Reading Time: 6 minutes
This month marks six years since I left my career in Singapore to travel around the world.
In 2009, I first arrived in Southeast Asia with nothing. Fresh off a six-month jaunt around the world, I got to Singapore with 50 bucks in my account. The first few months I lived in a hostel off of a credit card. I helped start several Chiropractic clinics, got blacklisted from a country, and shed many tears. The third attempt at starting a clinic was a success. By the time I left, it was one of the largest in Southeast Asia.
Life was good in SE Asia, very good. There were friends, a burgeoning business, and the opportunity to live in such a dynamic part of the world. The ‘Expat life’ was good, almost too good to be true. Still, something was missing. I was an independent contractor (I didn’t have full ownership of the clinic) and I never took more than five days of holiday per year. Saturday was a busy day in the office, I didn’t have a full weekend for six years.
My wanderlust kept growing until I decided to shake up my life.
Exotic Wine Travel & YouTube
In May of 2015, Charine and I took off for a sabbatical to travel around the world. After several months, we realized that all of our money went towards food and wine. By the time we arrived in Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia something clicked. That was the genesis of this website.
Right after that trip, I purchased the domain exoticwinetravel.com. Soon after, I launched the YouTube Channel Exotic Wine Travel and immediately started uploading videos. The first episodes left a lot to be desired.
I wanted to make the videos like Gary Vaynerchuck’s Wine Library TV. I wanted them to be spontaneous and unedited. The first 250 videos were shot with an iPhone 6 and a wireless mic set. They were raw, unedited, and occasionally a video would get a decent number of views but none went truly viral.
The possibilities of the platform instantly sucked me in. Since the channel’s first week in December 2015, I’ve uploaded two to three videos a week. It took exactly three years to break the 1,000 subscriber mark. It’s fair to say that most of the videos in those early years sucked.
I was naive. I thought that I could just throw up content without polishing the edges, and eventually, something would pop. Looking back, it was an unwise strategy. Last year brought on many changes (Charine and I are no longer together but are still partners in Exotic Wine Travel) and gave me time to think. I decided it was time to dig deeper and take this YouTube thing seriously.
YouTube: The Dream
Becoming a YouTuber has become a noteworthy ambition. A 2019 survey by Business Insider showed that being a YouTuber was the top goal for young children in the USA and UK. The idea of being a YouTuber is romantic. Setting your own schedule and making money while producing videos from the comfort of your own home. I wasn’t immune to the fantasy either.
The truth is if you want to become a huge YouTuber, get ready to roll up your sleeves. It takes fortitude and thick skin. Data collected by TubeBuddy (a tool used by many YouTubers) shows an eye-popping reality. YouTuber creators with over 1 million subscribers have uploaded on average, over 3800 videos.
It takes a lot of time to produce quality content that keeps audiences engaged. This requires countless hours of planning, shooting, and editing. My current long-form videos can take anywhere from four hours to a few months to produce. Multiply that by several hundred videos and you start to see the bigger picture. It’s not a surprise that people give up on their channels after realizing the amount of work that goes into it.
With over 650 videos uploaded on my channel, according to the graph, I should be over 100,000 subscribers. Unfortunately, it looks like my curve will be a little steeper (or I’m just a slow learner) with a mere 3,300 subscribers.
My channel is small for the years that have gone into it, which can be discouraging if you look through one lens. The opposite side of the spectrum shows something else. The YouTuber known as Mr. Beast has one of the biggest channels on the platform with 50 million subscribers. It took him seven years to reach 1,000 subscribers.
YouTube throws all of your insecurities out into the open. It’s vital to understand that your message is more important than your fear of looking bad. Once you’ve gotten to that point, you’ve won the battle. That’s simple but not easy. I currently dislike how I look (I’m working tirelessly to shed the COVID weight). Trying to fix my voice in post-production is a challenge, it tends to crack randomly (thank goodness I decided to start editing).
Being a small YouTuber, you fail in public all the time. In those first few years, I didn’t care if videos received views. I was exploring the world, learning more about wine, and just happy to have my little space on the internet. If I would have cared about this back then, the channel might not have kept on plugging along.
Things are different since I’ve started taking the channel more seriously. Clicking the publish button brings on feelings of agony and doubt. Will this video do well? Is this the video that helps me breakthrough? What if it gets a low number of views? It feels like I’m starting the YouTube process all over again.
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau
In 2009, I was walking back from a clinic I started in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was the start and revenue wasn’t rolling in yet. I stopped by a street stand for my dinner of Nasi Goreng (fried rice) with extra birdseye chili. At the time, it was the most economical dinner.
I walked back to my tiny apartment and forgot to wash my hands. I took my contact lenses out and the sensation came swiftly. Instantly, I was on the floor in the fetal position, cursing my wretched situation. The clinic was going slow, I was in a foreign country, and my cheap dinner now felt like it was burning a hole in my eye socket.
It would have been easy to give up then but hindsight is 20/20. If I had given up, the incredible years that lied ahead would never have come to fruition. The years of successful practice in Singapore, traveling around the world, and the process of building something new.
YouTube is a grind. There are many highs and lows. There have been times when I felt like giving up. But every time doubt rears its ugly head, I think of that time on the floor in Jakarta. Who knows what the future possibilities are.
What I do know is that the YouTube journey has been memorable. It’s taken me to all corners of the wine world, from Mexico to Thailand, to Moldova, and back to Western Europe. YouTube has allowed me to taste some of the world’s most exciting wines and several benchmarks. It’s helped someone who was a nobody break into an industry dominated by tradition and the old guard.
What will the future hold? Will it be a crash and burn? Or fame and fortune? One thing is certain. After nearly six years on YouTube, I finally feel comfortable with my style. I’m only beginning to create the videos I dreamt about when starting. The mountain still looks daunting but I’ve laced up my boots.
One of my favorite books is Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. In the book, a young gymnast meets a service station attendant who becomes a teacher and father figure. Below is a clip from the film adaptation that highlights a powerful message. It’s something to keep in mind anytime you’re making a climb.
If you’re thinking about starting a YouTube channel, I would suggest taking action and produce as many videos as possible to get comfortable on camera. Have patience and understand it’s a process. It may lead you to great heights, places unimaginable, or to great disappointment. There are no guarantees except that you’ll receive a unique education that’s hard to duplicate.
Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the ride. You never know where it might take you.
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