Joe Penna

Joe Penna Interview: YouTube’s Mystery Guitar Man

by Nick Scheidies and Nick Tart

Joe Penna grew up on a little-trafficked street in São Paulo, Brazil. When his mother needed help getting more customers to come to her yard sale, Joe used the family computer to design signs that he then posted around town. It was his first taste of business.

When Joe was 12, his family moved to the United States. Joe attended the University of Massachusetts to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, but he eventually dropped out to follow his passion for video.

After bouncing around working on local commercials and music videos in Boston, Joe decided to pack his bags for Los Angeles to start making YouTube videos full-time. His channel, called Mystery Guitar Man, features a new video every Tuesday and Thursday, usually combining Joe’s love for music with unconventional video editing and black sunglasses.

Since getting started in June 2006, Mystery Guitar Man has amassed almost over 1.4 million subscribers and over 76 million over 150 million total views – making it the 13th 6th most subscribed channel on YouTube.

He has since launched a second channel, called jp. His videos, like ‘Guitar: Impossible’ and ‘Root Beer Mozart’, have won various awards and have been featured on television programs around the world. He recently directed his first nationally televised commercial, for McDonald’s and Coke. Joe just turned 23 years old.

The following is a short excerpt from 50 Interviews: Young Entrepreneurs (Volume 1).

Our Exclusive Interview with Joe Penna

This is actual footage from the real Mystery Guitar Man that only him and us have access to, until now!

Enhanced Transcript

Joe on Being Young

It’s tough for people to take you seriously when you’re young. They don’t see it as any kind of prejudice, but I think it is a prejudice. You are looking down on somebody just because they’re young.

Young and inexperienced go together in a lot of people’s minds, but that’s not the case in the way I see it. I think people can be quite experienced or at least talented at a young age.

We young people have a lot of stamina. We can make videos until six in the morning like I have sometimes. So that’s definitely a plus.

Joe on Dropping out of Medical School (Bonus)

College just wasn’t working out for me, because I had picked the wrong thing.

But when I first quit, the only people who said that it was a good idea were my parents. I was like, “I want to do this crazy, creative thing and eventually I want to do YouTube full-time.” My parents were like, “Give it a try. If it doesn’t work out in a year, reconsider your options. But you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t give it a try.”

At the time, I was making $900 a month off of YouTube with $850 in rent. So sometimes it was like, “Do I pay Chase credit card this month? Or do I pay for Ramen noodles?”

Joe on His Parents

Yeah, they are super proud of me. My dad knows more about my YouTube than I do. He calls me sometimes. Once he called me at three in the morning. He’s like, “Joe! There’s a bad comment on one of your videos. Go delete it right now.” I’m like, “Dad, it’s three in the morning. I can delete it in the morning.” He calls me every time, “Hey, you’re 13 now! I’ve done the math; it’s so many days until you’re 12.” I’m like, “That’s great. Thanks dad.” So, yeah, my dad’s really supportive.

My mom sends everything that I do: books, CNN, interviews, every single link. She spams it out to all of her family members. So, yeah, they’re super supportive of what I do.

Joe on Inspiration

For my YouTube videos, I take inspiration from everywhere in life. I see things around and I’m like, “Oh! These cool glasses. What can I do with these glasses? Juice bottle! What can I do with this juice bottle?” I’m not trying to sell anything. Buy a bunch of mini-joes, paste them up on the wall, and then do a video like that.

I’m constantly thinking of new ideas, different things that I can do.

Joe on Doing What You Love

If you’re not doing what you love to do, at least give it a chance. I gave myself a year to try YouTube out, and it worked out for me. Give it time, too. Don’t be like, “This isn’t working out. I’ve been trying it for a week. I’m going to try something else.” Give it some time.

I tried it for a year and it worked out. If you think that you’re going to love something, give it a try. You’re going to kick yourself in the butt for the rest of your life if you don’t.

Mystery Guitar Man here, guys. Thanks for watching my video!

My Personal Favorite MGM Video

Paper Mosaic

This is how you build a community. So cool!

Oh, by the way…

Here’s the “Making of” the commercial for McDonald’s and Coke that Joe directed:

This is an abridged version from Joe’s interview in our latest project, 50 Interviews: Young Entrepreneurs. We discovered Mystery Guitar Man about three months ago and he was sitting at about 650,000 subscribers. A few days ago, he surpassed 1 million! Since we conducted the interview less than a month ago, he jumped from 13th to 11th most subscribed. Brilliant marketing. Check him out on YouTube and Facebook.

Joe Penna’s Top Quotes

“Every single person I know who is successful at what they do is successful because they love doing it.”

“If you think that you are going to love something, give it a try. You’re going to kick yourself in the butt for the rest of your life if you don’t.”

Want even more inspiration?

40 Entrepreneurship Quotes You've Never HeardDon’t miss 38 more inspirational quotes from crazy-young entrepreneurs like Joe:
40 Entrepreneurship Quotes You’ve Never Heard >>