Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where—in partnership with global creator company Jellysmack—we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.
We’ve all heard that unfortunate saying about curiosity and cats, but in the case of That Little Puff, one feline’s nosy nature is paying off deliciously.
Puff, a two-year-old ragdoll cat who lives with his owner Lynch Zhang and their brother Ming, his mom Chocolate, and his five littermates in New York City, is a naturally inquisitive fellow. And when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered NYC restaurants, forcing Zhang to explore more at-home cooking, Puff’s curiosity turned culinary.
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Every time Zhang and their family made food, Puff popped up in the kitchen, eager to feast his eyes on the cooking process. When further lockdowns cooped Zhang up at home 24/7, they started paying more attention to how often Puff appeared, and just how hands-on (er, paws-on) he seemed to want to be.
So, they figured, why not give him a seat at the table?
@thatlittlepuffWhat does it look like? 😂 ##ThatLittlePuff ##puffknowsbetter ##catsoftiktok ##PUBGMOBILE♬ original sound – ThatLittlePuff
Zhang began recording short clips of Puff “cooking” simple dishes, and started posting them to TikTok in July 2020.
To create the illusion of Chef Puff, they would gently guide his paws (Zhang is very clear that they do not force Puff to perform, and that they give him space if he’s not feeling camera-ready) so it looked like he was cutting fruits and vegetables, turning on the blender, and arranging ingredients to make everything from simple boiled egg sandwiches to trendy rainbow toast to the whimsical drinks that have become his specialty.
Within a few months, That Little Puff–a name fashioned after the Twitter handle of Daniel Wu, one of the Zhang family’s favorite actors–had generated hundreds of millions of views and gathered several million followers on TikTok. So, when Zhang got access to the beta of YouTube’s TikTok competitor Shorts late last year, it was an easy decision to start crossposting Puff’s videos there.
Puff’s first Shorts videos didn’t take off the way they had on TikTok. By the end of March 2021, his clips had collectively netted around 6 million views. But in April, after Shorts became available to all YouTube users in the U.S., things changed.
That month, Puff’s channel brought 87 million views. In May, it dipped to 24 million, then 5 million in June, and 10 million in July. In August, its viewership skyrocketed to 230 million, and it hasn’t stopped growing since. In September, the channel brought 524 million views, and in October, it scored a whopping 908 million.
And it’s on track to scrape one billion for November: in the first three days of this month, That Little Puff has already brought 65 million views.
In the same timeframe (April to present), the channel’s subscriber count has jumped from around 5,000 to 2.4 million, and is currently growing at a rate of between 40,000 and 80,000 new subs per day. (Oh, and That Little Puff’s TikTok follower count? Now at more than 17 million.)
What does all that viewership shake out to? Well, for Zhang and their brother, it’s a burgeoning company. The duo recently launched Puff Media, and have hired two Puff team members to help with full-time video production and develop plans to catapult That Little Puff into ecommerce.
Check out our chat with Zhang below.
Tubefilter: Tell us a little about you! Where are you from? Who are the members of your family (both human and fuzzy)?
Lynch Zhang: Hello! This is Lynch from New York City and I live with my brother Ming and seven ragdolls.
Tubefilter: How did you come to adopt your seven cats? Have you always been a big cat person?
LZ: Well, we started with just Puff’s mother, Chocolate, and then she had a litter of six! I grew up with pets, so yes, I love cats.
Tubefilter: Your channel bio mentions that the idea for “That Little Puff” came about while you were cooking at home during the pandemic. What were your lives like before the pandemic, and how have they been impacted by COVID-19? Did you have job situations that changed?
LZ: Yes, because all of the restaurants shut down, my family and I couldn’t go out to eat or even order takeout. That’s when we began coming together to prepare meals as a family, and one of our ragdoll cats, Puff, would always come and sit by our feet to watch us. Our job situations changed drastically where we had to work from home and become adaptable to being with our family 24/7. Some days were tough because that was a situation we weren’t used to, but Puff and his family brightened those days always. Because we had a bit more free time working from home and had been noticing how present Puff was in the kitchen for meal preps, we decided to shoot some cute videos of him being our chef.
Tubefilter: When did you realize that your channel could be more than an occasional thing or a hobby? Was there a specific clip that generated a lot of views and inspired you to be like “Whoa, okay, we need to keep doing this”?
LZ: I believe that all goes to our fans–it’s their likes and comments that got us to keep doing more clips!
@thatlittlepuffAre you ready to partyyyy?!##thatlittlepuff ##halloween ##halloweenlook ##catsoftiktok♬ original sound – ThatLittlePuff
Tubefilter: As you mention, none of your cats are forced to perform or made to do the things you capture on camera. You also mention it takes a lot of patience to film videos with them! Can you walk us through the process? About how long does a video take to film? How do you wrangle and/or entice the cats to come hang out with you and “cook”?
LZ: Cats are known for being independent, so if we can’t get Puff to meow or look at the camera, then we have to wait for him to be “ready.” Sometimes, that can last for quite a while. We don’t want to ever push an animal to do something it does not want to do, so that’s where patience comes in. The process for filming one video clip takes about three hours. We use props, like fake little paws, to show Puff working hard at his creations.
Tubefilter: Do you think you would have uploaded content to YouTube without YouTube Shorts? Or was Shorts your main reason for choosing to start making content on YouTube? What role has Shorts played in the growth of your channel?
LZ: Yes, we actually started off on YouTube before the Shorts, and we’re doing fine in terms of viewership. However, YouTube may not be the best platform for short videos, and most of what we did was just some collections of our short videos till we started creating Shorts recently.
I would have to say that the Shorts definitely garner more views than our regular-length videos. Shorts gives us more flexibility in terms of content creation.
Tubefilter: What videos have been your best-performing so far? Do you have any idea why those specific videos took off?
LZ: There are so many of them–don’t make me pick!
With short videos, having something to catch people’s attention in the first three seconds is super important. And on top of that, who would say no to a lovely puffy cat cooking up some fun, right?
Tubefilter: What else do you get up to outside of YouTube/making content? Walk us through the average day!
LZ: Our morning routine starts with feeding up our little creatures! We usually get around our studio for work at 10 a.m., then the afternoons are for new content or just having fun with our cats.
@thatlittlepuffAt least it’s somewhat close to a hand… ##ThatLittlePuff ##puffknowsbetter ##SamsClubScanAndGo ##catsoftiktok♬ original sound – ThatLittlePuff
Tubefilter: Do you have anyone else working behind the scenes with you, like a manager or editor? Have you brought on any team members since your content started generating attention?
LZ: Yes, we have a small team (me, Ming, Jack, and Mike) here in NYC where the video shooting takes place. We do everything in-house and Jack is the new member in the team who will be helping us with his vast knowledge of video production!
Tubefilter: Has your recent engagement uptick changed anything for you professionally? Do you have any new plans or goals for your content career?
LZ: Yes, it changes everything for me and my brother. We have recently started a new company, Puff Media, so new content creation will be something in our career!
Tubefilter: What’s your favorite thing about having a YouTube channel?
LZ: The pandemic has been extremely trying and difficult for many around the globe. I like to think that our content brings a little bit of laughter to our fans, and I want to continue doing so.
Tubefilter: What’s next in the immediate future for you and your channel? Where do you see yourself in five years?
LZ: Other than keeping up the content creation, we will also be trying out ecommerce and longer videos.
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