What’s standing in between a teenager from Cairo and a 5 million dollar YouTube business?
A bunch of Yeses.
This is the story of Ammar Kandil, co-founder of Yes Theory.
Ammar was born and raised in Egypt until he was 15.
Growing up, because of a form of ADHD, he found it very difficult to read. At 15 however, he got a scholarship to attend a boarding school in South Africa with a rigorous curriculum. Attacking a rigorous curriculum with a learning disability? Not something you’d really want to sign up for.
But what would Ammar say to this opportunity? Something that would get him completely out of his comfort zone?
He said Yes to it. At 15, Ammar chose to move to a different country(one where did not know the local language or even English for that matter) and began to live a completely new life. There he had several diverse experiences. But more importantly, he met people who were just as passionate about chasing their dreams as he was.
When school ended, he decided he wanted to get into the tech industry. Initially, he thought he would go back home and build a tech product. But the Egyptian Revolution was in full swing and entry into the country was almost impossible. However, opportunity came knocking once again.
Or rather, Ammar knocked on opportunity’s door.
He applied to intern at a start-up in the breeding ground of tech-San Francisco. He got in and spent the next few months learning in the Valley. During the internship, he realized that a conventional college education was not for him. There was only one college that he felt would be a good fit for him-Quest University, Canada. He applied and was accepted.
However, tuition to the university was $42,000-which he could not afford. Just as he was ready to give up his chance at higher education, he was nominated and awarded a MasterCard Foundation Scholarship. They footed the entire bill and Ammar went to Uni in Canada for a couple of years.
This was when the trip to Montreal happened.
Meeting the Gang
In the summer of his sophomore year, Ammar got a meeting in NY with a group of investors for his tech product. He wanted to ace the meeting so he thought he would make a working prototype to show them. And so he went to Montreal looking for developers for his app.
One night in the streets of Montreal, as he walking by a building, he heard the sounds of a party in the building’s rooftop. Ammar snuck in and started introducing himself to the different people there.
Everyone he met recommended that he meet one person-Thomas Brag.
Thomas was a Swede who had just finished his education in McGill University, Montreal. In fact, the party was in honor of one of his friends who was going away. Ammar introduced himself to Thomas and the two immediately hit it off. And a couple of days later when Thomas asked Ammar to crash on his couch for the remainder of his trip, Ammar said yes.
Ammar had met Thomas at a very interesting time in his life. Thomas along with his friend from Uni, Matt Dajer were about to embark on a series of weird challenges (30 of them) that they would film and put up on YouTube under the channel name ‘Project 30’. Ammar was immediately intrigued and asked to help the boys film the challenge during his time there.
During the 5 days, the gang danced with strangers, made a painting and sold it to an art gallery, pierced their ears, got themselves invited to a stranger’s wedding and ate bull testicles(yeah, really).
Most importantly, over the course of 5 days, they had become brothers.
The road less travelled
At the end of the fifth day, Ammar was ready to head to NYC to get his start-up funded and begin a new chapter in his life.
Except at 2 AM that night, with his bags packed, tickets in hand, Ammar stood up. And proclaimed to Thomas and Matt that he had had a vision. Ammar shouted out in the middle of the living room that he had an overwhelming feeling that he was supposed to stay. That he was meant to continue building and growing the channel with Ammar and Matt.
And against all rational logic, that’s what he did.
Ammar cancelled his investor meetings and put a pin on his plans of starting the tech product. The day after making this decision, Ammar and the gang were joined by Derin, who would become the final member of Yes Theory. Together, in July 2015, the four of them would put themselves out of their comfort zone for 30 days. And have the best month of their lives together.
Some of the cool things they did?
Create a secret handshake with the Mayor of Montreal
Party backstage at a Music Festival with Milky Chance
Signing John Terry to their fake football team
At the end of the month, they changed their names to ‘Generation Y Not’. However, one month later, the channel only had 2000 subscribers. But the team had decided to quit everything to make their videos the best they possibly could. Even with part-time jobs, it was impossible to make rent.
What would follow was 4 months of pure financial struggle.
On Oct 17th 2015, the team had officially ran out of money. And not just that, Ammar was notified that if he didn’t go back to college, he would lose his scholarship. They were one step away from complete collapse. And they stayed that way for the next two months.
6 months into the Yes Theory journey, however, the team received what they call was “the strangest email that they ever received”.
An email that promised them funds to make the kind of videos they loved making. The email was from a company called Brother. And they were funding them to make content for a little company called SnapChat.
The team put their heart and soul into making vertical format videos for the platform. In fact, for their pilot episode, they went all out and got the Prime Minister of the country to pose with them on their Holiday Greeting Card. 30 days later, Brother extended their contract.
And rented them a place in Venice Beach, California.
For the next year, Ammar and the team made content for both Brother and on YouTube as Yes Theory. These were some of the things they managed to pull off:-
Building 7 houses in 48 hours
Living with Logan Paul for 24 hours
Getting strangers to fly with them above the Oscars
Over the course of the year, the quartet had also distilled their “why”- their reason for doing what they were doing. The point of these challenges was not the challenge itself.
The point of the challenges was to Seek Discomfort.
But why seek discomfort? Because they believe that “life’s most beautiful moments and meaningful connections exist outside our comfort zones.”
Jumping out a helicopter with Will Smith
On 28th Feb, 2018, that they would upload a challenge that would come to be a defining moment for both the channel and Ammar. They challenged Will Smith to bungee jump out of a helicopter with Ammar.
Will Smith said “Yes”.
A few days away from the bungee jump over the Grand Canyon, however, Ammar was hit with the scariest moment of his life. His father, a traditional Egyptian man who had not approved of Ammar’s choice of career from the very day he began in 2015, had given him an ultimatum.
“Quit Yes Theory or you are no longer my son.”, he said. Ammar was heartbroken. He had always considered his father his biggest role model. And to see him ready to reject him as he had, nearly broke him. However at the end of it, after years of saying ‘Yes’ to the important moments in life, Ammar said ‘No.’ And turned down his father.
On 28th September, after months of planning and agonizing, Ammar jumped out of a helicopter over the Grand Canyon with nothing but a bungee cord attached to his legs. Will Smith would join him in the exercise the next day.
Today, Yes Theory has over 6 Million Followers and over 1.8B views. They have a podcast, a fashion brand and have sponsored people from within their community to chase their dreams.
But most importantly, Ammar and the team have inspired millions to adopt a new way of life.
All by saying yes.
What has the Yes Theory Gang been up to lately?
Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news.
The bad news- Matt Dajer is no more a host of the videos themselves. He’s decided to step away as one of the faces of the channel to focus on running its investments and business ventures. He’s also focussing on writing his autobiography- a book that he wishes he had read when he was 18.
The rest of the gang however are still running full force ahead with their content focused on adventure, seeking discomfort and creating connections. In the recent past, some of their most memorable series have been their ‘Spending 24 hours’ series and their ‘Getting Strangers to say Yes’ series.
They have also started their own podcast where they explore how one can go outside their comfort zone and create meaningful change in their lives.