just something that maybe if we fail in our appeals, that we have to, in the worst-case scenario, we pay that off. Best-case scenario, we successfully appeal it. That’s where that’s at, the lawsuit. Now we’re moving into the next phase of our company.
Charan: Yeah, which is actually very, very exciting. Because you’re putting your own content.
Jeff: That’s right.
Jeff Harmon Talks About ‘Dry Bar Comedy’
Charan: Your content is doing exceedingly well. I’ll just say that. It is unbelievable how well it’s doing. Let’s talk first about “Dry Bar,” because that was an awesome thing. Then we’ll get to another project, but specifically “The Chosen,” which I’m really excited to talk about. [crosstalk 00:31:53]
Jeff: We’ve always seen skipping as a step towards— It’s one thing to remove the objectionable content out of your viewing, but it’s a whole different level to be able to watch content you love, and you don’t really need to skip as much.
Jeff: That’s always been the goal. We launched “Dry Bar” right after getting sued. It took 18 months, but the concept was that there’s this— If you look at Jim Gaffigan, Brian Regan, previously Bill Cosby (not anymore), Jerry Seinfeld. You’ve got these monster comedians who are some of the biggest brands in the business, and they’re totally family-friendly. They have a clean brand. Then you’ve got literally thousands of other comics across the blue brand world, the normal comedy world, the club world is what it’s called.
Jeff: The idea or the concept here was, what if we create a way for comedians to get up onstage and we just say, “Hey, you do whatever you want onstage. Do whatever you want, but here’s a list of everything that people are going to skip. Here’s a list of words they skip. Here’s a list of innuendos they skip. You can decide what you want to take risks on. But if you don’t perform well to the audience and they skip you a bunch, you’ll get paid less.”
Charan: Interesting, okay.
Jeff: In other words, if you’re more aligned with the audience, you get paid more because you’ll earn the money that the ones who are less aligned would’ve gotten.
Jeff: It’s just a social lever to say, “Make content that the audience wants to see—and that’s on brand—and you’ll get rewarded pretty handsomely for it.” We started calling comedians and just telling them, “Look, you can do what you want. But if you just change, tweak it up a little bit. Take out F-words. Take out swear words. Take out the Lord’s name in vain. Tweak your innuendos.” One person changed something from— She had a joke about people sending her dick picks.
Jeff: She just changed it to, “People online, when I’m dating, they keep sending me inappropriate pictures.” Everything else about her joke is actually appropriate. It’s a really good way to go on this, but she just changed that one word, and it works with our audience. Then we just started getting them onstage in Provo at Dry Bar Comedy, recording the specials. Now we’ve recorded like 250 plus specials.
Charan: It’s an insane number.
Charan: It’s amazing.
Jeff: Yeah, and it’s exploded. I think we’re over two billion views online. We have a larger social presence than “Comedy Central” standup now.
Jeff: Yeah, and it’s self-sustaining. It’s a huge business now. It’s taken a huge team that’s made it. It’s a beautiful production team. These guys are passionate about standup. They’re passionate about meeting customers where they want to be, and viewers. Jeff Allen, one of our biggest comedians, he blew up last year and got like 100 million views or something. He said, “Going on ‘Dry Bar Comedy’ now is like getting on Johnny Carson back in the day.”
Charan: Isn’t that cool?
Jeff: Yeah. He’s just like, “Total life changer. My entire life is completely changed.”
Jeff: That’s where we started Dry Bar. Then it was like, okay. Now we have a series. Then we would put it inside the VidAngel app, and put Dry Bar comedy next to shows like “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad” or whatever, that are also skipped in the app. Just to see, will people actually choose our content in the way that—
Charan: Over something else.
Jeff: Yeah, over something that is significantly … that is known to be good, really good content. They do. It competes head to head. The “Dry Bar” stuff competes head to head. We’re like, “Okay, let’s do our next series. Let’s try something bigger-budget,” because “Dry Bar” is low-budget. You can do low-budget comedy and it looks big-budget. But you can’t do low-budget other types of content and make it look big-budget. I mean, there’s a range, right?
Charan: There’s a range.
Jeff: Go ahead. What were you going to say?
Charan: No, I was just listening.
Jeff: Okay. The next question was, how do we take this to a bigger show? We spent a year looking at different things saying, “What are we doing?” We talked to you. Then as we dive in the projects, there were some that were, like, this is going to work once the platform is more mature. Then there’s other ones that we’re trying. Our goal was, how do we find the project that’s going to lead the charge?
Charan: The thing was, I loved everything about what you’re doing. I recognize that too. I said, “You know what? There are certain things where certain projects might be really good, just not good yet. You know what I mean? [crosstalk 00:38:10]
Jeff: Until we get a little more mature.
Charan: Yeah, exactly. Once it’s right, then it’s like, all right, now it’s go time, right? On certain things.
Jeff: That’s exactly right, so—
Charan: Go ahead.
Jeff: You go ahead.
Charan: Well, that was what I was thinking about, because my whole decision to even come back to Utah and to create content was, I want to create more family-friendly content, and more comedic stuff, and things that were going to relate to people. Again, my problem was just, like, how do I solve the distribution issue? Or how do I solve the marketing issue? Because I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it. When we met with you, I was like, “Man, this makes a lot of sense.” But I also, as we’re sort of seeing, as we’re seeing the timeline go and all these things happen, I recognize— I’m like, “Okay, this is still a great idea. It’s still going to be awesome once everything has matured a little bit more.”
Jeff: Once the timing is right.
Charan: Yeah. Once there’s a huge audience that’s here to watch VidAngel for their original content as opposed to “I just want to skip stuff.”
Jeff Harmon Talks about “The Chosen”
Jeff: That’s right. We were searching for this project, and then Matthew Faraci, who does our press—you know Matthew …
Charan: Yeah, he’s great.
Jeff: He’s down in L.A., and he sends me this thing. He sends me an email in 2017, August—I was just looking at it last night—August 3rd or something, August 5th, 2017. He sends me an email and it just says, “Short film.” It has a Vimeo link in it. You know how Matthew is.
Charan: Yeah, of course.
Jeff: Unless he calls you, you don’t get any information.
Charan: You’re like, “Do it.” He’s like, “This guy, this guy. Go.” I’m like, “What’s happening? What did we do?”
Jeff: That’s exactly right. I open it up, and I start watching it. It’s this little shepherd that’s struggling. He’s handicapped, and he’s got a hurt leg. He’s got his little sheep with him. I realize halfway through the film, I’m like, “Oh, this is a Christmas show.” I had no idea because Matthew didn’t give me that context.
Charan: Of course not.
Jeff: I finish it, and I’m just totally blown away. I’m like, “How much did this cost to make?” It was only 80-something thousand dollars or something. Matthew said, “I can connect you with the director,” because we had already been thinking about how to launch a platform. But when I saw this show, it was like everything just came together. It was all so clear. This should be a TV series. This can be a pilot, which it wasn’t built to be. I need to call Matthew and see if the guy is willing to make a TV series out of it.” Call the guy, Dallas Jenkins. We started talking. Matthew warned me, he doesn’t really like the concept of skipping stuff in movies because he’s a Hollywood guy. I’m like, “Okay.” Then I found out he’s also a hard, strong evangelical. We’re Latter-day Saints, so there’s some history there.
Charan: Yeah, there’s a lot of history.
Jeff: I’m like, “Okay, and we’re being sued by Disney. And we’re getting ready to file a chapter 11 bankruptcy as part of this process,” which we’re closely getting out of right now.
Charan: If this was in terms of a guy and a girl dating, it would already be like, all right, don’t even go on the first date. It’s done.
Jeff: Yeah. I’m sitting there like, “Neil, I need to call this guy.” First I told Neil, I said, “This is our show to launch VidAngel Studios.” Neil said, “No, Bible shows are for churches to watch, not companies. We’re not going to go make money off scriptural stuff. That doesn’t make any sense.” He was pretty adamantly opposed. He watches it. And he gets done watching it. He was like, “This is why we made VidAngel.”
Charan: Yeah, that’s amazing.
Jeff: I call the director, Dallas Jenkins. I was like, “Tell me about the show that you’ve been thinking of down this vein, down this line.” He tells me about it. I was just thinking the whole time, I was like, how do I convince this guy that he should work with guys that are being sued by the biggest studios in Hollywood, about to file chapter 11? Latter-day Saints—they conflict on a doctrinal basis. At least evangelicals think they conflict with us. We don’t feel the same way back as much. We do skipping of content, which he hates. Everything about this is not supposed to work.
Charan: It’s not a good idea.
Jeff: Not a good idea. I led out with Harmon Brothers, talked about Poo-Pourri and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t know everything about what had been happening in his life. But basically, God had been preparing both of the groups to work together.
Charan: Yeah, I remember hearing Dallas’ story because he was speaking at the LDS Film Festival of all places, right?
Charan: I remember him telling all of us how he had done “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” and all of these things. He thought his career was going to go in a certain trajectory, and everything got pulled out from underneath him.
Charan: He was like, “What is happening in my life?” It was just very [crosstalk 00:44:14] how things kind of aligned like that.
Jeff: He had some really interesting experiences, and we had really interesting experiences that pulled these two groups that just normally wouldn’t work together, together. We felt God telling us to do this. We felt like we didn’t know if we’d be successful or not, but this was clearly the right path. It wasn’t a wrong path to move on, is one way to put it. He flew out with his wife, and we met with him, met with them. They’re amazing. Somehow, they decided, let’s go for it. That’s a miracle, in and of itself. That’s miraculous.
Jeff: The show concept is a show on— a multi-season series on the life of Jesus Christ. Neil and mine’s hypothesis was, if this director can take $80,000 and tell a story as good as “The Shepherd” with that tiny, tiny budget and no money—the single best nativity that we’ve ever seen, that blows away every other nativity—then from a storytelling standpoint, it’s not the best budget. Not by a long shot. But you’re just immersed, and you don’t care that everything looks low-budget.
Charan: Well, do you remember? You showed me that pilot. I remember watching it.
Jeff: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Charan: It wasn’t done. I don’t know if the music wasn’t there, or it wasn’t colored.
Jeff: There were some music problems, yeah.
Charan: There were some issues. I remember it was a rough—
Jeff: It was the angel scene. The music for the angel scene had not been rebuilt yet.
Charan: Yeah. Things weren’t completely finished. Yet I remember being like, “Dude, that was so good.” It was just so real. I remember thinking, I wish the LDS church could make stuff like this. I didn’t think that, I was just kidding. But it was so real and it was so honest. I just loved it. It was awesome.
Jeff: It was phenomenal. The hypothesis was, if he could do that with that budget, then we give him a decent budget—it doesn’t have to be huge.—he’ll be able to make a TV series that is kick-butt. We took the hypothesis, and we ran with it. Then we spent the next two years prepping, and building and building, and lifting. It is a hard, hard lift to get something off the ground. But finally, we raised over $10 million with 19,000 investors from around the world.
Jeff: Then we built. Then they went and filmed the show. They produced it in Texas. They found a set there. Some lady had built an entire recreation of Capernaum Village in Texas. First-century Capernaum was built there. We went and asked her if we could use her set. That’s where the whole first season was shot, in this little retro Capernaum Village. It wasn’t built for a film set. Then we launched it. The next big question was, how do we distribute it once it’s there? Because right now, VidAngel was half shut down, not working very well. We’re re-tooling VidAngel. We’re just surviving. Dry Bar is its own app and its own world.
Jeff: The system we initially thought we were going to launch on, which is VidAngel, with a Netflix model, had been pulled out from underneath us. All of our plans of how we thought we were going to distribute are ruined. We’re ready to launch this show, and we don’t have a model to launch it. We start testing VOD stuff in April of last year with the first four episodes, because they were done a little bit early. Pre-releasing the first four episodes. We’re just testing and testing. If you talk to any member of my team, they say that was the most miserable period of their entire careers.
Charan: Dude, do you remember NRV? Remember NRV?
Jeff: Uh-huh (affirmative).
Charan: We were promoting the heck out of each other. I was like, “All right, you guys got to get …”
Charan: I remember walking around grabbing people—I wasn’t even apart of this—I was like, “Guys, you guys got to come check out ‘The Chosen.'” In that tiny little booth, in that tiny little theater booth.
Jeff: People were like, “What? The what?”
Charan: Because what was it? The Kingdom Studios had done this huge, huge presentation with the Urban Brothers [crosstalk 00:49:23]
Jeff: We got a little tiny room.
Charan: We had this tiny little thing. I remember having the VR set up right next to it. It was so insane, but we were like, “All right, let’s just keep getting people to come check it out, I guess.”
Jeff: Yeah. We actually made some really good connections at that event. We’re just getting pennies to what we need. We’re testing model after model. If we let people watch the first episode, will they pay for the next ones? If they launch the first two, will they pay for more? We’re just testing all the numbers and looking. How many people watch through? How many minutes do they watch? Where do they drop off? What’s happening? Everybody is complaining. How do I watch it on my TV? How do I watch it? Because we just had it on the web at the beginning. It’s just this giant mess.
Jeff: Then we just realized that everybody was asking, “How do I get this to other people once they watch it?” Because they loved it, the people that were watching it. But how do we share it? They would buy DVDs and Blu-rays and whatever. It was very traditional at the time. I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but we were in a small group, and this concept of “pay it forward” came up between our team. It clicked for me pretty fast. I think it clicked for everybody else at the same time. If I took credit for it, I would be unfair, because it was just this huge effort from a large group. I was just kind of leading that team.
Jeff: We were like, let’s just let people watch it for free. At the beginning of every episode of the show, “This person from— Jeff Harmon from Provo, Utah, or Lehi, Utah, paid for this episode for you. You can keep watching or pay it forward.” Then they just go on and they watch the whole episode for free. At the end, they can watch the next episode for free. Each time, it shows who paid for their episode.
Charan: Very interesting. How much was an episode?
Jeff: The way we did it was, we set it up to where you watch for free. Then if you pay—the minimum is $14.99—you own season one. If you pay $14.99 forward, you’re paying for 10 episodes for other people, so a little over one season.
Charan: Oh, wow.
Jeff: For other people around the world.
Charan: Okay, so $15 basically gets you the whole season.
Jeff: The whole season, which is really cheap.
Charan: It’s super cheap, yeah.
Jeff: But you can pay it forward more, and you can pay it forward like $50.
Charan: Then you get multiple.
Jeff: You get more episodes for other people around the world. You don’t get more stuff yourself, but you get more episodes.
Charan: For other people to see. Wow, okay.
Jeff: You can pay for up to $10,000.
Charan: Has anyone done that?
Jeff: Yeah, yeah. Lots of people have.
Charan: That’s amazing.
Jeff: And pay forward 12,000 episodes around the world. We build out its own app—”The Chosen,” in its own app, in its own ecosystem. We make it to where it can send to your TV. It can send to any device, and that’s kind of new. We’re just slowly knocking off problems. Then we hit Thanksgiving of this year, and we launched the “pay it forward” system. We realized this works better than all the other models we tried.
Charan: I had no idea that that’s how you guys were distributing it. I had no clue.
Jeff: Yeah. Anybody in the world gets on the app, and they start watching. It says, “This person in this country paid for this episode for you.” Then when you’re done watching the season, it says, “Eight people paid for your season. Would you like to send them a thank you note?” Then you type in and say, “Hey, thank you.” I just got a thank you this morning from someone in the UK that watched. They said, “Thank you so much for paying these forward for me.” They said, “My life has been changed forever.”
Charan: Oh my gosh. I’m getting chills, dude. That’s unbelievable.
Jeff: I got that message, and eight other people paid for that person, because it was eight episodes. I can see on my phone. Since I’m on the phone, I can’t show you my phone. But you go scroll down and you can just see your 10 people that you paid forward. It’s like, “This person from Brazil watched episode five. This person from China watched episode two. This person from Iran watched this. It’s been downloaded.” This is the first app that’s been launched in every single country on earth at the exact same time simultaneously with a TV series. It’s never been done.
Jeff: What’s really interesting here is, this is the first TV series—this big-budget; this TV series has a legit budget—it’s the first TV series that I’m aware of in the last—since TV series got big—that has not been tied up with a whole bunch of studio contracts. It has full freedom. We had full freedom to just do whatever we wanted to experiment on models. We were able to launch worldwide. We were able to experiment with “pay it forward” models. You could never do that because of all the contracts you have. We had this opportunity with a series that’s totally open and able to experiment and try something completely different from anything that’s ever been tried before. What’s happened is, we’ve had millions of people download it from all over the world. I think it’s 18 million episodes have been viewed now.
Jeff: It’s already on track to pay for season two, this show is. We are ranked in the—over Easter weekend and today—I think we’re ranked number 14 in the app store under entertainment apps.
Charan: And the rating for the actual show itself is just …
Jeff: Yeah, you can tell that.
Charan: I have to say it because it’s unbelievable.
Jeff: Nobody believes it. Nobody is going to believe it. They’re not going to believe it.
Charan: No one is going to believe it, but IMDB, I saw it, 9.9, right? Is it something like that?
Jeff: That’s right, it’s 9.9.
Charan: And on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s 100%.
Jeff: But how many reviews do we have on IMDB?
Charan: I haven’t even looked. How many reviews are there?
Jeff: We have over 4,700 reviews.
Charan: 4,700 reviews.
Jeff: There is no show that has ever had a 9.9 and that many reviews ever, that I’m aware of. Now, we don’t have enough reviews yet to rank in their top listings. You have to have two different numbers. They have one that has 5,000 reviews, and they have another number that says 25,000. I’m not sure if we have to get to 25,000 or 5,000. But eventually, we’ll be ranked in the top TV shows of all time. I think that this show will be ranked the number one highest TV series of all time.
Jeff: The highest one right now is Planet Earth 2 with 9.5. That has blown our minds. We did not expect for this show to be that way. I knew it was going to be good, but I didn’t expect it to be that well loved. Then we’re 100% with Rotten Tomatoes right now, with the critics.
Charan: We talked about this years ago when we were talking about, I remember, September 2017. September 2017 was when we first met with you guys. I remember you were telling me about “The Chosen.” No, it was called “The Shepherd” or something back then, right?
Charan: You were telling me, “I’m really excited about this. I think it’s going to be good.” That was a couple years ago. Right now I’m sitting here and I’m just like, “Dude, is Jeff a freaking prophet, or what is going on?”
Jeff: No, no.
Charan:: The thing, though, that blows my mind, that’s just been so awesome is, you guys, you and Dallas, before joining—
Jeff: Dallas, Darrel, it’s a huge team.
Charan: Yeah, it’s huge. Derral [Eves 00:58:10], yeah.
Jeff: You remember interfacing with me and Dallas, but it’s a gigantic team.
Charan: It’s a gigantic team.
Jeff: If you give us the credit, that’s just totally unfair to the tens of thousands of others.
Charan: You’re absolutely right. I’m just specifically saying you and Dallas because that’s just who we’ve talked about, but there are so many other people. Derral Eves, Ray Butler, Matthew Faraci. There are so many countless, countless people. I just remember the struggle that VidAngel was going through, the struggle that Dallas was going through. Having to say, “You know what? Let’s join forces. Let’s work together. Who knows what’s going to happen?” You created something that’s completely out of the studio model. I keep thinking, what is—
Jeff: Every element is. There’s nothing that’s the same.
Charan: Every element of the studio model. Everything is out of the studio model. I think, who knows what would’ve happened if Dallas went with the studio model, and everything worked out that way? I mean, things could still be great for him or whatnot. But it’s just interesting for me to see how everything about this is so unorthodox.
Jeff: Yeah, every single element. From a TV series having its own app to the way you pay for it and the way you watch it. It’s just free to watch, then you go pay it forward, to the way we raise the money from 19,000 people in crowdfunding, to the way we’re raising money for the next shows, to the way— I mean, every single element is totally just different than anything you’ve ever seen before.
Charan: It seems to me that… yeah, go ahead.
Jeff: Go ahead.
Charan: I was just going to say, not only is it different from the way it’s been done before, you literally are creating your own path based off of inspiration. Because you’re faced with these insane problems. You’re like, “Crap. Now that we have a show, now how do we distribute it? Now how do we do this?” Hi.
Jeff: Hey. Sorry, this is my— She just made [inaudible 01:00:19]
Jeff’s Child: I’m working on it.
Jeff: Cool, that’s awesome. She’s learning to sew.
Charan: Oh, fantastic. Good job. I’m just amazed because everything was always done out of something that’s completely [crosstalk 01:00:36]
Jeff: Yeah. It’s not even necessarily all inspiration. I think a lot of it has been out of God forcing us into a corner.
Jeff: He’s just like, “Now I’m going to make it to where all the wrong paths don’t work at all. Your only way out is through this little hole down in the corner that you didn’t see until I smashed you down into this little miserable corner.”
Charan: Well, you know what? I think just that whole thing right there, if we could shift the discussion for just a little bit, makes me think of the corner that we’re all facing right now, right?
Jeff Harmon Talks about Moving Forward in Uncertainty
Charan: Circumstances that the whole world is facing, being under quarantine with COVID. We’re all kind of smashed into this corner and trying to figure out, okay, how does life carry on from here? We’re facing uncertainty, a tremendous amount of uncertainty. I think honestly, all the uncertainty you guys have faced has prepped you for this threat that’s been kind of going on right now. Where you’re like, okay, how do we move forward? What do we need to do as a society, as a people, to say, “Okay, how do we thrive again?”
Jeff: There have been some benefits that have come out of COVID. Doctors are now allowed— Our two-year-old broke her arm in the middle of the quarantine, at kind of the height of the hysteria. We were freaking out because we’re like, “We’re going to have to go to the hospital.” It was a Sunday night. She jumped off the couch and broke her arm. We were able to actually do a FaceTime with the doctor now. That was not legal before COVID.
Charan: Wow, okay.
Jeff: Doctors are now allowed to work over borders. There’s a whole bunch of regulations that were supposed to protect us that have been removed, because we realized they were actually hurting us as soon as this emergency happened. I think there are some good things coming out of it. It think there’s probably more worse things. But there are a few good things coming out of the way— “The Chosen” model is a really powerful, good thing.
Jeff: Yeah, you’re right. God puts us into corners so that we kind of get to the point where we’re saying … to where we have no choice but just to say, “Hey, I don’t control this world. You do. You have to save me. I don’t know how to save myself. Well, I can work to save myself. But in the end, I don’t have control over everything.” By “work to save myself” I mean physically save myself.
Charan: I know what you mean.
Jeff: For the Evangelicals who might be watching, I don’t believe you work to be saved.
Charan: Thanks for the clarification. Here’s the thing, and I always think about this. Our bodies are made up of, what, trillions and trillions of cells. And all of these little things we have going on inside of us that we have absolutely no control over, right?
Charan: Yet they do the things so that we can thrive and live. If any of those things kind of mess up, we’re dead. I’ve always been of the mindset of, hey, it’d be good to be grateful for a higher power, whatever you want to believe. But for me, it’s God. And do the things that I know I can do on my own and everything. At the end of the day, especially in this circumstance, it is best to say, “Okay, I can do what I can do. Then I’ve got to leave the rest up to God, and have him get us out of the corner that we’re in.” Because it’s a tough spot that we’re in.
Charan: But I also think I’ve seen so much more compassion with people because of everything that’s going on. It’s great, because humanity tends to show their true colors. From a lot of what I’ve seen, those true colors are pretty positive. There’s been a lot of hope and stuff. People are getting the fact that, hey, we’re all in this painful place. We can get out together.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s great.
Charan: Jeff, I could seriously sit and talk to you for hours. This is unbelievable. Your mind is so brilliant. Thanks, man. I’m really excited for what you guys are doing and for “The Chosen.” It’s fantastic, I’m excited. This is my being selfish and hopeful, but I’m hoping to maybe get a part on the show one of these days.
Charan: [crosstalk 01:05:43] it’s been awesome. Anyway, you’re great. Thank you for taking the time. Do you have any last things that you’d like to share or talk about before we wrap things out?
Jeff: I think once VidAngel and “The Chosen” story is written, it’ll be very hard for somebody to read it and go, “There wasn’t divine intervention.” That’s one thing I look back and start seeing. I’m barely touching, scratching the surface of everything that’s happening to keep us alive. There has been some really, really dark times, and there’s been some really amazing, miraculous moments. It’s been an incredible experience. We’re doing our best, but I feel like we’ve received a lot of help in getting to where this is at. In a time of just getting back to where credit should go, that’s all.
Charan: You’re a good man, Jeff. Ever since I’ve known you, I’ve always known you to be a very humble and gracious person to everybody. Giving me tons of time. I just think that we’re all in this together, right?
Charan: I’m glad that truly, seeing your story, it’s been an inspiration just to observe from the outside some of the things that you guys have been going through. Then to see how you’ve come through it has been awesome.
Jeff: Oh, thank you.
Charan: Well, thanks Jeff. I really appreciate you taking the time. I’m excited to see what happens. Everyone, if you have not seen “The Chosen” yet, please go watch “The Chosen.” It is amazing and it’s a great show to watch to uplift you and inspire you. Thanks again, Jeff. I appreciate it
Charan: Take care.
Charan: Thanks so much for listening to the Lemonade Stand podcast. We hope you enjoyed this episode. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you use to be alerted when we release new episodes. We’d also love to hear your feedback in the reviews. If you or someone you know has an awesome Lemonade Stand Story, please reach out to us on social media and let us know. Thanks so much and have a great day.