116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MOUNT PLEASANT — When Kaleb Wyse started the Gray Boxwood in 2012, blogging and creating YouTube videos was an escape after his day job in accounting.
After a few years, he refined his voice and his format in the website and channel that became Wyse Guide — a play on words using his own name to make a practical guide for cooking, gardening and more. By the time The Gazette caught up with him last year, he had accumulated 100,000 subscribers on YouTube and 90,000 followers on Instagram.
Even after that measured success, he had no idea what compelled his viewers to keep watching. He was raised Mennonite on the same land he gardens today, and it seems viewers found comfort in a reassuring but self-deprecating voice that brought new life to tired lifestyle magazine topics with elements of relatability in every video.
“I simplify them for people,” Wyse told The Gazette in July 2021. “For canning, we picture a grandma over a really hot stove that is steaming, and it has a pressure canner that you’re scared is going to blow off the lid.”
So instead, he showed his audience — much of which is urbanites who yearned for a return to simplicity amid the anxieties of the pandemic — how to can three jars of pickled cauliflower instead of 50 quarts of green beans. From a kitchen or dining room decked in farmhouse chic themes, his brand found success by modernizing nostalgic things with a practical application and fun presentation.
“It takes you a long time to figure out what is your voice, what is your presence. It took me a long time to be comfortable with that,” said Wyse, 33. “We all have filters on ourselves.”
Now, his hobby has become his dream job.
What’s happened since
In December, Wyse quit his day job in landscape design to pursue content creation for his website and social media channels full time. The move came after much anticipation with Wyse Guide, which dominated his free time for months.
In the last year, followings bolstered by the pandemic grew exponentially. Now, Wyse has over 562,000 followers on Facebook, 228,000 on Instagram and 229,000 subscribers on YouTube.
“During the pandemic, a lot of people were looking for an outlet — country life, learning a new craft,” Wyse said in a recent interview. “A lot of that fell into the category of things I was sharing about. It became this perfect storm of people gravitating toward something they didn’t know they needed.”
With monetized social media channels, content production for Wyse and co-creator Joel Kratzer takes 40 to 60 hours each week with preparation, recipe testing, recording, editing and content management on the multiple channels.
As the components of Wyse’s personality come more into focus as the ingredients of his success, the product of his work life has, ironically, become more elusive — one of the biggest challenges of his new job.
“You don’t have this tangible product you’re selling, so you don’t have this daily life of inventory, overhead, a balance sheet — normal markers of what a business does,” Wyse said. “So you’re in this weird state of not having anything tangible to bank on other than people finding and liking you.”
With his personality serving as the prime commodity, the home and garden guru said being a content creator creates constant expectations — meaning the best of his personality is served on camera. While manual labor can take a toll on the body, being the star of content can wear mentally and emotionally.
Off camera, he takes time to recover and recalibrate his energy after daily performances that rely on his personality.
“Being on social media as a content creator is a constant daily check of who you are — your confidence, knowing what you’re doing, your personality,” he said. “You have to have this fine line of being serious and knowledgeable and confident enough that people take what you say seriously, but being a friend enough that people want to sit and listen to you.”
At the core of his product, that balance produces a lasting relationships between the creator and viewers who may never see him in person.
Wyse's route is less conventional compared to some who find themselves working on social media full time. With slow, organic growth over 10 years, Wyse has declined the vast majority of sponsorship offers that many content creators rely on for substantial income, giving him freedom to create content unfettered by external influences.
With three full-length videos running between seven and 20 minutes per day and a mix of short-form videos, Wyse Guide’s revenue comes solely from ads on a per-click basis. With a change in algorithms, evolving with short-form videos has become more critical to stay in social media feeds on platforms such as Instagram and TikTok that now value bites of content more than full plates of it.
“Every day, when I would have a normal job, I’d be thinking about all the things I needed to do when I got home,” Wyse said. “Now, I just think of all the things I’m going to do. I don’t have this eight-hour thing to do before I get to do the things I want to do today.”
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