An Unabridged History of Maker Studios


Maker Studios — the YouTube multichannel network founded by– has had almost as sordid and dramatic a history as, say, Snapchat or Facebook. To commemorate Disney’s $950 million acquisition of the company, let’s take a look back at the history of Maker:

Late 2004: Danny Zappin — freshly released from California prison — begins filming videos as ‘Danny Diamond': Using cameras purchased from a part-time job parking cars, he racks up hundreds of thousands of views with such classics as ‘Danny Diamond gets Maced in Face by LAPD.’ Along with his girlfriend, Lisa Donovan — a.k.a. LisaNova — Zappin becomes one of YouTube’s hottest stars, as well as establishing himself as a leader in the video-blogging community. (h/t The Hollywood Reporter)

2005-2008: Carl Shay (a.k.a. ShayCarl), Kassam Gharaibeh (a.k.a. KassemG), and Phil DeFranco (a.k.a. sxephil) all begin to build their own highly-popular YouTube channels.  The YouTube stars — all of whom would eventually co-found Maker Studios with Zappin — have humble backgrounds. Shay, 34 years old, is a former school bus driver; Kassam, 30, worked in retail for ten years and performed standup on the weekends “to crowds of 15 people at Chinese restaurants,” according to the New York Times; DeFranco, 28, dropped out of the University of South Florida, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College and East Carolina University, and lived in his car for a time before moving back in with his father in 2007 (h/t Los Angeles Times).

2009: Zappin and Donovan team up with other YouTube creators to form Maker Studios, with the goal of pooling the talents of A-list video bloggers: Donovan — who would eventually break up with Zappin — goes into $200,000 of personal debt to finance Maker Studios, as the seven-employee company officially launches out of 419 Grand Boulevard,Venice, California, which Upfront Ventures’ Mark Suster describes as ‘small, crappy offices above a taco shop.’ Zappin, serving as CEO, claims a wide variety of YouTube stars “partied or crashed” in the Venice office during the company’s early days.

2009-2012: Maker Studios surpasses 1 billion views, and Hollywood takes notice. The company rockets from a $5 million valuation to a $200 million valuation in two years. Zappin takes on investment from powerhouse financiers like Shari Redstone (daughter of Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone), Elisabeth Murdoch (daughter of News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch), Robert Downey Jr. (Ironman!), and Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures, who later tells The Hollywood Reporter that, “When we funded the company, it was on the condition that he wasn’t going to be CEO. In 2012, Maker moves to a new, 70,000-square-foot Culver City office, with former Myspace Music president and current COO Courtney Holt helping lead the transition.

April 16, 2013: Danny Zappin sends a resignation letter to Maker’s board of directors, requesting severance of stock vesting and six months salary: Zappin had repeatedly clashed with venture capital investors as well as the company’s creators, with YouTube creator Ray William Johnson accusing the company of ‘thuggish negotiation tactics.’ Zappin, for his part, claimed that, “I wasn’t allowed to be the CEO or on the board of directors, because I was a creative.” Ynon Kreiz, the creator of Fox Kids Europe and former chief of Israel TV production company Endemol, is voted into the CEO position.

July 25, 2013: Danny Zappin files a lawsuit against Maker Studios, citing ‘improper actions’ by the board of directors: The lawsuit, still in court, has not stopped Zappin from cashing in on Maker’s continued success. Zappin still owns 20% of Maker, meaning he stands to reap roughly $190 million from the Disney deal. In Oct. 2013, Zappin purchased a controlling stake in NewMediaRockstars — a blog covering digital entertainment.

March 24, 2014: Disney purchases Maker Studios for $500 million, with an extra $450 million potential for performance incentives. The Internet goes wild. The Shaytards celebrate (see the super-cute video at the top of the post). And even our ol’ pal Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures had to admit that ‘it was a good day.’