Exeleon Magazine

James Hobson – The Superhero of Curiosity and Science

James Hobson_Dynamic Entrepreneurs_Exeleon Magazine

Most kids grow up with some sort of fantastical stories nurturing their minds. Often these are the tales of superheroes. Kids like to read comics on these superheroes. They have their favorites. From Batman to Iron Man to Kamen Rider, there are tonnes of fictional characters to feed the imagination of these children. Even adults cannot resist the temptation of getting lost in these worlds temporarily. This is something that inspires big production houses to churn hundred-million dollar superhero movies.

In bestowing their love for superheroes, people, in reality, express their innate desire to inherit those superpowers or the tools shown in films or magazines. But they also know that owning a batmobile or some other gadget is nearly impossible. There are factors to consider. First of all, technology. These gadgets look otherworldly that normal brains do not even consider those items as a possibility. Then comes the financial aspect. A batmobile requires advanced designs. Who is going to fund it?

But then there are people like James Hobson who knows exactly what to do to bring these props out of fiction to turn them into reality. He knows the science behind the technology and has learned how to earn from it to fund his future experiments.

It is through his YouTube channel, called ‘the Hacksmith.’

He has a business partner, Ian Hillier, with whom he started delving deep into various engineering projects back in highschool. But like many startups, they started working from the garage and when the big break happened, they left their respective jobs to go full time with YouTube. Now, after just a few years, they have reached nearly 10 million subscribers, placing them in the top 15 tech channels world-wide.

What Was The Start Like?

James Hobson’s association with YouTube dates back to 2006, shortly after the platform was created. At the time, he was just using it to share videos with his friends — mostly parkour & freerunning videos. A few years later, he went to Conestoga College to study mechanical systems engineering. This allowed Ian and himself to work on bigger projects together like converting a 1993 Honda Del Sol into electric using the guts of a forklift. It may sound not that cool now, but it reflected their passion for engineering, and outside-the-box thinking, and marked the start of James’ documenting of projects via YouTube videos.

As they were graduating in the summer of 2012, YouTube opened up the partner program for ad revenue sharing with creators. James saw this as an opportunity and he started producing weekly videos on engineering and tech, while working a full-time engineering job. It was also that summer that James came up with the moniker ‘the Hacksmith” and rebranded the channel.

For the next two years, he persevered despite only earning pennies a day from ads. His engineering salary devoted to projects, instead of savings. He even started working an extra part-time job for Hackaday.com as a writer to help fund more projects.

But it wasn’t all for naught when he hit the bull’s eye on a video that went viral about a pneumatic exoskeleton he had built capable of curling over 250lbs. The exoskeleton was based off of the movie Elysium starring Matt Damon – his video reached 500,000 views in just three days, and his channel grew to nearly 70,000 subscribers. What’s more? He got a call from the Discovery Channel to demonstrate the project on national TV. This project started the snowball rolling.

From then onwards, he never looked back. He resigned from his engineering job the following year in 2015 and then devoted the entirety of his time to YouTube. Ian followed suit a few months later and they formed a new company called Hacksmith Entertainment in 2016.

In May of that year, they released a video on a replica of Captain America’s shield, capable of returning to the user’s arm via electromagnetism. The timing was perfect as they launched near the release of Captain America: Civil War. The video and project became a viral sensation, receiving millions of views and in less than a month, their subscribers grew from 100,000 to 500,000! Suddenly, they were a midsized YouTube channel, and it started earning real money.

Sponsorship deals started to float in from companies like LG, Google, and others. Hollywood projects soon followed. Producers from the War for the Planet of the Apes invited him to join their New Zealand set and test their motion-capture suits. In fact, for the Men in Black: International, the team developed a “working” neuralyzer prop to help promote the movie.

The channel began to double in size, year over year, in almost every metric. Today the company boasts nearly 10 million subscribers, over a dozen employees, and has a 13,000sqft facility to operate out of – and they aren’t slowing down.

How Are Things Shaping Up?

James Hobson has always visualized himself as the CEO of a big tech company – and is slowly making that into a reality. YouTube has provided them a unique way to generate income while investing in machinery, equipment and resources to become a full-fledged self-sufficient engineering skunkworks. They will never turn their back on YouTube, but to James, they are at the tip of the iceberg of something even bigger, and YouTube is just a springboard.

The team at Hacksmith Entertainment is growing. It now has video editors, engineers, shop techs, interns, and even project managers. Their growth is tangible and the videos reflect the journey. It may look simple from the outside, but it has painstaking hours behind it. A single project and video can take hundreds of hours to produce, and with a weekly release schedule, it becomes a balancing act between the simultaneous projects, ad sales, R&D, production, filming, and testing – there really is never a dull moment.

James Hobson is often recognized as an idol for many. His ideas, his techniques, and the ability to make engineering fun are well-received, and he has spoken at many events to inspire even more people. Tens of thousands of comments talk about how their YouTube channel has inspired youth around the world to go into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields.

This is something he wants to cultivate even more. He hopes to launch an educational series, possibly run summer camps in the future, and do even more community outreach, as well as further developing the Hacksmith Internship program. And if he gets the chance? He wants to endow people with superhuman abilities and develop technologies like the exoskeletons to enable everyone to run, jump and play.

What Inspired Him?

This knack of playing with tools and coming up with easy methods to develop something greater was inherited from his father. He spent a substantial amount of time fiddling with his father’s tools in his young days, which gave him unparalleled insights. That came in handy, when he, along with Ian, decided to participate in the Skills Canada Robotics competition in 2007. Their remote-controlled soccer-playing robot won the top prize in that national competition.

His love for the hands-on application of knowledge inspired him to opt for Conestoga College’s applied degree instead of the prestigious University of Waterloo. That paid off in spades, though admittedly, he has hired many U of W co-op students since.

Today, James Hobson is certain about one thing. It all happened due to his immense love for the craft, and superheroes. His ideas often sprout from fiction as he feels that most of the CEOs today lack the eccentricity to inspire people to go beyond the norm. That is why he delves deep into fantasy to come up with these innovative ideas to inspire a generation.

He often wonders why there are no eccentric billionaires donning a superhero moniker and using their resources for the greater good, but rest assured, when he succeeds, and it is when, not if… he’ll be throwing on a cape.

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