Welcome to Creators Going Pro, where in partnership with Semaphore — a creator-focused family of companies providing business and financial services to social media professionals — we profile professional YouTube stars who have hit it big by doing what they love. Each week, we’ll chat with a creator about the business side of their channel, including identifying their Semaphore Moment — the moment they truly went pro.
Once per week, Erik Lamkin treats his YouTube viewers to a new smorgasbord. Sometimes it’s 10,000 calories’ worth of food. Sometimes it’s 100,000. There’s gigantic pizzas, entire fast food menus, marathons of holiday foods, record-breaking burgers, buffets, breakfasts…You name it, Lamkin’s 1.05 million subscribers have gotten it–well, vicariously, considering they tune in to watch him eat.
Lamkin began uploading food challenge videos in January 2015, and since then, he’s never missed a week. He’s taken on hundreds of challenges that would intimidate your average stomach into shriveling away, never to be seen again. The only reason Lamkin is capable of doing them is that good ol’ C. The key to his YouTube career: consistency. Training his body to handle massive quantities of food involves intense, ongoing training, and Lamkin balances what he takes in during challenges by being an avid biker and weightlifter, and keeping an eye on what he eats outside of videos.
If that sounds like a lot of labor, rest assured it’s a labor of love. Lamkin is absolutely jazzed about food, and keeping himself in fighting form for challenges is his full-time passion–and, through YouTube, his full-time career. It’s also not the career a teenage Lamkin would’ve imagined for himself. Back when he was 17, before he started food challenges, he used his then-fledgling YouTube channel ErikTheElectric to document his recovery from severe anorexia. Lamkin, who’s now 26, also chatted with us for YouTube Millionaires a couple months ago, and explained that realizing he had a talent for food challenges was crucial for his recovery, as it gave him “the ‘mental freedom’ to eat what I wanted, without any guilt or bad feelings. That made me realize this was actually fun.”
Now, Lamkin’s platform is all about relishing as much delicious food as his body can handle. His weekly challenges are the bread and butter of his channel, but he’s also expanded his content into food tours, where he travels to new places and tries local food while raising money for charitable causes, and has launched merch for those who want to emblazon themselves with the Electric brand.
He also recently hit a milestone: his first guest spot on a major cable network program. Details are under wraps for now, but he and his girlfriend filmed a Food Network spot earlier this month–and, if Lamkin has it his way, that spot won’t be the last time he appears on TV. He’s still committed to YouTube, but is eyeing a future leap to the small screen, or to a streaming service, where he’ll be able to share his story with a new crop of viewers.
On top of all that, he’s also in the midst of developing a business where he’ll help novice YouTubers establish their channels and become committed, consistent creators. As Lamkin is looking forward to sharing his knowledge, he sat down with us to talk about the backend of his channel, from budgeting for major food hauls to his stance on hiring an editor to why YouTube was–and still is–the platform for him.
Tubefilter: Last time we chatted, you made a point of differentiating your eating challenge content from mukbang videos. What appeals to you specifically about setting and tackling eating challenges?
Erik Lamkin: Characterizing my content as mukbang is actually a fairly common thing, not just with my channel, but with others who do eating challenges as well — mainly because the word “mukbang” translates to “social eating,” and generally speaking, people who partake in eating challenges tend to be either VERY engaging and chatty, or prefer to stay silent and eat tons of food. (I’m obviously NOT the latter.)
What really entices me to create and tackle challenges boils down to the fact that I absolutely LOVE entertaining people. I also love coming up with concepts and ideas (related to food) that not a lot of people have done or have been able to do before.
I’m a firm believer that food is an extremely powerful thing. EVERY person on this earth can relate and understand food on at least some sort of basic level. Which is why I think it’s at least slightly entertaining to watch some random guy eat loads of different food on a weekly basis!
Tubefilter: Why have you stuck with YouTube as your core platform? What do you think it offers you, as a content creator, to help further your career?
EL: I definitely plan on being a YouTuber for as long as I’m alive. It’s been such a powerful place for me, as well as countless others, to express ourselves and spread positivity into the world.
YouTube was the first platform I came across as a teenager that gave me the ability to upload anything (to an extent) whenever I wanted. Ten years later, there’s been countless amounts of people who did exactly what I did, who’ve made careers out of creating content.
I’ll be fully transparent: I see a lot of other creators attempting to upload and monetize videos on other platforms, which is awesome! I myself have uploaded videos on other platforms as well, mainly Facebook, but I’ve never had anything monetized.
I choose not to stick with these other platforms because none of them have been able to do what YouTube has done for me. Which is: give me the ability to create content that I enjoy and that others (of all age groups and demographics) can watch and enjoy as well, offer a fun and interactive interface that is easy to navigate, as well as help build tons of friendships and relationships with other creators that I never would’ve connected to if YouTube hadn’t existed.
Finally, I believe that creators tend to gravitate to other video sharing platforms when they start to sense a decrease in their income, video views, and subscriber counts. Unfortunately, this only causes more inconsistency on the part of the creator, and one of the most IMPORTANT things every creator needs to have is CONSISTENCY.
Tubefilter: You often include the prices of restaurant food and side items you buy for challenges. Why is this something you do?
EL: I started to include how much I spend on each challenge a few years ago because I kept getting asked about it CONSTANTLY. I also believe including figures adds an additional entertaining and interesting element to my videos that isn’t used by other creators in my niche.
Tubefilter: Do you budget per video and/or for your channel as a whole? Do you keep an eye on how much a video brings in AdSense versus how much you spent on supplies for that video?
EL: I’ve had challenges cost anywhere from $50 to over $600, so I definitely budget with my challenges. On a monthly basis, I can spend anywhere from $1,200 to over $2,000 on food alone. Therefore, I definitely have seen budgeting as extremely important.
Tubefilter: When did you get your first check for online video revenue? How much was it for?
EL: When I first started the ErikTheElectric YouTube channel in 2013, I was completely unaware that you could actually make money on YouTube. I had a full-time job working at a restaurant, and was going to school as well. So making money on YouTube was something I was clueless about.
I fell into the same mindset that every creator generally tends to fall into in the early stages of my channel: getting overly fixated on subscriber count above everything else.
I stuck with that for a year and a half, then discovered AdSense in early 2015 (around March) and got my first AdSense check for around $160. It was hard getting to that point for me; getting over that $100 payment threshold is something a lot of creators struggle with. But with patience and consistency, I got to it!
Tubefilter: Have any of the restaurants or other brands you’ve featured on your channel reached out to sponsor you? Have you had other sponsorship opportunities?
EL: I’ve worked with a lot of different brands and companies with my channel. It’s pretty surreal to me to be able to work with brands that I’ve known for a good majority of my life, and even if we don’t solidify a “deal,” the opportunity is simply awesome.
I had this moment come up in the summer of 2019, when I found myself on the phone with Dunkin Donuts. I remember thinking to myself, Oh crap! I can’t believe I’m talking to THE Dunkin Donuts right now!
Having different fast food companies also reach out to me and send me stuff has always been awesome as well.
Tubefilter: Do you have any personal policies when it comes to accepting or not accepting sponsorship offers?
EL: I’ve always had the same belief and mentality when it comes to working with brands and with sponsorship opportunities: I’ll never recommend something to my audience that I personally don’t believe in myself, or something that’s unethical or distasteful. I’m extremely well-versed in my audience, and my overall demographics. The last thing I’d want is for kids and young adults to be put in front of something that’s not appropriate for them.
I’ve had a few companies reach out to me and offer me money for various different things that are completely unethical, and I’ve turned down all of them.
Tubefilter: What was that Semaphore Moment for you—the first time you realized you were a professional creator?
EL: For me, it was in February of 2018, when I landed my first brand deal with Dollar Shave Club. I remember feeling so proud and accomplished, because a fully established company recognized the years of work and effort I had put into my channel, and recognized my value as a creator.
Tubefilter: A couple of your challenges have ended up negatively affecting your health. How have you learned your body’s limits, and also learned when you can push them? Do you have any advice for people who may want to get into challenge eating, or already are into it and want to improve their skills?
EL: I’d definitely say that my videos would be dangerous to the average person. I’ve actually contemplated putting a warning disclaimer up at the beginning of each video.
The truth is, I’ve been doing this long enough to know my limits. Yes, it’s risky if you’re unaware of the potential consequences; however, since I have years of experience, I definitely know when too much really is too much.
I relate it to anything else that we observe as entertainment nowadays, whether it’s on YouTube or cable television. As a society, we have tens of millions of people tune in on a frequent basis to watch things like MMA fighting, boxing, and professional football events (all of which are technically MORE risky than professional eating), yet every competitive eater is demonized for eating large amounts of food.
The bottom line with eating challenges is that the consequences rarely come during an actual challenge (apart from choking, which is actually a very serious issue and has happened a few times to me). It’s actually what happens after a challenge.
Competitive eating can wreak absolute havoc on your gastrointestinal tract, your body fat, your triglycerides, and other blood markers as well. Which is why I’m extremely adamant that if you ARE going to eat extreme amounts of food, it’s imperative that you exercise AND eat nutritious foods outside of it. Generally speaking, the average person has a rough time sticking to these things, which is why we have a global obesity epidemic. For this reason, I generally advise others to avoid competitive eating and eating challenges.
Tubefilter: When did you first launch your merch with Teespring? How did you hit the point where you were like, “Yeah, if I put merch out there, people will buy it”?
EL: I started doing my merch in 2017, and had it ordered through different companies. I packaged and shipped everything myself. When I discovered Teespring, I found it extremely appealing because they would automatically have my merchandise listed underneath each of my YouTube videos, and I wouldn’t have to sit on a bunch of inventory, waiting for it to sell.
Tubefilter: What percentage of your revenue comes from merch?
EL: I don’t really promote my merchandise as much as other YouTubers. I’d say it generally accounts for 1% to 5% of my revenue each month.
Tubefilter: How long does it take you, on average, to put together a video, from scripting to filming to uploading? Do you take days off from filming?
EL: I post one challenge a week. I don’t script my videos, which generally causes me more “headaches” during the filming process. I generally spend the actual day of the challenge filming. Once I finish the challenge, I generally am in a pretty heavy brain fog the next day, so that’s my day off.
The next three to four days are spent editing, and then I upload!
I have yet to miss an upload, and have uploaded every week since 2015.
Tubefilter: So you edit all your videos yourself? Do you have anyone working with you behind the scenes, like a co-editor or assistant? What about a network or manager?
EL: I take the most pride in the background of my channel and my videos. I film, edit, and produce every single one of my YouTube videos myself.
I signed with an MCN in November of 2017, but all of my videos have always been produced by me, and only me. I have a few friends who have editors, producers, and so on, but I feel like if I were to ever pay someone to do my work for me, it would lose a personal touch, and my viewers would notice that. I have a strong connection to my audience, and I love what I do. Even the filming, editing, and uploading!
Tubefilter: Tell us about your food tours. When did you start doing them? What do they entail? Where have you visited, and where do you plan to visit next?
EL: My food tours are one of my favorite things to do. Each year, I visit a new place and partake in various different restaurant challenges while meeting my subscribers and also raising money for charity.
I did my first food tour in 2017 along the coast of California and into Oregon and Washington and raised $2,000 for mental health awareness.
The year after, I traveled to Texas and raised $1,800 for the Feeding America charity.
In 2019, I traveled to the north eastern part of the United States and raised $2,800 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
In 2020, I’d love to travel to a European country. The hard part is, I’m deathly afraid of flying and airplanes. So I’d have to get more acclimated to flying!
Tubefilter: You also told us last time that you plan to be on TV soon. Any updates there? What else is going on in off-YouTube-but-related-to-YouTube ventures?
EL: While I always plan on being on YouTube, my other serious goal is to have my own television show one day.
With my background, going from once being anorexic to now being a lover of food who leads a healthy and fun lifestyle with cycling and powerlifting, I’ve been hoping that would be something people would want to watch more of, on a bigger scale than just YouTube.
In 2019, I’ve been contacted by a few different casting agents and producers for different shows, only to have them fall through. I realized in the last quarter of 2019 that TV is just very difficult. However, I got my first actual TV appearance in early December, when my girlfriend and I filmed for an upcoming Food Network show.
While we weren’t the stars of the show, I’ll keep pushing toward my goal!
Tubefilter: What’s next for you and your channel? What are you building toward?
EL: Right now, I’m gearing up for 2020. I have a TON of crazy food challenges that I’m planning for the year.
I also have found a passion in teaching others how to create entertaining and captivating content on YouTube. So I’m also working on my own business, where I’m planning on teaching others how to start and establish fully functioning YouTube channels! It should be launched in the first quarter of 2020.
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