He Bought a Ghost Town

Brent Underwood had a business idea: buy an abandoned town and turn it into a tourist destination.

It didn’t work. Mostly because he tried running it remotely.

Then he moved in. He started looking around, diving into old mines, and finding old treasures.

He shot video of what he saw and of his renovations. That got hugely popular on social media, helped him raise money and allowed him to fund his project. It’s all in his book, Ghost Town Living, and in this interview.


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Brent Underwood

Brent Underwood

Cerro Gordo

Brent Underwood is the founder of Cerro Gordo, an ambitious project aimed at reviving a historic ghost town into a tourist attraction and real estate opportunity. Outside of his entrepreneurial endeavors, Brent has a passion for history, hospitality, and the unique storytelling of the American West, all of which play a central role in his current venture.


Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, Freedom Fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.

Joining me as someone who doesn’t seem much, very entrepreneurial these days. And I don’t see what the business is. His name is Brent Underwood. He and I met when he came to a Scotch Night that I did in Austin years ago. And a few of my friends had invested in this idea that he had, which was to buy Ghost Town and turn it into some kind of tourist destination.

And I remember asking Nathan Barry, the founder of ConvertKit, what the hell are you doing with this? You’re a digital guy, a creator guy. He said, you know, Ryan Holiday and a few other of my friends are investing, and this is my opportunity to learn about real estate. And I thought, okay, this is smart.

I asked, Brent Underwood, the guy who bought this ghost town, how far away is it from civilization? He said, it’s not too far, just a few hours away from LA. And I thought, this is great. And at some point he popped up on my YouTube account and I watched him. In this freakin’ middle of nowhere ghost town, building it up, and I thought, Great!

I’m gonna see this guy build a real estate business from nowhere! Who wouldn’t want to stay in a ghost town and get away from LA? Eventually, all I saw was not building a real estate empire, but this dude going into such scary situations that because I know you, Brent, I literally, I swear, this is not me just hyping it, I couldn’t freakin’ watch it.

I couldn’t watch you go into another one of these mines and potentially die for what I think is maybe some internet fame. So here’s the deal. The reason I’m doing this interview is not so much because there’s a business here, but I want to understand what potentially the business could be, but also because I have to be honest, I’m going through my own, what’s exciting me, what do I want to do next with my life?

And as much as I think that Brent, you’re a bit of a freak here. I’m in awe of how much. You’ve done, and maybe in your freakiness, there’s an opportunity for me to find the next thing for me. And I should say, since the reason you’re here is to promote your book, you got a book about your experiences called Ghost Town Living.

And my sponsor is Gusto, but I’ll talk about Gusto later. Sorry for the long intro. Tell me this, why didn’t it ever turn into a real estate empire and a ghost town?

Brent: Yeah. We’re still working on it. I would say.

Andrew: Literally, you really do want to get to that. It’s not like you’ve become a self indulgent TikToker.

Brent: No. I’m looking at the window right now and I’m looking at a hotel that we’re putting the plumbing in at the moment. And we hope to welcome up our first guest this year. I think that the road to there has been very bumpy, from the very beginning, like you said, the idea was overnight visitors.

So we’d throw up some cabins, we’d have some campsites, people would come, enjoy the day. It’s a very unique place. the history here is what I think got all of us excited about it, back to your why, like why do people get involved? Whether it was Nathan, Ryan, myself, whoever, we were primarily people that worked online, people that built projects that are almost intangible. yes, they were big, yes, whatever, but you couldn’t touch them. the idea of building something real, something that you could go, you could touch.

It had a longevity to it. This is a project that obviously has been here for 150 years already and hopefully will be here for another 150 years. that was the allure of it. the romanticism of the American West is not lost. I don’t think on many people, Westerns, everything like that, the American West holds this within your heart.

Growing up, my grandfather lived with me. And so he used to watch Gunsmoke And he got dementia eventually. So he just watched the same episode literally like a hundred times in a row. I’ve always had a love of hospitality.

I had a love of history. I had a love of the American West and I was working at the time in digital marketing with authors, you know, storytelling. So this just seemed like the place to do all of that in.

Andrew: From my understanding, you are the top marketer within our community of writers. my understanding was Ryan Holiday worked with you to help market both the book that he had published and the ones that he was working on, right?

Brent: Yeah, my day job was just book marketing, non fiction authors primarily. A lot of people that you’ll know, Ryan, Robert Greene, Tim Ferriss, the list goes on and on. I got into that though, through Ryan, just to be very clear, Ryan and I met each other maybe 12 years ago in New York.

He was working on Trust Me, I’m Lying, his first book. him and I connected through that. at the end of that book, launched a company. And then, worked within that company our bread and butter was just marketing books. at the end of the day though, My degrees were in real estate and finance.

I went to undergraduate. I got a finance degree. I got a master’s degree in real estate development. I thought that was going to be my thing, for the longest time. And I worked at an investment bank in New York for a month and I just hated it. It was miserable.

My parents were teachers. So the idea of getting a higher education was very important. So I got that higher education and then I realized that I got paid for something that I just absolutely hated. I found my way back to writing and marketing with Ryan. Robert Greene said mastery comes when you’re able to combine your skills in a way that nobody else can.

My background was real estate, finance, storytelling, marketing, authors. to be able to combine those on a piece of property here, to get back to your original question, yes, the idea is still hospitality here, but since the pandemic, it’s blossomed into so much more.

Andrew: Why don’t you give some numbers so that people don’t think that I’m just talking to a dude with a YouTube channel, how many people are watching? Have you made money with these YouTube channels?

Brent: There’s about 2 million people that follow on YouTube. There’s over 3 million people that watch on Tik Tok and total views is probably like 500 million views. I would say a quarter of which are unique. So a few hundred million people have seen this property in one way or the other, which is just mind blowing to me.

The financials are best on YouTube. Let’s say a brand integration. If this week is sponsored or that, that’s what pays a lot of the bills. TikTok is negligible. Nothing really there. but except for exposure and stuff like that. And so right now, until we can get the hospitality element online, the content’s kind of floating the bill.

Andrew: How much money are you making from social media from ads? I guess you also have a t shirt and merch sales, right? can you break down the revenue? Give me a sense of where it is.

Brent: On a good month, let’s say I have a two ad integrations or something like that. And the YouTube might pull in close to 30, if you add in that sense, 30.

Andrew: 30,000. Okay.

Brent: So then the merch might be, five, that’s the day to day, which is enough to keep projects moving for sure. Building up here is very expensive. we’re typically in the red a little bit. in full transparency, I have to kick in money for my day job. I still work the job with Ryan.

Andrew: You are still promoting books while you’re living there?

Brent: Yeah. the coming out with Ryan is more into The Daily Stoic, which you may be familiar with. The Daily Stoic now is my day job is just managing a lot of parts of that, which goes from the podcast and down. I’ve still worked that job every single day since I’ve been up here, which is wild to think about.

And so there’s three jobs. The job that pays the bills, which is the job with Ryan. Then there’s the job that kind of helps pay a little bit more bills, which is the social media stuff. Then there’s just the managing of a town that has a dozen construction projects going on at any one time.

Andrew: Is the construction money coming from social media, from the YouTube revenue? It is.

Brent: Yes, it is.

Andrew: It’s not coming from the investors or anything. Okay.

Brent: That was an initial purchasing. I think sometimes people get that confused where. They misconstrue that investors are going to continuously put in money. They’re not, they can, but at the end of the day, mine was more just to purchase it.

It wasn’t an ongoing funding event. money right now is coming from the social media, which is cool. Social media can get a bad rap, but right now, the channel is literally rebuilding a historic town from scratch,

Andrew: People who are watching, waiting to get to be there talking about it. Okay. now that we’ve got a sense of how big this is and where it’s going… Let’s just introduce you a little bit. The thing that I think shows your marketing chops is you wrote a book called, Putting My Foot Down with your naked freaking foot on the cover, right?

Brent: When I was working in book marketing, the term bestselling author gets thrown on a lot, everybody it seems is a bestselling author. What I learned is they weren’t talking about the New York Times. The New York Times list is very hard to get on, right?

So every week the New York Times pulls all these independent bookstores and they compile a list. These are the, let’s say 12 books in the country. that holds a lot of stature in the American public. And then what happened is as Amazon came onto the scene and Amazon became the dog in the arena,

If you topped out an Amazon category for an hour, it would put number one bestseller on the top. But the difference is that Amazon has literally thousands of categories. you can pick a very obscure category, tree photography or something. And if you top out that category for an hour, you’re the number one bestseller.

I saw a lot of marketers selling these packages that were called guaranteed bestseller. And it rubbed me the wrong way because they were charging sometimes five, 10, 000 for these packages to these authors who desired that credibility of being a bestseller, but really what they were doing is they were just putting a book in an obscure category, selling it for 99 cents, and then topping out the category for four book sales and just ripping these people off.

I wrote an article, it was called, Putting My Foot Down was the name of the book. I wanted nobody to have to say that the credibility of the book is what made it sell. I didn’t want any words in it at all. I just took a photo of my foot. Uploaded it, put it on Amazon. I chose free masonry studies, just to make a very obscure category.

Three book sales is the number one bestseller. And so I wrote an article about this for the New York Observer. It took off, got a lot of media attention, especially in the book world, like the authors finally, somebody is showing how the sausage is made a little bit, which I think is sometimes the most viral way to do things.

Amazon took down the book. Eventually, they said it wasn’t a book. I came back and I put all the press into pages of a book and then Thought Catalog published it as another quote unquote book. That got another wave of press. Amazon, wrote to the Toronto Star that they’re changing their algorithm because of it. I don’t think they have, but that was something that happened at the end of it. It’s pretty wild.

Andrew: I think we’ve all kind of gotten burned out on hearing. People say that they’re bestselling authors and it’s really on an Amazon category that none of us care about. the thing that I liked about you was you got so much attention for it. When I met Ryan Holiday, this is the kind of thing he was especially good at.

I think he’s now matured beyond this and he doesn’t want to touch this type of thing anymore to avoid the reputation that comes from that. It’s just incredible this is the ability that you have to not just say there’s a problem, not just write about it, but illustrate it and then get attention for it.

Anyway, this is what you did. So you get a text message from a friend, I think it is, who says there’s this ghost town, one of many different properties that you just randomly were looking at. How much was it going for?

Brent: Yeah, the title is Buy Your Own Town for Under a Million Dollars, great title, for an article. My friend texted me as a joke. the town at the time was on sale for 925, 000. I think it was the listing price. And he said it as a joke. He was like, listen, this might be your next thing.

Ha ha. I was running a bed and breakfast in Austin, so I actually had a hospitality thing going and that was going well and I really enjoyed it. And that was in a Victorian building in Austin. It was on Cesar Chavez, it was from 1890 and it was this beautiful building.

And so this idea of combining history and hospitality was already brewing in my head. what could I do next? And I was looking at hotels in upstate New York, in the Catskills, all those dirty dancing old hotels that were for sale. I thought maybe that was going to be the play.

When this came up, I read about it. this is it for sure. It immediately brought back all those memories of gun smoke, all those memories of my grandfather. I called the broker.

I was like, Hey, I’d love to put an offer. And he was just dude, get in line. there’s so many offers. so it turned into a bidding war, which is pretty crazy, for the town with no running water in the middle of nowhere. And the price ended up getting to. 1. 4 was the closing price.

It was a 1. 4 million at the end and I didn’t have nearly that much money to be fortunate. I don’t even close. more than half of 800, 000 was a hard money loan, which is basically a loan shark,

Andrew: Wait, how do you get a loan shark type loan for, for real estate? Yeah,

Brent: I could secure it with my property in Austin, that was worth a lot of money at that point.

Cause Austin had been blowing up. pushing all the chips in, take all my money out of the account, collateralize it with a property in Austin. We closed on it, July 13th, Friday the 13th of 2018, originally thinking, we can do it from afar.

We could try to fly in and do some stuff. And then I think for a while we did what, I always call it like playing business. we created spreadsheets and pitch decks and we create waiting for everything to be perfect. We created our Twitter accounts and all this crap that wasn’t really doing anything.

Pandemic hit March, 2020. I needed to socially distance my bed and breakfast in Austin got shut down because of the pandemic, they don’t want people sharing rooms. And so I flew out here. I thought I’d be here for a couple of weeks, and now it is four years and I still live here.

I don’t have a place in Austin anymore. I don’t have the real estate in Austin. I have nothing. I, this is it. This is all in on Cerro Gordo.

Andrew: I’m someone who hated anything in the physical world. I thought, what’s the point? Let’s just do it all digital, right? You can grow exponentially digitally, and then you could put it away if you need to. And then I also moved to Austin. I would have moved here sooner, but my wife really loves San Francisco.

And when I got here. Found a love for working with my hands for moving stuff. Literally earlier today, freaking goats escaped from the fence and I love that. I got to go in and wrangle them. Now I don’t have a, I don’t have a lasso or anything. I went and I got an electric wire and I tried to grab them that way.

And then eventually, they were so freaked out that they escaped. They were willing to go back in if I could coax them in, but that’s a fun adventure that I’d love to spend my whole day on. I totally understand that.

Brent: Working primarily online, there’s something beautiful about to your point, doing things with your hand, it’s just like tactile. for me, it helps me think of either one better. I still have the dot, the day job that’s online, but when I’m out working on the property here. I think about the ideas for the day job and vice versa. I love the balance that I’ve been able to strike by like keeping the day job and working on this.

Andrew: I don’t know if you know, Nomadic Matt. He’s this guy who’s been writing about traveling all over. You do know him, right? Because he’s been here in Austin also. bought a, what was it? A hostel. And I remember seeing him as he was unwinding that. The dude was so freaking burned out on this thing that you had to own and take care of.

And one of my concerns was always that It’s fun to live offline because I could, get back online and have things organized in spreadsheets and notion docs. And why wasn’t it a pain in the ass for you to have that place in Austin? What was it that worked for you?

Brent: It’s a fun story. we’re actually talking about the exact same place. Matt was an investor in my place in Austin.

Andrew: Oh, okay. So for him, I thought he hated it. He looked so freaking worn out by the end of it.

Brent: If you’re used to building businesses online, physical properties can be significantly more difficult just because there’s maintenance, pipes will break. It’s a pain in the ass. But for me, I really enjoy the idea of spaces, where people can congregate physical spaces.

I think digital spaces are beautiful, but the idea of having a physical space where people can exchange laughs and things like that has always been a part of me since I did a lot of traveling after I went to college too. I stayed in a lot of hostels around the world and that idea of bumping into somebody and creating a lifelong friend just seemed beautiful to me.

And that’s what led to the hostel in Austin with Matt. a larger version of that is Cerro Gordo and way, way harder to be fully honest, I think I was looking for that difficulty. a pushback against the comfortable life, like in Austin.

I had a nice apartment, I had a nice job. I had friends, but I always thought that there was something more that there could be like, what could I really be capable of if I really tried to test myself? This tested myself times a million, but I think there was a desire for a more strenuous life, something that was a little bit hard, which it might go against some people’s idea.

I do think that. At least within some of my friends that were in Austin, they’re looking for the same thing. I think that’s why people fetishize Navy SEAL training. tough matters are so important. we want something to be hard in a life that’s increasingly easy.

To be honest, I think that we’re looking for that thing. for me, I wanted that. I don’t think that you need to jump into an abandoned ghost town to do that. that’s probably a bad idea actually, but I do think there’s this desire to have a little less comfort and try the rough edges around the outside.

Andrew: One of the people who I had interviewed years ago ended up in Australia with a brewery. I guess he had the same thing, but what he didn’t do that you did do was he didn’t bring a lot of his online experience to it. He almost wanted to throw away his online success and just go offline and start fresh.

When you were thinking of Cerro Gordo, did you think I’m going to bring my online marketing, the way that I sell books, the way that I can bring people’s attention. I’m going to do it here before COVID.

Brent: We thought I could utilize my skills to bring attention to the hospitality. this sounds very dumb and righteous. there’s never an idea to start. YouTube channel or anything like that, that was a function of just being bored during the pandemic.

Some people started baking bread, some people started doing different hobbies. I actually took one of the cameras that was from the Daily Stoic and I wanted to learn how to do the astrophotography, the long exposure of stars. I thought that’d be very cool to learn.

But then also I knew that it was an interesting experience being up here. So I started filming it I’ve always been the guy behind the guy. Almost. I’ve always been supporting different people in their projects. And so it was very uncomfortable for me to put out my first few videos, but I was very excited to have a creative outlet for the first time.

I wasn’t writing my own stuff. I didn’t have a podcast. I didn’t have anything. the ability to creatively put together a story and a video was very fun for me. It wasn’t intentional, which looking back, it seems so obvious now being here, it was more a function of just being here during the pandemic and being bored, basically.

Andrew: So I remember when I saw the first video of you getting there, I go, this guy doesn’t have water. He’s basically trapped. I could be wrong. This is my memory of it was have food for two days. And I’m going to be here for four days or something like that, right? But you didn’t look scared and you don’t strike me as a dumb guy who’s just like walking into things. Do you just not express your fear or what are you doing?

Brent: Yeah, I definitely came unprepared. I came in a couple of days of food. I got a snow storm when I got up here and I just got trapped for a while. again, I was looking for that type of adventure. there was something in me that wasn’t being satisfied with the life in Austin.

I was looking for A different experience, something to test me again. the first week being here, I got snowed in. I had to eat old canned goods from the different cabins around just to get by for the first couple of days. And I was like, Oh, cool. This is the adventure.

Andrew: Man, this is the call of the wild I’m in it now. I’m in a snow storm. There’s no power. The cell service got knocked out. And I think that during the pandemic was an interesting time because the loneliness factor that maybe people could consider wasn’t necessarily there in the pandemic, because I felt everybody was lonely during the pandemic, people were socially distancing in their own way.

Brent: So the idea that my friends were all hanging out in Austin together wasn’t occurring to me because they weren’t, and so I think it was a perfect entry point into the experience of being up here.

Andrew: It did feel like one of those types of books. That author. Krakow, John Krakow, he would write books about people like that who would just go into the wilderness and enjoy it. The thing that I do like about your book, about Ghost Town Living, is that you’re similar where you’re just going into nature and seeing what happens. For me, it helps that there’s a sense of a project that you’re finishing that will outlive your own experience. A lot of people who go rock climbing and mountaineering and disappearing to the wilderness are doing it for, This ephemeral experience that no one else will have except in their book. And it’s nice.

I’m one of those types of readers, but I would love at the end of that kind of work to look back and see that there are people in a town and they’re experiencing a meal together and they’re disconnecting and sharing stories of what I did and all that,

Brent: Yeah. I think it stemmed from the same place. the story of Christopher McCandless, the guy that went to Alaska and went off in the wilderness, and then died in the bus or whatever. I think there was a similar urge that drove me here, but he was going out there to find himself and that was the period, end of the sentence and out here I was doing the same thing, but

I was building something real, I wanted to set up something that could last for a long time. I love those stories too. I resonate with them pretty deeply, but I do think that here it’s nice that there is like a tangible physical space that people can come and tap into that same type of emotion that brought me here.

Every day. We’re open nine to five. You wouldn’t come up here, get inspiration from the mountains. I’m looking out the window often here. cause I can see Mount Whitney out my window, which is stunningly beautiful right now. And so people can come every day. It’s more of a shared thing, more than a very solo thing, that I’m keeping to myself. You saw in that book and stuff like that.

Andrew: And what are they doing when they’re there? Are they camping out? Are they just walking around, buying stuff and going home?

Brent: Right now people are just looking around. I created a museum here from the artifacts. I explore there’s 30 miles of mines underneath the town, which is crazy. And so I go in the mines a lot and I created a museum. So people are. Coming to the museum, they’re looking at the old different buildings.

We’ve created a couple of libraries. I built a library in an abandoned mine here, which is fun. And then we built another library. So right now they’re doing that. long term I’d love for the overnight accommodation to come online. So we’re finishing the hotel. The hotel will have only seven rooms.

It’s pretty small, but it’ll have a bar and restaurants. People can come have lunch, have a drink, relax, look around for the day. And then long term, hopefully we’ll have camping as well and stuff like that.

Andrew: So spreadsheet wise, if you have seven rooms. What’s the occupancy rate? And then what kind of revenue can you produce from that?

Brent: It’s tough. The ADR, how much we could charge for night is still a little bit up in the air. I do think that we’ll not be open a certain number of months a year. The winters here can be pretty tough. I think for the certain type of adventure, they might like being here during a blizzard, but for the general public, they will not want to be here during the blizzard.

So we’ll probably shutter it for two or three months out of the year, just to keep it like that. I think that during the winter, I don’t think I’ll ever be necessarily the moneymaker if we want to get back into the business of it. I think the hotel, even if it’s a loss leader needs to exist for that central meeting point for people to come

Hopefully will do okay with the rooms and the bar and the restaurant. but I think the long term, if there is a larger business opportunity in the town, I think it’s the brand, if we were to, let’s say, Okay. Launch like a whiskey brand, for instance, or something like that, where it’s like almost like a separate but related company.

That’s much more scalable. Again, if we go back to that, then seven rooms in a hotel, if we can get a consumer product going, whether it’s a whiskey or a candle even, or a clothing line or whatever it is, that’s where I see the more time I spent up here. That’s where I see the actual business going is more towards some type of consumer good.

Andrew: Could see that. I’m a little disappointed that it wouldn’t be this big getaway that people would come and do stuff. But I get your point about that. yeah, I keep thinking about what kind of activities could people do once they get there. And there’s not much, right? It’s not like you can have a bunch of horses that are.

Brent: I would say there’s a couple of things the property is 400 acres and it’s surrounded by Bureau of Land Management land, so it’s open to the public and so we have thousands of acres and we’re six miles from Death Valley National Park and we’re six miles from Mount Whitney and Mount Whitney has the Pacific Crest Trail at it, which is a huge hiking trail, it’s where Cheryl Strayed wrote Wild About, and we’ve developed a number of hiking trails around here, it’s Hiking, adventuring, we will probably get mules and do you can do a little horse or mule ride to a sunset spot and do a beautiful vista.

There’s a movie theater here. you’ll be able to go see the movies, in the hotel we’ll have music and stuff like that. It’s like a great two to three day break out of your shell, go something really weird. Be like, Oh man, I stayed in this town from the 1800s back in there.

The idea here, we actually just had a conversation with, Polaris too, about renting out there, razors or UTVs and stuff like that. So people could take them into Death Valley, browse around and see this and stuff. for me, I’ve been up here four years.

I’m never bored. I think that there’s plenty to do for the right type of person. Is it for every person? I don’t, I definitely not. it’s pretty remote. It’s pretty Rough and rugged at the moment. And so I think though with only seven rooms, we’ll get seven people here. Most nights that really want to have a good time. I hope

Andrew: I should say this interview is sponsored by Gusto. If you’re paying people and I got to tell you too, Brent, you don’t even have a staff, do you?

Brent: We have a staff of one right now. Yes. I have one, one employee up here.

Andrew: Are you paying them using Gusto? How are you paying them? what’s the payment management software using? Okay. At some point, you’re going to be fed up with sending them a 1099 or W2 using QuickBooks, and you’re going to go, this is so frustrating. I hate this. It’s gotta be a better way. Here’s what I’m going to suggest.

Remember this URL in the back of your head. At some point, you’re going to crave a solution and this will just pop in your head and go, let me see if Andrew is full of shit or if it’s real. You’re going to go to gusto. com slash Mixergy. You’re going to see that it’s free to play around.

So even though this is. employee benefits software. You don’t have to feel like you’re committed into this if you look around and it doesn’t make sense, but you’re going to look around and you’re going to say, this is beautiful. This just makes sense. I see the logic behind this. I can’t believe a bigger company could do this.

What the hell? Let’s try it. And if not, I have Andrew’s phone number. I’m going to kick his ass for telling me wrong. But you’re going to love it and you’re going to thank me and everyone else out there who’s looking to pay people properly. I urge you to go to gusto. com slash Mixergy. End the shenanigans.

All the other software stinks. I’ve tried it all, including QuickBooks. Gusto. com slash Mixergy is what I keep coming back to. You know what struck me about your book, dude? You started off by saying all of these people who are in the mines, they were my age, our age. I always think of them as these older men.

Or these younger kids that we took advantage of were in the mines, but it’s not. They’re basically people your age who are going in there and that brought it home to me. Okay, this is, we are the generation that’s old, that’s adults now. And then you freakin’ go into, they died in these mines.

What is this guy, Brent, smart guy doing going into not just the mines that some people would have died into when they were at their height and protected. But when they’re abandoned, why are you doing this?

Brent: The mines are dangerous. there’s mining collapses. There’s still 30 miners that are in the mine from a mining collapse from the 1870. They’re still there. They’re never able to get them out because so much material fell on top of them. But for me, it’s it’s context.

I think that when you understand the context of what we were doing, whether it’s your profession or the hometown you live in, everything becomes a little bit brighter. It was a little more exciting. for example. Let’s say you live somewhere and you walk by a park every single day for 10 years.

And then the day you decide to go home and look up the history of that park, the park’s going to mean a lot more to you the next time you walk by it. And so if you do that, over time, your whole world just comes to life a little bit more and you feel almost like part of a lineage. You feel part of something larger than you.

And so for me, if I go into the mines, every building above ground only exists because of the mines below ground. to understand my importance here, I need to go underground. I’ve always had that completionist tendency. I remember I went to grad school in New York city and I used to put a map of Manhattan on my wall.

I had made this goal of first year school to walk every street in Manhattan. So I’d go and highlight the street at the end of the day, I’d walk all of Manhattan. I think that brought a richness to my time in New York that didn’t exist otherwise.

And so here. If I was going to become this historian, this was going to be my project of love, all products. My one, I’d look around for my life. I had to understand the history.  The history isn’t very well told down in the mines. I would say that’s my main reason. but again, I think JP Morgan said, there’s always the reason and the real reason.

I think the reason that I give is that I need to understand the history here because I do need to understand it. But the real reason is it’s I don’t know, it’s exciting, why do people jump out of planes? Why do people go, rock climbing? Just for me, It gives me that flow state where nothing else in the world exists other than being in the mine.

My anxiety is about, Oh, today I need to do X, Y, and Z. Those drop away because you literally have to focus on is not dying. I’m always just in the mines and I enjoy that feeling of not having to worry about everything else. For a little bit,

Andrew: Have to say, I can’t relate to that. But if you listen to past episodes of my podcast, you’d see that I would dismiss it. Now I can’t relate, but I’m just going to sit with it. I almost would have felt better if you said to me, Andrew, that’s where the views are. You can’t tell a story without showing the story.

I would have related to that and in many ways, respected it more. But now I just have to sit with what you’ve said and see maybe there’s something here. What does Ryan say about this? Ryan is Ryan Holiday. He strikes me as the most serious person ever. Like I imagine him being a too serious four year old.

Does he look at this and say, you’re wasting your time or does he see the business possibility what does he say about it?

Brent: Ryan’s supportive of people’s passions. He likes to see people fired up, I’ll say this too. like Ryan he can be very funny. He can be very easygoing. He gets painted. obviously his thing is stoicism, so he gets painted in a certain box, but Ryan’s been to Cerro Gordo many times.

He enjoys himself up here. I think that he likes to see. That I’m having a good time. he’s a very supportive friend and partner in that way. I think he enjoys that, but he also understands that at this point, the storytelling up here is going pretty well. he can say Oh, I can slowly see where you’re getting with this.

He sees the resonance that’s having. And so as somebody who works in storytelling, as he does, he’s Oh, I get it. I don’t think he’s fully sold. Don’t get me wrong. He’ll call me some nights. I would say once every quarter Ryan calls me and he’s like. What does your life insurance policy look like?

You’ll have a very frank conversation like that. but he enjoys seeing the progression of the talent over time,

Andrew: See, I would say who cares about life insurance? It’s not like you have kids that you need to provide for. Let everyone else figure it out for themselves. It’s what’s your health insurance look like? If you get sick, what are we doing?

When you go in there, the first one was the first camera was that. Nice camera that you shot, Ryan Holiday’s videos for right on Daily Stoic. What are you wearing now? let’s kick out a little bit on the process of creating and editing this.

Brent: I love the process. I started with just a Sony A7. It was my main camera. That’s the

Andrew: What’s an a seven. That’s one of the really nice cameras that you can change lenses on. Right.

Brent: It’s a nice DSLR. You can change the lens. It’s probably in the, let’s say 1, 100 range for the body, probably 500 for the lens. So you’re talking 1, 600 camera ish and I love that, but that they’re not good at image stabilization. So if you’re walking, it’s just it’s nauseating. My first video, if you watch, it’s like, pretty nauseating to watch when I’m walking around.

But then GoPro is obviously the standard when you’re doing any type of action thing. So when I go into the mines, I usually use a GoPro. The property is so big that to capture the scale, drones are just such an amazing adventure. I have two different drones, I’m a big fan of  a drone called the Skydio drone, which can follow you and will not let you go. If you’re on a dirt bike up to 40 miles an hour, the Skydio will not lose you. I do the Skydio drone for any type of moving shot that I do. And then the DJI Mavic 3 is just amazing for cinematic stuff.

I do those. It’s slow. Like I start off with just one camera. Now I use five or six throughout it. I like to see my videos. It’s probably too high a standard to hold them. I see them as my creative output right now. I enjoy the process of creating them more than if I was just doing it just to make content, I would have a crew up here shooting it for me.

That would be much easier to do, but I enjoy setting up the shots. I enjoy editing it. I enjoy putting it together and figuring out the storytelling element behind it. that’s a fun process for me.

Andrew: You know, I’ve never been creative. And then I had a year where I was going to run a marathon on every continent and do interviews along the way. And I found myself recording videos of the experiences and then putting them together into some edited final product. It was absolute agony to edit, at least until I figured out how I do it.

I go freakin’ A. I’m going to have to do voiceover. I heard Casey Neistat hates voiceovers. I tried not doing it. I’m going to do a voiceover to explain the story and then I’ll show you the shots and then how I organize the shots and all. That took me a while. What’s your process? Because the reason I’m bringing this up is not just to geek out on it, but because I do think this is a really good model.

Go on an epic quest and this is it. This is something that’s big that you’re going to be remembered by generations of your family. Go do that. And then document it, but don’t allow the documentation to get in the way of the activity itself. So what’s your process for doing that?

Brent: Yeah, I didn’t know Casey had said that about voiceovers. I use voiceovers a lot because I don’t ever want to lose the experience of being in the adventure. What I’ll do is typically I’ll have an adventure in mind. Let’s say I’m exploring a new level of the mine. So I’ll get the premise down that I’m going to do.

I’ll do the research on history. Because again, I think that like that quote, people don’t care what you’re doing. They care why you’re doing it. So I always try to establish the why before I even go into the adventure. I’m doing this because at the 900 foot level, this incident happened.

They said that maybe this happened. So I’m going down there to figure it out this, before I go down and then when I go down there. I’m just basically shooting with the GoPro, what I’m seeing, what I’m doing. and then if I miss things, I go back and do the voiceover. So if you hear voiceover in my videos, it’s usually because I forgot to film something.

That’s probably what most people use voiceovers. I just forgot. I’m carrying the kind of storyline along by using the voiceovers within it. To your point, I’m trying to it’s most authentic. People enjoy the best when you’re fully in the moment. I’m not worrying as much necessarily about exactly what I’m getting I can recapture it in a voiceover anyways.

So my model is basically I do that for the adventure ones. I also have things that I call the monthly updates. So I basically just film a bunch of stuff around the property, whatever’s happening. And I somehow compile those together and dump them in one 45 minute video.

And I put through lines throughout that too. I try to. Early on, I was very uncomfortable with putting myself and my thoughts within the videos. And I remember Ryan was you don’t want them to be a fan of a guy in a ghost town. You want to be a fan of you in the ghost towns. You have to put more you in it than you’re comfortable with.

And so basically I wrote early on putting 20 percent more me into it. Then I was comfortable with me, meaning like my thoughts towards things. Oh, I’m really struggling with this and that, which isn’t comfortable to do, especially for me early on. I didn’t want to talk about that, but I think that created greater resonance because it’s more a diary almost of what’s going on.

And it almost feels episodic in a way how’s he doing on the hotel? You put the roof on, Oh, now he’s doing the plumbing, I’m talking about the battles throughout it. And I think that’s The process that I landed. I remember like early on my first, let’s take home four videos.

I didn’t watch very much YouTube. I just made what I thought was cool. I thought, Oh, this is like what I would want to see. And then I had this really big YouTuber come up. Somebody was about like 3 million subscribers. I remember we were sitting in this house that I’m in right now.

And he goes, Hey man, you don’t watch a lot of YouTube, do you? And I was no, why? He’s I can tell by the way you edit your stuff. you don’t edit it to keep people around. And I was Oh, what do you mean? And he’s Oh, you need to like, Things coming early on. You need to do this.

He gave me five things to do. I remember that I was okay, he’s successful in YouTube. I’m going to do what he said to do. And then I started going down this path where I watched my videos. I was I don’t like this video. You’re like, I don’t want to make videos like this.

Andrew: You want to just tell your story, not tell your story and have a commercial for the story throughout the story.

Brent: I got to that part of the mind, but I could never imagine what happened next. You know, that type of stuff that I was like, I don’t care. I just want to tell, what happened to me is I built the initial audience.

So let’s say the initial couple hundred thousand people that are watching, because I told my stories in a certain way. And when I started trying to morph them into what YouTube wanted, I found less resonance almost. It was almost oh, this just feels more like everything else. And so that was

A good lesson to go. And I’m still struggling. I still struggle because since then I’ve had a lot of big YouTubers come up and do collaboration videos. I struggle to not see them as what I should, the model of how I should be making my videos. At the end of the day, I like the videos that I make the way that I make them. And I try to go back to that whenever I can.

Andrew: think what you have going for you that a lot of people don’t is you clearly are surrounded by your epic quest we can see it. It’s not like other people where there’s a mystery about it And there’s nothing to see so they need to get on electric skateboards. I can’t tell you how many people I see on YouTube who to this day have electric skateboards the YouTube that’s a what’s it called the Casey Neistat edition

Brent: It was sport or whatever it is.

Andrew: Yeah, or they’ll get the one wheel or something, and it just feels a little bit like they’re copying a thing that happened and worked for one person who was trying to constantly draw your attention into his videos, and I do notice that you don’t have that.

I do like the thought of bringing more of you in. What else actually helped you? what was it that worked for getting people to actually watch and to tell a story well without compromising what you care about?

Brent: Yeah. I think it was why I was doing the things, the emotions related to the items. And then I do think that, the perfect video to me, if I’m thinking about a ghost town living video, it would be a third adventure, a third history. I think a lot of people enjoy walking along with the video learning something.

I always try to do a pretty deep dive into the history here. I feel I spend a third of my day just reading about the history of the town. And then a third kind of the Introspective kind of journal. Voyeuristic almost thing, Oh, this is what’s going on with my life almost.

I think that a lot of channels do each one of those things individually pretty well. some are pure adventure channels. There’s blah, go, go, go. Some are pure entertainment, like Mr. Beast, the biggest YouTuber in the world right now. 100 percent entertainment, 0 percent Jimmy, him.

I don’t know anything about him. I’ve watched some of his videos. I never learned anything about him, but that works for him. So like me, I try to blend those all together in a unique way that I enjoyed making. And I think that served well. it’s all storytelling.

I enjoy the little arc. I think it’s creatively interesting to think about, how do I get somebody to care that I’m just walking 20 minutes? that’s an interesting. Problem to try to think through,

Andrew: Think as a viewer, I would want to know why you’re doing it for yourself. But I do notice that you’re big on the history and I don’t care. I don’t give a rat’s ass. But what it does for me, even though I don’t care is you give me a sense of, the importance of the place of the, why this place matters to you.

You give me a sense of things that I do care about. I still love Los Angeles. I have a lot of issues with it, which is why I moved out, but I loved LA. And you say LA is essentially powered by this place. If you look around all the things that are there, it wouldn’t exist without it. And the connection back to LA makes it feel interesting.

And so even though I don’t give a rat’s ass, you pull me in and make me care about the things I do care about through the history that you clearly are super obsessed with.

Brent: Yeah. I love it. it just provides more of that context that we’re talking about before. And it was intentional to eventually, I would say a year and a half into the videos. I actually wanted the star of the show to be more of the property than me. That just felt better longevity than myself I could see in a world four years from now.

People making videos about the property that aren’t even including me at all. That would be almost a win to me because it is season more sustainable. I remember about a year and a half in, it was very emotionally heavy. I’m doing this. And then I tried to twist it again to make the property more of the center of the show because of the history.

Just to Give context to what you said, when this town was at its peak, it had about 4, 000 residents in it. And that was in about, let’s say 1871 or two. And at that point in time, Los Angeles only had 6, 500 residents. they’re almost like equal trading partners. More than one was, the massive behemoth that we know today.

I just love that idea that. This town is essentially forgotten, but Los Angeles, everybody knows about in the world. I feel part of my duty, part of my life’s task that I’ve taken on is correcting that in some way. If I can get more people to know about Cerro Gordo, then that’s a good thing.

Andrew: It does have a good name too. Cerro Gordo. It’s easy to say it. It’s got enough Spanish that we could pick up on it. I didn’t know Cerro meant, mountain and Gordo’s big or hill.

Brent: I think they were talking about Fat Hill because it’s fat with silver, that was, I think the origin of it. I love the name.

Andrew: Do you think this would work for other people? If you’re looking at our buddy, Nomadic Matt, can he do something where he creates a video series that is just as appealing as yours, even though he’s not in a ghost town. Could I, as I do my thing, could someone who’s listening to us create an epic story that we want to follow along and then buy from without being in this beautiful environment. And frankly, sometimes rugged and ugly environment that you’re surrounded by.

Brent: I think that the entry point into the videos is the ghost town. It’s appealing on the surface level, but I think people will stay. Cause like, I’m very enthusiastic. I love what I do here. anytime people are light up about something, people are drawn in, for me, on Tik Tok, I watched this guy that carves marble and I don’t care at all about marble.

I don’t care about statues, he loves marble and the care that he takes into carving these marble statues is crazy. if let’s say Matt was like. I absolutely love traveling for these reasons. I’m doing this for these reasons. Here’s some of my journeys along finding this passion.

And I think that what’s played out at Cerro Gordo over the last four years is seeing somebody to find their purpose and their passion in real time. I came up here thinking I’d be here for a week and then I go back to my going about real life in Austin. What happened is I fell in love with the town.

I fell in love with the project and I found that purpose that just lights me up inside. And I think that’s more of what appealing to the long term viewers than, any mine exploration is Oh wow, this guy, he’s loving life. He’s really enjoying what he’s doing. That’s very appealing. no matter what you’re doing, if you find your thing that lights you up, that you’re like stoked about, I think people will like resonate with that,

Andrew: All right. Fair enough. So I do see that Matt will get on flights to all different parts of the world and he understands, these cities that we all want to go to better than we ever will. And so maybe he can put a GoPro on. What do you do? You put it on your chest. Yeah,

Brent: If I had to break down like an anatomy of a great, if nomadic Matt would make videos, he won’t make, I’ve tried to tell him for 10 years to make videos, but Matt should be like, okay. In this video, I’m going back to the first hostel I ever stayed at in Thailand.

I’m going back there because when I went there, I was working in a job in a medical facility. the journey to that hostel changed my life because I suddenly realized that there was more to life than just working at a nine to five. I’m going to take you along as I go there. he should show a shot of him getting on the plane, getting off in Thailand, getting out of Bangkok, going to the hostel, stopping out front, being a little emotional and be guys,

I haven’t been back here in 10 years, this literally changed my life. You wouldn’t be watching this video if it wasn’t for this hostel. I met these five people that are now this. You know, let’s go back inside. So that would be like what I would do if I was Matt. That way there’s, he’s teaching them something.

He’ll probably be while we’re in there, we’re going to tell you about Bangkok and the hostel. I’m just making all this up in my head. then he would have The educational part, he would have the personal resonance. Oh, I know why he’s going. He’s not just going for whatever he’s going because this thing changed his life.

If Matt would make that video, I would definitely watch that video, that would be how I would approach it.

Andrew: I would too. You know why I know I would? Because do you know Nick Gray?

Brent: I do.

Andrew: Right? He’s an Austin favorite too. He’s a guy who had museum hacks, which I interviewed him about. Basically, he would send in these, stand up comedians to give people tours of museums with their funny humor and everything else that goes along with, a fun experience.

And then he charged much more than a museum ever could. Anyway, he’s been walking around Austin. At every event, shooting a video of himself on a selfie stick with his iPhone and the little things that he does happen to be interesting, partially because he’s an interesting person, but partially because, we’re still in a world where little things fascinate us.

We’re not bored of seeing, I’ll give you an example of one thing that he did that I think five years from now, we’re all going to be bored of. He just charges Tesla at a supercharger and he said that blew up is his number one video and we’re still in a world where that kind of thing matters. I get that.

All right. Then that comes back to Nomadic Matt traveling. He’s living his life. He’s building his business. He now has a tour, a real tourism business. He’s got to come back to a computer screen with an editing app. What’s the process? I’m sorry to be so lame about this, but what do you do? Do you just put everything that happened in that adventure on a timeline, start to cut out what doesn’t matter and then see if you could tell a story or what’s the process?

Brent: Yeah. Usually I have an idea of what I want the floor arc to be ahead of time. it doesn’t always work out, but then I’ll go back down. I’ll chop down the raw clips let’s say the GoPro is five minutes. I’ll chop out the three minutes and throw it loosely where it should be left side early in the video, right side end of the video.

I’ll get a rough organization of clips and I’ll be, what I’m doing make sense by just watching this visually? You could even do it where you take off the sound And you’re just watching, is this visual storytelling compelling enough to understand what I’m doing?

And then usually I’m nope, definitely not. And so then I’ll go back, and do some voiceovers to carry them through. then I’ll look at the end. I’ll be okay, is there a few more of either of those ingredients? I should sprinkle in more history, more why ahead of time, you know, should I sit down in front of the camera and do a direct to camera of I did this adventure because of this.

Cause I didn’t remember to do it at the time. then you slowly start tweaking it. And then I always try time lapses and drone shots. I feel are a little bit of almost cheating on YouTube. I try to take as many time lapses and drones as I can. Cause drones are beautiful.

Time lapses are great transition things. I throw in the time lapses and drone shots, and then we basically have a video in the end

Andrew: Yeah. Do you just keep a camera by the way, sitting around all the time? Sometimes I try to watch what you’re doing and I feel There’s a camera that I could see on screen, but there must be another one that’s just always filming. Is that what it is?

Brent: Sometimes. Yeah. when I’m doing things, the most difficult projects to film are collaborative construction projects. When we’re doing stuff with other people, building…

Andrew: When you showed on Instagram what it was like to spend, I forget how long, to build the hotel. There was time lapses, and aerial shots, and trucks moving. And yeah, if it’s a lot of people working, and it’s over a lot of time, I could see that’s a challenge. You can’t keep a camera there the whole time.

Brent: Got a couple of cameras one always capturing everything. And then one that in the moment capturing dialogue and personal kind of flare into it, which I find I struggle the most with that. I have had people come up and help me shoot on group events. So for instance, we had, two things. First you mentioned running. Last year we had our inaugural race up the hill.

Andrew: Nine miles! I would have done it. Here’s the thing. I think at one point you said that this, that there was murder happening at this old town, and then you showed guns. I go, I like running. I don’t want to have to die for the run.

Brent: This race is our second year. It’s coming up in May. You should come out for sure. Ryan’s coming. people that you know are going to be here running the race. it goes from a mile in elevation. You go from 3, 500 feet in elevation to 8, 500 feet in elevation. It’s a really hard eight miles.

We had a limp, we had, Nick Simmons come. He was a silver medalist last year, came and run it. we had a bunch of. Cool people. But basically for that, I can’t both interview people and capture it and try to participate in it. I asked a couple of guys to come out and help me film it.

I’ve learned now, if there’s more than just me, then I have to have more people, but I do think that part of the appeal of the initial videos, it was like guy in a town by himself with a camera. I try not to flip the tripod. I don’t ever want to be where I have to, I don’t want to, you know, Gary Vee has two guys following me everywhere.

That would never work with me. I don’t think that’s the appeal of just me talking. I think when you see me on a hiking video, I had to walk a hundred yards ahead of it, set up the camera, walk a hundred yards back, then walk a hundred yards back to the camera,  And I think that care and that goes into it, I think is part of the appeal of it as well.

Andrew: How long does it take you to edit a video? Let’s say for every 10 minutes that we see, how much time are you spending editing?

Brent: Every one minute is a closer to an hour, I would say.

Andrew: Okay. And now,

Brent: 30 minute video, it’s 30 hours. Probably.

Andrew: All right. So you took what you call the hard loan out in order to buy this property. Is the property worth more now because of it? Are you able to get a loan on the property itself?

Brent: I still maintain that the hard money loan I got initially, just because. At the time, it seemed like extraordinary interest to be charging, but now interest rates have changed so much. I’m gosh, actually pretty normal. I still have the same loan. I do think that we could refinance it to a more traditional thing.

At first this was an abandoned town with no water source, with no income stream in sight. Now there is an income stream because of the YouTube, there’s a physical building that will be coming alive here soon. I could refinance it. fairly soon.

My hope is that. When the hotel gets up and running, the property stabilizes, basically there where it’s paying for itself plus a little bit, then we can think we get really interesting because again, this town used to have hundreds of buildings. There was all sorts of different businesses up here back in the day.

There’s 400 acres. What’s to stop us from, the hotels why not? We put in a brewery, we could put in a dozen different things over the years. I think about this price in a timeline of. Decades, which again, with the people that we hang out with Austin probably seems difficult because usually the question is going in, what’s the exit plan?

When do we leave and get our money back? And for here, I was pretty early, clear early on with the Ryan and Nathan and everybody There isn’t like an exit plan. The exit plan is me dying or something many years down the road. with that mentality, it’s a little fun to think long term and not have that stress that month over month, we need to be doing this.

Andrew: Is it inappropriate to ask you? Are you getting laid over here? are you in a relationship?

Brent: I am in a relationship.

Andrew: Oh, you are. Oh,

Brent: And with somebody that also works with somebody that also use let’s call it unique style of living. That’s also in the creative space. And so it works out for that way.

Andrew: Was that on YouTube and I didn’t notice it.

Brent: No, it’s not. I keep it private. So it’s not on YouTube

Andrew: Wow. Would you tell me about it after we’re done recording?

Brent: Yeah. Yeah.

Andrew: I’m super fascinated by you. When I first met you, I’m gonna close it out by this. I saw you as just another quirky person that I love our space for. There are all these quirky people who do things you never would think a decent, responsible person can do, but you’re super responsible almost to the point of nerdiness when I saw you, that’s what I got.

And then I’ve been watching this thing just develop and it’s absolutely fascinating to watch you build this up, to watch you take these risks. And I hate to watch it cause I’m not someone who likes to watch someone get close to death. I’m not watching that kind of thing. And I feel like at any minute you could get hurt.

Which is what I liked about the book. You now give me history, you go on an adventure, there’s a beautiful environment, you’re a damn good writer. You clearly care about writing. I went into the book thinking, Oh, you got this great thing on Amazon. Robert Greene, let you use a big freakin’ photo of him and a quote from him.

Ryan Holiday. I go, this is going to be a Ryan Holiday style, Robert Greene style book. It’s going to be all these different world events put in here and you’re going to give me a guide to how to live. It’s not. It’s a dude who’s going on an epic quest and we’re going to get to watch how he does it without me feeling like at any minute you’re going to die, which makes it much better for me.

And I should say the book, Ghost Town Living, right?

Brent: Yep. That’s the name of the book and the YouTube channel. I

Andrew: Congratulations. Thanks so much for being on here. I would love to keep this relationship going. I’m really fascinated by how you’re doing here.

Brent: Appreciate it. Yeah. Come out anytime. I’d love to host you up here and show you around.

Andrew: I would like that. I won’t do the run. I’m intimidated by Ryan Holiday’s run and the uphill part. I don’t want to look like a sucker next time. I ran next to Ryan here in Austin, Texas. I had a crack in my heel, but I kept up with him. no, it wasn’t an issue. I don’t think I could keep up with him there.

And I don’t think he’s someone who suffers fools gladly. He would not have more respect for me for losing out to him. He needs to see that I am strong or else, and this isn’t like the whole stoic thing. I just always sensed Ryan is this super serious person. He doesn’t fuck around.

Brent: He’s competitive. he’s not going to keep your pace just to keep your pace. He’s going to win the race.

Andrew: Yes. Yeah, exactly. Which is, I love it. I want to know it. I don’t want to lose to it. All right. Thanks. Bye everyone. Thank you. Gusto for sponsoring this gusto.com/mixergy. Bye everyone.

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