The McKnights: Family’s YouTube Hair Tutorials Grow Into Major Media Business

The McKnights
Courtesy of The McKnights

The McKnight family is one of our 2016 Famechanger honorees. For more, click here

Meet the family that’s built a small lifestyle media empire out of showcasing adorable braids and other fetching ’dos. In 2008, Utah mom Mindy McKnight started a blog, Cute Girls Hairstyles, to share tips and tricks for how to whip up perfect braids and other coifs for her three young daughters. The following year, she launched a YouTube channel with hairstyle video tutorials — and she instantly found a red-hot niche.

“There’s no manual to being a YouTuber — especially a YouTuber with kids,” says Mindy. “When I started, I was like a grandma; it’s been fun to see how YouTube has aged into my world.”

After Cute Girls Hairstyles took off on YouTube, Mindy’s husband, Shaun, quit his job as director of business development at the nutraceutical company Nature’s Sunshine Products, and the family formed M-Star Media Inc., which today has two part-time employees and a network of 36 contributors and external providers.

In 2013, the couple’s twin daughters, Brooklyn and Bailey (now 16) rolled out their own YouTube vlog focused on fashion and beauty, and the McKnights last year launched two more channels: Millennial Moms, with lifestyle programming created by a team of six creators who get a cut of the channel’s ad revenue; and Squared2, an entertainment channel dedicated to all things twins.

“We call ourselves the first FMN — the ‘family multichannel network,’” says Shaun, 42.

They’re not completely alone in the category; other familial YouTubers include the Bratayleys, whose 13-year-old son, Caleb, died unexpectedly last year, and the seven-member Family Fun Pack.

All told, the McKnights have about 7.5 million subscribers across their four YouTube channels, with Cute Girls Hairstyles still the flagship channel (with 4.4 million). The company also has more than 3 million followers on both Instagram and Facebook.

The Mormon clan — which now has six kids — has been approached by TV networks with opportunities to create a show based on their lives. Not that the McKnights are actually interested in following in the footsteps of, say, “19 Kids and Counting” or “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”

“Our end game isn’t to end up on television,” says Mindy, 37. “It would have to be part of a larger strategy, if we found something that worked.”

The McKnights’ most immediate opportunity is continuing to grow the audience for Millennial Moms. “The motherhood vertical,” says Adam Wescott, partner and cofounder of Select Management Group, which manages the McKnights, “satisfies a huge advertiser need and opens up endless opportunities for original [intellectual property], branded entertainment, and more.” The channel has more than 200,000 subscribers less than a year after launching, and YouTube featured Mindy and Millennial Moms this spring at its Brandcast event for advertisers in NYC.

The McKnights relocated to the Dallas area about three years ago, in no small part because Texas does not levy a business income tax. Shaun says that the family now earns “significantly more” from their digital-media company than he did in his previous job. But “it wasn’t a super-easy decision to leave something so secure for something that could have disappeared in two years,” he says.

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The next initiative for M-Star is to cut licensing deals for Cute Girls Hairstyles-branded merch and products. And the family’s 13-year-old daughter, Kamri, now wants to start her own YouTube channel. The McKnights’ three other children are Rylan, 11; Daxton, 7; and Paisley, 5.

“The best part of what we do is working as a family together — and the worst part is working as a family,” says Mindy, “You have to know when you are a mom, and when are you a clock-puncher.”