Brothers Become Brick-Mavens
Joshua (BA 17) (left) and John (BA 15) Hanlon, brothers and co-owners of Beyond the Brick, tinker with their Lego structure at their studio office in Osceola, Indiana.
Taken from the Grace Story Magazine.
NEARLY 1.5 MILLION PEOPLE WILL VIEW JOHN (BA 15) AND JOSHUA (BA 17) HANLON’S LEGO VIDEOS THIS WEEK.
Their YouTube channel, Beyond the Brick, has garnered 250,000 subscribers, and they’ve posted nearly 1,500 videos over the last six years. Its viewership is so significant that the ad revenue Beyond the Brick generates now supports John and Joshua full time.
Legos and their infinite possible configurations have mesmerized Joshua since he was a boy. He joined the Lego community online as a teenager, and since he was homeschooled, Joshua says it afforded him the time and freedom to explore his curiosities. In 2011, at the age of 15, Joshua created a podcast, eventually christened “Beyond the Brick,” to interview Lego builders. A “builder” is anyone who takes Lego pieces (aka “bricks”) and makes a custom creation with them. “There’s a massive community,” explains Joshua, “but at the time, no one was really getting a behind-the-scene look at how builders were coming up with their ideas and putting them together. And no one was telling the builder’s personal story.”
When Joshua had the opportunity to attend one of the biggest Lego conventions in the world in Chicago, his mom drove him and his older brother John, who tagged along with his video equipment. “We started walking up to builders and asking them how they do what they do, filming their projects and responses,” says John. It birthed their first series of videos, and within a year of starting the podcast, the brothers transitioned Beyond the Brick into a YouTube channel. John’s videography skills allowed Beyond the Brick to showcase the actual work of the builder — from modular castles to life-size sculptures to full-size cars — making YouTube a perfect medium for their storytelling.
Before they knew it, the Hanlons were attending more and more Lego shows, traveling to Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Washington D.C. Meanwhile they were poring over YouTube’s algorithms, trying to figure out how to create better content and to reach more people with their videos. “We didn’t even know we could be popular enough to make any money,” laughs John. “It was just our passion project.”
Two years into their passion project, John enrolled at Grace College. “So many of our family members graduated from Grace,” reports John. (It’s true: their grandfather, Walter Claeys (BA 55, BDiv 60); mom, Christy (Claeys BA 83); and older brother, Nicholas (BA 14), and sister-in-law, Lindsey (Herron BA 14). Plus their younger sister, Nicole, is set to graduate this May.)
Additionally, since Indiana was already home to John and Grace College offered the communications and journalism majors he was interested in, John knew it was the place for him. “The three-year degree was a huge factor for both of us as well,” cites John. Joshua followed in his brother’s footsteps two years later, and both graduated from the accelerated program.
While attending Grace, John worked part-time as a journalist at WNDU television in South Bend. After graduating in 2015, he moved to Indianapolis for a job at WISH-TV. By day he put to use his communication and journalism skills for the news stations, and by night he worked on Beyond the Brick, editing and releasing as many videos as he could.
By the end of 2016, the Hanlons were publishing at least one video every day, seven days a week. “One of the ways YouTube’s algorithm works is by rewarding you for the amount of content you put out. Releasing content consistently is really important,” explains Joshua. Beyond the Brick’s four-to-six minute-long videos were garnering more and more followers, and from 2016 to 2017, its subscribers doubled from 100,0000 to 200,000.
After Joshua graduated from Grace with a history degree in May 2017, John resigned from his broadcasting job, and both brothers began working full time on Beyond the Brick. “YouTube’s ad revenue supports us both,” says John. You’ll see YouTube’s ad at the start of each Beyond the Brick video. “YouTube takes half the revenue they pull from advertising, and we get the rest,” he explains. “And it all depends on how long somebody watches the video, how many views it gets. YouTube does all the work with the advertisers; we just provide the videos.”
Besides getting to do what they love full time, one of the greatest perks of the job is the amount of traveling they do. Lego conventions happen all over the world, and the Hanlons go to as many as they can, amassing content for their channel.
“We travel about half of the year,” says John. In 2017 the brothers visited 14 U.S. states and spent two months in Europe. This year, they’ll return to Europe and also visit Asia.
“We meet these fascinating people from all over the world and get to find out what inspires them and their creative process,” says Joshua. The guys are really proud of the content they publish too. “We try to create content to inspire people to use their imaginations in a decent way. We take this very seriously. We want our videos to bring families together. We’re creating content from a Christian perspective.”
John agrees. “It was the Christian foundation that brought us to Grace in the first place.” They’ve also benefited from the skills they acquired at Grace. While studying history, Joshua saw the value of understanding different points of view and the importance of people’s personal stories. “I have a much better understanding of cultures and an appreciation for them because of Grace,” he says. John grasped the building blocks of news media while at Grace: how to write effective content and work within the various streams of media. “All of those skills play into what I’m doing today,” he says.
The Hanlons are using their global audience and platform (their videos have been viewed in every country in the world) to serve others too. They’ve raised $17,000 for charity through an annual 24-hour live stream event they created and host over Thanksgiving. They chat with Lego builders throughout the 24 hours, and for every hour they’re on the air, various organizations and individuals donate Lego sets, or money to purchase them, for children’s hospitals.
The brothers’ success means they field a lot of questions from others looking to follow in their footsteps. “If you’re passionate about it, do it,” says Joshua. “If you’re enjoying it, others will see your passion and appreciate it.”
When John and Joshua look back on the last seven years of Beyond the Brick, they’re awestruck. “It’s blown our wildest dreams,” says Joshua. “To think that we reach 1.5 million people a week through our videos. We started with no one. It’s a crazy thought,” says John.