[Daniel: This interview with Sonny was done via Skype. If you prefer to listen to the interview, click the audio stream below.]
Best Ever Food Review Show is a comedic take on food and culture. I try to make entertaining videos that will make people laugh and learn a few things about different cultures. I focus on topics that are interesting to me. Typically it involves unusual, exotic foods from Asian countries – things you have never seen before.
I previously worked as a videographer and director in Seoul, South Korea. There, I worked with various brands and projects – including TV commercials and K-pop videos. I am still working as a freelance videographer as my Youtube channel is not financially self-sufficient yet.
I reached a certain point in my video-making career where I wanted to make my own content. I was also inspired by a few Youtube channels. The first is H3H3. This channel achieved mass appeal through witty, comedic commentary. They don’t put much focus on production quality, using a crappy camera from the top of their computer. No fancy set-up, just speech and the power of humor. Yet they have a massive audience!
Then there is a smaller Youtube travel channel called JacksGap. I was amazed by this 20-something year old kid. He was making compelling travel videos – beautiful shots, cinematic edits and good narration. He approached travel videos in a unique way. That was refreshing and inspirational.
Watching these two channels inspired me to start a channel. I first experimented with food reviews in Seoul. But I quickly realized that doing restaurant reviews in Seoul (while filming in English) attracted a very small and specific audience – expats living in Seoul. My first videos got only a few thousand views. So I decided to pivot and broaden my focus – explore exotic and unusual foods in Asia. However, I knew I didn’t want to take the same vanilla approach to food reviews. I wanted something more edgier, with a punch to it.
I also want to mention to your readers that mainstream travel food shows are very expensive to make. Take Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern. They need to fly out their whole production crew to each country for one episode. With a large production crew, it’s hard for Anthony or Andrew to be flexible. They stick to a itinerary, costs are high and shooting time is limited. So I think there is a large opportunity here for local creators in the travel/food space. Local creators have better access, lower costs and insider knowledge. Everything you need to deliver an authentic experience. A good example is Trevor, the creator of The Food Ranger. He recently did a tour of local foods along the Silk Road in China – bringing something new the internet has never seen.
Among my friends, I have always had a good sense of humor. So yes, I think that comes from a young age. Though, it does sound weird for me to say “I’ve always been funny” about myself. Through Youtube videos, I have improved my ability to get focused quickly in front of the camera.
The coconut worm has to be up there. I have actually eaten this a couple of times. That worm is tough because it looks a lot worse than it actually tastes. Lot of squirming and it is plump. The taste however is mild – not sour or anything.
The stinky tofu from Taiwan was also bad. It smelt like a garbage dumpster on a hot summer day. But that’s what it is supposed to smell like – it’s called stinky tofu! I remember the smell was so intense that I thought I would actually throw up on camera. I had to continuously repeat to myself “I like this food… I like this smell…I like this smell…” But as I ate it, I could see why someone would like this. The taste wasn’t too bad. It was a good learning experience. If there are a million people eating something, it’s not up to me to completely discount it without actually trying it.
The other dish that comes to mind is the one-day old chick, famous in the Philippines. These are literally one-day-old male chicks that poultry farms reject because they are useless in egg production. All of these exotic foods seem shocking at first, but once it is in your mouth – it’s not a big deal.
When the camera is there, I can do anything. We have a job to do – to make entertaining videos. I have also never got sick from any of these exotic foods. But I will be going to India in the near future. There, I do hear of many food poisoning stories. Perhaps it is because of the water? I hope my lucky streak continues.
In Vietnam, I work with Onetrip, a local tour guide company. As part of our working agreement, they provide me with one of their producers. Together we brainstorm on exotic local dishes that could be turned into an exciting video. For other countries, I ask the locals or get recommendations from my subscribers. However, now I prefer to simply hire a local guide in a new country. They cut through the BS and get you in front of the real interesting stuff quickly.
I promoted myself heavily on Reddit in the early days. It’s almost a must now. Reddit is the new Facebook for viral videos. However, the challenge with Reddit is that it is very tough to self-promote your videos. The moderators there are intense. If you are self-promoting, they will ban you – even if many of the subreddit members heavily upvote your content. I used Reddit frequently, until I reached around 20K subscribers.
That being said – I think people put way too much attention to marketing and not enough time to improving their content.
My mantra lately is very simple – make better videos and make better videos. The rest will sort itself out.
I know there are tons of things that could improve my visibility – running a blog, optimizing SEO video tags, etc. I should and could do all of those things. However, filming and editing is already enough work as it is. I don’t want to burn myself out by trying to cover all the bases at once.
If I was starting from zero, I would again use Reddit a lot. Also add Imgur to that. On Imgur, you should think about a storyline and arrange your photos to deliver a funny/exciting/witty message (like a comic strip). Then include your video link in the description section or in the comment section. However, it’s easier said than done. People are brutal on both Reddit and Imgur. The sites can be good if you want honest feedback. But sometimes it goes beyond honest and turns vitriol – almost angry.
[Daniel: I also share tips on how I built my subscriber base from zero via Reddit here]
Sounds like a Tim Ferriss question. Hm – I would be interested if people asked me “If I start a travel channel, how should I go about it?” I see many new creators not providing any real value with their content. Lot of creators (especially in the travel category) want to copy the “Casey Neistat” model, making beautiful vlogs about their daily lives. The problem with this is that the focus is on the creator too early. Before Casey started doing vlogs, he built up his followership by making engaging videos on social topics – like the issue with the iPhone battery or the dangerous bike lanes in New York. Find a way to first provide entertainment value, build loyal followership and then introduce vlogging.
I launched a Patreon page and it has been steadily growing. However, I feel that my Youtube channel is still in the building phase. I don’t want to dedicate mental energy to trying new monetization channels/campaigns. For now, I will simply focus on making better videos. The funding opportunities will come in the future. I don’t want to be in such a rush to make money that I lose credibility with my audience.
I had a friend who made this mistake. He was doing daily vlogs on his Youtube channel – averaging a couple hundred views on his videos. However he was too eager to monetize. He used a site called Influenster to find products to promote. I still remember that he was promoting toasters in one of his videos! Needless to say, the audience did not share his enthusiasm.
Perhaps a few common mistakes that should be avoided. I have seen a few creators pitch: “If you join our Patreon campaign, you decide what we make”. The problem is that viewers don’t want to come up with new ideas for you – that is the creator’s job! The creator should have a vision for where the channel is going. If not, why should a subscriber follow you – let alone donate to you.
What I do instead is offer a list of video topics and let contributors vote for their favorite ones. This way, they are involved in the creative process but do not own it.
The second is how you deal with detractors or negative voices while fundraising. Inevitably, you will run into people who (for whatever reason) do not think you deserve to make money. I have see few creators respond poorly: “But I don’t make that much money” or “But I’m still kinda poor. You may think I am making a lot – but I am not”. This is a terrible way to position the value of your content.
Creators should not ever feel bad about making money from their videos if they are providing value to their audience.
The correct mindset and response should be “It’s okay for me to get value [money] as I am providing value to my viewers.”
That’s a tough question. I had this big fear that I would launch my Patreon page and nobody would give anything. My page would have a big zero on it – making it even more difficult to get the initial donations. For new creators, I would recommend starting a campaign quietly. Find those subscribers who have indicated that they would like to support you in previous Youtube comments. Send these loyal fans a link to your Patreon page. By doing this, you can secure initial round(s) of donations and avoid a big zero on your page. You can then publicly announce your Patreon page with a well-crafted video.
Hard to answer – nothing so far which has wasted any real significant amount of time or money. It has been a continuous learning experience.
My primary shooting camera is a Sony FS-5. It’s actually more camera than anyone needs. For casual travel shooting, I don’t recommend it. But as a professional videographer, it’s just what I’ve been using. One the plus side, it does have two audio inputs. So a guest and I can be both plugged in and recorded at the same time. I will also pack a wide and long lens, two wireless mics and a DJI Mavic drone. I love that drone – don’t think I will ever need another drone. Oh, I also have a GoPro which I hook up to my helmet sometimes, along with a shoulder mount for the GoPro.
The first goal would be to get the Best Ever Food Review Show self-sufficient. Right now, it costs more to produce that I make from it. Once I reach that milestone, I would like to assemble a filming team and onboard an experienced editor. Finding a video editor who can replicate my editing style will be very challenging. But something I need if I want to scale my operations. In the meanwhile, I will remain in Asia and be pushing out weekly videos of the best ever food reviews!