How a Broke 23yo Got 1B+ Views in Less than 5 Years
Clickbait-y title huh? At the end of the day, it's not about the views. But let me tell you a fun story of how I got here.
In 2015 I was living in an underground concrete tool shed with zero heat during the Michigan winters. I was deep in student loan debt and working 16hr shifts as an unpaid intern.
Just a few months prior, I was fresh out of college and the world seemed like my oyster. My dream was to create truly great, meaningful films for the world. Yet here I was struggling every day to just get by while living off credit cards and cucoon-ing myself in a thick blanket each night trying and feel enough of my own body heat to fall asleep. Needless to say, I was more lost, broken, and in despair than ever.
Somehow over the next few months I was able to hustle hard to get just enough cash and move out to LA. I had no connections, job, or plan in the slightest. All I had was the naive hope that someone would sweep in and give me my 'big break.'
One day I met a friend for lunch. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I said I was desperate for any job in filmmaking. Then he asked me a life-changing question: "Ien, if you were an employer, would you want to hire somebody who's desperate for a job? Or somebody who's truly passionate about what they do?"
It sounds simple, but this question re-framed everything for me. I realized that up to now it was all about me me me - where I could get, who I could meet, what I could accomplish. It was never about truly being of service to others.
From then on, I was determined to change - to come from a place of giving instead of taking. Instantly, it was like the code of the universe was unlocked. I got one gig, then another one, then another one. Within 2 years I was creating work for world-renowned brands and celebrities: Apple, Nike, NASA, The New York Times, NBC, Lang Lang, Lindsey Stirling, and many more. I learned tremendous insights into filmmaking, business, storytelling, and branding - more than I could have ever hoped to have learned in any film school.
In 2016 I met a guy named Jason Y. Lee in Koreatown. He told me about a small Youtube channel called Jubilee that he wanted to grow into something meaningful and much bigger - to create a mass movement for empathy. I was curious. Could I bring my filmmaking talent, lessons, and insights to new media to reach the greater masses?
When I joined Jubilee as Creative Director, something clicked. We created a few internet show formats, and like magic a few of them started catching on fire. The views started pouring in. 1 million views, 2 million views, 10 million views and more!
The first year, Jubilee gained 500k subscribers. The next year, more than 2 million. The past year alone, we doubled it again to reach more than 5.5M+ subscribers. We were growing faster than Vice, Buzzfeed, and Vox ever had.
People all over the world started to recognize shows we created like Middle Ground, Odd Man Out, Spectrum, and VS 1. We were nominated for Influencer of the Year, flown all over the world for projects, and we were getting backed by huge sponsors!
It all happened so fast. I went from being completely broke and living in an underground tool shed to leading a creative team that made garnered more than 1B+ views in 5 years flat.
How did this happen? How did we spark huge cultural conversations in such a short time?
We live in a world with an incredible amount of noise and distraction. While many creators and companies burn themselves out trying to execute all types of crazy tactics, I’ve realized that at the end of the day it’s really quite simple. It's about being of deep service to yourself, to others, and to the world at large - to come from a place of truly wanting to contribute something meaningful to humanity and play a part this wondrous cosmic process of our unfolding.
I’ve spent the past few years garnering the skills and insights to show people that it's possible to consistently create deeply challenging, empowering, and uniting media that has a positive impact on a huge scale – all without sacrificing one’s own authenticity, inner mission, and values. Now more than ever, I’m determined to share what I’ve learned through a variety of ways whether it’s speaking, creating ground-breaking new creative work, consulting, or just having some fun conversations.
How can one truly be of service to the world? It’s a question worth thinking about, and I’m only just getting started.